Of Government Spokesmen, Media Aides and Public Analysis

I was part of a discourse instigated by a satire on President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent blunders and seeming indecisions these past days. The author, Malam Jaafar Jaafar, a former media aide to Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, employed as a subject of his commentary the President’s mispronouncing of German Chancellor’s name as Michelle instead of Merkel, misattribution of the designation “President” instead of “Chancellor” to her, and then reference to her territory as “West Germany” instead of Germany.
The essence of Jaafar’s method, quite simply, was to draw attention to the oversights of presidential aides in having the principal prepared for diplomatic engagements at which knowledge of, or reminders about, global current affairs are necessary, and the necessity of the President’s many travels. But, instead of a robust defence of the man’s travels and Freudian slips, Jaafar was not only pilloried, but his background as former media aide was cited by defenders of the President, in dreadful zombie mode, just to qualify him as “hypocritical” and, thus, morally unfit to criticise the political establishment. 

In defence, Jaafar was forced to educate the partisan tribe on the expectations and shade of his job. He wrote, in response to a misinterpreter of his satire: “I’ve not gone beyond the precinct of Public Relations practice to serve as (Governor Kwankawaso’s) image-maker. Drawing comparison between journalism and PR, Dr Anthony Curtis of Department of Mass Communication, University of North Carolina said, “Journalism and PR might be seen as two sides of the same coin. One side has news it wants to get out and the other side needs news to cover. It can be a symbiotic relationship”. I’ve never regretted practicing my profession – serving government as PR practitioner. You should note that my government job never stopped me from campaigning and raising funds . My job as publicist never stopped me from traversing local markets and participating in road shows to source funds for Buhari. I used the money I earned in government to buy Buhari donation cards and sell it people. Now I challenge you to show a single line I wrote in support of Kwankwaso’s aspiration before or after presidential primaries.”

But this excuse was dismissed as hollow by the tribe, in their cyber-bullying stunts, all because of their shallow interpretations of that art of tacit exaggerations and distortions intended to make a people reflect upon a topical issue amidst laughter or embarrassment.  

Jaafar’s satirical take on Buhari, a man already regarded as a political deity by supporters, of whom they always miss the writer too has been a supporter, is a contention that doesn’t exactly shock me. Our people are not just ignorant, unlearned and unteachable but the culture of “Ran ka ya dade”, a syndrome that entrenches deference to even erring elders and leaders, turning the people into malfunctioning robots, has made criticism of the establishment a form of disrespect, and the critics rebels with no cause. 

The Java-scripted reactions to critics of Buhari’s early days, if not countered and defied, may make the zealous supporter of former President Jonathan, described as “Jonathanian”, end up in our history books as actually tolerant partisans, noting the emergence of unbearably obnoxious successors now strutting to declare that a people’s democratically President is “too decent to be ridiculed”, “too old to be satirized”, “not sluggish”, “perfect”, and all that nonsense that shouldn’t be said of a democratically elected leader. 

We all love Buhari and we all pray he succeeds as promised, but asking critics to patronise the man who’s stopped being one of the followers from May 29, having joined the league of the demons the nation must blame to remain sane in this insane clime, is to say that democracy is a government of the idiots by the deities for the dumb. 

It hurts me badly that the most furious and indecorous critics of former President Goodluck Jonathan, who without evidences ridiculed the man as perpetually drunken, threw ethnophobic jibe at his “Ijaw accent”, dismissed him as incoherent speaker, said his PhD is fake, derided his wife’s speech impediment, charged him as funder of the Boko Haram, wove silly conspiracy theories to suppress facts, wished him death, and even made personalised and “insensitive” jokes about the first couple’s family and sex life and the woman’s “barrenness”, are the people forming an army and a police against any commentary and joke on Buhari’s accents, blunders and administrative indecisions. 

Even while some are gloating over the in-house squabble among Buharists now, it’s still misplaced to describe ours as “bad precedent” set from the Jonathan years. No, occupying the Seat of Power is volunteering to become a people’s subject of critical assessment, and satire is one of them. These assessments are a responsibility of all, and that media-savvy citizens dominate the vocation is simply as a result of the advantage of their trade.

