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?
Nigeria’s Currency Crisis: Time to deploy Amotekun, By Chinedu Chidi
I have thought long and hard about just the right solution to the downward spiral of the Naira, and confidently believe I have come up with the perfect response. It is my humble proposal that the time is right to deploy the dreaded Amotekun to arrest this situation. I’ll explain why.
Since it is now clear that the Naira’s salvation is not in the hallways of the CBN or the gold-plated policy rooms of Bretton Woods, but in the battle grounds of the nook and cranny of Nigeria, all patriotic Nigerians must now rightly ignore suit-wearing technocrats and search for militant solutions with real promise. As a patriotic citizen, I have risen to this challenge. I would humbly like to thank the patriotic Nigerian leadership, from the CBN to the Executive, for leading us into this new era of mortal combat.
Only a few days ago, we were greeted with the live action scene of security operatives combating BDC operators in the nation’s capital, discharging live ammunition in broad daylight in an open civilian space like fearless patriots at the battle front. The EFCC and accompanying security operatives charged forward and backwards as the enemies of state dared challenge them. It was almost like a combat scene from Gibson’s Braveheart. I was touched. I’m not too sure, but I may have heard the humming of the national anthem from these fearless patriots as they battled the savage saboteurs. What a touching moment! Someone who was at the scene mentioned that these patriots recited the pledge before the onslaught. I can’t confirm this for sure, but if it did occur, it would be consistent with the new nationalistic fervour of the Tinubu administration as reported in the news recently that citizens would be required to recite the pledge at events. I also hear the operation is going on in different parts of the country. All these, coming only days after Sahad Stores, a retail supermarket in Abuja, was forcibly shut down for “economic sabotage”, fill me with great joy. Some unpatriotic citizens had shockingly opposed the move, claiming Sahad Stores was one of the good ones, and that deploying force would not resolve the inflation crisis. Cowards and co-conspirators! They’re too distracted by textbook ideas to see that we’re in war. Shame.
Normally, I would have recommended the army for this most important national assignment, but they’re overstretched. They’re battling terrorists, bandits, armed robbers, secessionists, their welfare; just about every violent aggressor around. The police would have been my second option but they too are preoccupied and, as some mischievous people claim, have a special DNA for compromise. For these and some other reasons which I will explain, Amotekun has my blessings.
I know Amotekun is also seriously engaged with battling bandits in the South West, but they must be pleaded with to spare some personnel for this all-too-important national emergency. Their stealth, daredevil disposition, and my favourite—charms from the gods— will come in handy.
I have heard rumours that some of the BDCs hide their stockpile of dollars in forests. This is the domain of the Amotekun warriors. Through their local intelligence gathering and tactical navigation of the forests, they can uncover these dollar chests and win for the country a huge deliverance. Their spiritual protection against wild animals and attacks from dark forces will be very useful here.
I am also confident that what has for so long appeared to be the near-impossible goal of finding the dollars some loud-mouthed people claim are hidden by politicians, bank executives and— I struggle to even contemplate it— CBN officials will be spiritually detected by Amotekun. We desperately need this.
It was with great joy that I also received the news that our gallant security personnel are now stopping truckloads of food from leaving the country. What took them so long! How can any patriotic businessman think of trade and profit at a time of economic crisis? This beats my imagination. I am even more infuriated by the argument of their unpatriotic defenders that we don’t have food scarcity, just food unaffordability, and that we can’t seriously let them abandon their goods in warehouses while the vast majority of Nigerians can’t purchase them. This is so inconsiderate and sad. Their argument that the exports bring in needed forex at this time of forex crisis is also another textbook nonsense. Shame on them.
I am particularly touched by Cardoso’s sincerity and humility. Realizing that the air-conditioned policies have hit the brick wall and that the fight has morphed into street combat, he did not try to deceive the populace about it. This is uncommon (apologies to Akpabio) pragmatism.
I want to enjoin the President to rally leaders in the South West towards mass mobilization of Amotekun for this national assignment. We can’t afford to fail!
