By, Charles Omole
Why Security Agencies are mostly losing in the Public Perception Arena & Possible Solutions (PART 1)
I will explain the pathology in Part 1 and then focus on Sowore in Part 2.
In trying to understand why the Nigerian security outfits react the way they do to public allegations, crisis and accusations, I conducted a research on this many years ago.
To understand why the security agencies are in the habit of just denying everything; we will need to look into the world of organisational psychology amongst other fields for guidance. Why do organisations react to a challenge to their public image the way they do?
There are many theories that could explain this situation. However, from my research, one theoretical framework is more apt that others in explaining the situation with the Nigerian security outfits; who all seem to act in the same way when confronted by crisis.
Image restoration theory can explain a lot about why the security agencies have been behaving and responding badly to issues of negative public perceptions.
Introduced by William Benoit, IMAGE RESTORATION THEORY outlines strategies that can be employed to restore image in an event where reputation has been damaged. This theory can be applied as an approach for understanding personal or organizational crisis situations. Benoit outlines this theory in his acclaimed book “Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: A Theory of Image Restoration Strategies”.
This theory is based on the assumption that maintaining favourable reputation and image is the goal of an organisation. Hence how an organisation responds to news that challenges its “good image” is instructive. Perception is fundamental to image restoration, as the accused actor will not engage in a defensive strategy unless the perception exists that he is at fault. The actor (security agencies) who committed the wrongful act must decide on the strategy of best course based on their specific situation.
Factors such as credibility, audience perceptions, & d degree of offensiveness of d act must be taken into account. To better understand why d security institutions, respond d way they do, in almost d same DENIAL POSTURE, there are 5 STRATEGIC RESPONSES that can shed some light.
This theory consists of five major strategic framework used by people or organisation who responds to accusations.
These are: 1.DENIAL, 2.EVADING RESPONSIBILITY, 3.REDUCING OFFENSIVENESS, 4.CORRECTIVE ACTION & 5.MORTIFICATION.
There are subcategories for each. According to Emil B. Towner, the FIRST strategy—DENIAL—consists of two forms:
1)Simple denial, in which the organisation denies the act or, at least, denies taking part in it; or 2)Shifting the blame, which is also known as scapegoating.
The Organisation directs the blame at someone else or to another org.
The SECOND strategy—Evasion of responsibility—consists of: 1)Provocation, suggesting that the organisation responded after being provoked; or that its action was in response to a wrongful act by another.
2)Defeasibility, suggesting that a lack of either information or control is actually to blame; pleading a lack of knowledge or control about important factors related to the offensive act.
3)Excuses based on accidents, suggesting it was an accident; and beyond its control.
4)Justifies the act based on its “good intentions”, suggesting that the organisation performed the act with good intentions, despite the negative outcome. So, it should not be held fully liable.
The THIRD strategy details how organisations attempt to reduce the offensiveness of their wrongful acts by using:
1)Bolstering, such as describing d positive attributes & qualities of d organisation in an attempt to strengthen d public’s positive perception of the organisation.
They may remind the public of other good acts done by the organisation in the past or is still doing.
2) Minimization, attempting to decrease the audience’s negative view of the situation by trying to convince the public that the act in question is not as bad as it appears.
3) Differentiation, focusing on how a particular situation differs from similar, yet much worse acts. The hope is that the negative perception of the public will be minimised by comparing its own action with a similar but worse act of another organisation.
4)Transcendence, discussing the act in terms of abstract values and group loyalties. In this instance, the act is placed in broad context to place it in a different and less offensive frame of reference.
5)Attacking the accuser to undermine his or her credibility. The organisation attacks their accusers, to question the credibility of the source of the accusations.
6)Offering compensation to the victims. The org offers to redress d victims of their action to offset -ve feelings
The FOURTH strategy—Corrective action—describes how Organisations offer to repair damages caused by their actions, as well as take steps to prevent the event from happening again.
Finally, the FIFTH strategy—Mortification— this is based on the accused organisation admitting wrongful behaviour, take responsibility and ask for forgiveness, and apologizes. Practically, an organisation can employ a combination of responses in this strategy. Approach should be determined by whether the organisation is guilty of the act in question or not.
A guilty organisation using the wrong strategy will do more damage to its image and credibility with the public.
Where there have been wrongdoings; Strategies 4th and 5th are best for Security Organisations.
THE DOMINANT RECOMMENDATION IS FOR AN OUR SECURITY AGENCIES TO IMMEDIATELY ADMIT FAULT/ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY.
Corrective actions should be taken and an organization need to publicize those actions. Bolstering can also be thrown into the mix of responses depending on the nature of the allegation. It is rarely credible for a Security outfit to put ALL blame of mishaps or scandals on others. With little civilian oversight or public accountability, security institutions become part of a culture of impunity and violence.
DENIAL SHOULD ONLY BE RESERVED FOR WHEN THE ORGANISATION IS TRULY INNOCENT OF THE ALLEGATION.
If denial is used when an organisation is guilty; IT TENDS TO ALWAYS BACK-FIRE. In the case of our agencies, denial does not work at all as public credibility & believability is minimal.
THE NIGERIAN SECURITY AGENCIES TEND TO MOSTLY DENY EVERYTHING. In fact, the more they deny (even if the denial is correct) the less the public seem to believe them. So, denial is causing more reputational damage to them than if other actions had been taken.
Given the state of mistrust of the security agencies by Nigerians, the public will initially believe any negative story about them regardless of its authenticity. This means a lot of confidence-building measures will be needed to cultivate public trust and positive perception.
The SSS blanket denial of what happened in Court about Sowore re-arrest plays into this familiar narrative of DENIAL as a response. This was not a wise decision. Research has found that a lack of Consequence is the major causal factor.
If someone pays a price each time the public is lied to; fewer people will lie. History has shown that the SSS ALWAYS behave in ways that take on the shape and the disposition of the President in power at any point in time.
They work for him and he determines the boundaries of what they will contemplate doing. I am not say a sitting president INSTRUCTS them for every action. That is unrealistic. But the Boss of the SSS will behave only to the extent of what he believes will please the President.
So on occasions; these Heads of SSS can become more catholic than the Pope. But the responsibility for any misreading of his body language is with Mr President.
With the background now explained, I will like to explain what are the implications for the Sowore case.
In PART 2 of this Thread, I WILL FOCUS ON THE SOWORE SAGA and recommend some solutions that can improve the image of our security outfits for all our sakes.