Raheem Akingbolu calls on the promoters of the Tinubu-Shettima Administration, led by the Minister of Information, to make a conscious effort, devoid of unnecessary propaganda and half-truths, in restoring public trust, promoting unity among Nigerians and communicating government policies
In recent years, various independent surveys and analysts have shared abysmally poor results on trust and suspicion on the part of Nigerians toward the government and its activities. Little by little, citizens are giving up on patriotism and hope for a better future, a situation, which has further fueled the ‘japa’ syndrome.
In 2021, the Edelman Trust Barometer, a study of social issues with trust at the apex, reported that trust level in Nigeria was as low as 49 per cent in 2021, overall, for the four critical institutions of Government, Business, Media, and Non-Government Organisations. A breakdown shows the distrust is highest with the Government; its poor scores pulled down the aggregate. Government scored only 24 per cent trust with Nigerians. Media scored 44 per cent. Citizens trust NGOs highest at 65 per cent, followed by Business at 62 per cent.
A 49 per cent score means that half of Nigerians do not trust Government, Business, Media, and NGOs.
Two years later, the situation appears to have become worse. This is the Nigeria that Tinubu and his team have thus ‘inherited’. Unfortunately, the last administration was also a product of Tinubu’s party and this will make excuses inexplicable. Perhaps the only option is for the new administration to right the wrong and base its communication approach on one of the basic principles of Public Relations; ‘Truth well told’.
To this end, in setting the agenda for the incoming administration some stakeholders in the media and marketing communications industry in the country, who spoke to THISDAY unanimously agreed that management of the information portfolio by the previous administration was more activity-driven than strategy-driven.
As a first step to reposition governance and the country, they have called on Idris to review Nigeria’s national policy on information through which he would develop a comprehensive information strategy that will drive all activities. They have also called for the integration of all government activities into a single strategy that would be shared with all stakeholders; Nollywood, music, public communication, embassies and others, to digest. The stakeholders commended the ongoing reform in the Marketing Communication industry which has led to the ban of foreign models in media advertisement, local enquiry on investment, promoting equity and fairness within the ecosystem, describing the development as ways to grow the media and advertising ecosystem in the country.
Information Management Reforms
For the administration to accomplish its ‘Renewed Hope’ agenda, they have called for a review of the country’s information management and communications strategy. In separate interviews with THISDAY, some of the information management experts, while admitting that the Buhari administration recorded successes in some sectors, condemned its approach to information and communications, which they insisted didn’t resonate well with Nigerians.
While some blamed the Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, for his inability to change his communication template of propaganda which was deployed while he was an opposition spokesperson, some blamed the entire team for undermining the significance and role of communications in public governance. However, in what looks like a unanimous position, most of the experts commended the choice of Mohammed Idris as the minister of Information because of his media and marketing communications backgrounds. According to the experts, Idris would know the consequence of whatever he says and have huge influence to churn out information on various media channels. They argued that Lai Mohammed’s deficiency in training and capacity affected the final picture and image painted about the Buhari administration.
A Mass Communication Lecturer at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Ogba, Lagos, Dr. Jide Johnson, while calling on the new minister of Information to deploy necessary communication strategies toward finding a lasting solution to the division and disintegration in the country, expressed his regret that the previous administration did not make enough effort at engendering national unity, national cohesion and social harmony.
He said, “The Buhari administration played down the public concern about ethnicity, tribalism and religious extremism all of which the country’s media infrastructure and architecture needed to have put on the front burner. All these made his tenure ineffectual.”
Speaking further, the mass communication lecturer also expressed his regret over the way and manner organs of the information sector were in paralysis under Mr. Lai Muhammed. “Too bad, under the former information minister, FRCN was literally dead, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) was riddled with allegations of scandals as regards a never – ending digital switch over and a globetrotting director-general. The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was reduced to a mere passenger within the top TV networks behind Channels, TVC and ARISE Television.
“The National Orientation Agency (NOA) died long ago and perhaps still remains in the morgue. The Voice of Nigeria (VON) and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) only collect paltry subventions and remain charity organisations for paying salaries to helpless and hapless unproductive staff. I must add that the administration did well in opening up the Advertising industry through the reform being done by the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) but beyond that the new administration should engage registered marketing communications practitioners to help drive the government communications process,” Johnson said.
