Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juni 2006

1.4. Reproduktionen und Innovationen in Sprache und Kommunikation verschiedener Sprachkulturen / Reproduction and Innovation in Language and Communication in different Language Cultures
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Rudolf Muhr (Universität Graz)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Political Marketing or Political ‘Macheting’? A Study of Negative Campaigning In Nigerian Political Discourse

Tunde Opeibi (University of Lagos, Lagos Nigeria)



Political advertising in the past two decades has assumed a new dimension with the increasing use of negative political advertising during election campaigns (Beard, 2000; Won Ho Chang & Jae-Jin Park, 1998). Prior to this period in Nigeria, political candidates concentrated more on selling themselves and their programmes to the people with very few instances of the use of negative adverts. However, with the resuscitation of democratic activities in 1999, the competitive nature of recent election campaigns and the "winners-take-all-syndrome" that characterised the last 2003 elections, many of the political candidates abandoned positive, issue-focused, image-building adverts for direct attacks on their opponents.

In this paper, I provide a structural and functional description of the significant features of language use in the political texts with the primary aim of demonstrating this emerging trend in an L2 context. The data set is taken from selected Nigerian national newspapers’ adverts produced during the last general elections in Nigeria. In concluding, the study found that voters exhibit differential attitudes towards negative adverts. Factors such as level of education of voters, political literacy, content and structure of the adverts, personality of the sponsor (and/or the political candidate) among others may influence the effect of negative campaigning on electorate.


1. Introduction

It has often been stated that language and politics are inseparably connected. The successful prosecution of political activities requires effective deployment of linguistic facilities. Contemporary human societies place a very high premium on democratic practices, of which election is a vital component. In modern political systems election campaigns are taken not only as an important social event but also linguistic event. Election periods in any nation generate a lot of interest among the political candidates in particular, and the civil society, in general. This is because the destiny of the people and the nation rests squarely on the shoulders of the successful candidates at the polls. It is no wonder then that both political actors and their supporters deploy different persuasive strategies to elicit support and woo voters in order to gain and control power.

Chilton and Schaffner (1997:216) state ‘that the linguistic details of talk can be seen to be far from accidental, but delicately structured and functional in the management of social, and thus potentially political, relationships.’

Because of the central role of language in politics, scholars have continued to investigate the relevance and evolving patterns of its usage in campaign activities. The essence of investigating language of politics is captured in Beard (2000:2) when she asserts that:

... the language of politics ... helps us to understand how language is used by those who wish to gain power, those who wish to exercise power and those who wish to keep power.

Since politics involves language use to persuade, the effectiveness of the strategies adopted by political candidates may, to a large extent, determine how successful they will be in controlling power or keeping power.

The notion of persuasion in human communicative activities that require the addressees to take some form of decision so that the goal of communicating the messages can be achieved becomes germane to discussions on political advertising. The increasing roles of political communication during democratic processes have made studies in persuasive power of language to become more and more important to the realisation of the primary goal of election campaign: to gain power. In the fields of advertising, religion and politics tremendous social actions have been accomplished through effective use of language and discourse utterances. Advertisements in general; have been described by many scholars from various perspectives. There are those that adopt the utilitarian approach, while others consider the psycho-sociological implication. Bell (1991), for instance, sees advertising as functioning ‘to persuade, challenge, seize audience’s attention, and tell an anecdote ....’ Some have investigated the effects of adverts on people and society in general and concludes that ads are forms of emotional blackmail and exploitation, and that they appeal to our greed and fear (Hogarth, 1965; O’Donnel and Todd, 1980). The basic philosophy that underlies any advertisement is to convince the audience/reader of the usefulness and desirability of a particular product and persuade him/her to purchase it. In politics, advertisement plays a significant role in projecting the versatility of linguistic facilities often deployed by political candidates to woo voters. It attempts to inform, educate, persuade, woo, convince or compel the audience to vote in a particular way or support a particular candidate. While some ads tend to inform or educate the audience, others seem to cajole, frighten shock, worry or arouse the emotion of the target audience. The sponsors and ads writers adopt different rhetorical or discourse strategies; symbolic appeals or anecdotal expressions to achieve the primary goal of winning the support of the audience (Cook, 1989; Bell, 1991; Opeibi, 2004). Political campaign ads combine all the features of product advertisements to promote candidates and woo voters. The ads ensure organised dissemination of information about candidates and parties based on their programmes and methods of implementing them if they eventually get to power (Iornem, 1995). The success of this venture will depend on how effective and persuasive the ads are in marketing the candidates.

