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Elections and Meaningless Campaign Slogans
By Magnus Onyibe
Sloganeering and symbolism are very effective and critical tools used by marketing experts to attract and retain the attention of their targeted audience. They are conceived with a view to ingraining messages into the memories of targeted audience through its catchy or clever appellation.
As such, it is not by sheer happenstance that the most globally recognisable products and services such as the iconic Coca-Cola-had ‘coke is it’ as its slogan; much the same way that Nike- the foremost sports wear firm had ‘Just do it’ while Citibank had ‘Citi never sleeps’ and Zenith Bank has ‘In your best interest’ as their slogans at one point or the other in the development process of the brands.
A critical study of the slogans and symbols would reveal that they actually conveyed clear and unambiguous messages to their target audiences hence the products and services became famous.
When you juxtapose that art of selling products and services in the world of commerce and industry into the arena of politics and politicking, you would realise that trying to convince a constituent to vote for a particular politician entails identifying a common issue/cause and then marketing the leadership and competence qualities of the candidate that would provide solutions to the identified challenge to the electorate.
Like what obtains in the commerce and industry space, it involves the crafting of slogans and design of symbols that would best deliver the vision and mission of the politician succinctly.
In Nigeria, rather than crafting a slogan/mantra or symbol clearly defining and delivering the agenda of a candidate contesting for a public office, most slogans/mantras swirling around the political firmaments today are tilted more towards verbosity as if in competition with a former member of House of Representatives, Patrick Obahiagbon a.k.a lgodomigodo who has turned bombastic writing and speaking into an art.
The assertion above is validated by the fact that most political slogans in Nigeria are mere mumbo jumbo as opposed to conveying any distinctive and meaningful campaign message.
Arising from the foregoing, as someone who knows a thing or two about strategic communication, I’m of the view that heading into election 2019, there has been bastardisation of slogans/mantras and symbols which is geared more towards the sound rather the content.
To drill the conversation to the current existential reality, what positive message does ATlKULATE convey to an average voter and what emotion is expected to be activated when Atiku Abubakar supporters and loyalists pose the question: Are you ATIKULATED?
Compare the blandness of ATIKULATED as a slogan to the positivism and clear messaging intrinsic in:
I STAND WITH ATIKU which is an unequivocal declaration and pledge of support to Atiku Abubakar in his quest for the presidency a second time.
A couple of weeks ago, l was in Enugu where l was attending a friend’s wedding and saw billboards with pictures of the governor of the state with a bold inscription: Enugu State is in God’s hands. Is Gov Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi informing the good people of Enugu that he is God or a god? If that’s the case, is that not being messianic?
Similarly, just last week, l was in Benue State where l was involved in the funeral ceremonies of my mother in-law, Rt Hon Maria Aikulola and l saw erected billboards with imposing photos of Governor Ortom, the incumbent governor of the state. His surname Ortom had been rebranded ORTOMATIC.
Is the message in the billboard aimed at conveying a message to voters that the governor’s election is automatic?
If that’s the case, is the impression not being created that Ortom’s return to power in 2019 is a done deal with or without the support of the good people of Benue State? Is that not a case of extreme presumption?
Owing to time constraint, l don’t have the luxury of delving much into the situation in Kano where KWAKWANSIYA movement, when Musa Kwankwaso held sway as governor, was and remains a formidable political force after the concept was elevated to an art through effective sloganeering and symbolism via the wearing of red caps by devotees.
For the similar reason of time limitation, I also would not be dwelling on the concept of Buharism or Buharideen whose adherents are manifestly dye-in-the-wool, if not fanatical supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari due to the myth of incorruptibility that he evinces.
Nevertheless, without much ado, I would like to quickly make historical references to how the dexterous use of sloganeering and symbolism in politics propelled presidential candidates to victory in the USA-a country that Nigeria is modelling her presidential system of governance after.
By far the easiest reference points would be Presidents Barrack Obama and Donald Trump, the 44th and 45th presidents of the USA, respectively.
In contemporary USA history, the aforementioned presidents are on record to have effectively used slogans/mantras in remarkable ways to turn the tide of politics in the USA in their favour.
Take for instance Barrack Obama who crafted the popular slogan ‘Yes We Can’ and which propelled him into the White House against the run of play.
As a black presidential candidate whose progenitors were mere slaves and servants in the White House, USA seat of power, Obama had huge odds stacked up against him. So he needed a powerful punch line such as ‘Yes We Can’ to inspire the electorate into believing that nothing in life is impossible. And the strategy worked.
