Motola Oyebanjo: "President Buhari… I Can’t Hear You!"
I am a Buhari enthusiast but I am not excited right now. It has been over 8 months since General Buhari took up the office of President of Federal Republic of Nigeria and I believe we are not getting the right ‘vibes’ from his administration at the moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I have not said the President and his team are not working. On the contrary, there are very positive results already. It’s the ‘vibes’ that are the problem.
Case in point is the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency. I recently had a heartfelt discussion with the MD of one of the leading FMCGs in Nigeria and he provided concrete evidence about the success witnessed in this area. He stated that in many parts of the north where their business had been seriously affected by the insurgency, many distributors and retailers were beginning to do business again and pay back debts owed for months. This shows clearly that the battle is gradually being won and normal life is returning to these communities.
Yet, all I am hearing on CNN is that Boko Haram bombed the IDP camps. (This is truly a very unfortunate occurrence for which I commemorate with our brothers and sisters in the North.) These painful setbacks are unfortunately not unusual in a war. However, what of the concrete results and victories? 12 of 14 LGAs the size of Belgium now reclaimed by our Military. Where are the President’s story tellers, pushing the messages out into the public? Where is the Media and Communications team who should be telling the citizens and the world what we are doing right? The Communications machine that got him into office or a similar one needs to be revived and reactivated.
When the President selected his media team, I was one of the many who celebrated the honorable, reputable professionals that had been chosen for this important role. I am now asking this same team what is going on.
I became even more concerned when from quick research I discovered I couldn't engage with our President and the Federal Government online too. A quick comparison between our President and Barack Obama on leading social media sites brought out these alarming statistics:
Twitter: Most recent tweet by @BarackObama was on the 17th of February 2016. Last tweet by @MBuhari… 6th September 2015
Facebook: Last post by Barack Obama was on 18th February 2016. Last post by President Buhari was on the 14th February with only 4 posts thus far in 2016.
Instagram: Last post by @BarackObama was on 17th February 2016. Last post by @ThisIsBuhari… 34 weeks ago.
LinkedIn: On LinkedIn, the place of discourse for professionals, there are about four (4) Buhari accounts, none of which seem to actually belong to him.
The Federal Ministry of Information website though well updated is not engaging and still has Season’s Greetings messages up in February. Many of the posts on Facebook and on Twitter are linked to the Voice of Nigeria website. Is the FMI getting its news from VON or the reverse? The number of followers on these platforms is also dismally low compared to the number of Nigerians online.
Where then are Nigerians getting information about their country and what their government is up to? How are they engaging with their leaders? From biased Newspaper reports or from CNN? We should consider the consequence of others hijacking this process and feeding people with the wrong information.
I am calling out the President's Communications team to do more, much more. They should not get distracted by other duties and forget their core responsibility - Communication, Information Dissemination and Engagement.
Most of us are committed to a better Nigeria and I would like to encourage a discourse that helps us get it right and get the message across to the right people. Here are my thoughts on what can be done by our or any government to get communications right. I'd like to hear your thoughts too.
1) Get the Right People: Pick the right team to develop the right messages, set the right agenda and drive it. The debate on whether these should actually be PR/Communications Experts instead of Seasoned Journalists is an ongoing one. HR tells us the Job description should guide the hire not the other way around.
2) Not a Re-branding but Effective Brand Management: Brand Management for Nigeria and the Presidency. Governments, same as corporate brands, need to develop strong messages their audiences can connect with... a reason to believe. It won’t just happen, it needs to be a decisive long term plan using various media, soft power elements and tools. Many of us believed the CHANGE message because it was deliberate, planned and well delivered. That’s what we need.
3) Lead the Discourse. We are in the digital age. People are not waiting for the newspaper to tell them what is happening, they are checking online, discussing with friends on mobile and on social media. If the government doesn’t lead the conversation, someone else will. They will tell it their way and get people believing it, and the government will continually be in damage control mode. Lead the discourse.
4) Be proactive in Information dissemination, not Reactive. Drawing from number 3, the government should not wait for people to raise issues before addressing them. They need to be more proactive. Recognize the need to keep your people informed. From the trader to the professor, we all need to be in tune with what the government is up to. It’s not an easy task but it is possible.
5) Engage the international community: Every time I turn to CNN, it’s bad news (okay, not every single time). Although this happens beyond Nigeria stories, the truth is even bad news can be delivered with a positive twist if we are proactive in our approach instead of defensive and reactive. Also, we should be sharing our concrete results. Let’s get them some great success stories out there.
6) Unify Communications across the government. Again let’s take a leaf out of the pages of corporate organizations. No message goes out without it being in line with set Communications guidelines or being vetoed by the Corporate Communications team. It ensures that the organization, in this case the government, does not send out conflicting messages and is pushing the core agreed messages out to the nation and beyond.
7) Be accessible. I’d like to know very clearly where to go to when I need information about my government. It is of great concern if I visit the official website and social media pages and still cannot get the information I need on current happenings in government. Communication must be accessible.
The buy-in and support of the citizenry requires effective information dissemination, communications and engagement. We need to do better and I’m confident we can. What do you think we should be doing better?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Motola Oyebanjo is a Strategic Communicator and trained Economist. She has served as Head of Corporate Communications for the British Council and Internal Communications Manager for Unilever. She is currently a Partner & Client Service Director of the award winning advertising firm AerialView Marketing Communications and Managing Editor for Study International Nigeria.