Tyranny of the Siren

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I facilitated a workshop recently on Corporate Social Responsibility and used a story titled: Tyranny of the Siren, as case study for participants. Take it and be part of discussions on Corporate Storytelling.

The Background…

Blowing of siren to clear the traffic and move swiftly on highways became a prominent feature in Nigeria during the military regime. It was used by military officers and men to forcefully exercise right-of-way as they blast through the traffic much to the discomfort of the civil populace. Over the years, it became a social pain for which no organ (public or private) exercised responsibility in managing it.

Use of siren is an essential working tool for ambulances, bullion vans of banks, road safety managers, and the police and others discharging emergency services. But it soon evolved into the privilege of leaders in government, and an ‘all -comers’ affair, leading to abuses by traditional rulers, chiefs, VIPs, money bags, and those seeking social recognition without responsibility.

Nigerians began to grumble about the tyranny of the siren. It built into complaints, and anger in media reports. They wanted social responsibility and decorum in the use of siren and fair treatment. Past Inspector Generals of Police stepped in to put sanity in siren use by listing those entitled to use the facility on the highways. But the siren tyranny continued unabated and still grips motorists on the highways.

The Place…

Once upon a time, a busy street in Lagos crowded with crawling traffic. But some motorists wanted right of way; for others to step aside while they swept through without any delays. It was the convoy of Navy officers carrying a Navy General, blasting through the traffic with their siren. The sound of the siren for them simply means: get out the way, this is an emergency; a VIP is passing.

The Conflict…

A female motorist refused to get of the way and maintained her place in the traffic. Overzealous Naval Navy ratings pounced on her, dragged her out of her vehicle, flogged and rough-handled for not obeying the get-out-of-the-waywarning of the siren. Other road users recorded the lady’s ordeal with their camera phones and dispatched the footage to media houses.

A Chain Reaction…

The civil populace reacted angrily. The media was awash with stories, opinion articles, and analyses of the lady’s ordeal who invariably was the daughter of a retired naval officer. Citizens screamed blue murder. Many called for the retirement of the Navy General involved in the tangle and the Chief of Naval Staff. They urged her to seek redress in court to exercise her rights. She did.

The Dilemma

The Navy was thrown into a quandary. Naval PR officers had a tough time in the media telling their side of their story to appease aggrieved Nigerians and rebuild the image of the Navy. It was a kind of plea bargain by the military, a test case of the power of civil society, public assessment of social responsibility and disposition of organizations to CSR practice, and crisis management with storytelling.

Questions for discussion

  • Does CSR and storytelling also apply to the armed forces, government agencies, and not-for-profit organizations?
  • How can you use storytelling to manage crisis?
  • The orientation of the military is force. Is force applicable in CSR and storytelling?
  • Do the armed forces need to tap into the power of storytelling to manage their relationships with the civil populace? How?
  • What is the power of technology as a facilitator of storytelling, CSR growth and human rights promotions, as demonstrated here?
  • What are the CSR and storytelling lessons here?

Eric Okeke is a CSR specialist and strategist in brand marketing and mobilizing support for corporate and social issues. He is the brand storyteller, writer, speaker, author and media consultant, with training in chemistry, marketing and business journalism. As a business writer and speaker, he has recorded a good career in media consulting and journalism which he started at The Guardian, Lagos.

Eric’s communications niche is storytelling which he is now using to empower professionals and improve business returns in Nigeria. Email him at, ericokeke@gmail.com, ericosamba@yahoo.com Tel +234 803 301 4609; +234 817 301 4609.

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