Russia-Ukraine Conflict and Implication for Nigeria: A PR Perspective
BY MOHAMMED KUDU IBRAHIM
“PR is finding the right home for unique narratives” – Tiffany Burlingame, High Vibe PR
One of the most fundamental developments from the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, apart from the enormous casualties of combatants on both sides, along with the untold suffering of innocent civilian victims caught in between, has been the glaring impotence of the sanctions imposed by the West in its swift reaction which may well crystalize into the gradual unravelling of the international world order as we previously knew it.
We may still have a long way to go, but already it seems like the center can no longer hold, as far the dominant hold of the West on the global financial system is concerned, and it is safe to assume we are only beginning to sample the consequences.
Even as am writing this, five major Turkish banks have lust adopted the Payment system tied to the Russian Ruble. The development followed the grudging acceptance of numerous nations to pay for Russian gas and oil in Rubbles as demanded by Moscow.
If the West, led by America, expected Russia to cave in following unprecedented sanctions imposed on it, the outcome has clearly not met their expectations. on Russia after the invasion. And in case we have forgotten, the American President Joe Biden even gleefully claimed in one incredulous moment of immodesty, that the Ruble was destined to turn to rubble as a direct consequence of the sanctions. The rest, as it is often said, is now history.
We have to go way back to the end of the Second World War, since the dominant economies of the West last experienced the sort of alarming economic fragility we are witnessing today. And never since the collapse of the old Soviet Union, have the West appeared so clueless and impotent in taming the excesses of its erstwhile foe Russia, along with its proxies as being presently demonstrated.
Put mildly, the sanctions regime against Russia, appears to have backfired spectacularly, at least in the short term. The Russian rubble is now second only to the American Dollar among the topmost currency gainers in the world. Rather than being consigned to the rubble it is now well on its way to the top of the heap.
Russian oil exports hit by the sanctions, coupled with the subsequent stoppage of gas supplies to Europe and Germany, in particular, through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, has precipitated an energy crisis of unprecedented proportions for the EU, as well as Great Britain.
Prices of goods and services have skyrocketed. Inflation has equally gone through the roof, added to the alarming prospect of global food insecurity as a result of the blockage of tones of grains exports from Ukraine. Ironically, it took the magnanimity of Russia, through a deal brokered by Turkey, before a grudging ceasefire could be arranged, to allow for the gradual resumption of exports form the disputed Odessa port.
All these scenarios have led to new strategic realignments in the international arena to mitigate the damning impact of the new economic realities on the countries impacted by the conflict in both the developed and developing world. And manifestations of symptoms of the impact can be embarrassing to some countries.
affected countries. Only a few weeks ago, the President Joe Biden, whose Democratic party faces a tricky midterm Congressional election in November, was forced to make a not so shocking volte-face in his administrations relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
He appeared literally cap in hand in Riyad to appeal to the de-facto rule Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman – yes, the same man he had called unprintable names after the brutal killing of fellow Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi to plead for an increase in the oil production from the Kingdom to cover for the shortfalls from Russia.
The pictures of Biden on the front pages of the international media in the full embrace of Bin Salman, added to their well-publicized fist bump, spoke volumes about where we are today. It also underscored the supremacy of America’s strategic national interests ahead of any other consideration in its engagements with the rest of the world. It’s all about pragmatism in the end.
Unlike Nigeria, which rushed to join a group of African countries to vote against Russia at the UN; China, South Africa, India, and even the latter’s mortal foe Pakistan, either abstained, or outrightly rejected to vote against Russia on the basis of their individual permutations and strategic national interests.
Turkey has seen its profile enhanced by its mediatory role in the conflict so far. Although it voted to condemn Russia for the invasion at the UN, it has nevertheless opted not to apply the sanctions unilaterally for the same considerations.
Against the wishes of the Americans and NATO, it has a subsisting arms deal with Russia worth over 2.5 billion dollars for the supply of S-400 air defence systems. Turkey has also proved that it cannot be bullied in any way, while remaining relevant to both parties in the conflict.
South Africa’s stance can be rationalized by its colonial history, and struggle to end apartheid when Russia stood resolutely behind them at the same time the West procrastinated. It is therefore not surprising that the ruling African National Congress still views the West with suspicion.
China’s posture in the conflict, and its evolving outcome require no further elaboration. It is a budding superpower in its own right. It is also well on the trajectory to replace the US as the dominant economic power in the world sooner, rather than later.
India enjoys over a century of strategic alliance with Russia as it looks suspiciously over its borders with China and Pakistan. The same applies to Pakistan, which up till the advent of 911, was closely allied to the US. But this discourse is about the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Nigeria and the spinoff from a PR perspective.
Why did Nigeria rush to condemn the Russian invasion when it could have safely abstained? How much critical thinking went into the decision-making process at the foreign affairs Ministry at the time?
Beyond our exposure to food insecurity, so obvious in the higher cost of bread, which has quadrupled since the invasion due to the shortage of wheat imports, Nigerians have also buckled under weight of excruciating inflation and the massive depreciation of the Naira like almost all the nations impacted by the conflict bar America.
But like the Turks and the Saudis have shown the world, we could also have profited from the conflict in many respects and the damning question should be why have we not done so? The last time I checked, the uncompleted Ajaokuta steel complex initiated by the Russians still remains a white elephant project at best.
If the decision to condemn Russia was to ingratiate ourselves to the Americans, what tangible benefits have accrued to the nations as result? Did the decision enhance our profile in the international arena in any noticeable form? Did it cajole the West to extend more technical and logistic assistance to the nation in its fight against the bandits and insurgents ravaging the country, or even the oil thieves holding sway in the Niger Delta which has prompted massive disinvestment from oil majors?