West (1984:27) observes thatcommunications play an important role in political campaigns. Candidates communicate messages to various constituencies, which these audiences receive and interpret. The ability of the electorate to interpret the intention of the politicians and respond appropriately is a result of the effective use of language. Other things being equal, communication fails when the expected responses from the voters are not realised may be in the form of poor turn out during polls, negative reactions to political candidates among others.

Beard (2000:57) notes that political campaigns are of interest, when viewed from a linguistic perspective, because they show language being used for such a clear and central purpose. She argues that "although political campaigns, with their speeches, their written texts, their broadcasts, need to inform and instruct voters about issues that are considered to be of great importance, ultimately all the written and spoken texts that are produced during an election campaign are designed to persuade people to do one thing: to vote in a certain way." Language use in political advertising can be described as a vital process of promoting the personality and the programmes of the candidates to the public, with the primary aim of gaining their support and mobilising them to participate in the process of securing and controlling power.

Other scholars have identified other contemporary possible methods for persuading voters at the constituency level during election campaigns. These include holding public meetings, organising open air rallies, displaying posters, advertising in local newspapers, attracting favourable publicity in local media reporting, campaigning through a local party web-site, contacting by letter and telephone, and distributing election literature (Harrison & McSweeney, 2005:2). Political actors deploy these different strategies to elicit support by convincing the electorate that they have what it takes to control political power for the benefits of the citizens.

Political advertisements which entered into election campaigns around 1952 (Reece, 2004) have since grown in size and style of presentation both in the print and electronic media. Although it was not until the 90s that Nigerian politicians became aware of the power and effectiveness of political adverts, it has since been used as a major persuasive strategy in canvassing support during elections. The plight of Nigerian politicians is understandable. The absence of a stable and consistent democratic process as a result of long years of military rule contributed to the low level of awareness of this potent tool for winning the support of voters. Since democratic culture must necessarily involve linguistic culture, its absence or inconsistent practice will stagnate the development of a viable political communication culture.

Three major categories of political adverts have been identified by researchers. They are: positive ads, which include only statements about the candidate, with no explicit mention of the candidate’s opponent; contrast ads, which contain both positive statements about the candidate and negative statements about the opponent; and negative or attack ads (sometimes called pure negative), which contain only negative statements about the opponent and nothing positive about the candidate (Goldstein & Freedman, 2002; Lau & Sigelman, 2000; Davy, 2003). Johnston & Kaid (2002) classify political adverts into two groups: "image ads" that intended to humanise the candidate for the voters, and "issue ads", intended to show where candidate stood in specific key issues. In their study, they found that candidates spoke for themselves in issue ads, while an anonymous announcer speak favourably about the candidate in image ads. So the two adverts determine voters’ response/reaction to the candidate’s message.

While a large body of research has been produced on negative campaigning in some more advanced democratic systems of the world e.g. USA, very little has been done in non-native English environments, especially, in the Sub-Saharan Africa. As mentioned earlier, the use of negative adverts is thus a recent phenomenon in Nigeria. What is however interesting is the alarming rate with which it is being used in most recent elections.

This present study does not intend to examine the effectiveness of the use of negative ads in Nigeria, nor the relationship between negative ads and votes’ turn out. Rather the paper focuses mainly on identifying and describing instances of negative campaign adverts and then to confirm that Nigerian politicians have started abandoning positive ads for the negatives. I present and analyse adverts produced during the 2003 general elections sourced from selected national newspapers. The study attempts to raise the level of awareness about the incursion of attack politics in Nigerian young democratic system and show that persuasive techniques used in negative political ads can achieve both positive and negative goals.

