AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BY THE CHIEF BOMA SPERO-JACK, CHAIRMAN, BAYELSA PUBLIC INFORMATION MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE ON THE OCCASION OF THE TOWN HALL MEETING HELD ON MAY 22nd, 2013 AT THE BANQUET HALL, GOVERNMENT HOUSE –YENAGOA-BAYELSA STATE
It is my singular honour and privilege to address this occasion of the Town Hall Meeting organized by the Bayelsa Information Management Committee. This is the first TOWN HALL MEETING we are holding since His Excellency; Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, Governor of Bayelsa State inaugurated the Committee about two months ago.
The Bayelsa Public Information Manmagement Committee was inaugurated with the following Terms of References:
1. To oversee the management of public information dissemination in Bayelsa State, through the articulation of appropriate policies and strategies and to work in synergy with all relevant agencies such as NOA, National Orientation Agency, such as NBA, NMA, NLC, NUJ, professional bodies, Women and Youth Groups and other non-state actors.
2. To embark on sensitization of the citizens with a view to effecting attitudinal change in the youths through public enlightenment programmes on radio, television and town hall meetings among other community development training programmes.
3. To bridge the information gap between government and the people in order to reduce the spread of rumours, misinformation and propaganda disseminated by the mischief makers to distract the attention of government.
4. To evolve educational and behavior modification programmes designed to inculcate discipline positive work ethics and change among public servants, youths, women groups with a view to promoting the policies and programmes of the Restoration Government.
5. To re-enforce existing channels of communication to ensure that public information is brought to the people accurately and in a timely manner.
6. To liaise with all agencies charged with information dissemination and to serve as a clearing house among all agencies of government to enhance information flow in the system and any other matters related thereto.
Upon inauguration of the Committee by His Excellency, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, the Committee started work immediately. We held several strategy meetings to arrive at a well thought-out work plan in which there are short, medium and long term goals. The work plan we have today is a holistic document for a proactive engagement with all segments of the people.
Prior to the adoption of a work plan, the Committee had to change the perception of the people. Most people referred to us as a Rumour Management Committee. Realizing that rumour is or misinformation is a very little component of the entire information management process, the Committee had to correct this impression and this was accomplished through radio discussion programmes, commentaries, television discussion programmes and massive social media enlightenment campaign. At every given opportunity, the Committee explained the mandate to people who were eager to know if the Committee was established to gag the press or muscle free speech. The aim of this effort is to for government to renew her commitment that renewed its commitment when people are timely and accurately informed about government policies, plans and programmes, it will create no room for misinformation.
Recognizing the importance of the Social Media in influencing perceptions, the Committee established a facebook page called Bayelsa Public Information Management which now serves as a vehicle for effective transmission of accurate information and to ensure a two-way communication between government and the people. To further reinforce this effort, a blog ( http://www.bayelsainformationmgt.wordpress.com was created to provide update on the activities of the Committee in line with her mandate. We have followed this up with the launching of a website http://www.bayelsaPIMC.org. Our collective efforts on the Social Media has paid off as the public now has a better grasp of government policy thrust and her people-oriented programmes. Government information is now communicated to the people in a timely and accurate manner thereby reducing the misinformation index to the barest minimum.
The Committee quickly followed this up with courtesy calls on media organizations and other stakeholders. The general misconception was that the Committee was constituted because of the inadequacies of existing channels and agencies of information dissemination. This is far from the truth as the Committee was established as a clearing house to work in synergy with other agencies of information dissemination beyond the traditional boundaries to ethical re-orientation, behaviour modification and attitudinal change. Such courtesy visits allayed the fears of stakeholders and enabled them to understand the mission of the Committee.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, one of the mandates of the Committee is to obtain information via the hotlines so people from far and near can call to seek clarification on government policies, make inputs into government programmes or pinpoint gray areas with a view to alerting implementing authorities to improve on them. We are making efforts a acquire a secretariat, but while we make such efforts we have set up a mechanism to obtain information/data from the public by employing two secretarial staff equipped with computers and other gadgets presently operating from the office of the Secretary to the Committee. Through this strategy, the Committee has intervened in controversial and knotty policies and programmes such as job creation, taxation, law enforcement, the Bayelsa Development and Investment Corporation, the State Universal Basic Education, SUBEB, the Environmental Sanitation Authority, the Free Education programme being implemented by the State Government and Scholarship Board. Other areas include pension administration, Students Bursary Payments, Due Process, security matters and government’s plans to resuscitate state-owned parastatals to create windows of employment opportunities, wealth creation and poverty reduction in line with the Restoration Agenda.
To build synergies with the MDAs, the Committee has already written to relevant MDAs in the State to provide updates on their activities with a view to having ready answers when and where necessary and to bridge the information gap between what goes on in the MDAs and the people. We believe that this will also reduce the spread of misinformation.
Precisely, on April 17th, 2013, the Committee organized an interactive session with Civil Society and Media Organizations. This session was revealing, as most of the earlier misconceptions were laid to rest. The interactive session further consolidated the position of the Committee in her resolve to execute its mandate. Since that event more persons are now ready to put calls through the hotlines without concealing their identities. This has paved the way for more understanding between stakeholders and government.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are aware that one of our Terms of Reference is to change the attitude of our people and one of the strategies we have adopted is the mounting of billboards with subtle messages that will attract the attention of visitors including Foreign Investors. Whereas some of the messages are targeted at value re-orientation and character molding, others address the issue of behaviour change, restoration of our cultural heritage, and the need to verify information before disseminating it. By the grace of God, in the month of July, 2013, this exercise will be taken to the grassroots with town hall meetings and other sensitization campaigns such as the one we are organizing today.
The Town Hall Meeting today is the first the Committee is organizing and all segments all segments of society, traditional rulers, political appointees, civil servants, NGOs, CBOs, Women and Youth Groups and other relevant agencies were invited to attend. We are confident that the former National President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists Comrade Sani Zorro who is as Guest Lecturer, will do justice to the topic “Effective Information Management: A Tool for Sustainable Development”
We have drawn up effective strategies to bridge the information gap and already several NGOs, CSOs and CBOs have indicated interest to work with the Committee. The Committee seeks the partnership and active collaboration with all stakeholders, professional bodies, civil society Organizations and CBOs and the Committee is guided by transparency, objectivity, truth and fairness.
We will carry the message of change from Yenagoa to Akassa, Emakalakala, Otuan, Lobia, Odi, Kaiama, Nembe and from Ekeremor, Sagbama, to Trofani and to all corners of the State. We shall revive the culture of establishing information centres in all the Local Government Headquarters and train champions in information management. We shall be as proactive as ever to initiate Focus Group discussions to ensure a healthy exchange of ideas, clear ambiguities and ensure free flow of information between government and the people. We shall use the Committee to reconfigure the architecture of delivering value and re-engineering the concept of governance along the lines of managing information in the benefit of the citizenry.
Let me thank His Excellency, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, Governor of Bayelsa State for providing this opportunity for the Committee to serve. We know that embarking on this exercise is capital intensive but any resources spent to enlighten our youths and get them to appreciate the laudable policies, plan and programmes of government is worth the while. Please call the HOTLINES: 07030992208; 08101259810; 08101259782 to clarify stories, clear ambiguities and obtain accurate information about what government is doing.
I urge everyone here to be attentive and participate actively in the discussion and brainstorming exercise as the TOWN HALL MEETING progresses.
You are welcome and thank you for your attention.
Chief Boma Spero-JACK
Chairman, Bayelsa Public Information Management Committee