Speaking for Mr President
When our colleagues who serve as spokesmen for President Muhammadu Buhari write their memoirs, we may have a clearer insight into how they do their work – speaking for the president.
I am referring, of course, to the pair of Femi Adesina, special adviser (media) to the president and Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity. The two of them, in case you have forgotten, came to their respective jobs well recommended with impeccable credentials. Both of them, at different times, had worked in the media and had risen to the pinnacle of the profession having served as editors and even managing directors of their respective media houses.
And to cap it all, they had at different times served as presidents of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Garba Shehu had, before coming to the villa, served as media adviser to the former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.
Though one is not privy to the mandate given to them by their principal, it is safe to guess that they combine the duties of press secretaries with those of media advisers. Not only do they speak for the president, they are supposed to guide their principal or even coach him on public communication.
I am not quite certain whether their job description includes something like public relations or media relations or helping the media, by way of providing background information about the president’s policies and activities for the media to give to the public an informed perspective of the president, his persona and his policies.
But I am not in a position to know how easy or how difficult it has been for them to do these jobs considering that they work for a man who by nature remains relatively taciturn. Hopefully, one day we shall get to know.
But I can guess that, from the impression they give to the public about the affability of the president, being a man of deep reflection and understanding who is not only loyal to those who are loyal to him, but a man who is deeply concerned about this country and the welfare of the people; a man who is famously ascetic and scrupulously honest and decent, it has not been difficult, in my view, for them to do the job of advising him properly and correctly.
Apparently they can only advise him in the areas of the media. But there is no area of his presidential responsibility that is not a matter of public concern and therefore of robust media interest. That means the media advisers cannot wash their hands off how he conducts all his public affairs, his nuances and his body language.
For instance, if I may ask: why is it difficult for the president to match his words with adequate action, especially if he gives his words publicly on issues of public concern? He has said many times that he would not allow corrupt people to buy their ways into public office. But apparently unknown to him, people with not quite a tidy background have found their ways into this administration and he has adopted a see-no evil and hear no evil attitude to it. But for the media, Maina, the fugitive, would have been sitting pretty tight and comfortable today at his desk in the Ministry of Internal Affairs as director.
President Buhari had publicly told one of the NEC meetings of his party that he was going to expand his cabinet to accommodate more ministers in response to the yearnings of party members. He repeated this pledge when a group of Nigerian Catholic bishops paid a visit to him. One year or so later, nothing of the kind has been done.
Last week the Daily Trust newspaper carried an exclusive report of public companies without boards and whose heads are still in acting capacity three years after the take-off of this administration. Without a doubt, this is a drawback on efficient performance on the mandate of these organisations.
When it comes to management of conflicts and crises, there is often an official or presidential aloofness that tends to imperil the search for a quick solution. Take the case of the no-love-lost between the executive arm and the legislative arm of the government, a phenomenon that developed from the inception of the Buhari administration in May 2015.
The conflict has its origin in the way Senate President Bukola Saraki emerged. Clearly the initial aloofness of the president was responsible for it. If, as party leader, he had been decisive, the leadership of the National Assembly would have been agreed upon at the meeting of the party caucus before the inauguration of the Senate.
The fall-out of that disastrous aloofness has not been properly managed till today. It is not because the Senate is perceived to be corrupt that the executive arm is not getting the desired co-operation from its leadership. The rapport that should exist between them is not there when in fact the two arms must share confidences to move forward. Some snobbishness arising from a holier-than- thou attitude can only put a spanner in the works and it is the public good that suffers.
Equally, contradictions especially in policy statements breed lack of confidence. At home and abroad, it is a well- known fact that the hallmark of the Buhari administration is the high premium it has placed on integrity, probity and accountability and its zero tolerance for corruption. Zero tolerance by implication, suggests that there is no circumstance in which any iota of corruption is tolerated.
Appointees of the government should, therefore, be the flag bearers in the fight against corruption. So should those elected on the platform of the ruling party – senators, governors and chief executives of government agencies. If that is the case, President Buhari can’t, therefore, afford to be blind to the iniquities of some the APC governors who do as they wish with public funds as if they are above the law. And he cannot equally be deaf to the cries of those who have been denied their wages for months, some committing suicide to end it all.
Those who accuse the government of being selective in the fight against corruption may have a case if the president, through act of omission or commission, turns a blind eye to corrupt cases around him or in the states controlled by the ruling party.The contradictions which engender lack of confidence are not restricted to issues of corruption alone. He has said oftentimes and his vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has re-echoed him, that it is inhuman for politicians to play politics with human life. The abduction of the Chibok and the Dapchi girls is a case in point. But at an unguarded moment, President Buhari ignored his own admonition when he compared his handling of the Dapchi girls with the sloppy way President Goodluck Jonathan handled the abduction of the Chibok girls. That, quite clearly, was playing politics with human tragedy.
And what can be more political than for the president to do the unthinkable by comparing the number of people killed in Plateau State with those killed in Zamfara State or on the Mambilla Plateau as if one life is superior to another and as if the number counts.Or, what is worse, to have allowed Adesina, his media aide, to reel out, as he did last week, the number of killings that happened during the tenure of his predecessor with the sole purpose of comparing it with the number of Nigerians so far killed during his own tenure as if it is a competition and as if there is a prize to be won for the killings. What these tragic times call for is extreme caution.
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