Temidire Bada is a Public Relations Associate at NOVVA Media & Communications.
Military rule dominated Nigeria’s political scene throughout the 1990s, eventually setting the scene for the democracy we experience today. Since the Obasanjo administration began civilian rule, the country’s political landscape has experienced significant fluctuations and unpredictability, beset by corruption, greed, economic instability and successive governments that have struggled to forge a sense of national unity and inclusivity.
As the age of technology evolves, the rising stance of perception management has begun to significantly impact how we participate in and observe politics in Nigeria today. Call it the new political era; this new dawn has imprinted young Nigerians, which has been apparent during the current election season. This awareness is primarily influenced by voters’ learning, experiences, and political socialisation. Citizens no longer act solely as voters; they are political consumers.
In Nigeria, politics has evolved during the past few years. Every utterance and action made by political candidates, adversaries, supporters, and political parties now have the power to sway voters’ decisions. The age of media-savvy, digitally active people who are influenced by trends, emotional appeal, and social capital was brought about by technological disruption.
With over 32.9 million active social media users in Nigeria and just 25 million registered voters casting ballots in the elections in 2023, people have begun to pay closer attention to the government’s offline and online activities, forging alliances and alliances strengthening social construct.
Establishing a desired shift in the public image is crucial. Examples like the 2020 ENDSARS campaign and the Twitter ban, which left young entrepreneurs jobless, significantly impacted our current political landscape. The government’s actions left a clear choice in front of an age group of new and “undecided” voters: change the administration.
Politicians and political parties can enhance their impression of their audience by using political impression management. As a result, these political candidates can modify how they are regarded to conform to voter expectations.
From Kashim Shettima’s outfit at the 2022 Nigerian Bar Association Conference to Bola Tinubu’s ‘Emilokan’ slogan to Peter Obi’s soft and relatable demeanour, and ‘New Nigeria’ chants, the style has become increasingly important than genuine debate. Public perception and dialogue are built on charisma, personality, tone, language use, and the images politicians portray to the people. Many claim, for instance, that Professor Yemi Osibanjo, the former Nigerian vice president, embodies the “perfect” political personality because of his charisma, social appeal, and modern ideology, as well as articulate and relevant remarks.
Politicians frequently use different strategies to win and keep the electorate’s favour, particularly during campaign season. In the past, political parties and candidates had typically employed a variety of tactics to promote a favourable perception of themselves and a disparaging perception of their rivals. These would entail messaging that praises the party’s accomplishments, advertises its policies, and panders to voters’ sentiments and hopes. Negative campaigning to damage their opponents’ reputations and credibility was also a part of their strategy.
However, considering the Nigerian elections in 2023, most of these tactics, including smear campaigns, failed since most voters began to base their decisions on perception and behaviour.
As such, politicians and their teams are becoming adept in their use of perception management techniques to minimise any damage to their reputations and maintain the support of their constituents. This is done through crafting messages that aim to reassure the public, deflect blame, or shift attention to other issues.
Brand Loyalty is Real
Political office holders, like producers of goods and services, require the loyalty of their stakeholders to continue their tenures. For a political party to be successful, it must create, build, and maintain a brand identity that can translate to loyalty. There are many indicators that political branding- reinforcing an agenda and creating a distinctive impression- always works. A comparative example is the All-Progressives Congress (APC) relevance in Nigeria as the ruling party for the last sixteen years despite the substantial negative press.
Understanding human psychology will always have a significant impact on perception management. Perception management is often used to respond to events and issues. Public relations professionals and political strategists can learn from this by staying informed, monitoring trends and consumer behaviour, and being prepared to respond quickly and effectively to emerging issues and concerns. This is where social media and town hall meetings should be held frequently to understand constituents better or know how they perceive you as a representative.
Hiring Credible Professionals
The public relations management teams are supposed to be hidden instruments of political power. Their results or lack of are seen in their respective principals’ poor representation and demarketing. Politicians and significant public figures sometimes undermine the vast knowledge and experience of a credible public relations consultant. This has been apparent in some of the selections of government media advisers and their understanding of basic communication skills with the public.
Finally, perception management aims to influence thoughts and convey perspectives/views skillfully. As the old cliché says, ‘Perception is everything; it is essential to know that perception can be managed through words, actions and even presentation. Therefore, every organisation or political leader must consider the power of perception management in growing and positioning their brands.