Premium Times (Abuja)

27 June 2014

Nigeria: Govt Hires U.S. Lobby Firm for N195 Million to Launder Image Over Handling of Chibok Abduction

Photo: Premium Times
Relatives of kidnapped Chibok students during a #BringBackOurGirls demonstration in Abuja.

The Nigerian government has come under local and international condemnation over its far-from-impressive handling of the Chibok abduction.

In order to whitewash its inept handling of the kidnap of over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, the Goodluck Jonathan administration has awarded a N195 million ($1.2 million) contract to U.S. Public Relations and lobby firm, Levick, to help change "international and local media narrative" surrounding its efforts to rescue the girls, Washington DC based newspaper, The Hill, is reporting.

Boko Haram militants kidnapped the girls, who were writing their final examination, more than 70 days ago from their dormitory at the Government Secondary School, Chibok near Maiduguri .

In a video, Boko Haram leader, Abubarka Shekau, threatened to sell the girls into slavery. However the group later offered to swap the girls for Boko Haram fighters held by the government.

The Federal Government has come under severe criticism from local and international media for its lethargic handling of the abduction, prompting the ruling party, The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to accuse the opposition of sponsoring a media campaign to discredit the government.

On Wednesday, the U.S. government told Nigerians to hold the government accountable for the failure to rescue the girls more than two months after they were kidnapped.

Details contained in the contract document obtained by The Hill show that the firm will also be "assisting the government's efforts to mobilize international support in fighting Boko Haram as part of the greater war on terror".

The firm also promised to assist the government in effecting "real change" in the country.

"A more comprehensive approach using vehicles such as public diplomacy and engaging outside experts to enact real changes is how the advocacy industry is evolving," Phil Elwood, a Vice President at Levick, told The Hill. "A communications strategy alone is not enough to solve the complex and multifaceted problems facing some of the more controversial nations."

"For me, after talking to him, the priority for President Jonathan beyond any is finding and bringing home the girls," said Lanny Davis, an Executive Vice President at Levick.

"There's got to be a way to amplify what he's saying and doing to find these girls because over here in America, we're not hearing much about his effort," Mr. Davis added.

Levick will also be working with Jared Genser, a human rights attorney, who has worked for notable personalities such as South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutut and Burmese pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi in the past to publicise "President Goodluck Jonathan Administration's past, present and future priority to foster transparency, democracy and the rule of law throughout Nigeria."

Mr. Genser told The Hill that he took the job following Mr Jonathan's commitment to tackle Boko Haram.

"In terms of advancing human rights, however, the real work has to be done working with governments that are well meaning but lack the capacity -- or as much capacity as they might like -- and want to do the right thing," he said.

"At the end of the day, the [Nigerian] president has said clearly to us that he wants results," he said.

"I would not sit here and pretend that we are singlehandedly going to rescue the girls, that's not our role," Genser said. "What we can do is, we can provide advice and support about how to do so in accordance with international human rights norms and standards," he added.

The contract shows that Levick will be paid N11,625,000.00 ($75,000.00) by month for its effort plus extra cost for advertisements, video production and website development. This will be done through an unnamed state-owned media agency.

The company will also receive additional fee of N3,487,500.00 ($22,500.00) if an associate of the company travels to Nigeria.

An associate of Mr. Genser company, Perseus Strategies, will get, N3,875,000.00 ($25,000.00) per month as retainer.

The hiring of Levick confirms the report by respected PR news website, www.holmesreport.com, that the government was in market for a PR firm to help bolster its dented image internationally over its far-from-impressive handling of the Chibok abduction.

At the time, the Nigerian government denied the publication while the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria, (PRCAN) criticised the government describing its search for a foreign PR firm as a "needless strategic gaffe".

"The purported search is premised on a wrong foundation of white washing Nigeria before foreign media and audiences. However, the real challenge before the Federal Government of Nigeria lies elsewhere and that is at the home front with its citizens, representing the primary stakeholders," the PRCAN said in a statement at the time.

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InFocus

Nigerian Government Looking for an Image Makeover

Relatives of kidnapped Chibok students during a #BringBackOurGirls demonstration in Abuja.

The Nigerian government has signed a $1.2 million contract with a Washington public relations firm to change "the international and local media narrative" around efforts to rescue ... Read more »