1.1. Negative Political Campaigning in Modern Politics: The Techniques and the Tricks

When political advertising emerged in the early 50s, the history of election campaigns changed. While strategies such as political rallies, personal contacts, speeches among others though still being used but becoming less effective in mobilising support for candidates, politicians have found that it is more advantageous to use political advertising to elicit support and woo voters in order to win elections and gain power (Opeibi, 2004). One remarkable outcome of the introduction of political marketing as a persuasive strategy during election campaigns is the use of negative advertisements to promote the sponsor and discredit the opponent.

In fact, Chang and Park (1998:1) assert that "because political advertising, unlike product advertising, must get results in a short period of time, political practitioners use several kinds of political advertising: image, issue and negative advertising". Beard (65) discusses what political parties do during election campaigns. According to her "as with other aspects of the campaign, political parties tend to do one of two things: they either represent their own leader in an impressive light; or they portray their opponents, in which case they are shown in ways which ridicule them"

Usually in negative campaigning, opponent’s personality and records are attacked by the sponsor of the adverts. The rival candidate may be painted as soft on criminals, dishonest, corrupt or even a danger to the nation and therefore does not deserve to be voted for (Wikipedia, www 2006).

Negative campaigning, is also known as smear campaigns, and attack politics. In this study the term ‘political macheting’ is used to refer to political adverts that rely on insults, invectives, damaging reports, target at the rival political candidate. It is an attempt to woo voters in order to win at the polls by attacking an opponent rather than emphasising the positive attributes or the manifestoes of the candidate launching the attack. In Nigeria, a matchet is a local farm tool (in non-mechanised farming) used in cutting down trees, shrubs and clearing weeds especially for subsistence agriculture. Thus in the context of this study, ‘political macheting’ is taken as campaigns that attempt to degrade, discredit, damage, ‘cut down’ or ‘cut low’ or even blackmail the opponents. Like a machete that can be used as a dangerous offensive weapon during internecine conflicts, negative campaigns can inflict severe damage on the opponents’ reputation, records and integrity resulting in casualties in terms of losses that can be incurred at the polls.

Since this phenomenon entered the United States of American politics during the Florida Senate Primary between George Smathers and Claude Pepper, and Senate race between Richard Nixon and Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950, there has been a rise in the use of negative campaigning not only in the USA but also in other parts of the world.

In Nigeria, negative advertising came up just like a flash in the pan during the 1979 general elections. The 1993 presidential election between Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) also witnessed the use of attack politics but still on a very low scale. The phenomenon of persuading the voters through portraying opponents in a bad light became more pronounced during the current democratic dispensation especially in the last general elections in 2003.

Different strategies are adopted in deploying linguistic facilities that are meant to alter the voters’ perception of and the attitude to the candidate being attacked. Several scholars have identified some of the techniques of negative campaigning and their impacts on voters. Some of these include the following:

  1. sponsoring adverts in newspapers or magazines directly damaging the records and personality of the opponent

  2. satirising the opponent as being a greenhorn in politics, deceptive, corrupt, wicked, high handed, insensitive etc.;

  3. leaking damaging information on the opponent to the media; (iv) feeding an opponent’s team with false information about a particular sensitive issue of national importance hoping they will use it to embarrass themselves;

  4. using a proxy, or an independent, or anonymous organisation, lobby groups usually sympathetic to the cause of the candidate to launch such attacks;

  5. attacking another party for running a negative campaign (see Beard, ibid., Opeibi, ibid., William, 2004; Wikipedia etc.).

The ultimate aim of using negative campaigning as a persuasive strategy is to present the candidate sponsoring the ads in a positive light while portraying the opponent in a bad light. Those who use negative campaigns argue that it is necessary to enable voter to know the person he or she is voting for, even if it is bad. Callen Allen (quoted in Wikipedia) suggests that negative campaigning might become necessary under the following circumstances: (i) when taking on an incumbent; (ii) when being significantly outspent; (iii) when there is irrefutable information that the opponent has done something wrong; (iv) when the candidate has little name recognition.

