When tact and discretion are thrown to the dogs, we concede the moral high ground to those we may wish to present as our enemies.
The paragraph above is the thesis of this intervention and, for those who have made it their political businesses to misread and then misinterpret everything I say, it is my wish that they read that sentence intentionally very slowly so they don’t mix up the facts they’d encounter in the succeeding paragraphs.
If the stories of ostracizing voices of political dissent in Enugu North Zone has been embarrassingly disgusting, the one of December 29, 2021, that announced the social banishment of an illustrious son of Orba, in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State scaled to frightening heights, what has been a growing spectre of reverse civilization manifesting in the “casting out” of community people that dared to think and relate differently from the vocal majority.
Beginning from 2020, I had, through a number of moderating interventions, cautioned against the desperate pretentions to uniformity of political opinion, especially in Enugu north where those who sanctimoniously professed love and loyalty to the governor, stretched their aggrandizing perspectives to unitarism that seemed to take for granted, our natural inclination to differ. While making those interventions, I had the thought I would get the ears of mature, civilized folks, but they were sooner misinterpreted as affronts to the wobbly monoliths of political aggregation.
But those who have mirrors to the past will realise that everything I had cautioned against has been turning out as I predicted would be the case.
I have mostly been quiet since the duo of Barr. Emeka Asogwa, former Chief Protocol Officer at the Government House Enugu, and Armstrong Agbo were publicly de-feathered and ostracized from their community for daring to relate with what was mostly thought to be a different political school. I had to be quiet because certain trends emerge and, for reasons of unpopularity and consequent by the people, fade quickly into the desert of the unremembered.
But it appeared I was wrong in measuring how unpopular such strange things were going to resonate with our people. While the matter of Barr Asogwa and Armstong Agbo was still on the front burner, to borrow from a journalistic cliché, Dr. Charles Mba, a community leader, was pronounced persona non grata by his people. The high treason Charles committed was daring to invite Senator Ike Ekweremadu to his 50th birthday soiree that took place in his own home.
Charles, Emeka and Armstong have become the metaphors for the bitter politicking in Enugu State where political pluralism is being painstakingly nurtured to become anathema. Even if the cases of Emeka and Armstrong can somehow be explained as outcomes of political wranglings, the pronouncement made against Charles Mba is hard to understand. He is not known to be an active partisan politician. Secondly, the event he hosted and which caused the unfortunate ostracism was a public one that had the two main gladiators in the simmering political volcano in the state, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, and Senator Ekweremadu, in attendance.
Optics from the event showed Governor Ugwuanyi and the former Deputy Senate President warm conversations that showed they were not enemies, contrary to the divisive rhetoric by the multitude of followers. Since then, sundry other pictures from other events and meetings have emerged, suggesting that the two political heavyweights that, pre-2015, had spent 12 years together at the national assembly, building relationships and sharing interests, are not at war. This leads sensible observers to wonder why family feuds and lingering local animosity should be allowed to rise over what is apparently a misunderstood and possibly imaginary political disagreement between friends from different ends of the state.
Throwing the D.I.C.E
I feel very proud to state here that when the seed that grew up to become Ekweremaduphobia was being planted early in 2020, I warned those who were leading the unnecessarily calumnious preemptive campaign of a possible reverse outcome. I suspected the drivers of the campaign project may have meant well. It is also possible that they were selfish foot soldiers who anticipated a threat to their sources of bread, and anticipating where the direction they [mis]reasoned that the governor was placing his bets for his successor, thought it was best to deal with weed to save the crop.
In trying to achieve this, dirty kinds of literature were floated all over the social media space, the core message being against the possible emergence of Senator Ekweremadu as a governorship candidate in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The languages used in most of them were deliberately chosen to make the Senator from Aninri appear like a monster in the eyes of citizens of the state. The purveyors were very intentional, persistent, and consistent and no counsel on the possible reverse outcome of their efforts could make them have a change in strategy.
In my 23 years of practice as a journalist, Public Relations practitioner, and brand management consultant, I have piled up experiences on various approaches to remaining on the good side of public opinion and therefore in expert position to correctly predict the outcome of certain conversations in the public domain. I was therefore drawing from these experiences when I advised that the feverish effort put into the containment of Ekweremadu be handled differently.
