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FANTASTIC NIGERIAN ARMY: Crisis Management Lessons from the Nigerian Army

By Ishola, N. Ayodele

Overview of Event:

In the early hours of January 2nd, 2024, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State took a decisive step in enforcing traffic regulations along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. He ordered the arrest of motorcyclists violating traffic rules which led to the arrest of several motorcyclists, including a lance corporal, for riding in the wrong direction garnered mixed reactions from the public.

Public Reactions:

Some citizens commended the governor for upholding the law and encouraged him to continue such actions while some other people vehemently expressed discontent particularly concerning the arrest of a lance corporal who allegedly drove against traffic, leading to a series of online viral verbal assault on the governor. 

The Crisis:

The purported group of people lambasting and ridiculing the Lagos State Governor were alleged portraying themselves as personnels of the Nigerian Army.

In one of the viral videos, one of these purported soldiers actually said the no governor has any control over any soldier and that they (soldiers) only take order from their commandants which infer that the soldiers are free to do whatever they wish as not even the governor can put them in check. And he also faulted the governor for calling his colleagues “useless boy” in front bastard civilians. He said, “You are calling a soldier useless in front of those idiots, those bastard civilians. 

In another viral video, another young soldier was seen swearing at the governor, calling him a drug addict and alleging the governor uses the army for his dirty job.

Many people on the social media took exception to this afront from this young soldiers’ behaviour, suggesting that if a lower-ranked soldier openly challenging a state governor, coupled with the boldness to insult Gov. Sanwo-Olu as mad and stupid, is not only a reflection of the level of indiscipline but may also a sign of hidden troubles within the Nigerian security system.

Nigerian Army’s Response:

In response to the controversy, COAS Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja condemned the verbal assault on Governor Sanwo-Olu and clarified the Nigerian Army’s stance on the incident. The COAS emphasized that the arrested soldier did not represent the values of the Nigerian Army, and his actions contradicted the principles of discipline upheld by the military.

The COAS stated, “The soldier that was apprehended while plying on a one-way does not represent the Nigerian Army. In every respect, it contravenes what we stand for which is discipline as an army, and it contravenes the constitution and the laws of Lagos, and so we frown at that as the army.”

He went on to assure the public that the soldier in question had been apprehended, and a thorough investigation was underway. Additionally, Lt. Gen. Lagbaja clarified that videos circulating on social media showing soldiers insulting the governor were not authentic representations of the Nigerian Army. He pointed out discrepancies in the mode of dressing and the statements made by those in the videos, affirming that they were not genuine army personnel.

A BREAKDOWN OF THE NA’S CRISIS MANAGEMENT STRATEGY

1. Swift and Reasonable Response:

The immediacy of the response is crucial because it allows for the rapid containment of the situation, preventing its escalation, minimizing potential damage but most importantly it demonstrates how well an organization or institution values its stakeholder. Swift action is particularly vital in situations where time is of the essence, such as natural disasters, security threats, or public health emergencies.

Equally important is the need for a reasonable and well-thought-out response. While speed is crucial, a hasty or impulsive reaction can lead to unintended consequences. A reasonable response involves a careful consideration of available information, potential outcomes, and the long-term implications of decisions. It ensures that communication and actions employ are proportionate to the crisis at hand and align with ethical and legal standards.

When applied together, a swift and reasonable response contributes to crisis resolution for several reasons.

To start with, it serves as a proactive approach to mitigating and managing the impact of unexpected events.

In addendum, a rapid and reasonable response allows the organization to own the narrative around the crisis and prevent potential damages that could result from false narratives or misinterpretation.

Moreover, a swift and reasonable communication or action instills confidence among stakeholders, demonstrating an organization’s preparedness and commitment to addressing challenges promptly.

Finally, in the context of Crisi leadership, the ability to respond quickly and reasonably enhances the perception of credibility of stakeholders and also engaged trust among stakeholders.

The Nigerian Army displayed a swift and reasonable response to the crisis in putting the crisis in proper context. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, took a bold stance by publicly condemning the soldier’s behavior. In doing so, the COAS explicitly underscored that the actions in question stood in direct contradiction to the established principles of discipline within the army. This enabled the Nigerian Army to own the narrative and shape the media coverage around the crisis.

This public condemnation of both the erring soldier in the governor’s viral video and the ones insulting the governor in other viral videos by Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja not only highlighted the severity of the misconduct but also served as a clear message to both the military personnel and the public regarding the non-negotiable standards expected within the Nigerian Army.

This demonstration of leadership reinforced the institution’s commitment to upholding discipline and maintaining the integrity of its ranks which immediately put to rest some of the insinuations that there is a level of indiscipline among the NA or that there may be some hidden troubles within the Nigerian security system.