And if we may add, negative campaign may be used when the candidate becomes desperate, and when the D-day for the election draws very close. The incumbent candidate may resort to negative advertising when he feels threatened by the rising profile of his opposition and he fears losing the election to him. Instances of these are found in the adverts used as data for this study (ff, 3.1). One can also argue that some of the reasons for using negative advertising align with Aristotle’s (1962), quoted in Opeibi, ibid.) view on the use of persuasion in political discourse. Political actors adopt different techniques of persuasion because: (i) it assists in the general triumph of good over evil; (ii) it is necessary to influence those incapable of real instruction; (iii) it examines both sides of a topic; helps to find out the truth; and (iv) it is necessary as a means of self defence against the rhetoric of others.

However, some scholars disagree with the some of the views expressed above. They contend that using negative adverts may be a sign of weakness, fear of losing the election, paucity of ideas on the part of the sponsor, lack of clear focus on requirements of governance, absence of people-centred programmes among others. Such political advertising can even become so messy to the point of using it to settle old scores between perceived political ‘enemies’.


2. Theoretical Background

In the context of this study, two complementary theories that touch on functional model in language use provide the theoretical construct for the discussions in this study. The Expectancy Theory (in Chang & Park, 1998) focuses on the relationship between language use and the effectiveness of such language use on persuasion. The model assumes that "since language is a rule-governed system, people develop norms and expectations concerning appropriate usage in a given situation". Since language is society-based and culture-bound, every society and culture has rules that guide appropriate patterns of usage in any given communicative context. What may be accepted as appropriate in one culture may differ from what obtains in another. Generally speaking, normative and non-normative patterns of language are recognised in every speech community. In any communicative event where the language used conforms to the established norms and expectations, the people’s positive response/reactions to the message strengthens the norms even if the messages exert minimal impact on their attitudes. Conversely, the expectations of the people and the way the messages are received will be affected when the discourse violates the norms governing appropriate use of language in that domain. The persuasive effect and the desired goal of communicating the messages may not be accomplished. Two possible forms of violation have been identified: positive and negative. It is assumed that, ‘When messages positively violate (conform to) people’s linguistic expectations, the violation has a positive impact toward people’s attitudes and thus evokes persuasive effectiveness’. On the other hand, people’s response tend to be opposite of what the communicator intended when messages negatively violate people’ linguistic expectations.

In today’s competitive political electioneering campaigns, voters are already familiar with negative adverts and they would naturally expect some standard formats.


3. Texts and Discussion

The political adverts presented below around which the discussion in this section is centred were produced during the last general elections in Nigeria. The ruling Party (Peoples’ Democratic Party-PDP) at the centre was in contest with about 29 other political parties among which the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) were the major opposition parties. In some of the states e.g. Kwara, the battle was also between the ANPP and PDP. While we recognise several possible linguistic/ discourse features that can be identified in the texts, our focus will be on identifying linguistic properties that constitute negative campaigning and those that describe the texts as actions. In the adverts shown below, the oppositions at both the state and central levels attempt to wrest power from the incumbents while the incumbents also use attack politics to consolidate their hold on power.

(Source: Author’s own collection-from The Punch, a Nigerian Newspapers, April 2003)

4. Discussion

Text 1: It is interesting to note that the advert contains expressions couched in Nigerian pidgin. Translation: "Baba PACker!"- [Chief looter or Father of Looters]. "Dem wan finish di PACking (of Lagos)"-[ They want to finish the looting of Lagos]. "Wey dem begin since 1967!"- [Which they started since 1967]."Haba! We no go gree!"-[No! we will not accept that!].

The ruling party Alliance for Democracy (AD) uses this advert to discredit the governorship candidate of the opposition party, Progressive Action Congress (PAC). Here, reference is made to his records as a former public officer in Lagos State. He was accused of corruption and looting of government’s treasury. The ruling party (AD) then harps on this moral issue to discredit him. The media-multilingual nature of the adverts provides a fascinating reading. Here we find a mixture of Yoruba (e.g Baba), Pidgin (e.g "We no go gree"), English (e.g. ’finish’, ‘begin’) and Hausa (‘Haba’). This rhetorical technique provides a striking communicative force that reveals the socio- cultural and sociolinguistic context in which the text was produced. It is a reflection of the linguistically- heterogeneous structure of the city that provides a meeting for all the speakers of almost all the local languages in Nigeria. This linguistic creativity (a typical case of codeswitching/codemixing) is very instructive because Lagos is the economic capital city of Nigeria having citizens from all parts of the country. The sponsor attempts to appeal to the cross-sections of Lagos residents by using the four most popular means of communicative interactions.

