A Diaspora Tale
From an early age, I knew that while I was Black British of West Indian parentage and African heritage, at the core of my being I was an African. “No matter what anyone tells you about being British, Afro-Caribbean or West Indian, you are Black therefore African. Be proud of it and don’t let anyone tell you any different,” my parents told my two sisters and me. These words stuck with me, soaking into every inch of my being. Throughout my teenage years and young adulthood, I took an active interest in African history, contemporary African politics and popular culture. I am passionate about Africa and have been waiting for the right moment to be able to contribute positively to the development of the continent.
I moved to New York in 1999 and spent a decade making my way up the corporate public relations ladder, working for various leading brands and in senior executive positions at top global advertising and PR agencies. I launched C. Moore Media, International Public Relations in 2009. In 2010, as a nod to my success in the United States, I was placed on the 2010 U.K. Power List, which is a list of Britain’s Top 100 most influential Black British. In 2011, I was named to The Network Journal’s 40 Under Forty list of Black U.S. achievers, another huge accolade. With this kind of recognition both in the U.K. and the U.S., the time felt right to direct some of C.Moore Media’s attention to the continent.
Africa is rising. For the first time in decades this huge continent with unparalled natural and human resources is on the cusp of unprecedented growth. According to the International Monetary Fund, seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa, with Nigeria ranked as the world’s 10th fastest-growing economy. Influential business publications, ranging from The Economist to The Financial Times to Forbes magazine, have informed their readers that while the rest of the world demonstrates flat-lined growth and sluggish economies many nations in Africa are showing promising growth. Early in 2011, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan passed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after a decade-long struggle by activists and supporters. The act was loosely based on U.S. legislation signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966. As with its U.S. counterpart, Nigeria’s FOIA means that agency records are subject to full disclosure in compliance with mandatory procedures that the law outlines. In a nation that has been thwarted by corruption and a lack of democracy, the law is a huge leap forward, hailed as a victory for democracy, transparency and justice.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a member of the Federal House of Representatives, was a champion of the Nigerian FOIA. A popular 15-year broadcasting veteran, Dabiri-Erewa ventured into politics and, with her background in investigative media, immediately signed on to co-sponsor the bill in Parliament. In 2007, Dabiri-Erewa was the only co-sponsor of the bill to win her re-election bid. She lost no time reintroducing the bill, but was met with stiff resistance. She came under enormous pressure to withdraw the legislation, which already had been thrown out five times. Dabiri-Erewa held her ground and, propelled by persistent media attention, determined civil society groups and fierce lobbying, the MPs buckled. History was made as President Jonathan signed the bill into law, catapulting Nigeria into a new era of accountability.
So here I was in New York City, digesting this optimistic news, when I received an emailed invitation from the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations to be the keynote speaker at its 22nd annual conference, to be held in Lagos in October 2011. The conference was titled “Towards a Greater Nigeria: Public Relations as a Viable Tool for National and Mass Orientation,” and focused on use of the Freedom of Information Act to entrench good governance, accountability and investment. I was delighted to deliver the keynote speech and was especially happy to be able to share my international knowledge and experience with fellow public relations practitioners in Nigeria.
I delivered the speech to a room packed with hundreds of PR practitioners, including local award-winning agencies such as CMC Connect and notable practitioners such as Ken Egbas, managing director of TruContact and chairman of NIPR AGM, and Yomi Badejo-Okuasanya, managing director of CMC Connect. I also shared the podium with state representatives from both Oyo State Government and the State Government of Osun. I drew on the U.S. example and discussed the strategies that President Barack Obama used to galvanize America behind his vision of change. I provided insights and suggestions for the Nigerian market and concluded with research that I had commissioned exclusively for the conference from Onalytica, a client of C. Moore Media that monitors online debates on specific topics. The online debate on the Nigerian FOIA was one of the many topics that Onalytica had researched. My suggestions for the Nigerian market included:
• Move with the times. While word of mouth and radio are the predominant communication channels, Nigerian communications practitioners should leverage all communications channels, especially the Internet, create conversation at digital touch points and weave social networking applications under the banner of a movement, thereby creating momentum.
• Transparency. One of the core values behind the FOI Act, transparency was now one of Nigeria’s “brand promises.” Adhering to it will create new levels of trust with everyone, from the Nigerian public to foreign investors.
• Omnipresence. I presented data from the exclusive research C. Moore Media had commissioned from Onalytica in order to demonstrate vividly that online monitoring is an imperative, as it will enable Nigerian ministers and information commissioners to communicate effectively locally, regionally and globally.
My speech was well received. I was thrilled to meet and spend an evening and lunch dates with Abike Dabiri-Erewa. A brilliant and intelligent woman, she described the next steps — as she saw them — for Nigeria to move forward. “The FOI Act will empower every Nigerian to seek information about the utilization of the nation’s resources. The challenge now is for Nigerians to properly utilize this law to demand better openness in governance,” she told me. “For a nation battling with corruption, this is a law that can change Nigeria positively if utilized to the fullest.”
Despite fundamental challenges, including security against terrorism and a shaky infrastructure, the future looks brighter for Nigeria, with positive movement toward change, not the least of which is the new FOI Act. Nigeria must also adopt a developed-world approach to communications and I am grateful that I was invited to be part of this crucial shift by sharing my experience, knowledge and expertise with communication leaders in Nigeria. The well-known saying “When Nigeria sneezes, the rest of the African nations catch a cold” is testimony to the influence that Nigeria wields on the continent. Against a backdrop of a series of positive steps forward and healthy economic forecasts, Nigeria has a chance to get it right and pave the way for the rest of the continent to follow.
Claudine Moore is the founder of C. Moore Media International Public Relations, now leading the North American PR initiatives for Arik Air, a wholly owned Nigerian company and West Africa’s leading airline.