May 24, 2014
The Goodluck Jonathan government is in the process of recruiting an international public relations firm, at the cost of nearly $1 billion dollars, to improve its battered image, SaharaReporters has learned.
The effort, brokered by Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, who is embroiled in corruption allegations of her own that are currently being probed by the House of Representatives, is aimed at countering the blistering negative publicity that has followed the government’s atrocious response to last month’s abduction of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram militants, and public outrage over $20 billion in allegedly missing crude export earnings.
The authoritative “Holmes Report,” which focuses on such high-level image-making deals, noted during the week that Alison-Madueke and some other unnamed government officials met with several PR firms in London to finalize the cushy contract, for which the Jonathan administration is sufficiently desperate to put on the table over $800 million dollars.
The embattled Petroleum Minister is set to face the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Representatives on allegations that she squandered ₦10 billion in unauthorized private jet charter expenditures. Ms. Alison-Madueke is the closest minister to Mr. Jonathan who has ignored several other allegations of impropriety and corruption leveled against her by the media.
One top PR firm in London said it obtained a Request for Proposals (RFP) document from the Minister and her team outlining the government’s media strategy and seeking a company to provide “strategic counsel,” “stakeholder engagement,” “proactive” media relations and “key message and storybook development”.
According to the RFP, the successful firm will be required to target stakeholders in the UK, USA, Commonwealth countries, “all relevant EU institutions,” academic institutions and NGOs, “arrange 1:1 meetings with influential and open-minded potential champions,” and “arrange briefings to build links at various levels with the UK, US, Commonwealth and major European governments.”
The image-making firm that wins the contract will “feed in academic arguments to those identified” and “determine champions who are willing to speak publicly on Nigeria”, in a bid to “rally an alliance of support for the Nigerian government”.
The firm will also be required to develop “key messages, including facts and proof points” concerning “events surrounding the security challenges in Nigeria”, pushing the “core platforms of democracy and sustainable development.”
According to a source in London, “The Minister and his team will task the firm to ‘Begin the process of developing relationships with key journalists who are friendly and receptive’, and ‘Provide avenues for proactively seeding positive stories’”.
To that end, “One to two high profile, credible and friendly” journalists would be targeted for “1:1 relationships,” the source said, alluding to the prospects of enticing such journalists with juicy offers.
The willingness of the government to throw vast development resources into the hands of foreign PR practitioners at this time is believed to reflect its desperation as the 2015 elections approach. The government has in the past several months clearly lost the propaganda war to its critics as its mishaps have played out in full view of the world.
According to “Holmes Report” sources familiar with the situation, any relevant PR counsel would be limited to improving the transparency of the government’s communications in light of intense global media scrutiny. That is a confession that nothing can be done to improve the government’s transparency, or its performance.
That story is the incompetence and corruption that the Jonathan government is famous for, which the $20 billion saga and the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign only illustrate internationally.
The source added that in view of the fact that negative media coverage was tarnishing the image of the government, the winning PR firm will lobby the press and make sure that reporting becomes positive, but it is unclear how that can be accomplished.
“The main focus right now is increasing investor confidence. We have to include all fronts, including economic angles,” he said. “There has been a barrage of international media coverage and we need to try to convert this interest into positive coverage.”
The Ketchum PR firm, one of the agencies reportedly visited by the Nigerian team, declined to disclose any information, citing client confidentiality.
At Nigeria’s Ministry for Petroleum Resources, a spokesman declined to comment on the report.
Analysts told SaharaReporters that, if confirmed, the massive bill for the PR splash could inflict another big dent on the very image the government is trying to improve, as those funds could have been more realistically deployed into projects in Nigeria, including improving security and military capability.
The PR firms are insisting on securing at least a 3 year deal to enable them make a good profit from the deal.
In March 2014, Saharareporters revealed the hiring of a “high-stakes public strategy firm” , US-based Mercury LLC, to provide PR support to the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in the wake of the firing of Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, for blowing the whistle on the theft of $2o billion in crude oil sales. The firm received a deposit of $150,00 prior to starting work.