Also, being a former government aide isn’t a basis for disqualification, moral or social, to assess the reality of a country or government in which the critic too is affected by policies implemented and decisions made. My favourite government spokesman was the unassailable Adagbo Onoja, who managed the image of Jigawa State’s former Governor Sule Lamido. Though he left before the principal’s tenure expired, settling down for an academic pursuit, first in Ibadan and then UK, his competence was never in doubt. I was a fan of his peculiar presentation and representation of his boss when he was in charge, and I got to tell him so when I bumped into him at an eatery here in Abuja sometime in 2013 or thereabouts.

Onoja’s peculiarity was his wisdom to draw the line between what he, as a person, believed in, and the ideals of his principal. Even though he discharged his duty as a media handler quite diligently, he wasn’t a sycophant. He was in control of his voice, which he amplified in commenting on national issues after leaving the service of Governor Lamido. 

Did Onoja criticise Lamido after leaving his office? Of course, he wasn’t hard on him, because there is a channel through which he can communicate with the man privately, but there’s a time, when a principal fails to heed one’s sincere advice, that a declaration of dissent has to be done publicly, for all to understand. 

This, Onoja did in the period running up to the last presidential election when his former boss took a clearly unpopular position, formed a weak force against the Buhari candidacy, by which Onoja was displeased. 

He wrote the man an open letter, a widely syndicated, read and discussed expression of disappointment in the politics of his former boss, and how he lost his tracks in his strategically doomed political race. It was one of the most heartwarming epistles ever written, ever read, but to me it is simply an evidence that loyalty to a government or politician as a head of his communication unit is not an oath. 

I think some people assume a media handler is a blood-bound sycophant who may forever dance to the tune of a principal. There’s a thick line between a man’s precept and his job, between conscience and service, and to say that it’s impossible to break loose and be independent is to be deliberately mischievous. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda 

@gimbakakanda on Twitter 


Bukola Saraki Versus the All Politicians Congress

In the period running up to, and immediately after, the March 28 presidential election, a number of us were already disillusioned, especially with the festival of defections hosted by the All Progressives Congress party. We concluded that the acronym wasn’t what it was registered as, that APC simply meant “All Politicians Congress”, citing its apparent lack of ideology and even criteria for membership that made it a rebranded version of the PDP—the party it defeated with the support of the people.

Chaos was all the doomsday theorists predicted of this legion of politicians whose only common interest was their hatred of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the elimination of whom has now laid bare the unstable pillars around which the APC was formed: the CPC bloc, the ACN bloc, the New PDP bloc, the ANPP bloc and of course the fair-weather PDP bloc.

Aside from the post-election defectors, APC’s victory in the last elections was an outcome to which all blocs contributed, and thus the question of compensation of all blocs quickly become a matter for curiousity. This only escalated with the Senate Presidency bid and then victory of Dr. Bukola Saraki of the New PDP bloc, which was challenged, and still furiously being done, by the ACN bloc of the political party. I don’t know when the National Assembly leadership tussle became a clash of BukolaSaraki’s ambition and Bola Tinubu’s shadow, perhaps because I’ve never ever exactly seen the latter as the one-man kamikaze portrayed by his supporters and the media. I see him, simply and squarely, as an influential party stalwart with certain powers and clearly marked limitations. 

I see a number of us, in the spark of our hatred of Saraki who is, of course, not my model politician, citing biological and political records from various archives to present the man as morally unfit to lead, some even describing him as surreptitious defector. I wouldn’t have bothered if similar criteria are applied to his assumed challenger. What partisanship does to us is it disables our sense of reason. Trust me, you can’t praise Tinubu as a hero and dismiss Saraki as antecedently corrupt and thus morally low.

 We may choose to be selectively objective in our public analyses, promoting narratives that favour our principals, but none of us is electorally useful at the two chambers.

 The partisans may choose to charge Saraki of non-compliance with the party’s non-existent ideology, but with his victory alongside a PDP deputy, it’s easy to infer that the leadership of our bicameral legislature is already promising. We must be wary of one-party dominance in any way. Not when memory of similar arrangement headed by the PDP still lingers.

We must not ask for a Senate President that is loyal to, or intimidated by, the President of the Federation. Nigerians must ask for one capable of highlighting the relative independence of the Legislative while also respecting the interrelationship needed to smoothly run the affairs of Nigeria.

