About a decade ago, fiery activist and lawyer Gani Fawehinmi (of blessed memory) was in the news under rare public criticism – he had charged Senate President Chuba Okadigbo more than N5 million to represent him in court. “5 million!” his critics screamed. “And this, from an anti-corruption crusader!”
When Fawehinmi eventually emerged to defend himself interestingly, what he expressed as response was shock and rage. “What was the problem?” he thundered. As a lawyer with a track-record of winning, N5million was chicken change compared to what he could – and should – have charged!
When I saw the controversy yesterday that the National Sports Commission (NSC) was spending N1.2 million on a Facebook account, that story came to mind. Like the immortal Gani, I was equally alarmed.
Budgets are annual – meaning the amount is for Facebook management for 12 months, which would come down to 100,000 per month.
Let me assume an agency was employed for this. As part of a communication firm seen as a new media pioneer, the maths is easy for me: to get a professional to manage that account amidst the commission’s image crisis would require at least twice that amount (when you figure in the cost of a dedicated manager as well as retainer fees). In fact, there are recent NYSC graduates managing social media for corporate organisations who are paid more than N100,000 per month – even while they learn on the job. When you add cost of Facebook advertising to draw traffic to this page (which has a miserly 5000 members – miserly because this is a football loving country) and others, then it becomes apparent that this budget is, if anything, too poor.
In fact, in an industry with a notoriously low bar for entry, it is entire possibly that our friends at the commission have employed a rookie – perhaps the reason its Facebook activity has been minimal. (Not that there is anything wrong with Social Media inactivity per se. If I were advising Diezani Alison-Madueke for instance, I would have made it clear to her that the best response on Twitter during the latest fuel subsidy crisis should have been silence – since truth wasn’t on her side.)
The original Tribune report now being widely quoted indicates that the amount is for “opening” a Facebook account; and in a government where the information minister thanked the president for “bringing Facebook to Nigeria”, it is not difficult to imagine. But it is more likely that the amount is for management. In any case, the argument that is online largely encompasses both.
Now that the issue tethers on the political, it is also entirely conceivable that the NSC Director General will disown the consultant or staff that advised this and this will be cut off the budget because this is too small an issue for him to be embarrassed by. If this happens, it will be a loss for the many young people who position themselves as social media consultants – which is why the present knee-jerk outcry against this million naira budget is unproductive.
It is the same problem with the non-issue of government officials Tweeting for themselves. I blame President Goodluck Jonathan for this. Last year, when he opened his social media accounts to much fanfare, he made a gratuitous point of stating that his accounts are managed personally. Entirely unnecessary.
It is universally known that Barack Obama does not tweet by himself 80 percent of the time, if at all. US presidential candidate Ron Paul recently confirmed his tweeting is done by an aide. Mitt Romney clearly does not tweet for himself. Even down the line, after a dust-up from an ill-timed and ill-thought tweet, Ashton Kutcher recently handed over his account to a group of professionals – something Charlie Sheen should have done before it was too late.
In these days that a social media account is akin to a press release – there is no value for the image of a company to have a boss unfamiliar with social media handling his account. I would encourage a Nasir el-Rufai to tweet himself because he now has an understanding of the space, but I will sincerely discourage a stodgy Atiku Abubakar from taking his many gaffes online. Especially for late adopters, Tweeting and Facebooking without professional guidance is mostly ineffectual and counter-productive.
There is every possibility that it is some ignoramus with no real knowledge of how online media work (since many people apparently still think online media is ‘child’s play) that put together this budget, but there is also every possibility that it is a young professional who is only trying to do a good job. If the latter is the case, it is unfair and regrettable to put that entrepreneur or professional under a false dichotomy between patriotism and enterprise, especially in cases where the actions are consistent with global ethical conduct.
It is important in a democracy, accompanied by a free market, especially in our rapidly expanding new technology industry with its many opportunities, to begin to put these things in proper perspective.
Nigeria has a real problem with government waste. But in this particular instance, the problem isn’t government waste; the problem is that this controversy, such as there is, is a waste of time.