For a while now I have swung the anchor of this page to beam its searchlight on the political scenario in Nigeria. This I have done because advertising has become imperative in politics such that it would be difficult to separate advertising from politics. The political world now sustains political will via advertising.
Elections are won and lost largely on the ability of campaign managers to use communication effectively, with the right mix of media. The media are essential to democracy and a democratic process. Prof. Umaru Pate, of the Faculty of Communication, Bayero University, Kano (BUK), in this edition of MARKETINGMatters, speaks on political advertising as a veritable tool in influencing the electorate’s choice of candidates, demographics of the electorate and the factors that shape political advertising in the Nigerian context.
Political elitism, media
Speaking on political elitism, Pate said the political elite, in most cases, define the direction and overall vision for the sustenance of development in any society: “If the political elite are confused, you can be sure that the society itself will be confused, because they give a definitive standard for all to move to.”
He further emphasised that the media needs politicians as authoritative sources of information. This, he said, accounts for journalists trailing after politicians to interview them to get authentic information either on policies or issues relating to governance. He equally agreed that politicians also need journalists and the media generally for issues of publicity and exposure. He warned that taking the media for granted would be the beginning of the end for any political process. He added that political communication has several other components or terms used to describe it, which include political advertising, political public relations, debates, news coverage, the internet, blogging and podcasting. All these combine to define and facilitate the process of political communication.
Political advertising, the Nigerian context
Pate noted that political advertising was a form of political communication that involved campaigns by political candidates to reach and influence voters through different media spanning months in the course of political campaigns.
“In the social sciences, the definition of the word ‘campaign’ could be contentious. If you take the situation of Nigeria for example, what do you mean by political campaigns? Is a political campaign really restricted to the time politicians start appearing as aspirants and then become candidates and then eventually go for elections or is it any activity within the regulation period or outside it? They end up persuading, influencing or raising issues about individuals contesting for office.
“Political advertisement includes any advertising displays, newspaper ads, billboards, signs, brochures, flyers, letters, radio or television presentations or other digital or social media ad or other means of communication used for the purpose of appealing directly or indirectly or for financial or other support in any election campaign,” Pate, said.
Factors that shape political advertising
The communications don argued that various factors shape political advertising but it is generally believed that it is a one-way venture. “Now advertising does not just take place in a vacuum. This is the situation we have in Nigeria. Nigeria is a nation with almost 200 million people. The number of our population has its advantages as well as drawbacks. We have a few features that people who engage in political communications must understand. Nigeria is a federal state. What are the characteristics of a federal nation compared to a unitary nation? Nigeria is a multicultural state, a diverse nation full of multiple identities. We can be categorised into different forms. The Global Ecological Data shows that Nigeria has about 520 languages, five or six of them extinct and, therefore, no longer spoken. If you look at the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) order of operations, they broadcast in some of these languages and some of these languages are regionalised, according to their applications.
“Then take a look at religion. Again, Nigeria is a multi-religious nation. Look at our geography. The landscape is also diverse, from the Sahara region of the North to the forested region of the South; there are clear differences in topography. Check the characteristics of the people themselves. Some of us are short, while some are tall. Some of us are beautiful, while some of us are manageably beautiful. Some of us are handsome, while others are tolerably handsome, but we are all Nigerians and all living together and must survive together. These identities, whether we accept it or not, define the way some of us relate to and address issues. Take issues relating to level of education, level of understanding and all that. Now what does all these translate to? It means that we must put them in consideration in everything we do.”
More demographics of the electorate and likely consequences
Speaking on more demographics of the electorate and likely consequences, he said, Nigeria is also a country with an army of unemployed, angry, talented youth plagued with pervasive poverty. So many young people, he stressed, “are educated but are doing nothing to earn a living. Scholars of communications will tell you that when people are angry, they are prone to engaging in unproductive activities. When people who have expectations don’t see these expectations met, when disappointments are high, they result in frustration and frustration leads to aggression and today you can see the manifestation of aggression of our youths and the stagnant process attached to most of their lives. We also have desperate politicians and desperate political behaviours. This desperation will also be replayed in the kind of information they disseminate to the populace. Which means the gatekeepers must be alert.”
Again, he said inappropriate, unethical and illegal behaviours at every level could lead to politicisation and mismanagement of ethno-religious identities, which largely account for manipulations, conflicts, mistrust and suspicions that are seen all over the country: “This is why today, in Nigeria, every issue emanating from simple statements in the newspaper turns out to be the most complex issue in governance. It is ethnicised, regionalised, religionised and given all kinds of characterisation, while the main issues are ignored.”
Prevalence of media and convergence
On the prevalence of media and convergence, Pate explained that there is a preponderance of conventional and social media with disparate forms of ownership, missions and agendas. “As at the last count, we have over 540 broadcast media organisations, comprising radio and television stations, not to talk of unregistered online broadcast media,” he recalled.
“Also, the massive rise of convergence in the media makes it quite easy for many to access media content. Today, it is so easy to watch television, listen to radio and read the newspaper all on your handset. Which means its democratised access makes it so easy and portable for one to use and become a ‘journalist’. Today, whether you are a quack or a trained media person, you are able to disseminate information, regardless of its verity.
What are the consequences? What kind of messages should the media and trained professionals be disseminating in this kind of environment? I raised this so that we would always put into consideration the Nigerian context, because the accredited media are producing messages for the Nigerian populace and not for Ghana, the US or England. Therefore, the interests, the fears, the aspirations and the suspicions of the context must inform the quantity and quality of the kind of messages produced all the time,” he stated on a final note.