Chibok Abduction: Jonathan’s 7 PR Blunders

To every objective observer of the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, one of its major failings is the faulty strategic approach to key national issues and one is tempted to conclude that the administration lacks deep thinkers who can critically evaluate events, trends and situations with the objective of coming up with bespoke strategy that will solve problems, douse tension and ultimately, boost the image of the president.
This blatant deficiency in strategy has accounted for series of blunders that the presidency commits each time the nation looks up to it for clear-cut direction, symbolic gestures, concrete actions and inspiring pronouncements.
One great example that explicitly highlights this obvious deficiency in this administration is the mishandling of the Chibok girls’ abduction. While a more strategic government would have used the opportunity of the problem to rebuild its fluffing image and garner better political capital through a series of well-articulated and compassionate activities and pronouncements, the Jonathan presidency, as usual, didn’t seize the occasion. Even when opportunities present itself on a platter of gold, the president’s “strategists” would rather snatch defeat from the jaw of victory.
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Seven examples will suffice for this discourse.
1. The Kano Gyration
24 hours after the girls’ abduction and the Nyanya bomb blasts, President Goodluck Jonathan attended a political rally in Kano in which some APC defectors were welcomed into the PDP fold. The festive mood at the rally and the presidential dance steps didn’t reflect a nation that just witnessed two major tragedies a day earlier.
A more strategic president would have cancelled the rally and immediately mobilized all the military resources at the nation’s disposal to rescue the girls particularly in the light of the reported logistics problems of the abductors in ferrying the girls away.
2. Presidential Doubt
The body language and silence of the president coupled with the disappointing utterances of presidential aides clearly showed that the president didn’t believe any abduction took place. To him, it was one of the gimmicks of the opposition to pile more pressure on his government ahead of the 2015 elections. It took the relentless social media campaigns and international pressure from foreign media and key political and social figures for the president to realise the enormity of the issue.
3. Not Visiting Chibok
Over 50 days after the abduction, the president has not deemed it feet to visit Chibok to sympathise with the victims’ families. In 2012, there was a shooting in Aurora, Colorado in which a gunman killed 12 people in a cinema with scores injured. The response of President Barack Obama, who was in the tick of electioneering campaigns, is quite inspiring and a lesson for President Jonathan. Two days after the incident, Obama visited the city, sympathized with the victims’ families and the injured, ordered flags in government buildings to fly at half-mast for five days, suspended his political campaign and election TV advert in the affected state, met with local and state officials and made a nationally televised speech from the city.
4. Blaming Opposition for Insecurity
The presidency and the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been under the illusion that the opposition, especially, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is responsible for the spate of violence in the country. They see the current insecurity as part of the grand plan to frustrate the second term ambition of the president. Instead of waking up to the constitutional responsibility of guaranteeing the welfare and security of the citizens, the presidency’s warped mindset has sucked logic out of their response to the abduction and other similar incidents.
5. Shunning Protesters in Aso Rock
After weeks of sit-in protests in Abuja, the Oby Ezekwesili-led #bringbackourgirls group resolved to take their grievances to President Jonathan in Aso Rock. The well-publicised protest was designed to hear directly from the president the government’s efforts at rescuing the girls. The group unwittingly provided an image laundering platform for the president to address the concerns of the group and other similar campaigns all around the world. But in what has become the hallmark of this administration, the president was nowhere to be found. Not only were they not allowed access to Aso Rock, but also the aides that stood in for the president didn’t help his cause as well. Anyway, their response reflected the mindset of the president: Don’t Blame the Government for the Abduction, Take Your Campaign to Boko Haram.
6. Sponsoring Rival Protesters
In order to change the national conversation and dilute the #bringbackourgirls message, a rival group, #ReleaseOurGirls, with an undisguised sympathy for the government hit the streets of Abuja. The focus of the rival group was to exonerate the government of any blame, redirect attention at Boko Haram and attack the position of those calling for better response from the president on the Boko Haram abduction.
7. Attack on the #bringbackourgirls Protesters
For about one month, the #bringbackourgirls group has been holding its daily sit-ins at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, to protest the government’s insincerity in the handling of the Chibok abduction. The hallmark of their protest has been the non-violence style. The peaceful nature of the protest was however punctured recently when the venue was stormed by sponsored thugs who destroyed everything in sight including chairs, tables, public address system, camera, among others, with security agencies watching. So many days after the unfortunate incident, the government hasn’t deemed it fit to condemn the act or bring to book the perpetrators.

While the government has failed woefully in responding strategically to the Chibok girls abduction, the presidency can however learn valuable lessons from the event that has attracted global outrage. It’s time for the president to reorganize his strategy team and appoint competent people who would be bold enough to give him sound counsel without entertaining the fear of losing their jobs. Also, the president must be determined to turn deaf ears to those who believe people with dissenting opinions are his enemies.