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Strategic Communications in Nation Building

PERSPECTIVE

By Udeme Ufot

A good place to start a meaningful discussion on the growth and development of any African nation will be the famous Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 where leading European powers (Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Belgium) scrambled for and finalised the partition of the continent of Africa.

The decisions of that conference created the foundation for many of the set-backs and institutional dysfunctions that most nations of Africa (including Nigeria) are still grappling with today.

A continent of over 10,000 distinct polities was partitioned into about 40 geographical entities without consideration of the varied ethnic nationalities, customs and cultures of the people of the continent. Homogeneous ethnic groups were split into two or more new, artificial entities while completely unrelated and sometimes rival groups of people were yoked together into a single geographical entity.

Though the partition ensured the peaceful co-habitation of the colonial powers and prospered their economic and political interests in Africa, it created a serious dislocation and truncated the smooth evolution of strong, stable and viable nation states.

Nigeria’s fate was not different from the rest of Africa when, 29 years later, Sir Lord Lugard brought together the different tribes to the North and South of the Niger River into one entity in the famous AMALGAMATION of 1914.

The name ‘Nigeria’ was coined by Flora Shaw who later became Lord Lugard’s wife. This leads the imagination wandering into possible permutations of the uncanny circumstances in which two supposed ‘love birds’ supervised both the birth and naming ceremony of our great country.

On the surface, the amalgamation delivered a key political and economic convenience by creating a single geographical and administrative entity for the British. Beyond that, it was an amalgamation of other very complicated and complex variables:

– People and tribes at different levels of economic, political and social development

– Tribes and nationalities with differences in cultural heritage, different judicial and educational systems, land tenure system, moral values, language, worldviews and religions

– Flourishing empires and kingdoms with their own highly organised political structures, sophisticated military, advanced economies and commerce – Oyo Empire, Benin Kingdom, Nupe Kingdom, Kanem Bornu Empire, Sokoto Caliphate, etc.

Building and organising these disparate entities and nationalities into one unified people with one heart and one purpose has been the critical challenge of the last one hundred years.

The Struggle for Independence

The agitation for self-government and struggle for Nigeria’s independence which started out in the early 1920s with Herbert Macaulay and other nationalists had, by the 1950s, dovetailed into an intense regional contest for superiority led by frontline nationalists who championed the interests of their respective regions more than that of the entire country.

The political platforms and parties that were created also followed a regional pattern:

The Northern Region had Sir Ahmadu Bello and Sir TafawaBalewa who rallied the people of the North under the Northern People’s Congress (NPC); Chief ObafemiAwolowo and his team rallied the West under the Action Group (which was created on the ethnic and cultural root of ‘EgbeOmoOduduwa’); Dr. NnamdiAzikiwe started on a nationalistic note with the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) but ended up forming government in the Eastern Region; and United Middle Belt Congress was also formed by Senator Joseph Tarka to create a political platform for the various ethnic groups in central Nigeria.

What we had was a situation where heterogeneous regions with different ideologies, administrative styles, agricultural and judicial systems yoked themselves together for the purpose of securing independence, while at the same time fighting to ensure that the interests of their respective regions were well represented in the newly independent country.

There was no clearly defined national ideology or common sets of shared values subscribed to by all the nationalists in the quest for self-governance. Also, we had no central hero or national figure like a Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. Instead, we had regional actors and tribal leaders who were sometimes at each other’s throats. They fought each other as much as they fought the British colonialists.

At independence, there was no clarity of the kind of nation we wanted to build beyond the euphoria of self-government, a geographical entity named ‘Nigeria’ and a few national institutions like the Army, Police, etc. The central government that took over from the British was a merger of two political parties, NPC from Northern Region and NCNC from Eastern Region, leaving Action Group from Western Region in opposition.

Meanwhile, each of these leading political parties still retained and held on to their regional strongholds – with the same political party in government, the same administrative and political structures it had prior to independence. The Northern Region was led by NPC under Sir Ahmadu Bello as Premier, Western Region was led by AG with Chief LadokeAkintola as Premier and Eastern Region was led by NCNC with Chief Michael Okpara as Premier. A clear reflection of how the national interest was subjugated to the regional was the fact that Sir Ahmadu Bello preferred to remain in Kaduna as Premier of Northern Nigeria while his Lieutenant, Sir AbubakarTafawaBalewa was delegated to head the national government as Prime Minister.

Regionalism or geo-political identity, a product of colonial legacy, is still very much a strong feature of our national life and politics. It constitutes a major hurdle to building a united and progressive nation anchored on shared values, single-minded vision and clearly articulated purpose that is acceptable to all.

The doctrine of unity-in-diversity and federalism adopted by the founding fathers was hampered by the faulty political legacies inherited from the colonial powers and by the absence of commonly shared values and vision.

Strategic Communications

As a seasoned practitioner in the field of marketing communication and brand building, I am a firm believer in the power of strategic communication in building a united nation and creating a positive identity that inspires hope, confidence and pride. My task here today is to explore how we can deploy and utilize strategic communication as effective and credible tool in Nation Building and National Development.

For the purpose of the subject matter under discussion, I will attempt to define Strategic Communication as: A systematic choice and act of defining, designing and implementing tailored communication ideas and initiatives about the programmes and activities of a product, an individual or institution to select publics in order to elicit a desired response.

It is a series of coordinated communication initiatives designed and tailored to influence the attitudes, behaviours and perception of an organised group in favour of a common cause.

Wilbur Schramm-“Father of Communication Studies”- buttressed this fact when he pointed out: “By making one part of a country aware of other parts, their people, arts, customs, and politics; to the leaders and to each other; by making possible a nation-wide dialogue on national policy; by keeping the national goals and national accomplishments always before the public–thus modern communication, widely used, can help weld together isolated communities, disparate subcultures, self-centered individuals and groups, and separate developments into a truly national development.”

Strategic communications will help clarify and paint a clear picture of the policy direction and overriding ideology of the government.

Removal of Fuel Subsidy

– The fuel subsidy removal system has been a major burden and a drain of our national resources. Previous efforts to deal with it failed abysmally. Its removal without increase in cost of fuel is a major milestone but it was not leveraged to drum support and commendation for the government as one that means business and cares for the people.

– What are the accrued short term and long term benefits of the fuel subsidy removal?

– At least six months to the attempted subsidy removal in 2014, if a communication programme had been implemented that effectively drew attention to the distortions of the subsidy system while pointing to the better uses to which the money could be put, the riots witnessed in January 2014 may have been avoided.

• The attempt to ambush Nigerians on New Year’s Eve with subsidy removal was a clear case of poor communication and lack of sustained efforts at building understanding and dialogue. If I am to be less benevolent, it reflected an acute lack of respect for the citizens by their government.

• If the populace had been sufficiently educated and persuaded on the immediate implications and the expected long term benefits, maybe the policy would have enjoyed a softer landing.

For example, the UK Government under Margaret Thatcher in the nineties launched intense nationwide campaigns educating, engaging and convincing its citizens on the benefits and implications of its planned privatisation before it ever embarked on the actual implementation. The result of that privatisation was the rejuvenation of many moribund British industries

The current government secured victory at the last poll under the philosophy of CHANGE.

– How well has this philosophy of CHANGE been sold to the average Nigerian? Beyond the change from one party to another, what else is changing?

– What is the role of the citizenry in the actualisation of the CHANGE dream? What will CHANGE look like, when it is pursued and realised? What is in it for the citizens?

– Why should they actively embrace change and work assiduously towards its realisation?

– Has there been a structured communication plan by government to sell its vision and secure buy-in and ownership of its change agenda by the citizens?

People cannot willingly and openly support or defend what they do not understand. A carefully planned and sustained communication/dialogue will help educate and mobilise the people to become active participants as well as advocates for actualisation of the Nigerian dream.

In Conclusion….

Communication is a bond that brings a nation together, yet respects the multiplicity of perspectives that is essential to the search for truth and meaning. A nation consists of individuals with diverse needs but bound together by a common dream.

It fosters meaningful dialogue among different sectors of society; it nurtures a shared vision for the country’s future; and helps harness non-material and material resources to realise the national shared vision that will allow us to find the driving force for development. Every citizen is an actor and object of development. Everyone contributes to nation building or sadly serves as a drag, generating friction and causing a huge waste of scarce resources and energy. Perhaps, only when citizens of a country have nurtured a true-shared vision, transcending personal agendas, can the process of national development reach the tipping point for accelerated growth.

According to Benjamin V. Lozare, “a country may develop only when its leaders realise the wisdom in the principle – power shared is power multiplied, not power diminished.”

Ufot is the Group Managing Director SO&U

This post was syndicated from THISDAYLIVE. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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