It’s election season in Nigeria. The political public relations industry is abuzz. Political hopefuls are hiring hacks to write tendentious screeds that make them feel good but that no one reads. And, of course, smears, coarse insults, illogic, and prevarications are the core constituents of what passes for political public relations in Nigeria.
I have written about Nigeria’s peculiarly unpersuasive and unwarrantedly abusive political public relations in the past. I want to reflect on it again this week in light of the current political atmosphere and the heightened deployment of the same stale and sterile tactic of abuse as persuasion that I’ve written about in the past.
For the most part, Nigeria’s political public relations is crude, vulgar, and intellectually impoverished. No one who desires to change the hearts and minds of people should rely on it. It does no more than attract enemies, scare away potential converts, and ossify negative opinions about candidates or issues.
It consists in barbarous, impulsive, sophomoric insults against real and imagined political opponents—and cloying, hagiographic defense of principals or issues. It lacks nuance, is childish, and seems unconcerned with logic and persuasion. It’s also reactive and emotion-laden in the extreme.
The performance of Reuben Abati (who called critics of Goodluck Jonathan “collective children of anger”) and Doyin Okupe (who described himself as an “attack lion”), Femi Adesina (who murdered grammar by labeling government critics “wailing wailers”)—and several others before and after them—in the defense of their bosses and the demonization of their bosses’ real and imagined political enemies is a classic example of the kind of primitive political public relations that holds sway in Nigeria.
I think Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu have taken verbal primitivism in defense of their boss to an even higher plane. In their public relations, not only “political enemies” come under heavy fire; facts, truth, decency, and logic also become casualties.
They ignore the substance of critiques and try to muddy the waters by making the critic, rather than the critique, the issue.
Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah is their latest object, as he had been in the past. As I pointed out in an April 19, 2022, article titled “Buhari Regime’s Bishop Kukah Obsession,” it appears that Adesina and Shehu are impelled by an uncontrollable urge to launch vicious personal attacks on Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah each time he says anything remotely uncomplimentary about the Buhari regime.
“There seems to be a standing order, perhaps even an article of faith, in the Buhari presidency that Bishop Kukah must never be left unanswered,” I wrote. “Even a cough from him that remotely mimics the sound that Buhari’s name makes must be responded to with the pettiest, most sullen, and least sensible comeback.”
The desperation of the spokespeople of the Buhari regime is understandable, of course: The more a government comes to terms with its ineptitude, the more it feels the need to up its lies to mask its failures. That’s why propaganda and lies are always proportional to governmental incompetence. That is, the more incompetent a government is, the more it uses propaganda and coarse attacks on critics as a tool of governance.
Nonetheless, the object of public relations, especially political public relations, should be to arm supporters with the ideational resources to defend a person or a position, to win over people who sit on the fence, to persuade opponents to see a person or a point of view as reasonable and worthy of their respect, etc.
This has been the core preoccupation of political public relations since 64 BC when Quintus Tullius Cicero wrote Commentariolum Petitionis, regarded by many scholars as the “first publication on electioneering and political public relations.”
In the pamphlet, Cicero said the goal of what we call political public relations today is “securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public” in addition to “impressing the voters at large.”
He advised people seeking elective office to “take stock of the many advantages you possess,” “cultivate relationships,” ensure “your family and those closely connected with you” are “all behind you and want you to succeed,” “secure supporters from a wide variety of backgrounds,” “seek out men everywhere who will represent you as if they themselves were running for office,” be aware that there “are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people,” and, finally, that the “most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you.”
Persuasion takes time and work. Even at its best, it is often a gradual process consisting of small, incremental changes at a time. Crude insults don’t persuade; they only lead to a boomerang effect. Smart persuaders don’t mimic the tactics and strategies of critics. While critics tear down, persuaders build up. And they can disarm critics with grace, warmth, and facts (if they have fact, that is).
