Until early week of January this year (2020), Hajia Maimuna Mailafia, an Abuja based beautician and cosmetologist had never heard about the word 'propaganda'. She did not know the meaning of the word either The mother of four, believes, rightly or wrongly, that governments in Nigeria were irresponsible and deceitful.
Her contempt for and skeptical disposition towards the leadership arose from what she viewed as the inability of the various civilian regimes in Nigeria, since the current democratic dispensation, to fix the power sector and the dilapidated highway roads, which had caused so much anguish to road users and had claimed many lives as well.
But recently, Muna Mailafia's negative perception of government had changed completely. A flurry of campaign messages and desperate propaganda advertorials and jingles, unleashed in the media especially during elections and often by the ruling governments in Nigeria, have, somewhat, convinced Mailafia that "things have improved". Contrary position from friends and neighbors that government was merely fooling the people in other to win the polls, failed to cut ice with Mailafia. Such is the power of Propaganda!
Another case: In July 1993, Ifeoma Nwosu was bathing her one-year old baby girl at her Apapa, Lagos home one afternoon when she heard on the radio national network news that Lagos was about to be bombed. This was at the peak of the crisis that rocked the nation, following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election presumably won by the late business mogul, Bashorun MKO Abiola. Mrs Nwosu was completely devastated by the news. Anxiety and panic overcame her. She quickly dressed her baby; summoned her house help who had just gone out to fetch water and instructed her to look after her four kids while she sped off to her husband’s office in Surulere, Lagos, to inform him about the breaking news.
Now at home with her husband, Nwosu, still worried and confused, gave her husband a firm ultimatum: “We must leave Lagos immediately”. The house wife was deeply unnerved, like many Lagosians at the time, that the life and security of her household was in serious peril, should the bombings erupt any moment. The power of propaganda was at work!
However, following the news of the impending bomb attack, many Igbos of the South-East Nigeria and non-easterners alike, began to leave the city of lagos in droves. Many others had been fleeing to their homelands at the beginning of the crisis. But great optimists like Ifeoma Nwosu, who initially believed that the brewing political crisis would soon subside, however began to take desperate and hurried flight out of town, as soon as the news came on the airwaves. That was the magic of propaganda!
Even at the peak of the Nigeria-Biafran civil war between 1967 and December 1969, propaganda was an effective weapon bruesqly deployed by both the Biafran and Nigerian governments to fool the world and win the confidence of their people and external allies as well as public sympathy, to their cause. According to Abdulrahman kutepa, an Abuja based commodity merchant from Kogi state of Nigeria's North-Central, “Biafra, with the help of Uche Chukwumerije (then Information Minister of the defunct Republic of Biafra) used propaganda so effectively, such that Biafra was able to sway both local and international opinion and win global sympathy for its cause". Kutepa continued: "I found myself believing all the information that were being dished out from the radio Biafra, though many of them, of course, were outright lies. The same lies were being told by late Anthony Enahoro, the information Minister of Nigeria at that time. The Biafran government’s propaganda, in fact, provoked strong solidarity from the Igbo masses which encouraged their soldiers to fight on. The Biafran experience made me to know a lot about the power and influence of propaganda on the psyche of the people", Kutepa confessed.
Propaganda equally had a strong psychological impact on Comfort Omogbai, a banker and resident of Benin-City in Edo State of South-South Nigeria. She told NIGERIAN NEWSLEADER that "those bloody scenes, the horrifying visuals of violence, deaths, bloody street protests, wars and conflicts, being shown on television by the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the Neighbour 2 Neighbour group during the 2011 general elections", reminded her of the horrors of destruction and propaganda. Omogbai said: "Those television films clips were very unsightly and fear-inspiring. To be candid, I'd take part during the fuel subsidy withdrawal protests of January 2012 and also in the June 12, 1993 Presidential election annulment because I hate injustice. But when the government started showing those bloody visuals on television networks, I was touched. I decided to stop taking part in those wild street protests and bonfires because I couldn’t imagine plunging my entire family and other innocent Nigerians into that kind of war situation which I saw on television. The propaganda slogans and messages that I watch everyday made me to instantly begin to see things the government’s way, in other to avert war of any kind".
