Animus and Apologia:The Political Communication Handbook for 2015 , By Adagbo Onoja



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Hoping that, somehow, politicians and other shareholders in the Nigerian project will manage to pull the country back from the precipice and make 2015 General Elections a reality, there is need to begin to put in the public domain the result of our own local intellectual efforts that have dwelt on electoral issues in our political life. This makes Professor Isaac Olawale Albert and Mr Derrick Marco’s book, Animus and Apologia: Campaign Advertorials and the Gamble for Power in the 2003 and 2007 Elections in Nigeria an important reference for 2015 to the extent that electioneering campaign, in the information age, is substantially a media affair. Power in the post modern age has been considerably circumscribed by information management.

There are still no iron cast parameters on how best to manage information for power. So much still depends on what is at stake and who is involved. But, whether in the Cold War or in a gamble for power involving high office or a military campaign, it is established that the media can be manipulated to produce tactical advantage. That is what I would call ‘calling communication to the help of power’. But ‘calling communication to the help of power’ is not the same thing as deliberate falsehood in crisis communication but contextual clarification that elevates the authority and eminence of one’s principal, be s/he the president or some other high state official in relation to state legitimacy and collective survival. This is very, very desirable because a serious hiatus between leadership and followership is always a bad signpost, with potential for unfortunate collateral damages.

It is both the desirability and the possibility of the construction of the powerful or the influential as the epitome of eminence in the context of legitimacy of governments or corporate beings which explains the incredible pervasiveness of public relations specialists, media advisers and all sorts of spokespersons in palaces, State Houses, military establishments, sundry corporate organisations and even NGOs, globally. The message of their visibility is that, in the post modern world, there just has to be that conscious articulation of the soul of the king or C-in-C in a way that harmonises leadership and followership in the exercise of power.

But communication is not called to the help of power only by spokespersons, media advisers or public relations geniuses but also by what the Americans call the rhetorical presidency, defined by Shaw J. Parry-Giles, as “increasing reliance of presidential administration on public platforms for political gains”. Parry-Giles is the author of a book on the subject matter, a 2002 publication titled, The Rhetorical Presidency, Propaganda and the Cold War, 1945 – 1955. The rhetorical presidency has not been a high art in this part of the world in recent years. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was perhaps too sick to play that card, even in foreign policy. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, his successor, has not been very adept in grand strategies in foreign or domestic policy and the use of public platforms to market same beyond helplessly kneeling down before one pastor or cleric in full view of the entire country and beyond.

After the instrumentality of the spokesperson and the rhetorical presidency comes campaign advertorials, particularly during elections. Campaign advertorials are not as subtle and caressing as the previous two but can be effective if creatively crafted and imaginatively deployed.

As a locally produced study based on analysis of the 2003 and 2007 campaign advertorials in the presidential and gubernatorial elections, the book under review is a credible take off point for all media managers, electoral strategists and every serious contestant with eyes on high office in 2015. Not only is one of the authors a South African with considerable exposure in Slovakia, the Commonwealth and much of Africa, the work also bears the unmistakable stamp of the scholarship of Professor Isaac Olawale Albert, the mastermind behind the Peace and Conflict Studies programme at the University of Ibadan, the biggest peace studies programme on the continent today, with over 300 graduate students spanning five fields of specialisation. That makes the programme something much bigger than just another degree programme but also a centre of strategic thinking in Nigeria and Africa.

This claim is verifiable from, among others, the course structure of its one year Master’s Degree programme which includes Concepts and Methods in Peace and Conflict Studies; Principles of Conflict Management; African Approaches to Conflict Management, (taught by a lecturer whom the students have good heartedly nicknamed “the Ancestor” because of his privileging of ancestors as the ultimate referents in conflict management in the traditional African society); Problems of Peace Making and Peace Keeping; Ethnic Violence and Conflict Resolution and Disarming Ethnic Guerrillas in Post Conflict States. Others are Inter-Religious Conflicts in Nigeria; War Crimes and War Guilt; The Global Refugee Regime; Advanced Seminar in Conflict Bargaining in International Relations; Language and Communication in Peace and Conflict and Case Studies in Environmental Conflict. There might have been changes by now.

It is not surprising that Animus and Apologia itself comes off as a study in language and conflict, Critical Discourse Analysis, political communication, Psychoanalysis, Early warning/conflict management, media ethics and election management, an uncommon reflection of the trans-disciplinarity of the peace and conflict studies academic roots of the authors.