The use of the exclamative: ‘Baba PACker!’ to open the advert is meant to provide a shocking and jolting effect on the reader. The advert attacks the candidate whose passport-size photograph appears on the ad to provide visual appeal along the graphological devices adopted in crafting the message. Voters are being warned not to vote for the candidate because he wanted to come and complete the looting/corruption he started in 1967. The admixture of codes to communicate the negative message about the candidate provides further persuasive effect.

Text 2: In this text, the opposition party in the state, PAC, responds to the negative advert issued by the ruling party by making reference to their campaign for continuity in the office. In one of its adverts, the AD has been canvassing a re-election of the incumbent governor in order to continue the ‘good work’ he started. The ruling has been using the slogan: "Let’s Do It Again" to seek the support of the people for a re-election The text opens with a bold headline "LET’S DO WHAT AGAIN?". This is an apparent deliberate play on words/meaning which is a common strategy in political campaign. The emphasis on ‘WHAT’ in the headline is explained in the illustration that follows the headline- unaffordable housing, unmotorable roads, uncleared waste, unfinished schools, unavailable water. Pictures representing these failed projects are placed in the advert to provide a striking visual effect. The use of rhetorical questions in text throws open the answers that the people themselves are called upon to supply having experienced the disappointment. The rhetorical question is used as persuasive technique in this text to avoid stating what is obvious and rather imply the import of his message. In essence, the party seems to be saying that the answers are obvious. These are followed up with the statement: LET’S NOT DO IT AGAIN! The emphasis on negative particle- ‘NOT’ provides the kernel of the goal of the attack-to dissuade the electorate from voting for the candidate. The negativity in the message is further enhanced by prefixing each of the socio-economic projects with a negative marker-‘un’. This suggests a total sense of failure and disappointing performance that should not be tolerated any longer. The party provides the solution to the failed promises by encouraging the electorate to vote for the opposition. It argues that: INSTEAD OF 4 MORE YEARS OF FAILED PROMISES, LET’S VOTE FOR CHANGE, LET’S VOTE FOR PROGRESS.

The party thus positions itself as the solution to the problem. It portrays itself in a positive light by ridiculing the programmes of the ruling party. The name of the party and its candidate-Ganiyu Dawodu conclude the message with the exhortation to vote for him. The graphological devices employed in the use of different font sizes, typefaces, illustrations mixture of colour, and the general physical structure of the text not only serve to arrest the attention of the audience but also force attention on the negative message conveyed through the text.

Text 3 & 4: In these two texts, another incumbent candidate (LAWAL MOHAMMED) is trying to retain his seat by attacking the opponent (BUKOLA SARAKI). As stated earlier, the fear of losing the election sometimes forces some candidates to resort to ‘political macheting’ (negative campaigning). The ruling party (ANPP) and its candidate (Lawal) in Kwara state seem to be contending with the intimidating profile of the political godfather and natural father of the opponent (Dr Bukola Saraki). The father Dr Olusola Saraki has been very influential in the state and national polity for almost three decades. He was also a leading figure in the ruling party in Kwara state (ANPP) before defecting to the majority party at the centre (PDP) which has now become the opposition in Kwara state.