In summary, by addressing the issue openly and promptly, the Nigerian Army, under Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja’s leadership, exhibited a proactive approach to crisis management which conveys a determination to tackle the crisis head-on without finger pointing or biases. And this portrayed the NA in good light and boost their image as an institution which is transparent, and honest enough to address internal issues openly with integrity.

2. Situational analysis and Thorough Investigation:

Situational analysis and thorough investigation/research serve distinct but complementary roles in crisis management.                                                                                                                                                 

Situational analysis during the onset of a crisis serves as a crucial tool for swiftly grasping the contextual intricacies surrounding the event. This involves identifying immediate triggers, understanding the environment in which the crisis unfolded, and recognizing any pre-existing conditions that may have contributed to its emergence. Such comprehensive insights form the groundwork for effective crisis management, allowing decision-makers to respond with agility and precision.

                                                                                                                                                                                                       On the other hand, thorough investigation and research are essential for developing long-term solutions and preventing future crises. After the initial crisis has been managed, a detailed investigation can be conducted to delve into the root causes, contributing factors, and systemic issues that led to the crisis. This deeper understanding forms the basis for strategic planning, policy changes, and proactive measures aimed at addressing underlying problems and enhancing overall resilience.

In essence, situational analysis is a rapid response tool for immediate crisis management, ensuring quick and informed decision-making, while thorough investigation/research is a more in-depth process aimed at systemic improvements and sustained crisis prevention. Together, these approaches contribute to a comprehensive and adaptive crisis management framework that addresses both the immediate challenges and the long-term resilience of an organization or community.

The Nigerian Army, under the direction of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), deployed situational analysis exceptionally with an immediate inquiry into the incident, meticulously examining the purported videos and meticulously probing the identities of those implicated. In a clarifying statement, the COAS astutely pointed out that certain videos appeared to be orchestrated, potentially by individuals nursing personal grudges against the governor or his political party.

The COAS provided a compelling example to substantiate this claim, highlighting a specific instance within one of the viral videos. He noted an elderly soldier depicted wearing the army beret with the badge positioned upside down while hurling insults at the governor. This astute observation underscored the potential manipulation at play, suggesting a deliberate attempt to tarnish the reputation of the military by exploiting visual cues and symbols.

All in all, embracing situational analysis proved pivotal during this recent crisis because it enabled them to rapidly understand the contextual nuances surrounding the incident, identify immediate triggers, and assess the risks and impacts involved.  And armed with this real-time information, it also enabled decision-makers within the Nigerian Army to make informed choices and formulate a swift, reasonable, and decisive response which has won the admiration of public and also bolster the NA’s image as well as attracting accolades from crisis management experts.

3. Acting from the point knowledge not guesses

In times of crisis, informed decision-making based on verified knowledge, rather than speculative assumptions, is paramount. This approach ensures a measured and effective response, maintaining credibility, transparency, and the ability to navigate complex situations with precision and reliability.

On the other hand, lack of accurate information may result in misguided decisions, exacerbating the crisis and causing unintended harm. Guesswork can escalate tensions, erode public trust, and compromise the effectiveness of response efforts.

Consequently, in critical situations, the peril of uninformed actions underscores the importance of relying on verified knowledge to make sound and responsible decisions.

The Nigerian Army, cognizant of the importance of informed decision-making, diligently equipped itself with accurate and verified information regarding the crisis at hand. Rather than succumbing to the temptation of engaging in personal attacks or becoming entangled in political vendettas, the Army prioritized a disciplined approach centered on gathering concrete facts. This commitment to fact-finding served multiple purposes.

Firstly, it ensured a thorough understanding of the events leading up to the crisis, encompassing both immediate triggers and underlying factors. By focusing on the collection of objective information, the military sought to establish a solid foundation for any subsequent actions or statements, reinforcing the integrity of its response.

Secondly, the emphasis on factual accuracy demonstrated a commitment to transparency and accountability. In a landscape where misinformation and manipulation can exacerbate crises, the military’s dedication to basing its decisions on verified information helped maintain public trust and confidence. This approach underscored the organization’s responsibility to act as a reliable source of information, especially in situations where clarity is crucial.

Furthermore, the military’s deliberate choice to avoid personal attacks or political entanglements showcased a disciplined and principled approach to crisis management. By steering clear of engaging in retaliatory actions or being swayed by political considerations, the Army maintained its focus on the broader mission of safeguarding security and stability.

In summary, the military’s strategy of arming itself with accurate information and eschewing personal attacks or political biases reflects a commitment to professionalism, transparency, and the effective resolution of crises through a disciplined and fact-based approach.

4. Focus on the Problem:

Focusing on the problem rather than personalities during a crisis is essential for an effective and efficient response in many ways.

Firstly, it enables an objective analysis of the situation, allowing stakeholders to understand the root causes and dynamics without the interference of personal biases or conflicts.

Secondly, it encourages a collaborative and teamwork-oriented approach to crisis management, fostering unity among stakeholders as they work together to address shared challenges.

