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The fumblings of a presidential spokesman

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Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. AFP PHOTO / Ahmed OUOBA

The State House also known as the Presidency in every nation ‎is the seat of government in terms of political hierarchy in the land. It goes by different appellations in different countries. In Nigeria, it is called Presidential Villa. In the United States of America, it is known as the White House.

Wikipedia defines it as “the collective administrative and governmental entity that exists around an office of president of a state or nation. Although often the executive branch of government, and often personified by a single elected person who holds the office of “president,” in practice, the presidency includes a much larger collective of people, such as chiefs of staff, advisers and other bureaucrats.”

Staff deployed to the presidency are therefore expected to exhibit a great deal of competence and conduct themselves with the highest level of decorum.

I have been in journalism practice since1994, long enough to understand the nuances of the profession, but there is something worrisome about the spokesman of Nigerian Vice President, Mr. Laolu Akande.

Akande’s media disposition as a Senior Special Assistant to the President in the office of the Vice President is‎ strange to 21st century practice and a dangerous dimension inclined to negatively affect the image of the once revered seat of the power in Nigeria.

Akande is the only media aide known to newsmen in this technology-driven industry in Nigeria who would elect to hoard an ordinary speech delivered by the vice president at an official function and strangely choose to release the document for immediate use 24, 48 and sometimes 72 hours after!

Interestingly, before his current job, Akande was the North American Bureau Chief of this newspaper, where he operated for several years. Who knows, he may have learnt a unique style of news management there to earn him the present position of spokesman.

If this is anything near the reality, then, it will not be a surprise to understand that he is the only media aide known in the profession who is averse to spontaneity.

The vice president’s aide would unabashedly release a press statement at 10:00 p.m! Several hours after his principal had carried out an official engagement and left the venue in the morning and several hours after the stories from the event would have been filed by the reporter on the beat.

Nigerian journalists like their counterparts overseas are not just lazy. Those covering the presidential villa are even unique, ever prepared for the job with different gadgets to make the job easy. But, to complement the work, reporters oftentimes are in need of speeches, either soft or hardcopies, delivered at events for speed.

The issue of accuracy also comes to play. Media managers on their part prefer strongly to make available such speeches in ens‎uring that their bosses are quoted accurately. It  is indeed, not an easy task. Unfortunately, Akande is not in tune with all these lines of thoughts.

Imagine an event where the vice president made remarks at the launch of the Nigerian Economic Diplomacy Initiative (NEDI) at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja, on Thursday, 5th April 2018, and the presidential spokesman released his principal’s speech on the next day, Friday, 6th April, 2018!

Another case in point was when the vice president delivered an address at the 2018 Ogun State Investors’ Forum earlier held in Abeokuta on Tuesday, March 20n 2018. The spokesman chose to release Osinbajo’s speech  at 8:44 p.m!

There are many more of such instances.
That is only one segment of his style of media management. He also has the attack style against persons who make perceived unfriendly comments about his boss in either news stories or analysis.

Without any scintilla of compunction, Akande, in a more astonishing manner, recently queried the “poetic licence’ and constitutional latitude of the media to interrogate the goings-on in the seat of government. ‎One wonders if he can no longer separate opinion from hard news on account of his new-found engagement as an assistant in the office of the vice president.

His deployment of the instrument of blackmail which he now uses against newsmen he perceives as enemies could be the last straw that would completely tar the presidency’s image especially in the media industry if he does not make a detour.

Many have posited that the recent resort by the presidential aide to attack The Guardian State House Correspondent in an unbridled manner following the reportage of the alleged NNPC scandal ‎is the height of professional incompetence exhibited by a trained media man, particularly one said to have empirical knowledge of the ‎best practices of the trade in the U.S.

Each time Akande fumbles owing to his professional ineptitude and poor handling of media issues he considers unpalatable to the government, the media and indeed the journalists assigned to report the activities of the State House would even come under spotlight and are swiftly tagged mischief makers when facts available suggest the contrary.

In fact, it would not be out of place to describe Akande as a media aide with a ‎pedantic disposition for vindictiveness and employment of subtle threats to cow reporters. One does not require to go through the tutelage of a journalism or public relations teacher to understand the pedagogics of how not to be a presidential spokesman.

As a former staffer of The Guardian and Tribune newspapers and The News magazine, and a presidential aide who also reported from the White House, it’s trite to reiterate that it is professionally wrong to resort to blackmail of reporters ‎which has now become his stock-in- trade.‎

If these are officially sanctioned by his supervisors whenever there is a faux pas, it is really a disturbing development that should be pooh-poohed by practising members of the media profession in Nigeria.

Apart from his official designation as spokesman in the presidency, it is sad that Akande also uses a subliminal name, Durob DUROB, as a decoy and subterfuge to get back at perceived ‘media enemies’ via some online platforms which operate from outside the country.

It is sad to note that he, out of frustration, uses friends in certain acerbic foreign-based online media platforms, ostensibly in the bid to gag the Press Corps. This measure would not help his cause because the independent media are not in the State House to do his bidding. ‎‎

One is quick to recall how Akande misrepresented the position of his principal on the $25billion Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) scandal that rocked the Ministry of Petroleum Resources late last year. That alone would have cost him the job were it not for the h‎umane disposition of his boss, a highly revered pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.

He screwed up when he took to his handle ‎to tweet inaccurate information concerning the alleged approval of the contract for the NNPC by the vice president, a development which the mainstream and online media widely feasted upon.

As confusion continued to trail the controversy, Vice President Osinbajo denied involvement in the alleged approval of ‘contract’ for the NNPC.

In dis-owning the statement credited to his aide in Bonny Island where he had gone to flag off the Bodo-Bonny Road, Rivers State late last year, Prof. Osinbajo clarified that he granted loans and not contracts as reported by the media.

Rather than adopt the more professional and civilised ‎strategy of putting the records straight, Akande , in apparent anger and vindictive disposition, resorted to unbridled attack on two Aso Rock reporters who merely filed the story of the unfolding saga in the alleged NNPC scandal, a news peg also feasted on by virtually every reputable media organisation.

Curiously, Akande did not excoriate the online medium that first broke the story of the alleged multi-billion dollar NNPC contract scandal two days earlier.

Nay, Akande, in his desperation to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it, would rather contract the services of foreign online media organisations, to plant pieces of blackmail in the bid to discredit the two reporters which, in his opinion, were out to cause disaffection between him and his principal over the NNPC crisis.‎‎‎

In the alleged scandal, Akande picked quarrel with the headline “Osinbajo disowns aide’s statement on NNPC crisis” cast by this newspaper.

He claimed the headline was misleading and mischievous!

There is no doubt that he needs help in his duties if the vice president must not carry a vicarious burden and punishment on account of the aide’s sloppy handling of media tasks.

Penultimate Sunday, the media aide again, failed to separate opinion from facts when he upbraided the Editor of this newspaper, Abraham Ogbodo who wrote an article which turned out to be critical of Osinbajo.‎

Akande had while stringing for this newspaper in the U.S. as a correspondent, filed stories to the paper’s news room where a team of world-class editors edited his copies for several years, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.

But he is now biting the finger that had fed him over the years before his new-found designation as SSA in the office of the vice president. In his alarming fits of vituperation following obvious failure at his duties, now, Akande unabashedly expresses doubt over the editorial judgment and competence of the reporters and editors at The Guardian, his former place of work.

One wonders what could be more mischievous and vindictive ‎than a presidential media aide adopting the instrument of blackmail to address what should ordinarily pass for an innocuous opinion that only requires setting the records straight.


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