FG’s $1.2m public relations contract

Nigeria has now become a nation reputed for wasting huge resources on infantile image laundering locally and internationally. General Ibrahim Babangida, during his era, called it Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER). During the time of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the slogan, “Nigeria: Heart of Africa”, was the stunt meant to achieve the same purpose. The late Professor Dora Akunyili, in 2009 as Information Minister, came up with the “Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation” slogan.

The latest was the signing last June 13 in Washington D.C., capital of the United States of America, of a Public Relations contract worth $1.2 million between the Federal Government and Levick, an American Public Relations company. The firm is expected to assist the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration galvanize international support in its counter insurgency battle against Boko Haram, and publicize all the positive sides of the administration, among others. Some critics say, however, that the PR contract is mainly political and meant to contain the activities of perceived enemies of the administration, as well as market President Jonathan’s 2015 re-election bid. Levick is reported to have commenced work, comparing President Jonathan with United States’ President Barack Obama, the late South African president, Nelson Mandela and other prominent global political figures in paid television advertorials. Another report said the PR firm recently sponsored a flattering article on Jonathan’s government in the Washington Post.

It may be rightly argued, however, that a country where the leadership is alive to its responsibilities to the people, where good governance is real and not a hollow mantra, where the people have no problem with security and happy with the quality of their lives, will have no business hiring a public relations firm to burnish its image. The kidnap of the Chibok girls or any other reason may be cited as responsible for the image laundering contract. Besides, Nigeria and many other African countries are disadvantaged in terms of control of global media. It is equally doubtful that the Voice of Nigeria (VON), the country’s external broadcast station, can cover the entire African continent, let alone the whole world. This may be responsible for the government’s desperation that culminated in the signed PR contract with the US firm.

It is tragic, nonetheless, that the nation is still obsessed in its search for selling points. Quite obvious, too, is the fact that its poor image engineering will cost the nation much, particularly in respect of its capacity to attract foreign investment. Worsening the development at present is the campaign of violence being waged by the violent Islamist sect, Boko Haram, and the attendant security scare nationwide. But like most analysts have reasoned, charity begins at home, and we see no image laundering initiative making any headway when virtually nothing is working in the country that can promote national pride. Only rent-seeking politics, massive corruption and frauds, thrive most, while every other sector is in tatters. Not only is the nation’s leadership insensitive to the plight of ordinary Nigerians, the country has maintained its odious presence in the comity of most corrupt nations of the world in recent years, courtesy of Transparency International initiative, while the Jonathan government is handling corruption cases with kid gloves or forgiving convicted corrupt officials. Of the country’s estimated 174 million population, more than half is poverty-stricken and living on less than $2 per day. An estimated 15 million are in foreign lands in search of the good life, and many of them are scarcely interested in returning home. Unemployment and destitution are rife. Basic infrastructure, regular electric supply, and social amenities, etc. are also a mirage. There are countless unresolved cases of big time frauds, especially in the oil sector, assassinations, murders, kidnappings, and other crimes. On recess as well are morals.

Indeed, what this country needs most urgently is a patriotic and responsive leadership that will mobilize the nation’s abundant human and natural resource endowments to better the lives of Nigerians. Until the mismanagement of the nation’s resources is halted, and Nigerians witness significant improvement in the quality of their lives, no amount of public relations gimmickry will work.

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