The war between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), is being fought both in the boardrooms, “wordroom” and the media domain. It has now become a classic public relations battle, as both sides fight to win the weight of public opinion in their favour.
Which camp is winning the PR battle, and who cares? They say money is the root of most evils. This case is not one of the exceptions. The Federal Government says what ASUU is asking for translates to a N1.3 trillion bill which they simply can’t afford. ASUU says there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Let’s look at how both sides are fighting the communications war by examining their good and bad PR practices.
Federal Government’s good and bad PR
The following elements characterize the Government’s outing:
- Strong command of the National Television Network and the other Government-owned media outlets.
- Consistent application of the strategy of projecting ASUU as the villain in this saga by painting them as being unsympathetic to the plight of the students.
- Attempting to direct public displeasure and parents’ frustration at the door of ASUU.
- Better control of the narrative by keeping their key messages simple and putting ASUU on the defensive and reactive mode most of the time.
- Failure to articulate its arguments on the platform of solid facts rather than sentiments.
- Absence of an identifiable spokesperson and central voice in the whole debate.
- Rhetorics without the necessary follow-up reconciliatory action. This results to a communication dissonance. For example, President Buhari’s strong public declaration that “enough is enough” translates to more words than action, and a “pulpit bully ” strategy that is more appropriate for the barracks! As respected columnist, Dan Agbese aptly stated, this is “a well beaten track by successive Governments.”
ASUU’s good and bad PR
- Maximized their intellectual advantage and floored the FGN in all public debates.
- More proactive media engagements and taking the first mover advantage in putting across their viewpoint.
- Logical presentation of their lines of argument and defense.
- Greater media and public sympathy, therefore achieving a more positive weighting in their media coverage.
- Quickly seizing the upper hand in the private and commercial broadcast stations, knowing that the FGN has the untouchable advantage on the National TV network and other Government news outlets.
- Failure to take better advantage of its David position in what ought to have been a David and Goliath-like battle.
- Insufficient expression of sympathy, therefore making it easier to project ASUU as insensitive and unwilling to pursue the greater public interest.
Tips on how to win a PR rivalry
- Aim to be fast and first in winning the public trust.
- Give your pr campaign a strong emotional link. People care more about their feelings and less about the facts.
- Create your key message and main campaign theme and trumpet them from various angles.
- Utilize as many PR tools as possible, not just press releases and media conferences, as ASUU and. FGN have done.
- Never underestimate the power of social media, and have a clear strategy in place.
- Stay consistent and apply the golden definition of public relations: “Planned, deliberate and sustained efforts to create mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.”
Who will win the PR war or blink first?
Back to this question on who’s winning. The answer is parents don’t care about the outcome of the PR war of words between ASUU and the Federal Government. They just want their children back on campus and reading from the pages of their lecture notebooks, rather than reading fancy words from the pages of the newspapers.
At this time, it seems both ASUU and the Federal Government are stubbornly entrenched in their own arguments, and have nearly reached the point of no return, and nether wants to back down.
Meanwhile, millions of parents and students are praying and holding their breaths and hoping that one of the warring bulls will blink first, and the other will immediately follow.