By Tonnie Iredia
Between 1987 and 1993, former military President, Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) organized a transition to civil rule political programme using experts to manage what was called the political engineering process. At the end of the exercise, the Presidential election held on June 12, 1993 was annulled. Unfortunately, that appears to be all that everyone remembers of IBB, all other innovations he initiated were virtually overshadowed. There is doubt if the posture is correct because an overview of how the nation’s political arena has been since 1993 would show that IBB’s prescription, years back, is more realistic than today’s situation. For example, although the nation says it has registered some 68 political parties with 90 others in the pipeline, the reality is that there are only 2 parties meaning that IBB was foresighted when he decreed 2 parties in his time.
IBB came to the conclusion to create 2 parties out of the 13 political associations of the time because it was hard to know the difference between any of them. As a way out, the military president divided the politicians into 2, one group a little to the left and the other a little to the right. Today, the situation has degenerated below IBB’s observation. We now have “two-parties in one” because a person who claims to be PDP in the morning may have moved to APC a few hours later. As it is now, no one is sure if the PDP big wigs that joined the coalition which formed the APC will not return before 2019, when the sabbatical leave ends. The two parties are run the same way with their leaders answerable to their members in government. There is no internal democracy in either of them and both win more votes than the number of registered voters wherever they are in power. Hence APC “wins” all the chairmanship and councillorship positions in an election where it has the governor. The same is true of wherever PDP controls because election results are usually collated at night in Government House.
The reason why the situation is so; was diagnosed by IBB in 1990. According to the former military president, Nigerian politicians are only interested in running governments; they have no interest in running political parties. Naturally, any entity that is not managed would lack coordination and synergy making it attractive for everyone to do what he likes. It would thus lack collaboration and cooperation. During the last PDP convention, politicians from the South west appealed to other zones to allow their zone to produce National Chairman for once since the party was formed. The call seemed rational until it became clear that among the Yoruba politicians, no one was able to get 8 of their members to field on the zone field one candidate. In which case, the South west was destined to lose against any other candidate as they had arranged to split their own votes.
It was therefore obvious that there was a dire need to find someone or group that could assist our political class to move out of their analogue posture and get exposed to the most efficient ways of running a party. The Kuru, Jos-based Nigerian Institute of Policy and strategic Studies, NIPSS, imagined that she could make a difference by organizing a retreat on how to professionally manage political parties. Different experts were invited to lead the discussions in their areas of specialization. This writer and ace mass communication scholar, Professor Umaru Pate of Bayero University Kano were selected to discuss how political parties can best mange the media. What did we find? First, we were talking not to political party managers but to fellow resource persons, staff of NIPSS and news reporters who came to cover the event. Of course some politicians were in attendance but they were not the invited party managers whose instincts needed to be refurbished. The real party managers were either represented or absent. I forgot to ask Pate if he was discouraged but i was not, because the pattern of attendance was not different from two other similar outings where i was invited to play same role.
The truth is that our politicians are unfamiliar with the imperative of designing a media policy before interacting with the media. Perhaps out of anxiety if not desperation to win elections at all cost, they engage in what may pass for panic publicity using each and every type of strategy irrespective of the type of election. Sometimes, they use network channels to publicize a purely local event. At other times, crude methods such as using brute force to overwhelm opponents instead of basic skills in communication are utilized. They are oblivious of the theory of selective perception and as such do not recognize that different people patronize only their preferred channels. Being analogue managers, party officials know only how to disseminate information by constantly talking to the media without realizing that they are merely parroting. The panacea is not just to disseminate but to manage information because like every entity, a political party has to be managed to survive over time and be viable.
Consequently a political party that is desirous of using the media to reach the audience with political messages must include in its well-thought out and consistent media policy all likely areas of interest. For instance, the plan must be designed to avoid discordant tunes as well as the dissemination of unauthorized and inaccurate messages by limiting the source of information from the party to the public to its designated spokespersons. Our party officials imagine that radio, television and social media platforms are the most modern media types, so, they engage in elite- oriented campaigns. A good media policy would not overlooked the fact that in Nigeria where literacy rate has for long been quite low, political education can only make an impact if messages are couched not in English but in the language of the people.. A good plan would have noted the futility of using radio and television to reach people who have neither light nor the resources to replace basic transistor radio batteries. Such audiences desire grassroots mobilization strategies.
Painfully, the so called elite-oriented posture is never consummated. It is strange for instance that politicians especially incumbents deprecate televised political debates. Yet, it is only through such platforms that the competence of a candidate in putting across a diametrically opposed view-point would enable viewers use comparison of performance for decision making. If so, who then appreciates the publicity of political activities in Nigeria?