In text 3, the incumbent openly attacks the candidate by calling on the people not become perpetual slaves to the Saraki Dynasty. "You have served the Father. Why serve the son?" This is followed by another declarative-"Kwara must be totally free" He encourages the people to vote for him. This is again followed by a reminder in a more explicit statement emphasising the need to set the people free: "For far too long the people of Kwara have had to slave under the yoke of one family. Is it because no one has the capacity for leadership? Where has the loyalty o one man’s cause led the state? We took the first bold step to break the shackles of bondage more than three years ago. Now we must solidify that step and never go back to the days of servitude". We also notice the use of rhetorical questions in the text to imply what is obvious. Direct exhortation also known as mild imperatives follow: "Choose courageously. Choose a courageous candidate" "Vote Mohammed Lawal"

Apparently not too satisfied with the impact of the negative message in Text 3, he releases the advert (Text 4) with the headline: KWARA RONU! [Translation: Kwara people be Wise/Thoughtful!]. The sociolinguistic import of this statement is revealed in the way it is crafted in the local language (Yoruba) spoken by the majority of the people. The body then contains a statement indicting the opponent and his father. Other states of the federation are mentioned as enjoying improved telecommunication system as a result of the central government’s initiatives but in Kwara "...the Godfather and his son attempted to hijack it in order to claim the credit". This is then followed by a rhetorical question: When will this mentality end?

Interestingly he supplies the answer: "On April 19, 2003, of course!" the date of the governorship election when he hopes to defeat the son and by implication the Godfather.

He then emphatically directs the people by challenging them that: IT’S TIME TO SET KWARA FREE-FINALLY. The sponsors of the advert now exhort the people to "Vote for Lawal". This confirms our earlier observation that negative campaigns can also be sponsored by independent organisations, anonymous or lobby groups. The name of the sponsor of this advert is placed at the end of the text: MESSAGE SPONSORED BY THE KWARA FREEDOM FORUM.

Texts 5a and 5b: These two texts, on the one hand, represent part of the negative campaign strategies of the opponent, and on the other, his reactions to the negative adverts released by the incumbent governor of Kwara state. 5a paints the picture of the disappointing performance of the incumbent. It is headlined: "Four Years ago" with the sub headline: "He promised Kwara people". This is followed by some of the illustrations representing some of his electoral promises four years ago which obviously he could not fulfil. It is interesting to observe the linguistic creativity adopted in the use of the incumbent’s name LAWAL as first letters to identify these promises: LIGHT, AGRICULTURE, WATER, ACCOUNTABILITY, LOVELY HOSPITALS.

The advert copy then concludes the attack with the assertion: "Today, everybody knows the truth..." The gap filler used to end the statement performs a pragmatic and rhetorical function that shows an incomplete statement but inviting the people to complete the rest of the story. Since the speaker and the addressee share the same context, mutual knowledge of the background is played upon to decode the meaning and implication of the utterance. It is thus suggested, implicitly, that the truth of the matter is that he has fooled everybody. He did not fulfil his electoral promises. This is a subtle indictment on the administration of the incumbent.

This sense is further portrayed more vividly in the next advert (5b) headlined: April Fool! The phenomenon of exchanging jokes capable of deceiving others, creating fear and anxiety for the fun of it, giving information about unreal/phoney incidents, fooling friends and ‘deceiving’ loved ones, friends and acquaintances on the 1 st of April is alluded to in the advert. The candidate deliberately allows the advert to be released to coincidence with the event on the 1 st of April. This persuasive technique further reinforces the negative message conveying a sense of deception, disappointment, and disillusionment. It is designed to provide a striking and shocking effect. The illustrations showing the opposite of what he promised four years ago are displayed. Each of the illustration graphically shows the collapse of power supply, scarcity of agricultural products, scarcity of water supply, no accountability, and the collapse of health delivery systems. Each letter of his name- LAWAL is again used to portray the electoral promises which he has failed to fulfil. This is then followed by the scathing (negative) remarks: He’s fooled us these four years. Don’t give him another chance to fool us this April.

The advert ends with the direct exhortation: Vote for a better Kwara, Vote BUKOLA SARAKI AS GOVERNOR.

Texts 6 & 7: It should be stated here that during the 2003 presidential election in Nigeria, the battle at the federal level was between the major opposition- (ANPP) and the ruling Party (PDP). This is reflected in Texts 6 & 7 where the two parties engage in attack politics to destroy the personality and records of each other.

