Agenda for Buhari on Communications and Information Management

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Muhammadu Buhari

With President Muhammadu Buhari set to begin his second term in office on May 29, 2019, Raheem Akingbolu feels the pulse of experts in media and marketing communications on how best the incoming administration should relate with the public in order to win their admiration

For President Muhammadu Buhari and his team to achieve their ‘Next Level’ dream in his second term, stakeholders in the media and marketing communications industry 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 outgoing administration recorded successes in some sectors, condemned its approach to information and communications, which they insisted has not resonated 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 have called on government to restrict the choice in the ministry of information portfolio to individuals with media or marketing communications backgrounds, who know the consequence of whatever they say and have huge influence to churn out information on various media channels.

Though some acknowledged that despite not being a trained journalist or broadcaster, Muhammed tried his best but it is believed that the deficiency in training and capacity affected the final picture and image painted about the Buhari’s administration.

Reviewing the information management under Buhari, the Deputy Provost, Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Lagos, Dr. Jide Johnson, said the administration could have done better than it did in terms of communicating government programmes with the public had it employed the service of professional to administer the ministry.

Johnson said, “The federal government’s gargantuan efforts in rice production and Anchor Borrowers’ scheme were not well articulated and packaged to the public, the successes in security engagements were dwarfed by the opposition efforts to effeminate the progress made, the economy improved slightly in four years, but poor Lai didn’t have the skills to put a spin on the government’s efforts. His lack of charm and charisma was a major drawback. A country of 180 million people coming from a hogwash reputation of never-do-wells requires a highly cerebral and charismatic personality with deep media background as Information manager.

“Mr. Lai Muhammed did not make attempts at engendering national unity, national cohesion and social harmony and playing down 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 are in paralysis under Mr. Muhammed. “Too bad, under the current information minister, FRCN is literally dead, NBC is riddled with allegations of scandals as regards a never – ending digital switch over and a globetrotting director-general. NTA is reduced to a mere passenger within the top TV networks behind Channels and TVC.

NOA died long ago and remains in the morgue. VON and NAN only collect paltry subventions and remain charity organisations for paying salaries to helpless and hapless unproductive staff. Going forward, I think the incoming administration should look for competent and capable people. For me, I think Nigerians and its media practitioners deserve better,” Johnson said.

A former Chairman of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Lolu Akinwumi, in setting agenda for the incoming administration observed that management of such position by the present administration had been more activity-driven than strategy-driven.

Among other things, Akinwumi noted that whoever will man the information ministry in the next dispensation must, at first, review the country’s national policy on information through which he or she would develop a comprehensive information strategy that will drive all activities.

To this end, the advertising practitioner 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.

In addition, Akinwumi recommended a brand management specialist as minister, arguing that Nigeria’s image issue is critical and complex and requires a brand management specialist who will be working with journalists and public relations practitioners to sell government activities.

In a similar way, the President of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), John Ehiguese, said government needed to communicate more effectively with the people, and that the approach must be strategic and engaging. He also agrees with Akinwumi that the first step would be for government to appoint true communications professionals, who are grounded in strategic communications.

“The job of public communications is essentially a PR function government communications must from now on be managed by professionals who are trained and experienced in executing PR-led strategic communications, the hallmarks of which are: listening, transparency, planning, being proactive and continuous engagement across both traditional and digital channels. That would be a good starting point. The adversarial approach of ‘we versus them’ has clearly proved to be ineffective over the years, and appears to have only engendered public distrust and consequent lack of citizen buy-in to government’s policies and programmes,” Ehiguese said.

While reminding President Buhari and his team that the next administration would be their last chance to etch their name in gold in terms of achievement, PRCAN Secretary General, Jaiye Opayemi, noted that there is need for the total overhaul of government communications architecture

He said, “As it is said, ‘you’re only as good as your last story. For this administration, this is a fresh opportunity. To get the buy in or what is called the social licence of the people, this administration needs a coordinated strategic communications plan. That process would necessitate a drastic change in government communications architecture.

“As a professional in government communications, the model I often prescribe is the Tony Blair Model. Our communications architecture itself is outdated. There are too many people speaking for government. When some ministers and government officials speak, you just wonder who cleared such messages. The British government was once in that situation until Prime Minister Tony Blair brought in Alistair Campbell and there was a re-organisation of government communications. Everything must be cleared from a central organ. The next administration must invite professionals in to help redesign government communications architecture, help develop tool kits, help frame a strategy and help shape new communication tactics that will speak to the hearts of the people,” Opayemi added.

The Chief Executive Officer of Absolute PR, a Public Relations firm, Mr. Akonte Ekine, in his contribution urged the federal government to set up a communications/ information management committee to review communications policy and develop strategic conversation direction with the goal of researching projects and other government activities such that those activities are projected in a way that would be understood by the various publics.

Aside setting up such a committee, Ekine also advocated the need for various ministries and agencies to have standard weekly and monthly record presentation model to the minister of information such that there will be a feedback on activities.

Like others, writer and marketing communications practitioner, Toni Kan, also believed that government needed to hire a professional to handle the information ministry.

“Lai Mohammed was a hatchet man. He made the same mistakes that hurt Trump. Lai Mohammed never stopped campaigning and opposing. His communication was always reactive instead of proactive. Whoever comes in must have a strategy that articulates gains and wins instead of attacking perceived enemies. He or she must create awareness about the administration’s activities, win minds and engage robustly. He or she must talk to Nigerians not talk down on them,” Kan said.

A newspaper editor, who spoke to THISDAY on the condition of anonymity, said government should be more deliberate and proactive in its communication henceforth.

“The ministry of information and strategy must deliberately set out to market the government and its achievement and programmes through a variety of platforms, including PR events, social media, radio and periodic publications. Other ministries must also be encouraged to tell their own stories as a complement to what the information ministry is doing. In addition, the communication must be localised through radio and TV stations, public and private, located in each of the 36 states through regular interactive programming. Finally, the President should engage with the public more through media chats and town hall meetings,” he said.