Two days ago, the American Secretary of State Antony Blinken commenced a whirlwind tour of three African countries. As widely reported in the international press, the visit was part of the competition between Russia and Western Powers for support from African countries over the war in Ukraine.
It follows similar visits to Africa by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and French President Emmanuel Macron. While Lavrov visited Egypt, Ethiophia, Uganda and the DRC, Macron was in Cameroun, Benin and Guinea-Bissau. The France 24 News channel reported that food supply issues and security as a consequence of the war in Ukraine topped their agenda.
Three days ago, US Secretary of State Bliken was also in the DRC, Rwanda and South Africa – the same South Africa which refused to be bullied by the Americans to vote against the Russian invasion at the UN! The US Secretary of State may have been named Blinken, but his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor did not blink in her response to his comments in their joint press conference during the visit. I recommend the transcript for essential reading. In PR, self-esteem, especially as it involves the brands we represent, is also a vital factor otherwise our efforts will be in vain.
Nigeria, one of the world’s leading producers of crude oil; the continent’s most populous nation, which also happens to be its biggest economy, was completely shunned! For the aforementioned reason’s Nigeria could easily have become the new bride to be lobbied for its massive crude oil and gas reserves to fill the gap created by the conflict. Sadly, it seems, we were not even an option. We enjoyed an almost total eclipse. The big question to ask therefore is why?
In my view, that should be the major challenge for the nation’s esteemed image merchants. How much of what we have lost in international esteem is attributable to our inherent national foibles and how did they contribute to the way the nation is perceived beyond our shores particularly among potential investors in a world that is seemingly without economic borders in terms of its impact on ordinary citizens?
Except for a brief visit by a delegation from the EU there appears to be no urgency or little enthusiasm to consider Nigeria as a viable alternative to the diminished gas supplies to Europe. Could the attitude of the west be due to our capacity to deliver on specific timelines?
Nigeria, after all, still struggles to fulfill its obligations to OPEC on its daily oil production due to the massive oil theft and sabotage of oil facilities. In any case, the trans Saharan gas pipeline intent to convey gas to Europe is still under construction. Still, the issue of our installed capacity pales in significance in the context of this discourse.
I started this piece with a quote from Tiffany Burlingame which suggests that the bare essence of PR is to find a home for unique narratives. How do we overcome, refine, distill or even spin the endemic corruption, indiscipline, unprecedent oil theft, banditry and insurgency in the country; to such an extent that it becomes possible to extract the sort of sweet narratives required to create a positive image for our dear nation?
In present day Nigerian dynamics, do we possess the requisite home, or pedestal, to tell a unique story of our nation in a way that will be attractive to the rest of the world in a positive way?
We live in globalized world accentuated by the ravaging preponderance of the social media, which continues to define the lives of millions especially our youth. But effective story telling is only as good as the essential fabric of the tale.
What are the major illuminating attributes of the tale, and in this we pay homage to its substance? How good or appealing are the goods or products we seek to garnish with the sophistry of our skills? What positive stories are out there for PR practitioners to spin in favor of our nation to attract the attention of investors and tourists across the world?
Indeed, we saw glimpses of that predicament in the interview the retired Major General I. B. M. Haruna on Arise television yesterday.Whereas his interviewer appeared determined to focus on only the negative narratives of the nation’s woes, the General who was apparently miffed, was quick to remind him that if the nation was as insecure as being claimed, he would not be sitting so comfortably in his studio to do his work in the first instance.
He went further to remind him of what became of the Rwandan journalists who allowed their platforms to become the major conductors of the vile and despicable rhetoric which sparked the conflict in the first place.
Please note that the key defining factors here are patriotic zeal, along with the causal realism of the multiple challenges militating against the nation and it’s the desire to be a key player in the international arena.
This point is critical because I belong to the school of thought that believes the media are not just the enablers and enhancers in any PR endeavour. They are also, in practical terms, the veritable tools in the hands of the experienced PR practitioner. Their bond goes beyond a symbiotic relationship.
Whereas the media provides the platform for PR practitioners to communicate their ideas, the latter must demonstrate the requisite mastery of the vision and strategic objectives of their clients at all times. I will liken their roles to that of the conductor of the orchestra in a musical setting.
And because they cannot function in a void, it also becomes incumbent on PR practitioners to encapsulate the broad vision their principals and in this instance am referring to Nigeria as a nation.
PR Strategies for individuals and corporate entities may, for instance, be motivated by legal liability considerations, while political and nation image management may be motivated by repercussions on national reputation.
In an increasingly competitive and interdependent world, countries are realizing that maintaining a favorable reputation while protecting their strategic national interests, should dominate their diplomatic efforts. How useful was Nigeria’s vote to condemn the Russian invasion for example?
In conclusion, what is obvious from the foregoing is that redeeming Nigeria’s unfavourable image internationally is an obligation for all patriotic Nigerians.
It took the brilliance of a single individual Tobi Amusan, at the world athletics champions and the Commonwealth Games along with her colleagues to put a positive spotlight on Nigeria even if it was for a few days. But even those few days provided us with a sense of pride and a ‘home’ along with the ambience to spin our positive tales.
It equally required the resolute and uncompromising pushback from the retired Gen. I.B.M. Haruna to reset an argument in a positive direction when discussing matters of critical national concern to all Nigerians. He showed how to tweak a story in positive way, without denying that a problem existed.
And the world was watching. And Nigeria is an integral member of the global village.
Muhammad Kudu Ibrahim is the President/CEO
Niger Valley Resources Ltd