As shown in this study, Text 6 is sponsored by the ANPP which has Buhari and Okadigbo as flagbearers. The advert attacks the campaign for continuity in office by the ruling party after the end of the first tenure in office (1999-2003). It opens with a declarative expressed in a tone that is laden with anger and scorn. "This continuity Talk Can Destroy Nigeria".The candidates then present themselves as the best alternative to the incumbent. This is captured in the excerpt: Buhari/Okadigbo will make Nigeria Great Again.

The text again goes back to negative campaigning by listing some of the failures/shortcomings of the present government headed by Obasanjo & Atiku which are enough to make them unfit to continue ruling the nation: Look around you, nothing has changed. Education is not working. Poverty level is much higher than in 1999. Health care delivery is in total chaos. ....

The coda then contains the direct exhortation encouraging the people to Vote ANPP. Vote for Security, Stability and Prosperity BUHARI/OKADIGBO ... will make Nigeria great again.

It is interesting to observe that the text closes with portraying the sponsors in a positive after painting the opponent in a bad light.

Text 7 attacks the presidential candidate of the ANPP by referring to his electoral promises placed against his records as a former Head of Military government in Nigeria between 1983 and 1985. It opens with the headline: BUHARI SAYS HE WILL CREATE JOBS, JOBS & JOBS... but his records say otherwise:

The body contains several newspapers’ clips (e.g. We can’t provide jobs now", Retrenchment to go on", Resident Doctors Sacked for higher wage demand") showing the state of joblessness, unemployment anti-people programmes prevalent during the regime of Buhari as the head of the military government in 1983, and when he was appointed to head another government department (Petroleum Trust Fund-PTF) in 1997 under the regime of General Sanni Abacha. A sense of striking contrast is thus drawn when the clips shown in the body copy are placed against Buhari’s electoral promise to provide jobs when voted into power as stated in the headline of this advert.

The clips are then followed with the figurative expression conveying the negative and damaging remark on the records and personality of Buhari. "Beware The Leopard Does Not Change Its Spots."

The notion of presupposition operates in the text in the way it warns the people to avoid the dangerous animal who will not change its character. Voters are then persuaded not to support the candidature of the ANPP flagbearers because they are as dangerous as leopard.

The message ends with the direct exhortation: Vote OBASANJO/ATIKU A TESTED AND TRUSTED TEAM. In the signature line another fitting slogan: Continuity For Stability & Progress which further supports the call to vote for the ruling party in order to ensure development and stable democratic polity in the nation.

We observe that the advert appears to have been sponsored by another independent organisation (OBASANJO/ATIKU CAMPAIGN PUBLICITY COMMITTEE) whose identity appears on imprint of the advert. It is not clear however whether the committee is part of the party’s campaign structure.

Following the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) as applied in Johnston & Kaid (2002), the adverts described above demonstrate some consistent pattern with what obtains in political campaigns in other parts of the world. Usually the emphasis in negative adverts is on right and morals or issues of ethics. In some of the negative ads, the use of an independent neutral narrator (e.g. Texts 4 & 7) in launching an attack helps to shield the candidate from any backlash effect. Domke, Shah and Wackman (2000) also assert that negative political advertising often focuses on issue surrounding morality. Texts 1, 5a &5b and 7 exemplify instances where emphasis in the messages bothers on morality, integrity and ethics.

In terms of structural presentation, the texts demonstrate typical features of ‘real’ newspapers adverts with several graphological features used as persuasive techniques. One can notice the large headlines and sub-headlines in block letters or title/lower case letters, different font sizes or typefaces, highlighted text placed against a background of mixture of colours (black and white) to convey different information. The language and the content of the texts exhibit similar pattern with words, phrases and expressions showing that they are hard hitting political campaign adverts. As Beard (91) observes, the interaction between the readers and the real writers through the pages of the newspapers adverts contribute to the construction of the overall persuasive message in the texts. The writers seem to be inviting the voters (readers) to make up their minds on who they will vote for while at the same time trying to subtly force a candidate on them by discrediting one and exalting the other.

4.1. Negative Campaigning in Nigeria: Some Observations & Closing Remarks

In studies carried out elsewhere (e.g the USA), it is observed that very few people would admit to being greatly influenced by ads. Surveys and sales figures, however, show that a well-designed advertising campaign has dramatic effects. A logical conclusion is that advertising works below the level of conscious awareness and it works on those who claim immunity to its message.

