Commentary: Pres. Jonathan’s PR failure may cost him dearly

by Adedayo Ademuwagun

Muhammadu Buhari lost the presidential election three times and bowed to Jonathan in the last one. But today the president is struggling to catch up with Buhari in the same states where he dusted the old general just four years ago. So why didn’t he fire his PR people?

The president has achieved some good results in the last four years and better PR management could have kept the equation in his favour.

For instance, the airports are in a better state than they were before he became president. Major expressways have been fixed. New universities have been set up to fix the imbalance and give more young people the chance to get a university education.

The YouWin project has created jobs and helped people build their own business. We kicked out Ebola and the federal government deserves some of the credit for that achievement. Yet a lot of people think of the president as a failure. How did his PR guys let his ratings fall so badly?

That’s one part of his adminstration where the failure is glaring, and he himself admitted this last month too.

He said, “We failed to invest in the media. We failed to invest in the public relations aspect of government, so now we’re receiving the reward of poor investment in public relations.”

Jonathan’s media team let the opposition control the narrative for most of his tenure. It didn’t look like they had a clear plan as to how they intended to preserve the president’s good image and ensure they kept getting the right messages out there to let the people know what the president was doing well.

They failed to let the people know what the president is doing, why he’s doing it and how it will benefit the country and the people. The president won the election by virtue of his popularity, but his PR guys soon blew that advantage.

When the president approved the fuel subsidy removal three years ago for example, it was done without proper PR. There was no heads up. The president’s team failed to communicate to the people beforehand why the policy was necessary at the time and what it would do for the people. The timing and manner in which it was done was abrupt and insensitive.

When the Chibok kidnap also happened, the handling of information about the whereabouts of the girls and what the government was doing was disappointing. The president’s guys failed to reassure the public that the government was working on it. It incensed the people and they hated the government for it.

This year when the election was postponed too, it was done in a very suspicious manner. There were already rumours that the election would be postponed to favour the president’s campaign, but the president’s team barely said a word about it until it happened, giving people the impression that it was a game plan.

They could have reached out to the media to let the people know what was up, why they had to postpone the election and how it would be best for the country. But they slackened off.

The president’s team busied itself with trying to counterattack the opposition in the media. When the opposition attacked, they attacked back instead of putting in the time to educate Nigerians about what the president is doing.

The point is, they let the opposition control the media. They let the opposition define the president’s public image the past four years. They let the opposition shape the people’s perception of the president and his administration. They didn’t do a good job, just as the president has rightly admitted now.

However, the president’s PR has looked up lately. There’s been some great photo ops and they’re playing some nice documentaries on TV these days to show off the president’s accomplishments. The president’s been trying to warm up to the people again and regain his prestige.

Odion says, “The good thing for me was the photos where he’s in the north with the soldiers in the war zone, and he’s dressed as a soldier. It totally fitted him as the commander in chief. I was proud of that. He should have been doing these things since he’s been president. It’s actually working for me.”

Perhaps it’s working for most Nigerians too and they’re starting to realise the president isn’t an outright failure after all. His PR failure has simply made him look like a failure.

But with just two weeks to decision day, the president’s supporters should be hoping that these last minute PR messages are registering and that they’ll pay off in the ballot boxes.


Connect with the writer on Twitter: @_Adedayo_

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