Indeed, Propaganda is very powerful. It is a potent and familiar weapon in crisis management. Propaganda usually, is a message, data or information purposely presented to a person or an audience with the intention to deceive them by concealing aspects of that message that would have made them to act civilized and rational. Propaganda is biased, replete with half-truths and lies. Strategies adopted (by propagandists) to achieve optimum results often include exaggeration and trivialization of facts as well as highlighting facts believed to be emotionally arousing for their target audience. These are implemented through the local media, posters, and handbills and even through stooges who are human beings. Such messages can be fear-arousing or out rightly intimidating. The propagandist who often portrays himself as the offended or under-dog, also increases his own credibility.
Propaganda is often used in times of war, civil strife or when there are political and social upheavals. It can also be used in times of relative peace by dictatorial regimes. Its effectiveness depends on a number of factors. For instance, clinical research studies have shown that women tend to be more easily influenced than men by propaganda information. The reason for this however could be more cultural than biological. Secondly, studies have also shown that individuals who have strong views about issues relating to the propaganda messages are often less influenced by it than those who do not. Also, the more knowledgeable and informed a person is about propaganda issues, the less likely will he be influence by it.
Repetition is a common propaganda device. It enhances the prospects of the message being taken as gospel truth, though it still contains some elements of lies. Flipping through the grey pages of the World War II history, Germany, under Adolphus Hitler, made a generous use of propaganda through his chief information adviser, Dr. Joe Goebbel. Also, iconoclastic scholars would readily agree that even in the 7th century, the Catholic Church, actually fostered propaganda by designing messages which were taken to the so-called heathens or pagans, to persuade them that their God was not a living God, and that their symbolic interpersonal forms with which they represent the being is not in actual existence spiritually. Even in the early days of Islam and other religions, a bit of propaganda was used for missionary work. In the present time, some religious free thinkers, radical intellectuals, agnostics, atheists and even the critical segments of church faithfuls, both of the traditional and Pentecostal hues, were of the unanimous view, that modern day church and spiritual leaders employed the tool of subtle propaganda to spiritually blackmail their adherents or church flocks, to do their biddings, or imbibe, without questioning, their religious doctrines, no matter how obnoxious, pernicious or discomforting such doctrines are.
During electioneering periods especially in emerging democracies in developing countries like Nigeria, propaganda is often a veritable handy tool employed by the ruling government and the opposition alike, to manipulate the minds of voters to earn their support and ultimately secure their electoral mandate. And in crisis situations, governments, the world over, often conceal aspects of messages or encounter which they think could demoralize the people. But what government often think will demoralize their citizens are usually the things that will, in fact, galvanize them to rise in patriotic defense of their nation.
The government of the United States of America under former President Jimmy Carter, for instance, made a good use of what communication theoreticians and strategic studies experts would refer to as dispozander. This term is a direct antithesis to propaganda, which simply means the pursuit of truth-telling as a counterweight to propaganda. Therefore America employed the tool of dispozander during her failed military expedition in Teheran, the capital city of Iran, a Middle-East country. America under the Carter regime, secretly went to bomb Iran with the hope of rescuing the 51 American hostages that were held during the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution in Iran. But unfortunately, their war plane ran into a sand storm and the mission consequently failed. Humiliated and embarrassed by this botched expedition, President Jimmy Carter took the dispozandic option. He acted ahead of the American media and arranged an early morning presidential broadcast in which he told Americans the truth of what happened, that the white House had embarked on a failed military operation in Iran; that government attempted to use brute force to free the American hostages since all diplomatic efforts had failed. What Carter did precisely, was to pre-empt the media and the opposition group from making a political capital out of the failed military gamble. Carter was not re-elected as President though, but he drew public sympathy to his government instead.
Now, at the height of the Nigerian-Biafran civil war in mid 1968, the Nigerian government under General Yakubu Gowon used a bit of propaganda to blackmail the Biafran government and her foreign sympathizer nations. In an apparent justification of its deliberate territorial blockade of Biafra to forestall the continuous and rapid inflow of arms, war equipment and food relief supplies from the European and other African countries into the Biafran enclave for the starving Biafran children and combatant soldiers, Gowon’s then information Minister, Chief Anthony Enahoro, accused Biafran foreign allies, including the World Catholic Caritas and the International Red Cross, of trying to prolong the war at great cost to the Nigerian government. Enaboro’s vituperation arose from the international condemnation of then British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson’s regime of aiding Nigeria with sophisticated weapons of war against Biafra. Enahoro immediately evened up via media propaganda to draw sympathy to Nigeria, by accusing some countries of equally supporting Biafra with weapons, thereby causing Nigeria more military and civilian casualties and resources in that fratricidal war.