Most importantly, prioritizing the problem helps to develop clear messaging centered on addressing the core issues needed to manage public perception and maintain trust.

Finally, a problem-focused approach enhances the development of long-term solutions, enabling organizations to implement measures that prevent similar crises in the future. This contributes to a more resilient and adaptive crisis management framework.

The Nigerian Army demonstrated this by focusing on the soldier’s misconduct, steering away from personal issues or political agendas.

The NA diligently adhered to a strategic emphasis on addressing the soldier’s misconduct, purposefully avoiding entanglement in personal matters or political agendas. The unwavering commitment to maintaining this focused approach underscored the importance of upholding discipline and accountability within the ranks, ensuring that the disciplinary process remained objective and devoid of external influences.

This disciplined approach also served to strengthen the overall cohesiveness and effectiveness of the military unit, placing a premium on individual accountability while steering clear of distractions that could compromise the integrity of the disciplinary proceedings

5. Lead from the Front:

Leading from the front in crisis management is a leadership approach where individuals in positions of authority actively and visibly take charge during challenging and turbulent situations. Organizations or institutions that adopt a leading-from-the-front approach are grounded in the principles of crisis leadership.                           

Crisis leadership refers to the ability of individuals in positions of authority or influence to guide and direct an organization or community through challenging and high-stakes situations. Crisis leadership is characterized by qualities such as decisiveness, clear communication, adaptability, empathy, and the ability to foster resilience within the organization. Individuals who exhibit these characteristics of crisis leadership and are responsible for leading their organizations/institutions’ crisis effort during turbulent times are referred to as ‘Crisis leaders’ ‘Crisis Owner’.

The Nigerian Army exemplified this principle of leading from the front during a recent crisis, notably when the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, assumed the role of the crisis owner and spokesperson. His proactive engagement and visible leadership played a crucial role in managing the situation effectively.

In the face of the crisis, Lt. Gen. Lagbaja took a hands-on approach by assuming the position of crisis owner. This involved taking direct responsibility for overseeing the response efforts, making critical decisions, and providing a clear direction for the organization. By personally taking charge, he demonstrated a commitment to address the issue head-on, instilling a sense of ownership and accountability within the military ranks.

As the crisis owner and spokesperson for the crisis, Lt. Gen. Lagbaja utilized clear and transparent communication to convey the army’s stance. His public statements emphasized key values such as accountability and discipline, sending a strong message that inappropriate behavior within the military would not be tolerated. By openly acknowledging the severity of the situation and expressing a commitment to thorough investigation, he fostered understanding among stakeholders and built trust in the army’s ability to address internal challenges. And his emphasis on accountability within his statements underscored the importance of ethical conduct and adherence to military discipline.

In summary, Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja’s leadership in assuming the role of crisis owner and spokesperson showcased the principles of leading from the front within the Nigerian Army. His commitment to accountability, discipline, and thorough investigation not only addressed the immediate crisis but also contributed to building transparency, trust, and resilience within the organization.

CONCLUSION

In the realm of crisis management, the Nigerian Army’s response to the soldier’s misconduct stands as a compelling case study, illustrating the essence of viewing crisis as a marathon rather than a sprint. As American businessman and author Warren Bennis once remarked, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” In the face of adversity, the Army, under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, demonstrated this capacity by navigating the crisis with transparency, accountability, and an unwavering focus on the core issue.

Crisis management is an intricate and challenging undertaking, often demanding resilience and strategic thinking. As renowned crisis management expert Patrick Lagadec notes, “Crisis management is a willingness to embrace a certain amount of paranoia.” In embracing this approach, the Nigerian Army showcased the ability to withstand external pressures and maintain discipline within its ranks. The acknowledgement of the severity of the situation, coupled with a commitment to a thorough investigation, exemplifies the military’s dedication to addressing challenges transparently.

In conclusion, the Nigerian Army’s handling of the soldier’s misconduct serves as a testament to the principles of effective crisis management. To quote renowned military strategist Sun Tzu, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” By maintaining focus on the core issue, exercising transparency, and demonstrating accountability, the Army not only weathered the storm but emerged with its integrity intact. As organizations globally grapple with unforeseen challenges, the Nigerian Army’s approach provides valuable insights into effective crisis navigation, emphasizing the enduring nature of crisis management as a marathon, where thoughtful strategy and steadfast leadership lead to resilient outcomes.

Ishola, N. Ayodele is a distinguished and multiple award-winning strategic communication expert who specializes in ‘Message Engineering’. He helps Organizations, Brands and Leaders Communicate in a way that yields the desired outcome. He is the author of the seminal work, ‘PR Case Studies; Mastering the Trade,’ and Dean, the School of Impactful Communication (TSIC). He can be reached via ishopr2015@gmail.com or 08077932282.

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