One significant happening in Nigeria during the recent 2015 General Elections was the admission by former President Goodluck Jonathan of the failure of his communications team and the damage the lacuna did to his administration. GEJ got a bad rap even in areas where he had done significant work because of this failing.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has taken off borne on the wings of effective communication during the elections. To succeed, it must continually manage communication scientifically and in line with best practices.
The Ministry of Information is the officially designated organ for organising and handling communication about Nigeria. Unfortunately, it still operates in the “information” arena rather than in the sophisticated world of “communication”. While one deals with the one-way dissemination or just speaking, the latter deals with listening as well as talking. Whoever heads that ministry in this dispensation must first embark on a change of orientation, if not a change of nomenclature.
As democracy deepens in Nigeria, communication managers must get granular and scientific. The presence of many channels and platforms has empowered citizens, and there is a growing number of advocacy groups as well. It is good for the country but calls for a different form of communication architecture and orientation.
Modern communication management requires more listening than speaking. This concept finds support in the public relations planning model that positions research and action before communication and evaluation. At Federal and State levels, the remit of officers charged with communication management must go beyond press agentry. Much more is required now.
Stakeholder perception audits must be integral to what the Ministry does for the Government. It should serve in the best traditions as a sensor, gathering intelligence that would inform the plans and activities of the Presidency as well as other ministries. It would handle reputation management, branding, perception audits and citizen mobilisation.
Let us attempt to set an agenda for the incoming Minister of Information.
Make the ministry a Central Office of Communication responsible for all government communication. Currently, every ministry does its own thing.
Insight and analytics should be embedded and be the bedrock for all plans and programmes. We call it pre-testing. It is akin to the environmental impact assessments that project managers carry out. Research. Develop. Pre-test. Deploy. It is important that this task be farmed out to professionals in public relations as well as insights. In the past, those who have deigned to do it carry out the function in-house. It is setting examinations and awarding marks to yourself. It lacks the objectivity of a third party.
Ensure coherent internal communication in Government. Work with the Office of Secretary of Government/Head of Civil Service as well as the Presidency. Lack of coherence is one of the fundamental failings of government information management.
Stop fire-brigade and reactive communication.
Ensure integrated campaigns that use all the specialties, from advertising through public relations, events management, research, and marketing.
Deploy creativity in government communication.
Segment audiences effectively. Time to draw up a Nigerian communication demographic map.
A significant portion of youths is now to be found only in that space.
Emphasise professional development for the communications team in the Ministry and across ministries.
Constant evaluation essential to feed into the insight and analytics loop and serve as an efficient sensor.
Communication will go a long way in making or marring Governments at not only the Federal level but also in the States. This is more so as the 87million persons on the Internet in Nigeria actively engage social media. The 2015 elections mobilised them for participation, at least online. Social media is a tabula rasa. In the communications Darwinism of today, public communication managers must engage and define. Otherwise, citizens –informed, uninformed or plain obnoxious- would define them at will.
Mr. Nwakanma is the MD/CEO of Blueflower Communications Ltd, a Strategic and Public Relations firm based in Lagos.