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RugaWatch: Buhari’s presidency and perception management


[FILES] President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo/Twitter/AsoRock

I was in the nation’s capital, my organic beat the other day where the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) Professor Mahmood Yakubu did what most public officers, especially in the eye of some storm, hardly do: listening to the media on performance evaluation of their critical assignment or mandate. The national election management agency boss whose job remains inconclusive until the apex courts in most cases say they are, actually noted in his concise opening statement to the media executives and operatives at the meeting that, “…today, we will talk less and listen more”. Professor Yakubu and his team members actually listened to even garrulous speakers after speakers who were judging salient issues around the theme: ‘The Conduct of the 2019 General Elections: Issues, Challenges and Recommendations’.


The INEC Chairman and the management team including the Secretary to the Commission and many National Commissioners took copious notes on how the media perceived among others, “accreditation of media organisations and personnel”, “coverage of the elections (by mainstream and social media)”, “adequacy and effectiveness of public enlightenment and voter education”, “broadcast code/code of coverage and role of professional and regulatory bodies”, “access to information by the media”, “access to media by political parties”, “misinformation, fake news and hate speech”, etc issues that shaped the 2019 general elections.

The general discussion points, observations and suggestions touched on pre-election activities of the Commission, logistics and security management, accreditation of voters, technology and other election day processes, election malpractice, legal framework and litigation. The INEC officials who had open minds listened to lapses and pass marks on the aforementioned issues with a view to correcting and adjusting in the next elections including the nearest ones in Bayelsa and Kogi states later this year.

Some of the Yakubu’s men and partners spoke to the extent that the electoral body would always be conscious of the fact that citizens always want electoral process that is transparent and professional. The INEC boss who thanked the media for robust coverage of the complex elections noted that he considered the appraisal with the media necessary because media coverage would always shape perception of the process, after all. But the highpoint of the significant event was a response by Professor Yakubu that there should be no doubt that transparency and accountability despite all odds, would always defuse tensions around public complaints and perception.

Specifically, the INEC management team and executive technicalassistants (who are professors) were told by the media and media development executives that no matter the prevailing conditions that the electoral body might not have control over, they should always note that ‘perception and trust management’, shouldnot be trifled with in their risk assessment mechanisms.


Unexpectedly, the INEC boss, who took remarkable notes said ‘trust’ as even in developed economies, always overrides the advocacy for use of technology. He disclosed that from his election observation trips around the world, electronic voting and allied matters have not displaced ‘trust’ that people have in the electoral system. He said we should get to a level where the people and political actors would believe a situation whereby an electoral officer could just take a taxicab to convey election results to collation centres. Besides, he said in some top European countries, where trust is already part of the political culture, the same electoral officer could use a public telephone to convey results before the result sheets would be submitted at the collation centres. He took note of the submission on reduction of manual work that delayed election outcomes in 2019 elections. But one of the deliverables at the end of the 2019 general elections review meeting was the issue of building trust and perception management though more transparency and accountability – to the people. Yes the people who need to be convinced to register and collect their permanent voter cards (PVCs) and then vote. There is an understanding that the electoral process will be more dynamic when people feel that their votes will count and outcome will not be determined by the dexterity and manipulation of the counter of the vote, after all.

In the main, Professor Yakubu’s election review meeting where they listened to facts and suggestions of those who just covered the 2019 elections was quite stimulating and didactic. Let’s hope that the president’s men have some lessons to learn from this perception management lessons too.

Perception Lessons for Buhari’s men?
As I was saying here on 25 March, 2018, this is not about competence and suitability of the president’s spokesmen and strategists. Sometimes, they are just victims of certain circumstances beyond their control. Some of us who have had the privilege of covering the presidency for years have had some knowledge of how the State House works and how complicated it can sometimes be for even resourceful reputation managers.


Most times, public relations tragedies may depend on some critical factors that that may not be far removed from the attitude of the president. We may sometimes hide under Afghanistanism in journalism to blame a cabal or the president’s men for some complications inside the sprawling Presidential Villa. But we can’t hide some truth that the real determinant of public relations outcomes, which shape perception, most times is the attitude of the chief executive of the federation.
Doubtless, there is little or nothing a Frank Jefkins can do to enhance the reputation of government or governance system of an average chief executive who primarily lacks social and executive intelligence that can trigger some dynamic capabilities, which shape good reputation.

