Except the All Progressives Congress changes its narrative from negative to positive, such a poor political communication will remain its undoing, writes Reno Omokri
Opposition politics should not be an over reliance on problem spotting over problem solving and shooting down ideas instead of providing alternative ideas. Unfortunately, that is the situation in which we find ourselves in Nigeria. To get my drift, ask yourself when the last time was that the main opposition party in Nigeria commiserated with victims of the Boko Haram insurgency without using the opportunity of their statement to launch an attack on the federal government or the president? To the best of my knowledge, they have never done this.
All their statements of commiseration and condolence end with broadsides against the government that it almost looks as if the commiseration or condolence is an afterthought and the attack is the main dish.
Since leaving University, I have devoted my life to political communications and this focus has led me to study both the governments and their oppositions. I have done this in Nigeria under Obasanjo, at the British Parliament and in The United States as an operative in a Democratic Party leaning consultancy, and one thing I have learnt is that the most vital factor in ensuring consistent political success is effective communication.
For the most part, both the party in government and the opposition party must device feedback mechanisms that tell them what the electorate thinks about them so they are not restricted in their visions of themselves. A government or opposition that fails to do so will develop tunnel vision which leads to rigidity and political rigidity leads to political atrophy which if not arrested will result in political morbidity.
How do I mean? In a hierarchical structure, you may get away with the mindset of 'when I want your opinion I will give it to you' but that will not fly in a multi-party democracy. If communication is the life blood of sustaining political power, you cannot depend on seeing the world as you are. You must see the world as it is.
This requires that from time to time you must step out of your role, your narrow focus and non-judgmentally take in the big picture from a bird's eye perspective. You must be willing to step into the shoes of even your political foes, not so that you can agree with them as much as it is to understand them. Let me go even deeper.
Recently, there was an election in Ekiti State in which the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged victorious. His victory was all the more spectacular giving that he defeated an incumbent of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), who is universally considered a gentleman and a new breed politician. More troubling for the opposition is that everybody that witnessed the election considered it to be a free, fair and most credible election.
In the wake of their loss, the APC has unleashed its powerful media machinery (some would say propaganda). But rather than communicate with Nigerians, the party and its operatives have chosen to have a monologue with Nigerians and OpEd after OpEd and article after article has been written to castigate the citizens of Ekiti for voting the way they did! Imagine this from a political party!
Instead of this sulking, the APC is best advised to dispassionately detach itself from the field and go into the stands of the stadium where it and its operatives can get a bird’s eye view that will give them the other focus they need to make adjustments to their behaviour rather than their present self focus. The APC must learn that while people are entertained by the dramatics of reading and listening to bombastic political statements and stinker letters addressed to political opponents, Nigerian politics has evolved to the point where people vote substance over form.
And every piece of information that does not lead to transformation is entertainment. In politics, if you are not telling the people how you will transform their lives, your communication is meaningless to them. When power is all that matters to an opposition party, it tends to over-rely on the assassination of character and ideas. However, it is a dangerous thing for people to remember you for only how you tore apart at your opponents instead of how you articulated your own ideas.
As I said, enough has been written by the APC as a postmortem of why they lost in Ekiti. Let me now attempt a postmortem of why the PDP won in Ekiti and will continue to win in Nigeria. The effectiveness and success of the PDP under the Goodluck Jonathan presidency can in my opinion be summed up in this: the refusal of the president to shift from the positive narrative of the Transformation Agenda irrespective of every effort by detractors to make him focus on the negative narrative.
More specifically, I call this principle of political communication – the 5-1 Principle. To be successful, every political organisation – whether government or opposition – must have five times more positive conversations with their public than negative ones. For instance, the APC has mocked the President for constantly condemning the terror activities of Boko Haram with some of their more shallow operatives nick-naming him the Condemner.
But has it ever occurred to the APC that the president commissions projects and has been at the center of activity in much more positive conversations and communications with Nigerians at least five times the rate of whatever negativity they throw at him? He spends five more times communicating how the Transformation Agenda has transformed, is transforming or will transform the lives of Nigerians than he does responding (not reacting) to the negativity that his detractors contrive.
In the process of this positive communication between the President and Nigerians his integrity is growing as Nigerians relate his promises of positive transformation to the physical reality of their everyday lives.
