Army’s PR slip in Igboland
You must have heard that the Army’s gesture of free vaccines, said to be a step in both Operation Python Dance 2 and Operation Crocodile Smile attracted alarm and pandemonium in Igboland. Certain people obviously of IPOB persuasion capitalised on the association of the Nigerian Army with the sorrows of the Igbo to halt the operation at least symbolically – with just word of mouth. According to them, the free vaccines are deadly injections procured to accelerate the elimination of Ndigbo in their own homeland. The sad drama typically climaxes with parents rushing to schools to grab away their sons and daughters. Even unaccompanied children running away from school like cats out of hell. Then a mid-day traffic hold-up builds up and the city is paralysed. At the root of this unfortunate incident is the army neglecting an important public relations principle: research. The primary PR model is known by the acronym RACE where R stands for research; A stands for action; C represents communication; and E represents evaluation. Research is synonymous with fact-finding. Untested assumptions are too unsafe to be trusted with scarce resources. But pure facts – up-to-date facts — are safe guides in decision-making and allocation of resources. Even gamblers are wary enough to examine the chances before they take. Business people study the people’s minds and ascertain the unmet needs before fashioning their offerings.
Research doesn’t always have to be elaborate. By checking out what the people have been saying in a bundle of newspapers, one can verify their mindset. Another simple way to ascertain the underlying thoughts and preferences of the people is to constitute a group and lead it in a friendly discussion.
Research would have told the Army that in this part of Nigeria the people perceive it as murderers of unarmed protesters; and saviours (if not collaborators) of murderous Fulani herdsmen. Fact-finding would have informed the Army that Ndigbo holds some elements of the Army capable of conniving with Boko Haram in killing Christians. A little rigorous study would have told the Army that South-East and South- South are aware that the National Security Council that inspired Operation Python Dance 2 totally lacked Igbo representation and was, given all precedent, possibly on a mission to do more cruelty to the Igbo-speaking people. All these facts and caring about them would have altered the course of history.
Indeed, the military which has not earned Igbo trust decided to do what only a trusted person should do. If you have killed my brother, robbed my sister, abused my father and smashed my cousin’s camera and computer to cover up your atrocities, how do I trust you with my child? If a disease should ravage the country, are you the one who should offer free vaccine for my child?
For the mistake’s aftermath, research is the still the way to taking the right remedying steps. Should the Army show compassion to its surviving victims by rehabilitating them as it has done for many Boko Haram troops? Only fact-finding can tell. Should the Army remove hills of stinking refuse that assault road-users in Igboland? Only research can tell. Will South-Easterners fear of the Army melt away if the military promotes or recruits more Igbo personnel? Again, only research can tell.
Rather than assume it has earned trust, Nigerian Army must ascertain and measure the level of trust it has earned with each population it is dealing with. In public relations, there is no alternative to relevant research.
Now, as the RACE model suggests, good research must be followed up by good action. Action is the more visible part of the PR programme. Fact-finding can go unnoticed and unheard but action could be very loud and visible. The level of bitterness that will keep sustained goodness from being noticed and requited is hardly possible. Likewise, the level of criminality it takes to cover up atrocities is almost unachievable. To reap trust around Nigeria, the Army must sow to those attitudes that are favourable to every section of the country. These attitudes are impartiality and immunity from politics as much as possible. The military’s reputation as the true protector of Nigeria’s sovereignty must be redeemed.
Anatune and Franklin are Lagos-based reputation management consultants.
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