By Jude Zoho

The National Council on Information met recently at its 44th session in Osogbo and focused on the role of social media and public information management in Nigeria.

The deliberations centred on access, knowledge, use and indispensability of social media in facilitating discussions among the citizenry.

The speakers were unanimous in their agreement that social media had potential to address the challenges of public information management in the country.

Information minister Labaran Maku set the tone of the deliberations when he stressed on the potential and influence of social media, and urged information managers to take advantage of the emerging trend.

He observed that there was governance deficit in Nigeria, noting that the high level of distrust and skepticism among the people called for a new approach to public information management.

He said that the need for the citizens to participate in governance process, and ensure public trust in governance highlighted the imperatives for the adoption of the new technologies.

“The growing internet access across the country, the availability of a variety of mobile and web-based devices for information gathering, storage, and instantaneous dissemination on a mass scale across extensive distances, offer new possibilities and challenges for public information management, and mobilisation of the citizenry for development,’’ he said.

Maku called on public institutions, officials and information managers to establish their presence more visibly and actively on social media circuits.

He urged them to show greater openness and readiness to engage with citizens in a two-way communication process for effective service delivery.

“Social media, indeed, afford enormous opportunities for building public trust and confidence in government and diligently encouraging public participation in governance.

“Popular participation is, of course, key to democratic consolidation, effective policy monitoring, evaluation and efficient delivery of services,’’ he said.

Speaking in the same vein, Osun Governor, Mr Rauf Arebesola, stressed the need for officials at all levels to harness opportunities in the social media for effective public information management.

He urged policy makers to use the new media to engage the youth in governance processes so as to build trust between them and government.

“I urge you to also give thoughts to how governments at different levels can tap into the vast potentials of social media and Information Communications Technology to enhance accountability and transparency in governance,’’ he said.

The council also deliberated on the complementary roles social media play in the development of traditional media.

The issue was highlighted to create necessary awareness on the changing roles of traditional media in the internet era.

It was assumed that the era of total dependence on traditional media for public sensitisation and mobilisation of the public to government activities is over.

For the participants, it was imperative for information managers to understand that dissemination of information could be managed better if opportunities provided by social media were properly harnessed in collaboration with traditional media.

While many believe that traditional media would continue to compete with social media, others argued that the emergence of the later would not undermine the role of the former.

Some experts also argued that the future of information dissemination and management in Nigeria would largely depend on the convergence of social and traditional media.

Osun Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Sunday Akere, argued that rather than see the emerging media as a threat, experts must find a meeting point between the two.

He said that effective information management cannot be successfully pursued using a particular medium in isolation of the others.

He stated that the social media empowers the citizenry to act more decisively, and hold their leaders to account.

The participants noted that many contemporary challenges, including floods and other challenges, voter registration and electoral apathy, could be tackled through social media utilisation and engagement.

Maku affirmed the view and presented a model of social media use in the Federal Ministry of Information.

He, therefore, urged the participants to adopt the model in eliciting mass participation in government programmes and policies.

He said that the ministry had set a new standard in the use of social media for public information dissemination and management.

He said that the National Good Governance Tour and the Ministerial Platform programmes were hinged on effective use of social media.

“Many Nigerians and others from around the world watched the Ministerial Platform 2013 videos on YouTube, and FMI dedicated live streaming channel.

“YouTube and live streaming, Facebook and Twitter were employed to relay the Ministerial Platform to Nigerians and the world,’’ he said.

In her addressed, Mrs Folasade Yemi-Esan, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information, expressed the hope that far-reaching decisions would be taken on the use of social media to facilitate national development.

She noted that the new publicity strategy should be well adopted as the world was now driven by digital technologies.

However, analysts have called for caution in the use social media, noting its side effects on policy makers.

According to them, abuse of social media including identity thefts, cyber bullying, and defamation were inherent challenges that must be carefully balanced against the many benefits of social media.

Maku had noted that the handling of Boko Haram insurgency by some social media information platforms had brought to the fore the flip side to information management on social media.

He said that Boko Haram had always deployed social media to coordinate deadly attacks on citizens and to spread its evil ideologies and hate campaigns within and across nations.

The participants reminded Nigerians of the challenges and prospects of social media in Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.

It was the view of the participants and other stakeholders that social media could be used to invigorate public information management in Nigeria, and to steer the nation on the path of unity, peace, progress and prosperity.

•Zoho wrote this article for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).