Opinion by Yushau Shuaib
Beyond theory, strategic communication doesn’t seek publicity in whatever ways through the media. It considers the dynamics of the environment, the target audiences, their behaviours, and trending issues for effective messaging.
Creative thinking is crucial in strategic communication, towards offering better ideas, and sound judgment in responding to issues in the most responsible manner.
Sometime in 2021, my mother was denied boarding on an Air Peace plane going from Ilorin to Abuja, even though she was among the first set of passengers who arrived at the airport very early that morning. Apart from frustrating her attempt to board the aircraft, the airline further charged her exorbitantly for the use of the same ticket for the next day’s flight.
I was so bitter that I posted her plight on Facebook. While some friends expressed concern about the situation, others had contrary views. Notorious social media hecklers and agents provocateur descended on the issue on the platform, spewing their routine ethnic chauvinism and religious bigotry, while misinterpreting a simple case that could be effectively addressed by the customer care service of the airline.
A few hours after my post, one Mrs Olubunmi Korede, who I later learnt was the Air Peace Manager at the airport, reached out to my siblings and later called me privately and narrated what had really transpired that day.
“We discovered that Mama came early but was on the wrong queue at a counter of another airline. By the time she realised the mistake, the Air Peace Counter had been closed. We deeply regret what happened, especially to an innocent aged mother.”
Not only that, the Manager also personally received Mama the following day at the airport and courteously processed her travel, while still offering the airline’s apologies for the incident of the previous day. That single episode influenced my loyalty to Air Peace, which then became my preferred airline on some select routes.
I also developed an interest in the business model of the owner of the airline, Allen Onyema, a Nigerian to the core, who strongly believes in a united and prosperous nation devoid of the divisive sentiments that are unfortunately attendant upon a prejudicial national outlook.
During the inaugural Spokespersons Communication award, Air Peace, as a corporate citizen, was honoured for its nationalistic no-city-left-behind initiative, which interconnects various Nigerian cities by air, and its various citizen engagement efforts and conversations.
The expansion of its different routes across diverse national and international spaces has equally been a big relief to its teeming users, in a manner that has favourably coupled with the airline’s huge reductions of its fares to make them highly affordable.
The activities of Air Peace also strengthen and enhance the economy of many of its beneficiary cities/states in the North and South, as it truly connects Nigerians in Nigeria, giving access to safe and best-in-class air connectivity.
It was, therefore, not surprising that during the faceoff between the airline and the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the discriminatory international airport slot and frequency allocation to it, the Federal Government of Nigeria stood firmly behind the Onyema-led business organisation, in supporting one’s own against injustice.
While retaliating the ill-treatment of Air Peace in Dubai, the Buhari administration also cut down on the frequency and slots allocated to Emirate Airlines in Nigeria, to mirror the stringent measures meted out to the Nigerian carrier.
The UAE eventually capitulated to the demands of the government and rescinded its decision to deny Air Peace the stipulated number of slots and frequencies for reciprocity and fairness in the bilateral air service agreement between the two countries.
Thus, it was quite shocking when the same airline was reported to have treated the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero, unfairly by not enabling him and his entourage the opportunity of taking a connecting local flight from Lagos to Kano, after having initially created a situation that led to the delay of his international flight, on another Air Peace aircraft from Banjul to Lagos.
The Chief Protocol Officer to the Emir, Isa Bayero thereafter wrote a letter of complaint to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), seeking punitive actions against Air Peace Airline for missing their connecting flight. The leaked letter attracted needless attacks and counterattacks between the admirers of the Emir of Kano and supporters of Air Peace.
It is unfortunate that many are not aware of the enviable qualities and personality of the Emir of Kano. A graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, the Emir had worked in the aviation sector as a spokesperson and a Flight Officer, where he earned respect as a customer-friendly, empathetic, and cultured official.
An urbane and cosmopolitan personality, whose mother was a princess of Ilorin Emirate in Kwara State, Aminu had held top traditional titles in Kano, the most populous and heterogeneous city in Nigeria, before ascending to the throne of his forebears.
With friends from different backgrounds and classes, the unassuming and humble Emir has consistently demonstrated great awareness of and sensitivity in dealing with people of sundry multicultural identities and religious beliefs, which have earned him tremendous respect for his capacity to engage with diversity in a positive manner.
The so-called leaked memo from the Palace to the NCAA, which has attracted all the unnecessary bickering and unwarranted attacks, ought to have been handled more professionally and strategically from the outset of the situation.
Traditional institutions deserve respect and aides of revered personages like Emirs need to be a lot more mindful of the statements they make on behalf of their principals, particularly the tone and language of communications that could ultimately become public documents, which can either enhance or tar reputations.
On the other hand, Air Peace needs to be aware of the position it has attained as a respected national brand and not a regional enterprise that should yield to egocentric displays that could stoke unnecessary controversy. I am of the mind that it has grown to become a Nigerian business for Nigerians and not a parochial powerhouse that can engage in some form of chest-beating.
Sometimes silence can be golden in strategic communication. Weighing a situation very carefully before venturing a statement is essential, rather than the haste for justification that can unnecessarily escalate a crisis.
Spokespersons should realise that PR is not about issuing boisterous and confrontational releases but the creation of channels of mutual understanding, in a way that strengthens and further builds relationships.
Yushau A. Shuaib is the author of ‘Award-Winning Crisis Communication Strategies’