The ‘Yes We Can’ slogan was necessary because it was inconceivable that a scion of a black American who not until 1865 after the 13th amendment were slaves in the USA could rise up to become the number one citizen of the country.
The seeming impossibility of a black man becoming president of the USA was reinforced by the inability of Rev Jesse Jackson to become president after vying for the presidency several times without success. So the strategy of applying ‘Yes We Can’ slogan as a battle cry was intended to be a kind of shot in the arm for the despondent and weary minority electorate. It was also aimed at firing up their emotions and galvanizing them into a movement that would spur the Caucasian millennial young adults (who were not born during the dehumanisation of blacks through slavery) into opting for competence as opposed to allowing primordial sentiments that were still being nursed by their parents becloud their judgement. Thus, the little known Barack Obama defeated the formidable Hilary Clinton of the Clinton dynasty in the Democratic party primaries and went on to trounce the republican party candidate, Mitt Romney in the 2008 presidential elections.
For the sake of emphasis, it is apropos to recall that before Obama’s emergence, it was thought impossible for a black man to become president, hence ‘Yes We Can’ became a sort of magic wand designed to lift Obama from a first term senator in Chicago into the hallowed Oval Office of the president located at No 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.
Against the foregoing backdrop, ‘Yes We Can’ is obviously a distillation of Obama’s audacity of hope to become president in a land where his forebears were slaves a little over 100 years ago.
Another veritable reference point is the current president of the USA, Donald Trump who has also toed a similar path of enjoying the benefits of a slogan/mantra bolstered by an existential issue-ultra nationalism.
Riding on the prevailing global anti globalisation sentiments as reflected by the British people voting to exit the European Union now referred to as Brexit, Trump stoked the fire of ethnicity in the USA by adopting the ‘America First’ slogan.
By so doing, the toxic undercurrents of discontent in rural America against foreigners came alive with Trumps ‘America First’ agenda. Ultimately, Trump became the messiah being looked up to mainly by folks in rural America calling for walls to be built around the USA borders to keep away immigrants, especially their South American brothers who they are accusing of stealing their jobs and Africans who Trump alleged are from ‘shithole’ countries.
In less than two years ‘America First’ slogan has been so powerful to the extent that today, we are all witnesses to the xenophobic sentiments that have become very dangerously pervasive in the USA. This is evidenced by the rise of the obnoxious Ku Klux Klan (KKK) which is a throw back to the darkest days of racism and segregation, and reflected by other ethnic supremacist groups now fanning the embers of racism in the USA hitherto known as the land of the free where every citizen of the world went freely to chase the so called American dream.
Another angle to the Trump phenomenon is that as a self made multi billionaire, most American voters elected their current president with the hope that he would deploy his wealth building skills towards turning around American economy.
Remarkably, the PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar is like Trump, a multi billionaire who literarily turned straw into gold by pulling himself up by his bootstraps after being orphaned at infancy.
However, not much has been done to push that Unique Selling Point (USP) as strength for the PDP presidential candidate.That’s perhaps because the opposition has tried to damage his reputation by tarring him with the brush of corruption. In my considered opinion, with no evidence of corruption or conviction in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world against Atiku Abubakar, his accomplishments as an astute wealth creator which are evident by the business empire and institutions that he has founded or Co founded, should be projected.
Clearly, it is through similar self promotion, that Donald Trump whose optical scope does not go beyond the USA, became the president of the most powerful country on earth.
So by and large, what the trend of slogans/mantras and symbols analyzed above indicate is that, it is basically the candidates for election into public offices who are smart enough to key into the prevailing pressing issue of concern to the electorate at that particular point in time, and use it as rallying force or battle cry, that emerge victorious at the polls.
In the light of the foregoing, what is the malaise afflicting a broad spectrum of Nigerians today that would be potent enough to be used as a rallying force to get the electorate to vote out the current government in power? Is it the alarming incidents of insecurity of lives and property especially in the north east; the scandalous rate of poverty ravaging the masses nationwide, or the lack of credible economic plan/strategy to lead Nigeria into prosperity from the current sorry state of the economy and the chord of disunity that has been sown in the course of campaign for 2015 elections and perpetuated by the 97/5% rhetorics by then president-in-waiting, Muhammadu Buhari, post election?
In 2015, then opposition party, APC now the ruling party, orchestrated the alarming rate of corruption in the country which it promised to eradicate as a battle cry and Nigerians listened to what sounded like a clarion call. And that’s largely because candidate Buhari, a man who had become a cult figure or mascot for uprightness and integrity was the person seeking to replace president Goodluck Jonathan, then incumbent President who had been tagged with corruption toga.
