By Martins Oloja
It is high time we began to tell the authorities and indeed the big men within the Fulani nation that they urgently need reputation management strategy more than anything else at the moment. This may be part of some inconvenient truths ttey may not like to hear at this moment. Whether they like it or not, we their friends owe them a responsibility to give them a Valentine’s Day precious gift: telling them the truth that will set them free from the public relations tragedies some carelessness has attracted for them. They appear quite arrogant today from the way they shrug shoulders. The elders among them who continue to speak to the nation through the media have no idea what public relations or reputation or perception management is all about. They don’t know that image is everything. They appear too conceited to learn effective communication in conflict management. They continue to portray even killer herders within their nation as victims. They hardly talk about the scoundrels within their nation who have markedly ruined their reputation.
Sadly for them, they don’t learn much about how impurities they celebrate have become little foxes that have been spoiling their vines within this complex federation. They swagger along their corridor that they are not only in office, they are also in power in the most populous black nation on earth. They are the constituted authorities everywhere we go now. They don’t care about the law the nation’s founding fathers have put in place to enable us live peacefully together. They don’t care a hoot about federal character in our organic laws. They have grabbed powers and all the juicy positions therein. They got them so carelessly. The more their neighbours complain about unfairness and injustice, the more they grab. Now they are getting more and more careless: they want to grab lands, everywhere on the mountain, in the valley, in the night, in daytime, in good and bad times. They don’t care. They are wielding their power appurtenances in security and defence sector. They have the police. They possess the armed and even para-military forces: they are in charge of the Customs, Immigration, Correctional Centres (Prisons). They control the intelligence communities. They own the maritime forces. They are in charge of even the petroleum resources. The finance power is in their hand. They are in charge of elections management. They are in charge of public service and even the revenue service. They have seized the telecoms and digital technologies sector. They don’t share even the nation’s capital government with anyone, not to talk of the federal character commission. They also have powers over education. They are in charge of electricity transmission. They call the shot in agriculture and water resources. They are in the presidency. They are in cruise control of the judiciary too. They have the justice system on their fingertips. Even the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Tribunal are in their domain. Even the federal legislature is at their beck and call. Who can battle with these enormous powers? Who therefore has not seen why the Miyetti Allah powers and operatives have been so remarkably haughty and militant?
But this is a time to tell those who are part of the Fulani nation that they need reputation management experts at this time because their neighbours’ perception of who and what they are and where they are going is very bad. For those who may have been their cheerleaders and public relations consultants, this is a moment of inconvenient truth. The Fulani nationals and indeed public intellectuals need to know that constant appearance on electronic media’s prime time and front pages where they portray the murderous, AK-47 wielding herdsmen as victims cannot improve the other people’s perception, in this regard. Like the ancient children of Issachar, they need to understand the times and therefore know what the Funani nation ought to do. They need to tell and admit the truth about their existential dilemma at this time. How many lives did we need to lose before realising the efficacy of what Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State has been advocating: ranching in the north, for instance? Did Governor Ganduje need to be in Daura to repeat his age-long sermon that herders should be prevented from migrating to the South where the image of the Fulani nation has been battered?
This module on reputation management is not an academic exercise here, after all. It should be seen as a ‘doctrine of necessity’ at this time so that we can live or part peacefully. There is a need for a blueprint on peace building and reconciliation at this time. They need to reconcile with the people of Middle Belt they have had this ancient grudge with. First, they need public relations strategy to swallow their pride and vanity so that they can tell the nation how Fulani from all over (West) Africa have flooded Nigeria and have become terrorists and bandits. That is why they need to stop spoilers in their midst such as Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State who urgently needs some lessons on decorum and public speaking. The former FCT Minister needs to note that President Muhammadu Buhari’s mismanagement of the Fulani herders’ crisis has compounded the already battered image of the Fulani nation in Nigeria. They need more Gandujes who understand the times enough to freeze politics at this time, face the truth and tell it to the powers in Abuja. There is no doubt that the hard truth that the Governor of Kano has been telling will attract some reprisal from the hawks that don’t understand the nexus between justice and peace in any land. They shall know the truth, the morning after what Jimmy Cliff calls ‘foolish pride’ and that truth will set them free as the ancient word tells us.
Let’s go back to the basics of reputation/ perception management context here. Reputation is generally seen as a social construct based on the opinion other people hold about a person or thing. Before the development of the Internet, consumers wanting to learn about a company or even a country or an organisation had few options. They had access to resources such as the Yellow Pages, but mostly relied on word of mouth. A company’s or country’s or organisation’s reputation depended on personal experience. A company for instance, could grow and expand based on the market’s perception of the brand. Reputation management in public relations was developed to manage the image and build the reputation of a company or individual or organisation. The concept was initially created to broaden public relations outside of media relations. Academic studies have identified it (reputation management) as a driving force behind Fortune 500 corporate public relations since the beginning of the 21st century – before Google was founded in 1998, among other giants that have expanded the scope of this social construct. This is what the managers of the Fulani nation’s reputation need to borrow from the new media: how to shape good opinion of the people who are in the old business of cattle breeding, which is now a big business. It is not new even as money launderers now exploit the very lucrative business (cattle rearing) to manage their loot or funds. The people who are associated with this big business need a private sector approach to manage their reputation. They should regard and treat other nationalities as markets and even customers to be satisfied, not to be killed. They need a strategic damage control mechanism in public relations management module. They need to do that pronto lest, there will be no market, sorry country with the way the Fulani cattle breeders are going. Their tower of strength, the president-in-council and commander-in-chief has not been helpful with the way he has allowed land grabbing nurtured by brigandage and impunity to govern the business that is one of the oldest in the world.
I would like to reiterate again that it is time for our leader to deal with the Fulani challenge before it is too late. He should deal with a growing allegation of Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda in the country. Perception is growing negatively on this. He needs to talk about the rumble in his house and other weightier matters of lawlessness and even imminent food insecurity that only the governors seem to be handling. If these issues are not addressed, people will be free to conclude that the president who is not capable of managing the home front well should not be expected to be able to manage a complex federation such as this. As I was writing this last night, I saw a newspaper issue of May 30, 2015 and the bold headline and riders were quite revealing: ‘Buhari: I belong to nobody: says economy is in deep trouble; pledges to free Chibok girls, tackle corruption, insecurity, fuel, power crises…’ An evaluation of the promises he made in 2015 may in fact be a compelling need to tackle the menace of Fulani herdsmen in the country. He and he alone can deal with the negative perception that he indeed belongs to the Fulani stock and that is why he has been protecting even the criminals among them.
It is, therefore, important to tell our leader and his men at this time that they need to invest in strategic reputation management at this time. It is serious and urgent. There have been too many public relations disasters that only Governor Ganduje is managing for them at the moment. He (Ganduje) deserves some plaudit for his wisdom and candour. Governor Nasir el-Rufai needs to be more consistent to be recognised as a Fulani brand ambassador. As I was saying here, this is not about competence of the communications managers in the presidency. It is about the image of Nigeria that President Buhari is leading at this time. They need to recognise first that reputation management is quite critical in today’s governance and leadership process even as disruptive and innovative technologies keep shaping forces of globalisation and its discontents. They don’t need the toxic outburst of Governor Bala Mohammed who should be rebuked for his bad verses at this time. How can a governor claim that all the forests in Nigeria belong to all Nigerians including the Fulani in West Africa who do not require visa to relocate to Nigeria? Besides, Bala’s claim that the herders carry AK-47 for protection is a public relations tragedy for Buhari’s presidency and that should be deftly managed before is too late.
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