In the run-up to the 2015 presidential election, by far the most sophisticated political campaign season in Nigeria since 1999, both APC and PDP deployed the services of well-known American political public relations firms to sway voters in Nigeria because all Nigerian public relations experts know to do is bribe Op Ed editors of newspapers to plan coarse, vulgar abuses against perceived political opponents or hire online troll factories to smear and heckle critics.
APC has used the services of AKPD Message and Media, a political consulting firm owned by former Obama campaign manager David Axelrod. PDP also used the Potomac Square Group, another well-known consulting firm headed by Joseph Trippi, who managed Howard Dean’s failed presidential bid in 2004.
Axelrod’s AKPD Message and Media gave Buhari a rhetorical makeover. He went from being a perennial contestant who was dogged by the lumbering baggage of bigotry to someone more people than ever saw as an alternative to Goodluck Jonathan. There were no juvenile personal attacks against critics by overpaid minions hiding under the pseudonymic cover of the Internet.
They shunned Nigeria’s crude, vulgar, illogical, abusive, and transparently mendacious political public relations. They are smart enough to know that the problem with crude, abusive political public relations is that it only excites and fires up supporters (who don’t need it because their loyalty is already in the bag), but repulses opponents and puts off people on the fence.
The goal of every intelligent political PR should be, as I pointed out earlier, to convince people on the fence to join you and possibly also win over opponents.
Amnesic Romanticization of Jonathan
I read that scores of people have marched to the home of former president Goodluck Jonathan to plead with him to run for president again. The major argument advanced by people asking for his return to power was that a bag of rice was between N7,000 and N11,000 when he was president.
Well, if we decide that governance should be reduced to the price of a bag of rice, maybe some people should also go beg former President Olusegun Obasanjo to revive his stillborn Third Term project because a bag of rice during his tenure was around N2,500. That’s infinitely cheaper than the price during Jonathan’s time.
And I’d advise the dewy-eyed revisionists to reserve some of their energy so that 4 or 5 years from now when the price of a bag of rice jumps from its current price of N33,000 to possibly N50,000— or more— they can beg Buhari to return to power to restore the price back to N33,000.
If Jonathan couldn’t reverse the price of a bag of rice to the amount it was when he took over power in 2010, if the price, in fact, kept rising steadily throughout his regime, why do people think he can take back the price of a bag of rice from N33,000 to N11,000 if he becomes president again?
How can people be this simplistic and amnesic?
Yes, Aisha Buhari eats from poor people’s money! By Festus Adebayo
Though the wife of the Nigerian president, Aisha Buhari, has discontinued her defamation case against Aminu Adamu, the final year student of the Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State, the court of public opinion cannot afford to throw the issue into the dustbin. In what was the Nigerian First Lady’s most recent controversy, having allegedly ordered the arrest and detention of the university student, massive flaks against her and the futility of continuing the matter, it was said, must have necessitated the withdrawal of the apparently dead-on-arrival matter.
Aside from the above, the concept of the First Lady and its implications for the social health of society today deserves to be re-examined. The cliché, “behind every great man is a great woman” has led political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers to look intently into the texture of the characters of spouses of rulers of the world. This is because, mere concentration on political actors and their policies have failed to unravel, in many cases, why they behave the way they do. With the arrest, detention, and alleged torture of Adamu on the orders of Mrs. Buhari, the question of who Aisha Buhari really is has been more compelling. Is she a villain dressed in the robe of power or a victim of the icing on the cake of power?
On a Twitter post, Adamu had attributed the bloat in the physique of the First Lady to and symbolizing excessive romance with the Nigerian national pot of soup. Adamu had specifically tweeted: Su mama anchi kudin talkawa ankoshi, which translates to “the mother has gotten fat on masses money.” He accompanied this tweet with a puffed-up picture of the First Lady. Piqued by what she must have considered a plebeian audacity, Aisha was reported to have ordered the young man’s arrest and his rough parceling to the Nigerian presidential villa, where he was allegedly tortured and remanded in prison,
The truth is that the First Lady and the Nigeria Police who charged Adamu for defamation by his tweet, perhaps due to the many decades of military rule, do not understand the proper concept of democracy; nor do they have a whiff of what representative democracy is all about. When purged of all the unnecessary icing of its highfalutin definition, representative democracy, which we practice in Nigeria, is a give-and-take concept. Also known as indirect democracy, it is a type of democracy where elected people act to represent a group of people. It is a system practiced by nearly all western-styled democracies, its typical examples being the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Broken down to its granules, in representative democracy, the people, aware of the disorder it would have meant for everybody to be in parliament and Government Houses at the same time, place the power to govern them in the hands of their representatives who they elect in a periodic election ritual.