Given the perfect hatred that Nigerians had for corruption as they generally believed that politicians with sticky fingers and fraudulent public servants are responsible for their plight , the CHANGE mantra that the APC adopted as its slogan was most apt and auspicious .
One thing that can be gleaned from the details in my cataloguing of the positive effects of use of slogans/ sloganeering and symbolism in politics is that it is a very efficacious tool. So the message that l’m striving to convey is how deeply, effectively and far-reaching a slogan based on philosophy has gone in changing the political atmosphere in the USA as evidenced by the good fortune of Barack Obama and Donald Trump who became presidents of the USA on account of correct messaging.
Contrary to the situation in the USA, and unlike during 2015 elections, slogans/sloganeering and symbolism in Nigeria have not had similar disruptive effect on who becomes the president of Nigeria in the manner that it influenced the emergence of Barack Obama and Donald Trump as no the #1 citizens of the USA and occupants of the White House back-to-back as 44th and 45th presidents.
And the reason is simple:
Most slogans by Nigerian politicians have no underlying philosophical underpinnings. Put succinctly, they are base and banal.
Apart from the change mantra used by the APC in 2015 to ride into Aso Rock villa, no impactful and catchy slogan has been couched by the current political parties in the current political dispensation..
Consider the current APC slogan of ‘Next Level’ which has been derided and parodied by most Nigerians mostly for its meaninglessness. Next level to more loss of lives to religious insurgents, nepotism or visionless leadership owing to prioritising anti corruption over and above growing the economy. The slogan is even made worse by the fact that it is being alleged that it is a product of plagiarism.
Against the backdrop of the scenario described above, can APC’s 2019 campaign slogan ‘Next Level’ be compared to their CHANGE mantra in 2015?
Judge for your self!
By the same token, can ATICULATED coined from the People Democratic Party, PDP 2019 presidential candidate’s first name, Atiku convey the determination of the PDP and its candidate to rescue Nigeria from economic decay and strangulation leveraging Atiku’s economic management wizardry which seems to be the mission?
With all sense of humility, I would argue that it does not.
At the state level, I have heard of Okowability derived from the surname of the current governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa. I’m aware that the governor of my state has in his first tenure been focused on infrastructure development as reflected by the significant number of infrastructural facilities such as roads that have been constructed or reconstructed under his watch. So why can’t it be emphasised that Okowa is a ROAD MASTER?
I have heard the governor (currently basking in the deserved glory of being an astute leader after he conducted the most rankle free and acceptable presidential primary elections in our country) being hailed as a Road Master, but it is more mute than OKOWABILITY which sounds sharp, but blurred in messaging.
Given that under Okowa’s watch Asaba airport hitherto suspended by FAAN has been brought back into service as an international airport, and he has also completed and commissioned Asaba township stadium, which recently hosted African Athletics federation tournament, coupled with the robust township road networks now a common site in most Delta State towns , the proper branding for Okowa should’ve been MR INFRASTRUCTURE.
But the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, who is making waves in that respect has beaten him to that title, so ROAD MASTER which reinforces Okowa’s development policy initiative tagged SMART AGENDA which encapsulates his development plan for Deltans, would suffice.
convinced that if you ask Okowas’s burgeoning number of supporters to choose between ROAD MASTER and Okowability, they would opt for the former because it is what’s endearing him to the electorate.
Finally, we are all witnesses to the impactful Orange Alternative/Revolution which was an anti communist underground movement in Poland in the 1980s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and which was reincarnated in Ukraine after the disputed presidential election in 2004.
Another effective use of symbolism in politics is as recent as a couple of weeks ago in France during the Yellow Vests protests which compelled president Emmanuel Macron to roll back some of the policies that sparked the protest. The instances referenced above are evidence that when symbols and slogans are applied dexterously they can be efficacious processes of generating mass movement for or against a cause or causes. Such initiatives have been largely successful because they were very well thought through and executed in the climes cited.
Obviously, a smart slogan or symbol can make all the difference, be it in marketing a product or pushing a candidate for political office contest or protesting against a policy of govt.
Although the February 16,2019 general elections D-Day in Nigeria is now looming large, it is never too late for the recalibration of campaign messages by politicians and their platforms via couching of their vision and mission in laser precision slogans and symbols with a view to etching their messages into the minds of the members of their constituents in order to win their hearts and minds and snatch victory against all odds like presidents Obama and Trump did in the USA in 2008 and 2016 respectively .
• Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former Commissioner in Delta State sent this piece from Agbor.