Let us quickly consider the facts. Under the Jonathan administration Nigerians are living longer according to the United Nations (from an average life expectancy of 47 in 2009 to 52 today). Their economy is now the largest in Africa as corroborated by the World Bank. They can now ride a train from Lagos to Kano at 20% of the price of the same journey by road and 10% of the cost by air. The residents of Lagos now ride air conditioned trains to and from work, saving on petrol money and the drudgery of the notorious Lagos traffic. From one million in 2009, the annual volume of passengers of the Nigerian Railway Corporation has grown to five million today.
Going further, Nigerians can now buy an inexpensive brand new Made in Nigeria Nissan, and use that car to travel on the reconstructed Lagos-Benin-Ore road and be in Benin from Lagos in three hours. If they drive their new Nissan on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, they can actually see Julius Berger reconstructing the road. If they drive it on the Kano-Maiduguri Road they will notice that major portions of that road have been reconstructed and dualised.
Residents of South-east Nigeria now have an International Airport in Enugu and do not have to take connecting flights to Port Harcourt, Lagos or Abuja and can now spend the N50,000.00 they would have spent in connecting flights on themselves.
For the first time in their lives, itinerant Islamic scholars, also known as Almajiris, are going to school in one of the 125 Almajiri Model Schools built in every Northern state. The people of Kogi, Katsina, Nasarawa, Bayelsa, Jigawa, Ekiti, Gombe, Ebonyi, Taraba, Zamfara, Kebbi and Yobe States now have federal universities courtesy of the Jonathan administration.
Even as a metaphoric bridge is being built between North and South at the ongoing National Conference, Nigerians are seeing Nigeria getting smaller as the Oweto Bridge in Benue nears completion and promises to reduce travel time and cost between North and South even as the second Niger Bridge is underway in Onitsha and promises to do same.
Residents of Abuja watch in Amazement as the Abuja-Kaduna railway is materialising before their eyes at breathtaking construction speed and the people of Baro in Niger State are in a state of wonder as they prepare to receive large vessels as a result of the dredging of the River Niger which has destroyed the myth that Northern Nigeria is land-locked.
Nigerians are buying foods such as maize and fruits all year round instead of at certain seasons and can see that the dry season farming of the Jonathan administration is reality rather than rhetoric. 250,000 Farmers in Ebonyi, Katsina, Kano, Bauchi and other states produced 1.1 Metric Tonnes of rice in the dry season alone! Nigeria is beginning to break the jinx of decades of dependence on imported food under the watch of President Jonathan.
Women are seeing the glass ceiling removed from over their heads as President Jonathan fulfills his promises of opening up the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) to female combatants for the first time ever. The 35 per cent reservation of appointments for women has seen Nigeria have its first ever female minister of petroleum as well as her first ever Coordinating Minister for the Economy.
Even when economists praised the President for the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YouWIN) initiative, he went further to ensure that the third phase of the initiative was exclusively reserved for women. These and other positive development and growth narratives are driving the type of conversation that made Nigerians troop out in unprecedented multitudes on Saturday, June 7th 2014 in Ekiti to see the President.
So, when the APC said the massive crowd that turned up on that day only came because of the President and not Ayo Fayose, they failed woefully to comprehend the principle of transfer of credibility. The President's credibility was transferred to Ayo Fayose, while the opposition's liability was transferred to poor Dr. Kayode Fayemi and the rest is history.
And it is this groundswell of ordinary people impressed with the positive conversation of the Jonathan administration that will continue to transfer his credibility to anything he endorses. Quite literally, President Jonathan can be said to have the Midas touch. So rather than write sulking pieces attacking the person of President Jonathan and the PDP, the opposition is advised to go back and reframe the conversation it is having with Nigerians.
You may have heard careless negative, alarming and threatening talk from the opposition envisioning doom about Nigeria when the world is flocking to Nigeria to invest, making her the top recipient of FDI in Africa bar, none and you have undoubtedly asked yourself 'whose report would I believe' or your sub-conscious has asked it for you.
When others threaten to 'roast' you, President Jonathan offers to toast you. When others threaten to 'soak' you, President Jonathan can be seen busying himself growing democracy into a mighty oak tree. When others want you to 'go and die', President Jonathan is implementing policies that ensure that you live a longer life expectancy.
The answer to that question is this: are elections now transparent in Nigeria? Has your living condition improved in the last three years? Have those who are prophesying doom told you of their plans for your future? If your present is better than your past and those who are attacking your present have no plans for your future to speak of, the only logical question becomes this: wouldn't you rather go with the man with a plan than the one with only a plan to shoot down a plan?
-Omokri is Special Assistant to the President on New Media