Managing Trust and Suspicion
The President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Mr. Steve Babaeko, who expressed his confidence in the Tinubu administration, admitted that members of the public are suspicious of the government and its policies.
He said, “Firstly, I extend my congratulations to the Honourable Minister of Information and wish him a successful tenure. Moving beyond felicitations, it’s crucial to acknowledge that due to years of distrust, the public remains highly suspicious of the government and its policies. The foremost task at hand is to restore this trust. Achieving this will require a commitment to openness and transparency. Additionally, consistent engagement with the citizens is imperative, enabling them to feel a sense of ownership over government policies, particularly when they have significant ramifications on their lives, such as the recent subsidy removal.”
On his part, a communication strategist, marketer and scholar with extensive media and industry experience consulting in Nigeria, Mr. Chido Nwakanma, who pointed out that Nigeria is reaping the fruits of distrust, described trust as one of the essential foundations of society and that it features in law, commerce, insurance and banking, jurisprudence, and almost everything that people do in the community.
While calling for immediate action from the new Information Minister, Nwakanma said, “From the North East and North West, our increasing slide to anarchy is a function of growing distrust. Government is absent yet makes frivolous claims and outright lies that fuel distrust. The growing distrust threatens our entire system more than even the government’s inefficiencies or the failings of the other sectors. We will examine in subsequent interventions the broader implications for the four pillars. Distrust is an invitation to the Land of Hobbes where every man looks out for himself, all hoping for God and praying that the Devil takes the last even as he advances. Danger!”
Concluding, he called on the government to communicate more effectively with the people, adding that the approach must be strategic and engaging.
Leadership and Communications
Speaking on leadership orientation in public service and how best to approach communications of government’s activities, the President of the Media Independent Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MIPAN) and Chairman of Heads of Advertising Sectoral Groups (HASG), Mr. Femi Adelusi, observed that a national orientation should be around leadership accountability in terms of what public service is and the need to recognize the citizen as the master.
“In marketing we say the consumer is king, in public service the general citizen (I am reluctant to use the term masses) should be seen as king. The people need to be educated on key issues like subsidy removal, why it’s necessary, what the revenue will be used for and the citizens must see what it’s being used for. Communication is about the 5 senses and not the hearing alone.
“The man on the street doesn’t understand why the fuel prices are going up, he needs to be told and shown how the issues have been resolved. I am yet to see a massive flooding of the roads with more buses for transport, more routes coverage by BRT, small bus routes for inner cities, extensive acceleration in current railway network development etc. Transportation system requires a state of emergency to make it easy for people to commute. Why can’t Lagos have a TRAM System in the median or side of Ikorodu road from Ikorodu/ojota/Yaba/Lagos Island? And another in the median of Oshodi to Sango Otta? The bus system needs to be escalated, digitized to the extent that people can see routes, timing of buses, trains schedules from their phones and in their languages and so on,” Adelusi said.
The media buying expert also spoke on the need for the information ministry to work with other ministries to drive information gathering and sharing across Ministries on what they are doing and show the people the results to get feedback.
“People want to feel, see and touch the changes, they are tired of hearing about what’s coming. Also, Government needs to ask the people about their pain points. So, for me, before any national engagement, orientation must be preceded by research, we need an extensive and consistent forum to listen to people. Government talks to the citizens a lot, but does not listen enough. Every minister should have a quarterly listening and responsive direct engagement of the key stakeholders in their sectors.
“I think much has been proposed and done in the area of regulation already and this is enough for now. It should be more on tweaking and adapting reforms to suit and enhance the real business sectors that drive the economy. The industry stakeholders and professionals should now lead in driving the adaptation, tweaks, implementation of the reforms in line with what they want to see and should be encouraged to drive the changes/implementations. I would like to see industry lead changes, reforms and enforcement with the Government’s role being an enabler. Communicating is not just telling the people, it’s about listening, showing, measuring the impact via research. Energy should be channeled to doing transformative things that improve lives and enable businesses at scale,” Adelusi stated.