In light of extensive global criticism of the Nigerian government’s lackluster efforts to retrieve the schoolgirls that were abducted by the terrorist organization of Boko Haram, President Goodluck Jonathan has hired the DC-based Levick Public Relations firm to assist in reshaping the country’s public image. This one year contract is worth approximately $1.2 million (N195 million) and came into effect on June 16. Only 10 days later, President Jonathan authored an editorial that was published in the Washington Post, stating adamantly that “my silence as we work to accomplish the task at hand is being misused by partisan critics to suggest inaction or even weakness.”
Thus far, the international media has portrayed President Jonathan as ill-equipped and apathetic towards the tragic kidnappings of over 200 Nigerian girls, holding the Nigerian government accountable for their extended absence. This criticism has come from almost all major media outlets and has been facilitated by the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on Twitter which has attracted world-wide support, including many celebrities and even First Lady Michelle Obama. Nigeria has historically struggled with its public image and, as President Jonathan prepares to run for re-election in February, he has committed to reversing that trend.
This effort will cost the Nigerian government approximately $100,000 per month and may ultimately prove to be futile. Even with this new exposure through Levick, public opinion is unlikely to be swayed unless Nigeria is able to make tangible progress. The PR firm was contracted to put a positive spin on the Nigerian efforts against Boko Haram, but this is impossible unless there is actually something worth spinning. As Levick Vice President Phil Elwood told The Hill, the first to break the story, “A more comprehensive approach, using vehicles, such as public diplomacy and engaging outside experts to enact real changes, is how the advocacy industry is evolving. A communications strategy alone is not enough to solve the complex and multifaceted problems facing some of the more controversial nations.”
Although President Jonathan’s initial op-ed may have been a positive step, he cannot merely claim that “my government and our security and intelligence services have spared no resources, have not stopped and will not stop until the girls are returned home and the thugs who took them are brought to justice” when there is little demonstrable evidence that any such efforts are being made. If Nigeria wishes to alter its international image, it first needs to change the reality on the ground by taking concrete steps to visibly address the very issues that are shaping international public opinion.
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