Akintunde Oyebode: Sing while you’re winning (YNaija FrontPage)

I don’t envy the men paid to defend the image of the Nigerian government, and wish them the very best with their impressive imitation of Joseph Goebbels.

Edward Bernays will not ring any bells, and is one of those men you are likely to hear about in a Pub Quiz but forget about after consuming generous doses of liquor. This is surprising for a man who is not only Sigmund Freud’s nephew, but also the father of public relations. Bernays believed that the public’s democratic judgment was unreliable, supporting the ‘herd behaviour’ propounded by Wilfred Trotter in his book, Instincts of Herd in Peace and War. His technique relied on psychology and is credited for providing the foundation for Public Relations as it is known today. It is important to talk a good game, and also be smart enough to spin a bad day when you run an ineffectual office. Once all doubts about a government’s inability to deliver on its promises have been erased, nothing is more important than employing spin doctors who don’t mind an odd dose of idiocy to protect their principal. This is where our government has excelled, and must be given credit.

In its 2012 report released this week, Transparency International ranked Nigeria as the 35th most corrupt country in the world, scoring 27 out of 100 points available. To the average brain, it is another damning verdict on a government intent on playing lip service to corruption, and reinforces the opinion that Nigeria has made no progress fighting corruption despite the protestations of various government officials. But this is not how the President’s spin doctors see it; to them it is a glowing report card. After all, we have moved up 4 places from 143 to 139, and gained four more point from 24 points in 2011.

I must confess upfront; the Corruption Perception Index was not my favourite tool because it measures the perception of corruption, largely due to the opacity of getting corruption related data. However, by aggregating data from multiple sources, means the result is likely to be a better representation of corruption compared to similar studies. There are 13 data sources used including the World Bank, African Development Bank Governance Rating, Economic Intelligence Unit and World Economic Forum. For a country to qualify, it must have been evaluated by at least 3 of these sources. All the sources are standardized by subtracting the mean of the data and dividing by the standard deviation, before an average of the standardized scores are taken. This normalizes the results and allows for comparison among over 170 countries.

Our government should not show this ranking as a sign of improvement, but approach the conversation honestly. We must admit the ranking shows how much work needs to be done, even if it is a measure of perception. The Transparency International Bribe Payers Survey interviews companies that do business abroad and measures the probability of paying bribes in countries they operate in. It is instructive that Nigeria ranked last here, scoring a meager 19 points. This score is indicative of various money laundering allegations involving multinationals operating in Nigeria. At the time of writing this, the Attorney General of the Federation is yet to explain why $1.1 billion paid by Shell and Eni for the controversial OPL 245 was transferred to the accounts of Malabu Oil despite investigations on the transparency of the deal. When a country’s chief law officer is enmeshed in murky waters, it can only lead to a negative perception of the country. It is a solid foundation to build a perception of corruption, strengthened by a President that stubbornly refuses to declare his assets publicly to show his support for the movement against corruption in Nigeria.

I don’t envy the men paid to defend the image of the Nigerian government, and wish them the very best with their impressive imitation of Joseph Goebbels. We must return to the words Edward Bernays who after all his shenanigans and endless spin, managed to leave a note of caution for his followers. In his book, This Business of Propaganda, he said “a public relations counsel must never accept a retainer or assume a position which puts his duty to the groups he represents above his duty to society.”

A word is enough for the wise.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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