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Reading The Room: The SUV Saga and  Public Sentiment

By Ishola, N. Ayodele

“The ability to communicate effectively with people is not just a quality of good leadership; it is the very essence of good leadership.” Ishola Ayodele

In the realm of public leadership, the ability to understand and effectively manage public sentiment stands as a fundamental pillar of success. Recent events surrounding the members of the Nigerian House of Representatives and their acquisition of SUVs worth 130 million Naira exemplify the profound influence public sentiment wields over public leaders’ goodwill and reputation. Moreover, it underscores the inescapable role of timing in strategic communication. In light of these observations, it becomes overwhelmingly apparent that the National Assembly urgently requires a dedicated Department of Strategic Communication, comprising certified public relations experts with specialized skills in strategic communication.

The Nexus Between Public Sentiments and Leadership Reputation

Public leaders are not just elected officials; they are entrusted with the profound responsibility of representing and serving the best interests of their constituents. As such, public sentiment, which reflects the collective opinions, desires, and concerns of the people, becomes an invaluable compass for public leaders. Understanding public sentiment is synonymous with understanding the needs and aspirations of the people.

The recent controversy involving the House of Representatives’ extravagant SUV purchase starkly illuminates this point. The decision to acquire luxury vehicles valued at 130 million Naira during a period of intense economic hardship, rising unemployment, and increasing poverty not only triggered public outrage but also severely dented the reputation of the lawmakers. Why? Because it signified a clear disconnection from the realities and concerns of the Nigerian populace.

The inevitable consequence of this misalignment with public sentiment is the erosion of goodwill and trust. Public leaders who fail to resonate with their constituents, who do not address the issues that matter most to the people, and who neglect to consider the prevailing public sentiment, ultimately harm their own reputation and, by extension, the reputation of the institutions they represent.

The Unyielding Importance of Timing

Timing is the catalyst that can either ignite or quell a crisis, exacerbate or ameliorate public sentiment, and enhance or diminish a public leader’s reputation. In the SUV saga, the timing of the decision and its subsequent communication was patently ill-advised. During times of economic turmoil and widespread suffering, the purchase of such extravagant vehicles was perceived as a colossal misstep. It signaled insensitivity to the plight of the people, effectively exacerbating the controversy.

Herein lies the inexorable link between timing and strategic communication. Effective communication isn’t solely about what is said; it’s equally about when it’s said. The right message at the wrong time can be as damaging as the wrong message.

The Urgent Need for a Department of Strategic Communication

Public leaders and institutions must recognize that public sentiment is a dynamic force, always shifting and evolving. Hence, it necessitates dedicated and expert management. Establishing a Department of Strategic Communication within the National Assembly is not a matter of luxury; it’s a matter of governance survival.

This department should be populated by certified public relations experts who specialize in strategic communication. Their role is multifaceted:

  1. Public Sentiment Analysis: These experts should conduct real-time analysis of public sentiment, identifying emerging concerns, desires, and issues.
  • Strategic Messaging: Crafting messages that not only address public sentiment but also do so at the right time requires a sound knowledge of ‘message engineering’.
  • Crisis Management: Rapid response to crises and effective damage control to mitigate reputational harm.

From Strategic communication point of view, a better statement to douse the tension after the news went viral would have been the one below:

Title: Addressing the SUV Procurement Concerns: A Commitment to Accountability and Responsiveness

[Date]

“We, the members of the House of Representatives, are fully aware of the concerns and criticisms that have arisen regarding the recent procurement of SUVs for our members. We acknowledge the public sentiment and are committed to addressing this matter transparently and responsibly.

It is our responsibility as public leaders to listen to the concerns of our fellow Nigerians and to act in their best interest. We understand that the timing of this decision has raised eyebrows, particularly in a time when many are facing economic hardships. We appreciate the sentiments expressed by the citizens and assure you that we take these concerns very seriously.

In response to the public sentiment and concerns, we are taking the following actions:

Review of Procurement: We will conduct a thorough and transparent review of the SUV procurement process, including the selection criteria, cost assessment, and budget allocation. This review will be conducted by an independent committee of experts to ensure impartiality and accuracy.

Consultation with Stakeholders: We will engage with relevant stakeholders, including civil society organizations and economic experts, to gather valuable input and insights on the economic and social implications of this procurement decision.

Transparency and Accountability: We are committed to ensuring complete transparency and accountability in all our actions. The findings of the review and consultations will be made public, and we will take appropriate actions based on the recommendations provided.

Long-Term Fiscal Responsibility: We will focus on adopting a more fiscally responsible approach to ensure that our budget allocations are aligned with the current economic situation and the needs of our citizens.

Enhanced Communication: We understand that our initial response to the controversy may not have been as effective as it should have been. Moving forward, we will strive to improve our communication efforts by providing timely and clear updates to the public.

We recognize that public sentiment can significantly influence our decisions and policies. We are committed to regaining the trust and goodwill of the citizens and ensuring that our actions are aligned with their needs and aspirations.

We appreciate the patience and understanding of the Nigerian people and look forward    to working together to build a better future for our great nation.

For media inquiries, please contact:

[House Spokesperson’s Name]

[Email Address]

[Phone Number]

  • Alignment with Public Needs: Ensuring that public leaders and the National Assembly, as a whole, are attuned to the needs and sentiments of the people.
  • Enhancing Reputation: Implementing strategies to bolster public leaders’ reputation by aligning their actions and communication with the prevailing public sentiment.

Conclusion:

Understanding public sentiment and the inescapable role of timing in strategic communication. Monitoring public sentiment is not a choice but an imperative for public leaders, it is the bridge between public leaders and their constituents, a bridge that must be fortified and well-maintained. Failure to do so risks further eroding the already fragile trust in public leadership as demonstrated by the ill-fated SUV purchase by the House of Representatives.

To regain the trust and goodwill of the public, and to avoid such controversies in the future. Consequently, establishing a Department of Strategic Communication by the National Assembly, staffed by certified public relations experts specializing in strategic communication, who are going to be saddled with the onus of managing public sentiment, vetting of communication for public consumption and creating strategies that align with public expectations, is not a luxury but a necessity.

It’s time for the National Assembly to prioritize strategic communication, transparency, and accountability, thus securing a brighter and more trusted future for public leadership in Nigeria. The people of Nigeria are watching, and the future of leadership depends on public perception and sentiment.

The National Assembly should heed the wisdom of John D. Rockefeller, the American business magnate, philanthropist, and founder of the Standard Oil Company, who wisely stated, “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee, and I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.”

Ayodele is a strategic communication expert who specializes in ‘message Engineering’. He can be reached via ishopr2015@gmail.com or +2348077932282.

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