Chinedu Chidi is a public affairs commentator. He can be reached via: email@example.com
The problem of DRC’s beautiful wife, maize it planted by roadside, By Charles Onyango-Obbo
Watching the upheaval in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days, one is tempted to invoke the African proverb that “the man who marries a beautiful woman and the farmer who grows maize by the roadside have the same problem.”
The police fired tear gas on Monday to disperse protesters who burned tyres and US and Belgian flags near Western embassies and UN offices in the capital Kinshasa, angry about insecurity in eastern Congo.
The protesters claim the West supports Rwanda, which they and their government accuse of backing the M23 rebellion, whose advance could see them seize the strategic border city of Goma in the east.
This is a new phase of what has become an entrenched tradition of the Congolese oscillating between blaming everyone else but themselves for their problems, and demanding that other people solve these problems, including fighting for them.
In recent years — rightly — the Congolese have railed, then attacked, the long-running and ineffectual United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) for not ending the rebellion in the east.
In late 2022, DRC’s kin in the EAC dispatched the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) to separate the warring sides. Before long, Kinshasa and the people had risen against them, hounding them to go out to the jungle and fight the rebels for them. At the end of last year, EACRF left DRC with its tail between its legs.
Because the Congolese are our brothers and sisters, and we have a responsibility to love them, we also have a duty to tell them uncomfortable truths that will help them overcome.
So, we will return to our proverb. African proverbs are complicated. First, one needs to know that they passed into society through the mouths of men who were not feminists, so too many of them tend to portray women in bad light.
This one paints a heroic hard-working farmer (although it is mostly women, not men, who work the land in Africa) whose maize is stolen by passers-by, in contrast with the beautiful wife who betrays her husband and falls to the charms of other men.
However, African proverbs are also layered, so there is what they say, and the many things they mean. In this case, that people will covet a good thing — a good crop, a beautiful woman and, if we may add, a handsome, enterprising man. The “problem” here is how to keep your maize, beautiful wife, and enterprising husband. If you are better than all the men who hit on her, your beautiful wife will stay faithfully by your side.
Having your wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend run off with someone else can be very hurtful, but if you have a cantankerous truth-telling African aunt or uncle, they will also whisper to you that a partner whom no other man or woman has ever or will ever want is probably not worth having.
In real-world Congo politics, then, the reality is rebels will have friends and allies at home and abroad. Even Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), as despicable as a rebel group can ever be, had friends outside who backed it.
The thing that should terrify everyone is a rebel group that no one wants to touch with a 10-metre pole, both in the day and night. The opposite is also true of rebels fighting to overthrow a government. If it is a government that doesn’t have a single friend even in the cynical world of geopolitics, then it’s probably worse than a cabal of cannibals.
For Congo, what is left is how to solve this “problem”. To stay with the farmer and the beautiful wife, what the Congolese are doing is like the strapping young man in old Africa who spent all his time attacking his parents, relatives, neighbours, and their friends because they failed to give him cattle to pay a bride price for a wife and build a hut for him to live in with her.
The scale of surrender of agency by many Congolese, including the political class and the government, is unsettling.
It’s partly understandable, too. The unusually brutal Belgian rule; the exploitation of all sorts of vultures for its vast minerals lasting over 100 years now; and an unbroken long spell of corrupt and cruel rule, have broken its self-confidence. The way to come to terms with the scale of failure and remain sane is to externalise all the problems to evil forces.
It has led to national paralysis, a belief that they can’t do much on their own to overcome.
DRC’s neighbours to the east, Uganda and Rwanda, offer good lessons. When President Yoweri Museveni took to the bush with his small band of rebels in 1981, the odds were stacked up against them. The British had a big programme with a special police force; the Tanzanian army that helped overthrow military dictator Idi Amin was on the side of the government, and hardy North Koreans soon got into the fight against them. They still won.
The prospects were even worse for the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front when it crossed from Uganda and took to treacherous hills in 1990. Apart from Uganda, it was alone against the world, including one of the world’s superpowers at the time, France, which was in bed with the government in Kigali. They suffered setbacks, picked themselves up, and won.
Congo can win, but first, it will have to plant its own maize and fight its war for its own beautiful wife.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the «Wall of Great Africans». Twitter@cobbo3
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