Mr. Tohomdet gives recommendation for the Covid-19 campaigns to achieve results

A former World Bank official and strategic communications expert Mr. Obadiah Tohomdet has given epic recommendations on how the fight against Covid-19 in Nigeria would be a win-win one. In an opinion published on his official Facebook page and obtained by Satisprime Reporters, Mr. Tohomdet said “A comprehensive rapid perception survey must be commissioned by the PTF to ascertain and address the issues around cynicism and skepticism

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Secretary to the Federal Government, Boss Mustapha, an extremely adept message-crafter and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 recently expressed frustration about Nigerians disobeying the protocols laid down to curb the coronvirus pandemic in the country. He blamed this on skepticism and ignorance of the populace about the COVID-19. It is no doubt an issue for concern, particularly that we are now witnessing community transmission where villagers hold the beliefs that coronvirus is a “disease of big people” and town dwellers.The truth is that, despite the fact that about 99% of the Nigerian populace say they are aware of the Coronavirus pandemic (NOIPOLLS SURVEY Report April 2020), more people need to be educated about the disease and the downstream aspects of the protocols. Note that awareness is not equal to knowledge and that knowledge about something does not necessarily lead to change of behaviour on that issue. Many people don’t even know how to wear the face mask talkless of the reasons for wearing the masks. In behavior change communication, cynicism, trust and reputation play key roles in the effectiveness and success of the messages. Of course, cynicism, disillusionment, poverty and apathy could also be a great barrier to the effectiveness of any message. A recent voxpop on a Nigerian Television Sation showed that many Nigerians still doubt that there is anything like Coronavirus. They feel that government is merely hiking the figures to attract and siphon money. Remember that two states still doubt that there is such a virus though one of them has become a manufacturer of face masks.
Suggestion: In view of the fact that government has applied some strategies in the campaign with insignificant success, I suggest that a comprehensive rapid perception survey be commissioned by the PTF to ascertain and address the issues around cynicism and skepticism. There are some key behaviour change strategies that could be employed in the campaign, in the interim, while this survey is being awaited:
Force and law (some call it “carrot and stick”) could be applied but the success of this approach is usually not sustainable. The campaign on seat belts in cars and wearing of helmets by motorcyclists in Nigeria is a typical example of a long term campaign which calls for the grace of long suffering.
The next is the use of facts by experts and probably taking some doubting Thomases to COVID-19 Isolation centres…as to them “seeing is believing.” I hope they will agree to go. Those who have experienced the virus could also serve as advocates. At this point, government should criminalise stigmatization to enable survivors to voluntarily serve as advocates.
The other important strategy is Facilitation. That is making the services delivery on COVID-19 readily available and nearer to people. When people suffer to get the services, they would not be encouraged to respond to the campaigns. Testing services should therefore be massively decentralised to communities, streets and road sides to encourage Nigerians to willingly go out to test. Mobile testing vans should be deployed to markets, parks, Churches, mosques, streets etc to make the services readily available. Health workers should not only respond to people promptly but also treat them with high sense of decorum and respect. These, and some other strategies, can help improve the success of the COVID-19 campaigns.

Obadiah Tohomdet
CEO Simans Strategic Communications and former World Bank Senior Communications Specialist.

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