PR firm under fire for contract with Nigeria

The Washington public affairs firm Levick is coming under fire for its contract with the government of Nigeria.

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A campaign hashtagged #SomeoneTellLevick is being used to attack the firm for its $1.2 million deal to represent Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been criticized as not doing enough to find the more than 200 girls kidnapped in his country by the extremist group Boko Haram.

Former Nigerian government and World Bank official Oby Ezekwesili is among those taking issue with Levick’s work.

“How can @LEVICK earn filthy income on the back of innocent women (&men) that have STOOD EVERYDAY for 78 DAYS DEMANDING: #BringBackOurGirls?” Ezekwesili tweeted, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times, which says she was one of the main organizers of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in Nigeria.

The anti-Levick campaign has resulted in more than 5,000 individual tweets, according to Twitter analytics website Topsy, most appearing to originate in Nigeria. In addition, there are also more than 6,000 tweets mentioning Levick’s handle, @Levick, on Twitter in the last two days.

The Hill first reported the news about the Levick contract, which the firm actually signed with a state-run news agency in Nigeria.

Levick says it is performing more than just public relations work for Jonathan, and is partnering with a high-profile human rights lawyer to provide legal advice on how best to combat Boko Haram, which kidnapped an estimated 270 girls in April. 

The contract states Levick's work is part of a larger effort to create “real change” in Nigeria.

"As the world witnesses the brutality of Boko Haram, and its cowardly tactics of using children as pawns in their terrorist campaign, Levick’s only mission is assisting the Government of Nigeria with its number one priority — the rescue of the girls and combating terrorism,” the firm said in a statement to The Hill.

The hashtag campaign has drawn pushback from other Twitter users who have praised the Jonathan administration and defended Levick.

Some of the messages from both sides are politically charged, as the country is set for elections in February. Jonathan is expected to run for reelection, but has not yet announced a formal bid.

One of the opposing parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and a co-founder of the “Bring Back Our Girls” movement in Nigeria, hired public relations giant Burson-Marsteller to arrange a single meeting in Washington D.C., according to Burson's account of a filing with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The contract is officially signed by Ladi Delano, named one of Forbes "Ten Young African Millionaires To Watch" in 2012.

“The firm was originally approached to support a one-off visit to Washington, D.C. by the co-founder of the ‘Bring Back Your [sic] Girls’ campaign and other APC officials. But the visit was called off,” a spokeswoman from Burson-Marsteller wrote in an email. “We are in the process of de-registering with FARA [the Foreign Agents Registration Act].”

The one-month, $100,000 contract was abandoned after the meeting was canceled, she said.

Burson had subcontracted with the public affairs firm Prime Policy Group, which also confirmed to The Hill that the work had ended.

A spokeswoman for the Bring Back Our Girls campaign in Nigeria wrote to The Hill and denied any involvement with Burson or any other PR firm.

"I want to express that at no time did any founder or co-founder of the BringBackOurGirls campaign attempted or spoke to any PR firm in Washington for the sake of arranging any meeting," she wrote.

"Our campaign is not political and is simply focused on putting pressure on the Nigerian Government to do all it can to ensure the safe rescue of the more than 200 girls who have been abducted by BokoHaram for more than 90 days, and we have never had cause to hire a PR firm for anything," she continued.

 

This post was updated on July 20.

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