COVID–19: Why government’s communications have not been effective —Experts

Despite universal attestation to the existence of Coronavirus and the havoc it can wreck on humanity, if allowed to thrive, quite a sizeable number of Nigerians, especially those at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, would still prefer to treat such claim with a pint of salt.

For this class of Nigerians, even if such ailment exists at all, it is only meant for the elites, the sophisticated, the globetrotters, who are reaping the fruits of their ’restlessness’.

“Why would you ask me to sit at home with my family, when what I only have to sustain my is the pure water business which I run on a daily basis?” queried 25-year-old Rasheedat, who sells sachet water at Iyana Ipaja axis of Lagos metropolis.

For Ghadebo, an electrician, it is wicked for government to shut down markets and even contemplate locking down a whole city, because of an ailment that, even if it exists, affects only the rich, that travel round the world.

”For instance, since all these things started, I’ve not seen any victim of this affliction,” he added.

Unfortunately,and surprisingly, too, Rasheedat and Gbadebo represent a vast of Nigerians, that still believe it is ’business as usual’ despite government’s efforts at sensitising them to the clear and present danger the country is in.

And, for many practitioners, in the nation’s integrated marketing communication industry, they are eloquent testimonies to the fact that government’s efforts at sensitising the populace to the danger of the disease, are yet to resonate with majority of Nigerians.

These practitioners have attributed the failure of government’s communications to strike the right chord in Nigerians to its inability to explore the right communication personnel and channels.

The practitioners, in exclusive chats with Brands & Marketing, noted that though the federal government was doing everything it could to fight the deadly Coronavirus scourge, they, however, harped on the need for the government at the centre to scale up its communication to enable it resonate with the citizens.

For instance, while commending the efforts of the federal government in curtailing the spread of the disease, the Chief Executive Officer of Absolute PR, Mr AkonteEkine, however, believes the federal government would not achieve its aim of properly sensitising the people, if it failed to change its communications strategies.

He described the present communications style, being deployed by the federal government, as  ’being above the people’, a development, he said, had been responsible for the scourge being seen as ’big man’s ailment’.

”If you go to those at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, they don’t even think such a thing exists. The government seems to be speaking above the audience. The concentration is more around the elite, in terms of the conversation,” Akonte argued.

According to him, the federal government should deploy its communication in a way that every Nigerian, irrespective of their social status or academic qualifications, would be able to understand.

”They need to know that if you are going to do a mass communication, you deploy it in such a way that even a man that cannot write, would have been reached through a person who understands the language.

”They are speaking above many members of thepublic. Even where the public seem to pretend, they have understanding, it’s an assumption. That is why you see them say this sickness is happening and it is for those who are travelling everywhere,” Akonte stated.

The Absolute PR boss would want the federal government to engage the services of opinion moulders in the society, since they command huge followership and have their spheres of influence, which government could explore.

Besides engaging marketing communications professionals to help break down such communications from government, Akonte, also called for an effective engagement of the audience, especially via the radio, since the it remains the easiest channel of reaching majority of Nigerians, at this time.

”Besides engaging  the audience, especially via the radio, in languages that are much simpler, especially in our local languages, I think marketing communications practitioners also  have a role to play.

”I’m not saying the Minister of Information should not speak, but what he’s speaking is above many of the people in the market place. We need to get the experts to break it down at the local level, and deploy as much as possible the total communication mix,” he added.

Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Mr LanreArogundade, believes there is a lot information deficit when it comes to the management of COVIC-19,  while identifying the  presidency itself, as  the primary source of that deficit.

He faulted the reasons put up by Special Adviser on Media to the president, Mr Femi Adesina, on why the president had remained taciturn on the COVID-19 issue, arguing that it had become imperative for the president to constitute a communication team and take charge of such team.

”For me, the style of the president not to address or regularly brief the people does not augur well at moments like this. Since the president is elected, he has the authority, and that is why whatever broadcast he makes can go a long way in setting the tone of understanding on the part of the people.

”It’s not so much so that we are saying the president should address the nation everyday. And, even if that happens, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But to have at least periodic broadcasts, at least once a week. Leaving everything to the minister is not the way to go, because the minister is an appointee of the president. He is not elected by the people. If the president is making a broadcast, or the Vice President is doing it on his behalf, I’m sure more Nigerians would listen to it,” he stated.

Arogundade, therefore, calls for a strong briefing group from the presidency, that should be headed by the president or his Vice.

”We have reached that situation where, the briefing team will comprise of  professionals in the medical circles, especially the  president of the Nigerian Medical Association, so that people can believe, because we are in real danger,” Arogundade stated.

While the IPC boss believes the media practitioners have a huge role in the area of information dissemination, he however called on governments at all levels to also ensure that practitioners are provided the necessary protective kits, that would enable them play such role, without being infected.

He would also want the federal government to provide some incentives for media houses, across the country. Such incentives, he argued, would cushion the effects of the crisis on the sector, and help the practitioners in effectively disseminating vital information to the public, concerning the virus.

While commending the federal and state governments on their efforts at curtailing the spread of the disease, the president of the Outdoor Advertisers’ Association of Nigeria (OAAN), Mr Emma Ajufo, however, believes there is still much to be done in terms of communication.

”It is the belief of members of this association that government cannot do it alone. There is the need for everybody to support government’s efforts in this regard, and that is why we are offering our medium, that is our signages, pro bono, for government to deploy sensitisation messages concerning COVID-19.

”We’ve already started with the Lagos State Government, and we are extending same offer to the Minister of Health, at the federal level,”  the OAAN boss added.


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