In the build-up to the 2015 presidential elections, the Muhammadu Buhari brand was packaged and sold as an epitome of integrity with immense patriotic credentials as well as a rare and astute anti-corruption crusader. Indeed, in one of his interviews, Buhari, the then APC candidate assured that if he becomes president most corrupt public personalities with skeletons in their cupboards ‘will flee’. Upon inauguration, Buhari left no one in doubt that he meant to keep his promise as suddenly the various anti-corruption agencies including the EFCC, ICPC and even the Police made a bold resurgence and began to ‘hunt down’ alleged corrupt highly-placed hitherto ‘untouchable’ public officers. This won President Buhari many fans as Nigerians and indeed the world watched with bated breath to see the recovery of the staggering loot and nudge the alleged offending officials into doing their respective time in jails.
Unfortunately, President Buhari must have since realised that unlike when he was a military head of state back in 1984, he cannot set up tribunals and try the accused with the despatch that is desired. Even his consideration for special anti-corruption courts made soon after his inauguration has remained strictly an idea. Today he has to rely on civil courts which themselves are alleged to be swimming in a cesspool of corruption. Our dear President will by now have realised that this will be a long drawn-out fight as alleged corrupt officials deploy all manner of legal brinksmanship to delay and/or fight their conviction. The same Nigerians who earlier on cheered the anti-corruption fight are now complaining that it is taking too long to get the desired convictions. Indeed, not a few critics have claimed that Buhari’s anti-corruption war is aimed at political enemies as they claim that some alleged looters are part of and very active in his administration. Surely, President Buhari now knows that fighting corruption in Nigeria is not a tea party.
As if the above scenario is not bad enough, the brand managers of President Buhari including his Special Adviser on media and publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, Senior Special Assistant on media and publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu and even the Minister for information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed have not been successful thus far in articulating the post-election Brand Buhari persona. Thus far, Nigerians have been told repeatedly that things such as the economy and fuel scarcity have gone from bad to worse because of 16 years of pillaging by the PDP and the ‘corrupt government’ of Goodluck Jonathan. In other words, rehashing the same rhetoric that they told us as an opposition party desperate to take over the presidency. Sometimes they could also get combative, for example when Femi Adesina said of the need for Nigerians to fight pipeline vandals ‘if we want steady power supply’. they challenge the citizenry to take up action which the government should otherwise be responsible for. This has not helped the Buhari brand much as Nigerians suddenly realise that there are no ‘low-hanging fruits’ coming from this administration 10 months after inauguration. Naturally, Nigerians are losing patience.
The Buhari brand managers interestingly seem to be making the same mistake that ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s handlers made. That is, they are reactive rather than being pro-active and combative rather than being creative. Worse still, programmes and decisions are not being properly communicated and explained to the public until usually unsavoury positions have been taken by respective Nigerians and thus it becomes more difficult to change people’s opinions. They must realise that Buhari the presidential candidate is not the same as Buhari, Mr. President.
President Buhari’s brand management team needs to distil the brand architecture and brand offering of Buhari and vigorously communicate this to all stake-holders in MDAs and the general public with possible timelines for some deliverables. This will change the agenda of the discourse and compel certain chains of activities to be unleashed, for instance, the broad economic policy direction, the low-hanging fruits, the short to long-term targets and, of course the challenges that could militate against the achievement of these targets. For example, I believe that the brand management team has not communicated to Nigerians enough that President Buhari’s anti-corruption fight will be long-drawn but that it will free up resources in the long run for economic progress and prosperity.
They have also not communicated to Nigerians that fighting corruption is everyone’s duty and so corruption needs to be fought at all levels, not only against institutional leaders but also everyone else down the ladder. There is no doubt that what has made it easy for heads of MDAs to steal our commonwealth with reckless abandon is because there has not only been systemic corruption but also endemic corruption. In other words, the desired effects of the anti-corruption war will never be realised unless ordinary Nigerian citizens see it as their own war. The owners of the effort to fight corruption must be Nigerians for us to achieve the desired goals. There should also be a ‘war cry’ for President Buhari’s brand and government. ‘Change’ was the APC ‘war cry’, what is his own ‘war cry’ as a sitting president?
The narrative for the President Buhari brand must be guided by: ‘what we plan to do’; ‘what and how we are doing and what you should do to support’; ‘the likely short term and long-term negative and positive effects of what we are doing’; and ‘what we have done and the benefit to you’. A constant resort to ‘what they (PDP, Jonathan) did’ being the result of ‘what you are suffering’ is no longer tenable as that is the reason President Buhari was voted in in the first place to bring about the desired change; not just quickly and smartly but enduringly so.
Nigerians trusted him as a candidate, the Muhammadu Buhari brand must now be trusted as Mr. President. Being a good man, this should not be difficult. It is time to turn perception to reality.