Nigerians prove hashtag activism effective in gaining international attention

It is undoubted, that within the past month, Africa has claimed a stake in news and media coverage. Boko Haram, Ebola, and now the US – Africa Leader’s Summit have left a buzzing trend on almost all channels. As gatekeepers latch on, it is clear that the country is in dire need of some positive public relations – however, Levick, a US Public Relations firm, hired to do just that for the country, is now in need of its own PR campaign after its attempt.

In June, Levick signed a contract with the Nigerian government to improve the news coverage of the Nigerian government’s efforts of rescuing the 276 abducted school girls who fell victim to terrorists Boko Haram on April 14. Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group, operates under its version of Sharia law, which opposes many western civilization customs, especially the education of women. To the group, a woman’s role is at home raising children and attending to their husband – not at school learning to read and write.

Kidnappings have been prevalent since May of 2013, as Boko Haram leader, Abubaker Shekau announced this tactic as part of its newest campaign. However, the most recent abduction, the girls from Chibok, sparked a solidified effort among Nigerians to bring them home safely. These voices have turned into an international online /social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Nigerian lawyer, Ibrahim Adbullahi, is credited with creating the hashtag that brought news of the plight to a worldwide audience.


Over 4 million tweets have been sent with the hashtag. Once viral, it received attention from numerous American celebrities such as Ellen Degeneres, Chris Brown, P. Diddy, Kim Kardashian, and Michelle Obama. Once the first lady shared the tweet, it became the most shared tweet on the issue, with over 57,000 retweets.

FLOTUS support

The school girls abduction, along with failed efforts to contain attacks by Boko Haram, has brought increasing pressure to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces reelection in February of 2015. It is Levick who has been hired to help with the crisis of the country and the president. According to its contract, “Levick will provide government affairs and communication counsel with the primary objective of changing the international and local media narrative on a number of issues.” These issues include:

  • The government of Nigeria’s efforts to find and safely return the girls abducted by Boko Haram in the Borno State of Nigeria.
  • Assisting the government’s efforts to mobilize international supports in fighting Boko Haram as part of the greater global war on terror.
  • Communicating President Goodluck Johathan’s past, present, and future priority to foster transparency, democracy, and the rule of law throughout Nigeria.

As the LA Times reports, so far Levick has succeeded in getting some prominent media placements for President Goodluck, but it has also succeeded in upsetting a lot of Nigerians. Backlash of Levick’s involvement reflects long held sensitivity about foreigners who think they know more about Nigeria than Nigerians.

Nigerians are not only upset about Levick’s presence, but also about the cost of their presence. The contract, signed officially between Levick and the News Agency of Nigeria is worth $1.2 million. Beginning June 16, Levick started charging at a rate of $100,000 a month for a year of services.

“We dont need some PR company from DC to tell us how our govt feels about us. we live here, you operate from DC @LEVICK enjoy your lunch fee,” read a post from @Perseverance__.

Another hashtag then errupted on the Nigerian twittersphere, this one, #someoneTellLevick, after the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, released a statement that blamed the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners for the refusal of the parents of the abducted girls to meet with the president. The statement referred to the campaigners as engaging in psychological terrorism.

Although Levick did not sign the statement, and Vice President, Phillip Elwood, was non-committal on their involvement in its writing, shortly after its release, social media was flooded with message towards the Nigerian government and Levick. According to the social media analytic site, Topsy, #someoneTellLevick was used more than 3600 times.


Nigerian columnist, Tolu Ogunlesi, writes that Levick is, “merely the latest in a long line of Western image consultants that Nigerian governments have been known to routinely engage for miracle-working purposes.” He continues, saying, “The Internet has turned many citizens into fairly powerful purveyors of opinion. By sheer force of will, ordinary Nigerians armed with mobile phones and immobile frustrations are able to powerfully … shape their country’s international narratives in a way no media or PR behemoth could possibly hope to counter.”

someonetelllevick tweets

Is it questionable how much Levick has actually done to improve Nigeria and President Goodluck’s efforts thus far. It is even more questionable if they will even be able to at all. While armed with the ability to carefully craft a statement of place an op/ed, Levick’s PR arsenal is weak when compared to the hashtag activism of the Nigerian citizens.

-Savannah Valade

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