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Again, big parties go offshore for campaign strategists to win 2019 election

By Margaret Mwantok
27 November 2018   |   4:10 am
In the run-up to the 2015 general elections, All Progressives Party (APC) hired a senior adviser to former American president Barrack Obama’s strategist...

[FILE PHOTO] President Muhammadu Buhari

In the run-up to the 2015 general elections, All Progressives Party (APC) hired a senior adviser to former American president Barrack Obama’s strategist, Mr. David Axelrod, to help its campaign efforts to unseat former President Goodluck Jonathan. The party succeeded. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was not so innocent in that matter either as the party was said to have benefited from the expertise of United Kingdom-based Cambridge Analytica that was embroiled in U.S. election meddling by Ruassia in that same election.

Now, it has become the norm for Nigeria’s big-spending political parties to go offshore and shop for political strategists to help them win election in Nigeria. The fallout of the unpatriotic act is that the local economy is badly hit, with advertising experts expressing displeasure over Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and PDP’s hiring of another U.S. lobbyist, Brian Balland, for $90,000 (N31.5 million) per month, to lead communications consultancy for the party ahead of the 2019 elections.

This goes against the oft-mouth patriotic stands of leaders asking citizens to support and patronise ‘made-in-Nigeria’ products and local expertise. Also, it clearly shows the lack of faith the leaders have in the system they campaign to preside over when they win elections.

Concerns are also being raised that All Progressives Congress (APC) is also considering rehiring AKPD Message Media, the foreign firm the party engaged in the 2015 elections that got it to power.

When The Guardian reached out to APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Lanre Onillu-Isa, on why his party was yet again considering going offshore to reengage AKPD Message Media, he said he was not aware of such move, adding, “besides, this is 2018 and the issue of 2015 should not be brought up now.” He stated that he was not surprised that The Guardian was being analytical about the issue, noting, “APC has not hired any foreign firm. In fact, we have not hired any agency for the job yet. Why don’t you wait for us to do so first?”

On APC’s lack of faith in local professionals, Onillu-Isa stated, “Well, we have a number of top class professionals abroad and in Nigeria. And we also have international audience. So APC will be applying all its resources, whether locally or internationally, to push our agenda to convince Nigerians that the best option remains APC towards the 2019 elections.”

On whether foreign agencies had what it takes to understand the Nigerian terrain to win election for APC, he said, “I have not mentioned any consulting firm. Again, that will be conjecture. If we appoint one, then we will be able to give the reason why we did so. But we have not done so yet.”

On whether the party’s campaign council that was recently set un and headed by Minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and the party leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, would oversee affairs for APC, Onillu-Isa said, “Why can’t we wait for the announcement so that we will talk based on facts. An individual cannot be a council. So why not wait for the council to be put in place, then we can relate with the evidence.”

Public Relations experts have lamented the leaders penchant to undermine local professionals, saying that the best PR is local, and political communication is country-specific. They argued that these foreign outfits might not understand the Nigerian system and be able to deliver effectively.

Vice President, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Steve Babaeko, said he was disappointed, adding, “When you hire foreign firms you pay in foreign currencies. With the fragile state of our economy, we can hardly afford to do that. Secondly, while some countries are currently carrying out investigations about foreign interference in their elections, we are opening up our own willingly to foreigners. However you slice and dice it, it’s not a good look for our great country.”

Babaeko said the move had negative implication on the industry, “it is like taking the last meal in your house and feeding strangers in the name of being hospitable meanwhile your own children are starving to death. The Nigerian agencies are part of the cornerstone of our economy, we build brands, we create jobs, we pay taxes etc. Charity they say begins at home. I don’t think foreign agencies can contribute much beyond top line strategic direction. They don’t speak the language of rural Nigerians; they don’t understand the social cultural nuances that make us unique as a people. Frankly I don’t see how they contribute much beyond mere window dressing.

“The AAAN has close to 100 professional agencies that can competently handle any brief, check the records AAAN agencies have swung elections for deserving candidates. As the current Vice President of AAAN I encourage all the parties to take their briefs to registered AAAN agencies.”

The President of Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), Mr. John Ehiguese had in an interview earlier said, “Local issues will invariably drive the campaigns, and certified local professionals, who live and do business in the country, are in the best position to understand the issues, as well as the local nuances and peculiarities of our media.”

For Chief Creative Officer, Noah’s Ark Communications, Mr. Lanre Adisa, some political parties are in talks with some local agencies, though his agency is not one of them.

According to him, “Campaigns go far beyond advertising; they require some kinds of polling that may require some specialist skill. Now, you need to ask, do I have all it requires locally? I like to be realistic, I don’t think any agency in the UK or US can execute campaigns that would resolute with Nigerians like the home agencies would do. And it doesn’t mean that the Nigerian agencies do not have some of the skills to get the work done right. I like to look at facts and not go into sentiments.

“These things come up every year and at the end of the day, the bulk of the work would still be done by the Nigerian agencies. It all depends on what those foreign agencies are doing and how they engage the services of the people here.

Adisa stressed that the lack of Advertisers Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) council body had further contributed negatively to the issue.

He noted, “If there was an APCON Council, which is made up of advertising practitioners, things would be different. At the moment, APCON is very weak; there is no council, they are just civil servants who want to protect their jobs, and may not really come in as we would expect them to. A council can come down harder to insist on the right practice and other sectorial bodies can back the council to succeed, but in the absence of the council, all hope seems lost at the moment.

“There are APCON laws that guide foreign operator. What the law says is that you cannot operate an advertising business in Nigeria as a foreign player without having a particular equity level.

“This is a shortcoming on the side of those who should execute that law. They should protect us, the industry, but if they fail to do that, every four years we come and mourn and that is where it ends. It is not just enough for these foreigners to come and work in Nigeria, but are they partnering with Nigerians?

Until we come together to establish that the political advertising is a different thing entirely, in terms of whoever is coming onboard; how do you harmonise things so that the Nigerian agencies gain at the end of the day? We as industry players must protest this with solutions rather than crying. Let us engage in constructive solutions to make a difference and make it a win win for everybody involved.”

When The Guardian reached out to the Ag. Registrar of APCON, Mrs. Ijedi Iyoha, she failed to comment saying the council had not received a formal notification on the issue.

All efforts to reach PDP spokespersons proved abortive at the time of filing this report.