From manifestations and responses from Abuja and the peripheries of the centre, it appears that most big men in the nation’s capital and other capitals in the federation,do not care a hoot about public perception of their actions. It is clear that they hardly sit down to ask questions about how most Nigerians from all walks of life perceive their actions, policies and politics. It is amazing they are not afraid of public opinion and perception in this dispensation.
It is also curious that they do not care about reputation management before andafter controversial general elections. Perhaps because our leaders do not need good reputation to win election, they are hardly afraid of the people power even in election periods.

Perhaps they do not know that someday, victory will depend on performance index determined solely by the people, not through any analytics and some benevolent spirits.

And so without good reputation, leaders and managers will fail instantly even when sycophants and some social media public relations platforms are praising them. So it is in most working democracies where the people are feared and their perception matters a great deal.


What are we talking about here? Perception management, the point at issue here, is a term, which originated from the US military. “Perception” is defined as the process by which individuals select, organise, and interpret the input from their senses to give meaning and order to the world around them.

In the same vein, some other experts would tell us, perception is a process by which people translate sensory impressions into a coherent and unified view of the world around them. Though necessarily based on incomplete and unverified (or unreliable) information, perception is equated with reality for most practical purposes and guides human behavior in general.

For those in the private sector, this is the art of managing customer-centricity. Here perception is a marketing concept that encompasses a customer’s impression, awareness and/or consciousness about a company or its offerings.

According to Alfred Otara, a management and strategy expert of Kigali Institute of Education, organisations, perceptions of leaders, managers and employees shape the climate and effectiveness of the working environment. Perception is the way we all interpret our experiences. Having the right perception is a significant skill for any effective leadership. It is important to understand that perception is often portrayed through communication in any organisationbe it big or small and therefore, it is a pertinent tool in leadership.

As once noted here, what sets great leaders apart is their ability to manage perceptions in the process of handling people and organisational issues.What people often observe or assess as your ability to be a leader and your effectiveness becomes their perception, which in turn becomes reality.


A leader can have the best intentions and honest concern for his or her people but if he does not communicate in manners that people can comprehend, then that perception may work contrary to the right intentions. That is the power or influence of perception in any leadership. A leader sensitive to perception of employees or the people must use communication as a tool to either reinforce a positive perception or change a negative one. Having the right perception is not only about becoming competent, polyvalent and productive but also about nurturing diversity and being able to live with all employees or people.

As Stan Moore has written, “Just because truth has been omitted, does not mean that truth is not true. Just because reality has not been perceived, does not mean that it is not real.”

It is for the same reason public officers and political leaders hire some professionals as special advisers to manage their reputation. In this digital age, ‘reputation management’ is fast becoming a process of making sure that your organisation or agency or government maintains an active and engaging strong presence through traditional and social media.
It is curious however that our leaders at all levels don’t care about how the people have perceived the change they promised more thanfour years ago…They don’t make conscious effort to hire perception management experts to measure how the people, (the voters) perceive them. Besides, do they care about how the war on corruption has fared? Do they also find out whether people believe that they are secure? Do our leaders in Abuja and 36 state capitals know how people feel about the level of insincerity and hypocrisy inside governments at all levels? Do they care about how the people perceive the toxic Ruga ambush?

Do they find out how the people feel about gross violation of federal character provisions in the constitution? Do they measure their reputation after re-appointing the old personal staff and presidential and gubernatorial bureaucrats people feel are incompetent and divisive? Do they bother to find out what the people now feel about the military institutions and internal security in the country? Do our National Assembly leaders care to find out what the people think about their jumbo allowances, absenteeism, dubious oversight functions? What do all these insensitive governors who would not like to pay even salaries and pensionswant us to believe about them? Do the authorities in Abuja find out whether people believe they are fighting corruption sincerely? Specifically, the governing party and indeed the president should conduct some perception and reputation management examination on themselves to know how the people perceive them.

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