In the past two decades in Nigeria, particularly during the last years of the military regimes, it is believed by most people that the military governments of late Head of State, General Sani Abacha and the ex-military President, General Ibrahim Bahangida, used more of propaganda than dispozander in the resolution of the intractable June 12 political conflict that almost polarized the country and dimmed the popular quest for democracy. This, they argued, was evident in the incessant war of words between some key officials of government and the opposition figures within the then National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). In the dock of public opinion then, were the Information and Special Duties Ministers, late Comrade, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, Dr Walter Ofonagoro and late Alhaji Wada Nas, respectively. Nas, had, on several occasions, between 1994 and 1998, accused and disparaged the opposition and the pro-democracy groups, in typical propaganda fashion, of unleashing orchestrated bomb attacks on some parts of Nigerian territories in other to discredit the then military government of late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, before the Nigerian people and the international community.
On their part, Chukwumerije and Ofonagoro reportedly, singled out the Nigerian press (the media) specifically for public vitriolic castigation and victimization. The two government officials treated Journalists and media organizations as enemies that must be permanently vanquished, over what they made the military government believe as media incendiary on the post-June 12 political crises. Also, in the political rat-race to the 2011 general elections in which Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan contested for the office of the President against strident opposition from the Northern political establishment as a result of claims and counter-claims of zoning agreement with the south, Jonathan had equally made good use of propaganda to sway popular support to his presidential aspiration on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP). The former President, who was serving out his joint tenure with the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, however chose to play the under-dog. He skillfully adopted the approach of common folks appeal, a clear euphemism for political propaganda, to drive his presidential campaign and rode on voters sympathy to win the election. Jonathan's emotive soap-box statements like “I have no shoes”, “I am one of you”, “My ambition is not worth anybody’s blood", "I have no enemies to fight” and ‘Fellow Nigerians, if I can make it, you too can” and talks like “You deserve a fresh air”, dominated the press, the out-door billboards and the air waves. Of course, the then unassuming President got public sympathy and the votes too. That was sheer propaganda at work!
However, is propaganda supposed to be used, for instance, as an instrument of crises resolution? “Certainly No!”, says Dr. Cletus Akuabata, a Mass Communication Scholar and former University lecturer. “In fact, it is better to use honesty and truth to resolve issues. Each side in a conflict should be told where it is right or wrong. That is the brave act of the new world”. Akuabata maintained that the effects of propaganda in any political crises is usually counter-productive. “It not only doubles cost, it escalates it and aggravates situations. Propaganda, in a crisis situation, expands misunderstanding by giving the impression that the opportunity for another day in life is not there, unless urgent negative actions are taken. So the evolution of propaganda at such periods does no good”, he explained.
Also, a renowned clinical psychologist and former lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lagos, Prof Peter Omoluabi, said the use of propaganda during crises could backfire. This, Omoluabi argued, happens when some members of the propaganda target audience suddenly discovers the lies contained in the propaganda messages, or if the propagandist loses public respect and credibility. "That is why, sometimes, there are unexpected display of anger and hostility or violence, rioting or resort to arson, by the masses. This happens mostly in totalitarian regimes or in dictatorships that are believed to have had the masses under their control”, Omoluabi explained.
However, Dr Tom Isokrari Tamuno, a Port Harcourt based political Scientist and Sociologist, offers a variant view. He simply argues that text book approach to crises management should not be used in times of emergency. “Our situation in Nigeria today and in the time past, is a desperate one”, Tamuno argues, adding that " We have had a consistent pattern, where both the government and the opposition are in constant offensive and the ordinary masses are constantly on the defensive. If one says that the government is the lone aggressor, that is, the sole propagandist in a given crisis, what do we say about the opposition that often launches its propaganda across the fence, as we have had during the June 12 NADECO era, and also, as we have had since 2011 uptil 2015, and still having till this day? It's been a two-way affair! So, politically speaking, the PDP in power did not enjoy any respite from the then opposition APC. Now that the table has turned, it is even worse for the ruling APC, which is at the receiving end, from the PDP. You find out that both sides in the conflict are seriously involved in the same propaganda business, to win public sympathy and support.
Tamuno further queried: "Do you actually want to tell me that all these stories and visual messages about herdsmen killings, raping and kidnappings being pushed out on social media, were entirely true? Are there no substantial elements of exaggerations or stage-managed acts to discredit the government as being incapable of governance? Do you also want to convince me that all the tales by the government military forces fighting at the front lines of the anti-insurgency war, claiming that Boko Haram terrorist militia and armed bandits have been liquidated, were entirely true? Would anyone be convinced that the kind of successes recorded by the army in the North East was in the magnitude of the claims by Defence headquarters? Yes, there is sufficient truth in those claims, and yes, there are, of course, elements of propaganda, to win public trust and confidence".