Representative democracy has its origin in the Roman Republic, which was the first known state in the Western world to practice it. Romans sold this system to the world in which, though supreme power lay in the hands of the people, they ceded this power to their elected representatives who then wield the power on their behalf. In most instances, these are representatives who are felt to have superior knowledge of administering society or who possess some rare qualities that are not found in the generality of the people. The people however reserve the power and right to withdraw such powers in the form of recall from the parliament and impeachment of this erring representative by their representatives in the parliament.
To focus the attention of these representatives on the business of governance, the people make available to them some measure of comfort which they get from their consolidated national pool, their national patrimony. The house built in the people’s name and with their resources, which is christened Government House, is made available to these representatives to live in, free of charge. The ones who could not live in this house are rewarded in cash called Housing Allowance. It is not because they are more entitled to live therein than the people who they represent. They also eat free food, paid for the patrimony of the people. For their time which is sacrificed, they are paid salaries and other allowances. The health and well-being of these representatives are the bothers of the state. Thus, in many democracies, they are treated free of charge from the pool of the people’s money. In fact, so that they are not distracted, the state also pays for their children’s schooling and their wives’ comfort. The representative needed not to be distracted looking for food, and shelter, and bothering about the wellbeing of his spouse. So the state caters to virtually all the family members of the representative.
In the 2023 budget estimate, the offices of Aisha’s husband, President Buhari, and his Vice-President, will spend the sum of N11.92 billion on local and foreign trips, as well as on the presidential air fleet. It is inclusive of the sum of N1.58bn which was earmarked for aircraft maintenance and another N1.60bn which was allocated for the overhaul of the Gulfstream GV and CL605 aircraft engines of the presidential office. In the same vein, the Office of the President was slated to spend N2.49bn on local and foreign trips, and the Vice-President’s office, N846.61m. Fuelling of these aircraft, according to the budget, will cost the Nigerian taxpayers which comprised the poor and the rich, the sum of N250m, while N650m will be spent to purchase a new mobile helicopter landing pad.
In the same budget, the sum of N40.45m was penciled for the construction and equipping of a new presidential kitchen and a total of N508.71m to be spent on foodstuffs and refreshments, an amount which stands at N331.79m and N176.92m for the offices of the President and Vice-President respectively. I am not aware that the above sums emanated from the private wealth of Mrs. Buhari’s husband or from the proceeds of his cows in Daura. She can only be allowed to claim that she had not eaten the poor people of Nigeria’s money if any of the amounts earmarked for the Villa feeding and comfort does not have her participation in them in the last seven and half years.
It was this same Mrs. Buhari whose daughter, Hanan stirred the hornet’s nest when she was conveyed by the Presidential jet to attend the Durbar in Bauchi. By Nigerian governmental convention, it is only the President, First Lady, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, former Presidents, and a Presidential delegation, are allowed to use the Presidential jet. It will also be recalled that, in that year’s budget, the amount voted for the Presidential jets was N8.5bn. Hanan, who graduated in Photography from Ravensbourne University, London, was said to have gone to Bauchi on a special invitation as a special guest of honour of the Emir of Bauchi, Rilwanu Adamu.
