The 276 Girls of Chibok

09 April 2014 – It is with much interest that I’ve watched the news cycle and reporting of the 276 school girls who were kidnapped in Chibok, north-east Nigeria on 14th April 2014. The video of Boko Haram’s leader containing a description of what they plan to do to the girls went viral a couple of days ago and that’s when the conversation and the global news churn really went into overdrive.

The #bringbackourgirls campaign on Twitter has even garnered the support of Michelle Obama and rightly so. It is for this reason that I was surprised to learn that the story has hardly made an impact in the media because it seems that every time I log onto my favorite newsfeeds the story is everywhere.
Media Tenor released media related research today explaining that the incident received the most attention in the UK, but coverage was still less than 0,8% of all global media reports. According to a senior researcher, a story has to breach the awareness threshold of 1,5% of all media reports in order for it to be considered impactful.

If this is the case, I have to ask myself the question about whether this incident will have a negative impact on Nigeria’s reputation or not? I believe it is and will. President Goodluck Jonathan is hosting The World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja this week and his government has received widespread criticism for its lack of action and communications on the matter. One cannot hide from the fact that America’s First Lady, millions of citizens and human rights groups are protesting against the government’s lack of action to date and taking to every social media platform available to vent their outrage.
So what can the Nigerian government do? I believe they could make good use of crisis communications specialists that could assist them in containing and resolving the matter both in the media space and amongst key stakeholders. Gone are the days when crisis communications only focuses on what is being distributed to a broad range of print and broadcast journalists.

Integrated communications is crucial and is certainly applicable in this instance along with robust monitoring systems, third party education and the development of well-crafted messages for all stakeholders.

An example of the incident’s adverse effect on Nigeria’s reputation and GDP is the fact that the American Consulate issued a travel warning this week and even Brand South Africa refrained from participating in the World Economic Forum in Abuja. The thousands of expatriates who travel through and work in the country could start to wane and the effect could be long lasting.

The implications are vast and here’s hoping that the girls are returned safely to their families and that Nigeria can once again stand proud as the largest and one of the most progressive economies on the continent.