He continued: “Again, during the June 12 political crisis, the military government had accused NADECO of being responsible for the various bombings which occurred in some parts of the country. And the same NADECO also blamed the bombings on government, claiming that the military junta sponsored the bomb attacks to embarrass and discredit the pro-democracy organization, NADECO. A similar situation occurred in early January 2012, during the fuel subsidy withdrawal protests organised by the Nigerian Labour Union against the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration. Government officials were locked in a desperate battle with labor to win the public sympathy and in the process, all kinds of propaganda approaches were used mostly by government which found itself on the wrong side of the public mood. While government, through the then minister of information, Mr Labaran Maku, accused labor of prolonging the protest crisis by refusing to go to the negotiation table, labor leaders maintained that government was insensitive to the popular demands not to withdraw the fuel subsidy. The then Minister equally claimed that the Labour Union was embarrassing the government by alleging that government had refused to engage the unions in a sincere dialogue on how to resolve the fuel subsidy impasse. So, who was embarrassing who? I think the masses that bore the whole brunt were the ones being embarrassed. But of course, the government usually is to be blamed more because it has the instrument or tools of coercesion”, said Tamuno.
Propaganda has its price! The socio-psychological implication of it is that it breeds a society of liars and exaggerators. “It creates a society of people who do not believe in gradual growth; people who do not believe in gradual accumulation of riches or wealth. Like a catalyst, it speeds up a machine beyond its original engineering design”, explained Akuabata. For Dr. Mustapha Bello, an Abuja based scholar in strategic studies, another psychological effect of using propaganda to resolve issues especially by desperate governments or the opposition, is that it creates a society of skeptics and cynics. “People become very doubtful of everything government says or does: They become apathetic and cynical. The government loses integrity and respect from the citizens of that society", Bello reasoned.
A legal luminary and Constitutional lawyer, David Sinclair, maintains that the use of propaganda falsehood by any government, violates the civil rights of the people and the provisions of the constitution which officials of that government swore to an oath to uphold at all times. Sinclair also added rather positively, that one of the propaganda gains is that it promotes the spirit of national consciousness. “In a true democracy, a government that deploys propaganda falsehood to fool or deceive the electorate which brought it to power, in fact, risk outright impeachment or regime change, because it runs counter to their sworn oath of allegiance. Seriously speaking, such behaviour violates the right of voters which shouldn’t be accepted by any serious electorate”. Sinclair reveals that “any propaganda carefully and strategically executed by any government could awaken and promote the spirit of national consciousness among the citizens of that country. The government is the state, and when the citizens do not respect a government, anarchy is the result, and nobody wants anarchy. Everybody wants peace and security”.
However, with the worsening banditry operations and kidnappings in Nigeria's North West axis, coupled with the intensity of terrorist insurgency hard-push by Boko Haram militia in the North East area, how far can propaganda lead the nation to peace, internal security and socio-political stability? What exactly should he done here? “We must embrace true restructuring of this federation. You can also say, lets go for another talk shop (National Conference), to discuss our problem and the future of Nigeria”, quipped Dr Bolaji Adeyeye, a political historian. “An unfettered round table national dialogue is just the only way out now, because our problems have defied every cosmetic solution. No doubt, there is a lot of deliberate exaggeration of our situation in the press and in the social media. Anti-government propaganda seem to be eroding the efforts of government to contain the insecurity, and the public trust and confidence in the government. The truth is: there are a lot of ethnic hostility, social upheaval and internal acrimony right now in the country than we ever had, even more than during the Nigerian-Biafran civil war.
"If we allow these problems to continue to linger, soon our national unity will be in serious jeopardy. Above all, we should begin to seriously address the issue of collapsing economy. All these problems have been there since the late 80s, especially since the last years of the military government. The political leaders that we have had right from the inception of this our democracy have not been able to successfully address these challenges. Fact is that the problems predate this present government, but it hasn't quite gotten a good handle to it. And I think it is up to the President Muhammadu Buhari's administration, the entire Nigerian political and traditional leadership and the elites, both in the business and in the professions, to unanimously rise up to the occasion of this national challenge and provide direction for the country”, said Adeyeye. NNL.