It is an 8 chapter work. Chapter 1 explains the early warning context of the work in which the South Africa owned Institute for Democracy in Africa, (IDASA) was interested in analyzing every indicator of a threat to the 2003 and 2007 elections in Nigeria. Chapter 2 is an uncomplicated review of the existing studies of campaign advertorials, especially as it obtains in older liberal democracies such as Australia, Canada, Britain, etc. Chapter 3 and 4 looked at the actual campaign advertorials in the 2003 presidential and gubernatorial elections respectively while chapters 5 and 6 did so on the two elections in 2007. Chapter 7, titled “Language as an instrument of Peace and Weapon of Conflict in an Election Year” is a very interesting demonstration of the Yoruba proverb which says that ‘words draw kola nuts from the pocket and words draw arrows from the quiver’. Chapter 8 brings the work to a close by summing up. This review isolates Chapter 8 for attention given that this is where the findings of the study were fully undressed.

Campaign advertorials, said the authors in Chapter 8, have a lot to say about politics in a society. The target is to sell one candidate by knocking off his or her opponent. But the knocking off have to be a gentle one or it amounts to negative campaigns. Their judgment is that the 2003 and 2007 campaign advertorials that they studied were negative campaigns as the conflict parties did most of their fighting on the pages of the newspapers. In the 2003 presidential contest, the conflict parties were Obasanjo/Atiku; Buhari and M. D Yusuf’s MDJ. While Obasanjo/Atiku depicted Buhari as lacking in human rights records to lead the country, Buhari hit back by presenting Obasanjo/Atiku as failures in solving Nigeria’s problems. When the authors moved to the 2007 presidential election, however, the conflict parties changed to the PDP, the AC and the ANPP. All the last two isolated Obasanjo’s authoritarianism for which they said his anointed, Umaru Yar’Adua, should be rejected. Additionally, the AC devoted a lot of emphasis on exonerating its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar whom Obasanjo/PDP had presented as the model of corruption.

On the basis of the above, they drew the conclusion that the gladiators spent more time addressing personality than governance issues, saying the campaign advertorials were mudslinging matches of a sort and reflected what students of propaganda would describe as “patriotic flag-waving, glittering generalities, intentional vagueness, over simplification of complex issues, rationalization of the most incredulous, introducing unrelated red herring issues, using appealing, simple slogans, stereotyping, testimonies from authority figures or celebrities, unstated assumptions and encouraging readers or viewers to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ of a particular point of view”, (p.155).

This is a contentious claim but which cannot be disputed without reading the samples they analysed before coming to the conclusion. Chapters 3 – 6 contain those hilarious and very entertaining samples for anyone to read and draw his or her own conclusions. It is unbelievable that the PDP once called the ANPP “African Patch-Patch Party” and the defunct AC as “Alliance for Corruption” while the AC once called the PDP “Power of Darkness Permanently”. ‘Our Great Party’ was also called “Papa Deceive Peter”, a very mean reference to the observed Obasanjo encouragement of Dr Peter Odili to enter the presidential race in 2007 and Odili’s surprising illusory enthusiasm to undercut the zoning principle and emerge the president. But it is on page 145 where one encounters the late Chuba Okadigbo’s elegance of logic that completes the reading of this book.

There are other less straight forward issues in the text, such as whether campaign advertorials affect political choice, especially in Nigeria. This particular question may await a different study, especially of the GEJ campaign of 2011, the most omnipresent so far, for us to know whether the answer is yes or no. But the question is similar to asking whether media coverage of conflicts have any effects on the course of those conflicts. This is a question which only the US military is in the best position to answer, they being the one with the most elaborate programme of incorporating the media into their military campaigns. They must know one or two things the media can do to a military campaign planned without the media, especially after their fiasco in Vietnam.

Instructively, the authors believe that campaign advertorials enable us to see Nigerian leaders in their true colors, providing a window into their dirty fights and endless quarrels. 2003 and 2007 elections are bound to be child’s play in 2015. But while we await 2015, smarter special advisers on Media Affairs in the country might do well to read certain chapters of this work with particular reference to inter-textual framing in crisis communication, the zone of the most dismal performance among Nigerian media advisers. Here, one juvenility follows another until both the media adviser and the boss are all soaked in one ruinous oily scandal or another from which they will never come out if our society were not a jungle without rule of law. It is probably from them the word apologia entered the title of the book.

 

 



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