Why did I hold this view?
Drawing from my experience in the universe of Mass Communication, I have coined an acronym that I called D.I.C.E. those who play the game of Ludo and Monopoly would be familiar with what it is used for and the unpredictability of each roll of the dice.
D.I.C.E is my short for “Destruction Intended, Construction Extended and, as the name suggests, is the result of unmitigated propaganda that was designed to adversely affect some persons’ reputation, but which ends up giving them a boost. To understand this better, I will use the familiar frame of parents persistently warning and threatening their children to not do certain things at home. Nearly all parents know that overemphasizing these warnings might lead their children to become so curious to the point of desperation to flout this rule.
This also happens very often in Public Relations where some outcomes are the exact opposite of the designed and desired end. That is why the most effective PR activities are not those thrown at people’s faces, but rather, those that are so subtle they fit into people’s everyday thought processing patterns.
The human mind is a weird machine and no matter how low certain categories of people rank in their intelligence quotient, their minds, like the rest of humanity, are designed with filters for the acceptance and rejection of certain information fed into them. So, while we are fully in control of the information we send into the public space, we often do not have any control at all of how the mind processes such information. That is why experts in PR have always advised that material designed to influence the public towards predetermined perspectives, policies, and whatever issues, should only be predigested to the point where it allows the mind to do some of its own processing. The moment you fully digest information and give the impression that you have done everything, leaving the people to only assimilate, or, as it is in some cases when you attempt to even do the assimilation for them, the mind rebels. Once it begins to question why you are doing so much when its own processing machine is idle, your messages begin to have a problem that might lead to the reverse effect of your communication intendment.
The person who wins in conversation contests is the one that has the best psychographic modeling, that is the one who better understands how the minds of each person and group work. It is the modeling that should determine the most creative way to craft the information that will either keep the people positively supportive or at least prevent him from jumping ship.
This was exactly what those who started very early to attempt the use of high octane negative social media rhetoric and later, communal banishment, to cut short, the then suspected governorship ambition of Senator Ekweremadu, have succeeded in achieving. If the goal was to shut out and shut down this dream, the efforts have worked in reverse and today, there are more people from Nsukka cultural zone following the senator, than there would ever have been, had the managers, naively voluntary or intentionally recruited, handled the engagement more professionally.
My studies during the three weeks I spent in Nsukka between December 2021 and January 2022 revealed that even in the midst of all the negative media rhetoric, banishments disruptions of meetings called by his supporters, Enugu North has more pro-Ekweremadu support groups than the two other senatorial districts in the state. The more worrying thing is that most of these support groups are populated by volunteers, who were psychologically made to gravitate by the attempt to use media share of [negative] voice to block the spread of his popularity.
As I pointed out earlier, the mind works differently than how many of us understand. The person who wins in conversation contests is the one that has the best psychographic modeling, that is the one who better understands how the minds of each person and group work. It is the modeling that should determine the most creative way to craft the information that will either keep the people positively supportive or at least prevent him from jumping ship. The winner, in the end, is not the one with the most aggressive behaviour, neither will it ever be the side with the most prolific writers who turn in volumes of verbose but meaningless literature.
Therefore, if Nsukka eventually falls for Ekweremadu, it will not be because he invested so heavily in convincing the people of his candidature. On the contrary, it will be because the people will rebel against the siege regime in traditional and social media communities. It was a siege regime somehow similar to this that triggered the Arab spring in 2010, which reverberations toppled many governments and redefined cultures across the world.
The social media age has made the D.I.C.E. effect even more important to those who wish to influence and control public opinion. It has presented a strange situation where people may invest so much in populating the media with information without any significant change in the number of conversions. For communication scholars, this highlights the differences many do not know exist in the PR concepts of Share of Voice, on the one hand, and Share of Mind, on the other. While, with your huge budget, you may be able to dominate the media, you may lose the battle to positively dominate the minds of the people. In this case, you are deploying your resources, human, material and financial, to lift competition whom you went out to contain.
There are loads of other social and moral questions against ostracism and banishment. But I doubt if I should bother with them. Many others have dwelt on them in their own interventions. My submission is from the communication strategy perspective, and it is my considered view that the concept of minimalism best serves in certain communication campaigns where we erroneously go the high-octane route.
Less is more.