By Chinonso Aniagu

The axiom equating a similar phenomenon to two sides of one coin is wobbly when interrogated by a detailed physical examination of the object in question. 

Such examination exposes what conspiracy the conspiracy of deliberate obliviousness blinded us from seeing: a coin actually has three sides. 

The third side of coin, the edge, is the least talked about but the most useful part if the object, shouldering the responsibility of carrying the two “popular” sides when standing. However, it does seem as if the proponents of this popular saying may have left out this very important side owing to its dissimilar nature with the two much talked about sides. Incidentally and by dint of situational coincidence, 

Nigeria is setting the stage for 2023 Presidential Election, facing the task of choosing the edge on which the country will stand among (three) top candidates currently vying to take President Muhammadu Buhari’s seat after the expiration of his last term in office. Suffice it to say that the task facing the top contenders of this seat is not necessarily maintaining public visibility, which may come to nut in the course of the political contest, but weighing in with clear engagement which will challenge negative public perception and engender brand viability.

No doubt the marriage between politics and brand management is one to be considered symbiotic. While the former seeks mileage through effective management and media outreach, the latter is fuelled by the thirst by political actors to, if not re-presented better than they are, be presented as the best version of who they really are.

 Building a political brand in a world where the political elites are identified with everything but integrity could be somewhat a herculean task. Successfully developing a flawless personal brand for political contest in the developed countries is a rarity as much as same is nearly impossible in developing countries where popular opinions have infamously credited political leadership with every negative growth and unwanted trends. This is largely helped by the sharp division of such countries across the rich (who controls the political and economic resources) and the poor (who are nine tenth of the population and sees the former as the engineer of their “ill-fate”). 

The rare opportunity measuring the relationship elasticity of the above-mentioned classe in democratic scenario is only presented during election-motivated solicitation and acceptance or rejection phase. However, the choices of the ruled are predominantly influenced by some mythical and unfounded perception rather than realty. Nigeria’s political history has not only witnessed its fair share of this scenario, but has thrown up brand crises which seemingly stood between the political elites and conviction of the voters. The demystification of political brands in Nigeria’s history has been driven by reversals in public perception, if not reality. The most recent history was heralded by the imagery of the leaking umbrella which was just enough to cover shows of shame and subsequently, broom with huge promises national “sanitation” but which has now swept up dust of despondence.

With the birth of another electioneering season in Nigeria, one cannot help but make audacious attempt to analyse the current political atmosphere through tripartite brand crisis evaluation and perception analyses of past, present and future projections of the top presidential candidates heading into the country’s latest leadership evolution process. So far, fourteen candidates from different political parties have signalled their interest to be the next occupant of Aso Rock on the expiration of President Buhari’s rent by May 29, 2023. 

 While some of the candidates tick the boxes of political pretenders- or jokers if mildly put, few could, when weighed with the political parameter or what(ever) ChubaOkadigbo referred to as “arithmetic”, be classified as contenders. The emergence of the Obi-dient movement- community of a youthful population loyal to Peter Obi- has now altered the country’s political landscape and, if not pushing the traditional forces to drown in the fear of impending defeat at the poll, has made the “favourites” cease their drooling over the impossibility of a third force. With the Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso’s NNPP seemingly not moving at the same wavelength of the 2023 electioneering flight, the presidential election race may way have become an unravelling tale of three wise men from the (South) East, (South) West and North (East).

Not wanting to over-flog the political angles and accompanying permutations that have already characterized the season, evaluating Peter Obi, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar candidacies from brand management perspective will be somewhat exciting going by the increasing role strategic communication play in political contests all over the world.

 The Labour Party, All Progressive Congress and Peoples Democratic Party candidates have equally underlined the importance of effective brand management by officially (and maybe, unofficially) engaged brand managers in mould of media and communication experts to present their best possible personalities, launder their images when need be and manage the inevitable slurs emanating from public perception which characterize such political projects. Notwithstanding these precautionary efforts to manage their image within the relatively short election season, the brand manager of the candidates will have a filled season battling long-created image and personality perception of their products. 

It is note-worthy that underneath frivolous theatrics of Tinubu’s bullion van tales, at the back of Obi’s unproven hatred for Northern Nigeria and Atiku’s disputed nationality are brand perception questions of ability, capacity and integrity.  

The Pandora Paper reportage on Obi and Atiku’s 2006 EFCC’s indictment do equal damage to their public perception as much as an the gaps in Tinubu’s biography does to his brand. Need it be said that Obi’s clarion call for national rebirth, Tinubu’s promise of continuity and Atiku’s “rescue mission” posture, when faced with critical interrogation, only open gaps for questions that must be answered to give the citizenry the best chance of purging wrong perceptions and making the most informed choice at the poll come 2023.

Long before events leading to their emergence as standard bearers through their respective party processes, the APC, PDP and LP candidates- sensing their inevitable involvement in the February 2023 electoral showdown- seem to have already set machinery in motion toward defining how they want to be perceived by the electorates.

 While Tinubu had already built a brand of super talent builder and pragmatic leader using Lagos as a handy example, the PDP’s Atiku had used the 2019 general election momentum to lay claim to being a national unifier on a “rescue mission”. Obi of LP pushed and looked to have emerged as a revolutionary departure from the “old order”, pushing for national rebirth and new approach to nation building.

As the political activities enters the last stretch for the 2023 contest, it will be interesting to see how these contestants for the most powerful seat in the black race sprint across some of these cacophony of undesired brand perceptions which are shrouded in the moist of contradictions. The tasks before the candidates and the electorates in the coming months will be to present and choose the less talked about but very useful edge of the coin.

 Knowing that the Nigerian political landscape drips of decisions made based on primordial sentiment, ethnicity and religious inclination, it is left to be seen how effective management of the highlighted brand crisis or otherwise affect the perception and choices of the citizens in the course of taking the most telling decision that can only be subjected to review by 2027. In a political season where facts and falsehood will rain heavily, reality will count for something, but perception will determine everything.

Dr Chinonso Aniagu is a Public Relations Consultant and social commentator based in Lagos. (nonso.entafrik@gmail.com)

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