It has been stated that in the context of this discussion, the major interest is in showing the relationship between the adverts and the context that produced them; highlighting some of the linguistic and discourse features and how these constitute the rhetorical strategies deployed by the political candidates to market their personality and political programmes. The responses of some voters are sampled in order to further confirm the effective of the use of negative advertising in the last general elections in Nigeria.

Two young undergraduates from the University of Lagos and myself were involved in the survey carried out among selected Lagos residents to elicit their responses to the copies of the adverts they were given to study. Unscheduled interviews were carried out on a representative population of voters in Lagos metropolis. The subjects studied fall into two categories: Group One: The educated (informed) voters and, Group Two: the uneducated (uninformed) voters.

Their responses are summarised below which shows differential attitudes to negative campaigning in Nigeria. About 95% confirmed that they participated in the 2003 elections. Among the voters in group one that took part in the election, many (83%) agreed that although the adverts are negative but they are effective in communicating political messages. They however added that beyond the messages (negative or positive) in the adverts, the personality of the candidate sponsoring the adverts will determine to a large extent the reception of the message and its effect on the audience.

The voters in group two argue that who wins elections in Nigeria does not depend on political advertising whether positive or negative. They believe that the messages are not too effective because some of the candidates are biased. The messages do not say the truth about the opponent being attacked. They try to whip up mere political/tribal sentiments. The socio-cultural landscapes of the Nigerian political environment (e.g. ethnic/identity politics) and the antecedents of some of the candidates are played out in the adverts.

The general observation is that the perception of negative campaigning as effective or ineffective is dependent on the level of education of the voters and political literacy. Those who are educated and constitute the reading audience of the newspapers are slightly affected by the adverts. Those in group two are likely to be affected when the adverts are communicated through other media, e.g. posters, radio or television. However, their ultimate decision at the polls may not depend on the effect of the negative adverts on them. This finding is in contrast with the view in some quarters (especially in the advanced democratic systems) that voters may use the information and impression they receive from negative advertising to make their decisions at the polls. It is common knowledge that decisions at the polls and the results of elections in Nigeria, and perhaps other developing democratic systems go beyond the impact of political advertising.

To conclude, the general agreement among scholars is that negative campaigning is seen in a negative light. While it may succeed in motivating the base support, it tends to alienate centrist and undecided voters from the political process reducing voters’ turn out and radicalising politics. Jasperson & Fan (2002) observe that a candidate who uses insults in his or her campaigns receives fewer votes while the target receives more. Some scholars argue otherwise and believe that attack political campaigning stimulates voter’s turn out if anything, sparking interest in the campaign (Goldstein & Freeman, 2002). Pinkleton, Um & Austin (2002) say that negative ads are hard to trust, and the more negative a campaign is, the more negativity a viewer has towards it. This view is confirmed in our study where some of the respondents argue that they do not believe the authenticity and credibility of the negative messages in the adverts.

Roese and Sande (1993) assert that voters feel negative political campaigning is less useful than both comparative advertising (the one that compares two candidates) and non-negative ad (the one that does not incorporate attack politics).

In conclusion, it is believed that negative campaign can become more effective when the following factors are taken into consideration: (i) the content of the publicity; (ii) the record of the campaigner; (iii) the credibility of the content of the message; (iv) the issue of performance; (v) the outlets of the adverts; and (vi) the language of the adverts (Bike, 2004; Saletan, 1999 in Wikipedia).

© Tunde Opeibi (University of Lagos, Lagos Nigeria)


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The Punch (A Nigerian National Newspaper) - March 16, 18, ; April 1, 4, 9, 2003

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1.4. Reproduktionen und Innovationen in Sprache und Kommunikation verschiedener Sprachkulturen / Reproduction and Innovation in Language and Communication in different Language Cultures

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  16 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Tunde Opeibi (University of Lagos, Lagos Nigeria): Political Marketing or Political ‘Macheting’? A Study of Negative Campaigning In Nigerian Political Discourse. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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