Photographs of her Hanan disembarking from the presidential plane and being welcomed by Gombe State officials went viral around this time. The Emir was said to have invited her to the Durbar so that she could take photographs of the celebration, Bauchi architecture, as well as some other cultural sites in the state. While Mrs. Buhari’s daughter was engaged in this unconscionable abuse of office and waste of taxpayers’ money by this act, it beggars belief that the same woman would be miffed by the allegation that she was chopping poor Nigerian people’s money. Before getting into office, her husband, then Major General Buhari, was trenchant in his criticism of the Goodluck Jonathan government and the ones before him, for expending public funds on unjustifiable things.
For all our food and the comfort of our collective home called Aso Villa where she lives, all we ask from the First Lady is tolerance. She would only have had a defence in court if she could present verifiable and irrefutable evidence that she spends her personally earned money and not money belonging to the poor and the rich of Nigeria, to feed herself in the last seven and half years plus. If she could not, she would lack every right to litigate against a 24-year-old Nigerian who claimed that the Nigerian people’s money, with which she feeds, must have been responsible for her bloated physique. She might however have had a defence if she could provide evidence to show that she recently acquired sheppopotamus-size image – apologies for the nil discretion in an earlier statement by Prof Wole Soyinka so describing Mrs. Goodluck Jonathan – was as a result of a health challenge and not from proceeds of Nigerian people’s money which she chops legitimately.
With an apparent dearth of Paparazzi journalism in Nigeria, the type that unearthed several hidden details of Princess Diana’s liaison with her Arab consort, Dodi Fayed, scholars must rise to the people’s rescue and begin to piece Aso Villa jigsaws together. Perhaps by so doing, they could arrive at the current frame of mind and fitting psychoanalysis of the office of the First Lady under Buhari. Except for photo-op sessions, there have been allegations of no love lost between Aisha and the Nigerian president. Specific suggestions have even sidled into public discourse that the First Lady does not enjoy spousal attention from her husband.
The first absurd manifestation of this in the public was Mrs. Buhari’s open antagonism and criticisms of her husband’s government in the early years of the administration. This was so notoriously manifest that many people concluded that if indeed the couple lived together as husband and wife and indeed shared affection, she could have offered those pieces of advice in the presidential closet. In 2019, while appearing on a Lagos television show, Aisha was asked why she was always criticizing her husband in the public rather than having “pillow talk” conversations with him that symbolizes spousal affinity and interaction, she replied, “there is no pillow in the villa. No,” She however attributed this to their busy schedule.
Again, the brawl at the Villa between her and the leader of Aso Rock’s cabal, Mamman Daura, revealed an ugly underbelly of the relationship between Aisha and her husband. What came to the limelight was that the two live in different apartments in the Villa. The brawl between Daura’s daughter and the First Lady showed that there was an attempt to de-room Mrs. Buhari in favour of Daura’s daughter. On top of this, a couple of years ago, the First Lady packed her belongings out of her «matrimonial home» and made the UAE her home. These absurd revelations should interest scholars of the social health of Nigeria’s seat of power.
The psycho-analysis would need to be made of these mis-matrimonial manifestations in the First Family, so as to decipher whether Mrs. Buhari’s current fly-off the handle had a direct correlation to her matrimonial frustration. It was the same despotic disposition that Ondo State people saw in Feyi George, wife of their military governor, Naval Officer Olabode George, in the 1990s. The “couple” had left office before it came to the fore that that marriage was for the press and in actual fact, the two actors were miles apart and merely acting marriage. Scholars would thus need to help us unravel whether Nigerians are witnessing another marriage of convenience between Aisha and her husband, the Nigerian president. If this is it, we may then begin to see a connection or corollary between some disjunctive manifestations in power at Aso Rock and this spousal spat.
No woman would live with a fib that intent analysis of Aso Rock matrimony portrays as a presidential family without an occasional urge to bare the fangs of a tiger. It is not unlikely that what the world saw in the Adamu tackling was an attempt to grasp at a straw which the “power wielder” mis-perceived as power through that unnecessary anger at Adamu. This is because Mrs. Buhari looks too charming and matronly to behave in a manner that could only have been advertised by Mrs. Idi Amin Dada.
