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Public communication and the contradictory narratives of the PMB team

Buhari
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A growing misalignment in the narratives of Nigeria’s status in several areas by officials of the Federal Government speaks to fundamental problems with public communication and information management. It leaves analysts, investors and the ordinary citizen confused. It also makes it challenging to get the willing buy-in of citizens into government’s programmes.

Many are the stories coming out of government that stand in contradiction to each other. Just in the week before Easter, three government sources spoke on the state of the nation. First was Information & Culture Minister Lai Mohammed. He claimed that “our country is safer today than it was before the advent of this administration in 2015, thanks to the political will shown by the administration and the commitment of our security agencies.”

Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai has been on a publicity binge positioning himself as the Chief Strategist of all times who has secured peace in Nigeria and defeated Boko Haram insurgency and the various threats to the order of Nigeria. He has commissioned a book to celebrate The Legend of Buratai based on this alleged peace at a time of national outcry about the insecurity in 20 of Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT.

A few days later, President Muhammadu Buhari without meaning to do so repudiates Mr Mohammed’s claim. In a moment of candour, PMB lamented the poor state of the country in his April 19, 2019, Easter message. The President declared, “Our nation is currently gripped with gloom over unfortunate killings, kidnappings and violence, as seen in the recent tragic incidents in some states of the federation.”

PMB then made a solemn pledge. “This administration will do all it takes to adequately equip and motivate our armed forces and other law enforcement agencies to enable them successfully confront these security challenges. We will not allow merchants of evil and death to overwhelm the nation. Under my watch, the nation will triumph over them – terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and the like”.

From economic statistics to performance in various areas of agriculture, manufacturing, foreign investment inflow and more, officials of the Federal Government engage in a concerted effort to show alternate realities. Just a random check at any of the agencies keeping records disproves their claims. It has led to a situation where citizens in their various capacities are now openly challenging government spokespeople.

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity Mr Femi Adesina faced that challenge April 18 at the 2nd annual lecture of Freedom Online. He claimed that the Nigerian economy has been growing since 2016 but for the blindness of the opposition and citizens. He then reeled out statistics of such growth including claims of abundant production of local rice dislodging imported ones.

Adesina stated, “In 2017, agriculture grew in export and before we export, it means that we have enough to satisfy local consumption. The opposition tends not to see the growing economic trend and impact in the country.” He added, “We have abundant rice production in Nasarawa, Kebbi and neighbouring Ogun states”, adding that millions of dollars are saved daily on rice importation.

Citizens responded on the spot. Prof Akin Onigbinde who represented Ekiti State Governor Dr Kayode Fayemi countered, “I have patronised the open market and live in Bodija, Oyo State. I cannot see this rice in the open market. Femi is my brother; he has a duty to direct our gaze to what we cannot see. Even in my own imagination, I have not seen the rice in Abeokuta in the last four years.”

Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland Chief Gani Adams also disagreed. He asked the presidential spokesman to deliver the message to the President that citizens are hungry.

The exchange points to a wide gap in perceptions between officialdom and the citizenry. There is a need to bridge this gap through proper structuring of the content, delivery and messaging on the government. All spokesmen must speak to credible, evidence-based information and sing from the same hymnbook. Trust in government communication is a desideratum for effective governance.

The sincerity of the President in his Easter message is reassuring. It represents a shift from the efforts at painting pictures at variance with the lived reality of citizens everyday. It says to citizens that the Head of State is abreast with the actual situation. It is the right approach and the way to go in the days ahead.

 

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