 But the winner in this first litmus test is Mr. President. Through his spokesman on Twitter, referring to the legislative elections as “somewhat constitutional”, a phrase I consider product of Femi Adesina’s naïveté, President Buhari seems to have highlighted his neutrality, refusing to subscribe to the approach of his party. On his official account on Twitter, however, he wrote, “Although I would have preferred the new leaders to have emerged through the process established by the party, I am willing to work with whoever the lawmakers elected.” 

 I’m prouder of the man for honouring his May 29 promise not to interfere with the activities of the Legislative and the Judiciary.

What I fear now is APC’s impulsive reaction, venting and threatening to deal with Saraki/Dogara camp instead of a diplomatic, less dramatic in-house intervention. What APC must know now is that any attempt to reverse thelegislature leadership elections will see the beginning of a crisis that may demolish all the structures upon which it stands. 

Similarly, it needs an immediate reality check, that the goodwill it enjoys isn’t what it assumes, that Nigerians indeed regard it as peculiarly messianic, and as genuine advocate of change. APC is APC because of the people’s confidence in Buhari, who has already refused to lend them his powerful brand. May God save us from us.

 By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Governor Bello’s Uneasy Start

Managing expectations is now the biggest challenge before our Change-advocating leaders, and in Niger, my home state, which the people see as a wasteland of governance, always quick to paint the picture of our underdevelopment and ranking it as worst in the federation, the atmosphere is already tensed, the people confused by the new Governor’s first move. 
And this new move was the appointment of aides, with the most questioned being the appointment of Secretary to the State Government. Over the week, I received calls on the appointment, with all expressing fear of the pending, that the new sheriff isn’t going by the script, the formula that is our peculiar “quota system”. 

Even though I’ve promised to give the new Governor a reasonable time to settle down, in his predecessor’s mud, it’s harmless to start a conversation around an allegation, by two of the callers, that the Governor seemed to have scrapped “fair representation” based on our zoning tradition. They asked, “Why would the SSG be from the same Local Government as the Governor?” One pondered, “Since the Governor is from Niger North, his deputy from Niger South, why won’t Niger East have that position?” 
I pointed to the Chief of Staff as a representative of the Niger East in the administration, but they dismissed that as irrelevant, that his duties are more of running errands, and not actually performing key administrative functions. The Niger East senatorial district has become to Niger State, what the Igbos are to Nigeria now; a people to be consoled having lost out in certain political calculations. The consideration of Niger East for SSG, was the same in way Nigerians now expect an Igbo appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

And where one wishes to advocate merits in appointments of key advisers and cabinet members, certain reality stares one in the face; the Governor himself is a beneficiary of the zoning arrangement that the callers alleged he wanted to scrap, with the SSG seen as a proof. I don’t think he’d do that, on moral grounds. Competence and fair representation must prevail in the appointments. 

Now is too early to have our unfortunate state divided along zonal lines. What we must do is allying to fix the mess of the previous government. The Governor has the power to manage the imminent grievances and crises, and thus, he owes the people this sole responsibility of not keeping them guessing and suspecting, in the dark. As much as the rotation of power frustrates adoption of merits as a criterion for appointments, we must not forget that there wouldn’t have been Governor Abubakar Sani Bello too without the the zoning formula.

Another appointment that has raised a concern and questions was that of Senior Special Assistant on Timekeeping and Schedule, which has been justified by the Chief Press Secretary, Dr. Ibraheem Dooba, as done to necessitate punctuality in the Governor’s tasks. Elsewhere, that responsibility too was criticized as needless duplication of the duty of one of the appointees, the Director-General of Protocols.

What may douse this brewing tension and project Governor Bello as the man for this tasking job is the appointment of his cabinet, now being eagerly awaited. That will be his actual litmus test, and the definer of his administration on which so much hope is already registered. 

Nigeria state has impressive human capital, so the excuse of qualified indigenes not found in particular zone isn’t even likely, and I’m sure the “kingmakers” would not resort to such subterfuge.  
However we seek to justify this, to advocate appointments by merits alone in an institutionally undefined country as ours is to be ignorant of the sedimentary nepotism upon which Nigeria is built! 

We may get there when our institutions are revived, effectiveness made priority, and competitions no longer tribal or religious vocations. Every day I resist temptations to dismiss our federal character principles as absolutely retrogressive, witnessing how every government agency and parastatal is populated by the relatives of its head – Minister, Commissioner, Executive Director, Director-General, Chairman. May God save us from us! 

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter