Something happened in 2015.
A poor 72-year-old, unpopular, retired army-general ran to be president of Nigeria, an oil-rich West African country with population of about 200 million people.
His opponent, the incumbent, was a 57-year-old Ph.D. who, three years earlier while he was VP, was so popular and favoured that influential citizens marched the streets protesting, when it appeared some powerful interests were determined to prevent him from becoming president after it was clear his boss, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had passed on.
That election, to elect the 15th president of Nigeria, finally held on March 28 and 29, 2015.
But it had been won and lost months before. Won by General Muhammadu Buhari of the Action Congress of Nigeria who comparatively, had little money and plenty obstacles, but deployed an almost-excellent political strategy and reputation management.
The defeated sitting president as we have since discovered, had limitless access to funds and other resources. But his campaign strategy was lousy. As lousy as some of the people who were the faces and voices of his re-election project.
One party found a big idea (Change) and rode with it. The other was hijacking a campaign to bring back kidnapped schoolgirls from Chibok, a little town in Borno, South-eastern Nigeria. One party proactively used research data to develop PR strategies for youth and citizen engagement, the other, as we also have now seen, used cash and mercenaries and sophistry, until the last minute.
Buhari was a mean military dictator, despised by many discerning Nigerians. He was an old, eighties man who, as many agree, was out of touch with the tools and trends required to transform a paralyzed country like Nigeria. Yet about 15,424,921 million Nigerians in 36 states voted for him to return as president, defeating his young, ‘better educated’, rich and powerful opponent by a 2,571,759 margin.
It’s not fiction.
The role of public relations in politics and governance in Nigeria cannot be over emphasized. The ‘Buhari-GEJ’ story would have been remarkable if it were rare. Yet if you look deeply into the affairs of the private and public sectors in Nigeria and indeed elsewhere across Africa, what presents, is an increasing intervention by PR to help communities and organizations and governments solve problems they thought were insurmountable. In Buhari’s case, he had contested and lost three times in 12 years.
In 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin completed an orbit of the earth, effectively becoming the first man in space. If there had been no records of the event, if there were no pictures taken and circulated, no reports made, did he really make the trip? Did he accomplish the feat?
A historic moment becomes myth, fable even, if there are no evidence and facts to support claims and silence sceptics. Who here will call a party to celebrate a child’s excellent result without first laying hands on the report card?
There’s little data, if any, on the role of public relations in the last national elections. Little data, if any, on how in-house PR teams and external consultancies are helping local and international brands make sense out of a chaotic business environment like Nigeria. You will go very far to see case studies on all the great work I’m aware have been done by Nigerian professionals on brands like Wole Soyinka, MTN Nigeria, Nigerian Breweries, Dangote, Indomie, Etisalat, GTBank and Airtel.
We complain regularly that the quality of our work can be better. We excuse clients’ lack of trust and investment with the belief that we really haven’t shown value. But how do we get better if we do not have records of the work we do – the good, the bad and the ugly? How do we train beginners? How do we engage globally, in a space where the lingua franca is billings and case studies?
The global PR Agency industry revenue is put at over $13 billion. I can assure you Nigeria, which by BHM estimates, makes over $68.75 million, is not in that calculation.
We all know why.
That’s why our company BlackHouse Media created the campaign #PrisDead in 2015. That’s why we decided, after relevant consultations, to begin this hopefully annual report on the Nigeria public relations industry.
Of course it’s inspired by The Holmes Report’s World PR Report, which, I hope, starting 2016, will begin to feature great Nigerian agencies doing amazing work.
We have a lot to do, to make that happen. We have even more to do, to accomplish our dreams of increased billing, attracting and retaining super talents, and becoming big regional and global players.
The ball is in our court.
It is possible.