What Mrs. Buhari did with Adamu was a crude and naked abuse of power. If she wasn’t wrong by her act, then our fathers and mothers who died in the bid to dethrone military rule and embrace democracy died in vain. People died and were maimed for us to be where we are today, the courtyard of free speech. Free speech can only be checkmated by defamation and not the baring of a wolf’s claws. It is the antithesis to use the democratic office to harass anyone like a despot. Why what Aisha Buhari did to Adamu was an oxymoronic tragedy to the Nigerian people that, by that act, she got our people to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
When the lenders come calling, govt will do worse than Nalule by Joachim Buwembo
When the now 40-year-old Gertrude Nalule lost her husband in a car crash a couple of years back, a bleak future stared at her with her seven children, five of them biological. But her good neighbours in the Kampala suburb of Namungona came to her rescue and contributed to having a modest house built for her, though not to perfect completion. An apparently good neighbour offered her a small loan of Ush3 million shillings (less than $1,000) to boost her groceries business.
But soon after contracting the debt, Covid-19 struck and the business collapsed. The neighbour demanded his money and amidst painful toiling, Nalule kept paying bits amounting to what she had borrowed. But she hadn’t reckoned with what is now called a mbaata (duck) agreement in Kampalaspeak, agreement moneylenders now prefer, were like a sitting duck, the borrower is made to sign a document declaring that they have sold their property to the lender at a sum much higher than that disbursed.
Nalule had signed a mbaata agreement to the effect that she had sold her home for Ush10 million (about $3,000) and the neighbour wanted “his” house and plot since she had defaulted on the loan. He tried to make her accept a couple of millions to complete the “sale” and she refused to take it. He went to court, which ruled in his favour, and Nalule was sentenced to prison for six months for defaulting. After serving two months in jail, her story ran on NTV, catching the attention of the indefatigable Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, who stormed the country’s main prison of Luzira.
Rotting in prison
Nabbanja discovered to her horror that besides Nalule, about 650 other women are also rotting in prison after signing mbaata agreements. Nabbanja swiftly paid off some Ush2.5 million, which the money lender said Nalule still owed in interest, and secured her release.
But even as Nalule cried in relief calling Nabbanja “mother” and “saviour” as she was driven in an official car to go a reunite with her children, she and the prime minister were in for a rude shock. The money lender insisted the home was his and demanded that Nalule’s wretched family (the eldest girl of 17 had missed her O’level final exams while the middle one had missed her primary leaving exams as a result of the mother’s imprisonment) quit immediately. Nabbanja caused a session with the magistrate who had the jailed Nabbanja and yes, he insisted that Nalule surrenders the house, that the law is the law. The prime minister with the victim were left with the mbaata sitting on their chest.
The prime minister’s woes were not about to end. Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo was furious with her tampering with the independence of the judiciary. A statement was immediately issued assuring the judicial officers of his support both in private and public. A couple of days later, the chief justice used the occasion of a judiciary conference to put the prime minister in her place. He explicitly told her to use her zeal in more useful endeavours like supervising the Executive’s non-performing projects including a power dam that closed two months after commissioning. And so on the Nabbanja bashing continued.
But as the learned brothers and sisters continue bashing the down-to-earth Nabbanja, they seem not bothered that the country is in the same position as the 650 Ugandan women jailed in their country after signing “duck” agreements and losing their property as well. Yes, the country borrows from foreign money lenders who behave no better than local shylocks who take advantage of widows. We borrow for projects and only a tiny fraction of the loan ever comes to the country. Heaven knows how many billions on our debt account are for granite and road-building materials dug from our soil, most of the rest going to consultancy services paid abroad. The government’s contribution to the project does most of the funding anyway. One lender demanded for the government’s contribution upfront and took it away to earn interest in deposits. A vigilant parliament committee forced them to return the money. Another lender took the country’s contribution to first build a road, and guess where? In wealthy Kuwait. As our judiciary pours scorn on “duck” women victims, someone should tell them the whole country is treated like a duck by foreign lenders.
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