I always sympathize with every spokesman, be it that of a corporate organization or government, because sooner than later, crisis will surface that will need to be explained to the customers or the populace. This task often involves communicating and justifying decisions that have been made, whether popular or not, and responding to criticisms. The job becomes more difficult when you have a principal with unbridled tongue, or in this era of social media, itchy fingers which will often go on its own trajectory. When the dust settles, you’d be left to explain what just happened, whether you understood it or not.
When one is the spokesman to a public servant or office, this can be a very delicate balancing act as one is expected to respond graciously to scathing criticisms without denting the principal’s political capital. Now imagine your predicament when you are meant to speak for a principal that you don’t have access to, and you are left reporting a reported speech or becoming an oracle that speaks to the body language of someone you can’t see. People want answers to questions that one has no clue about, and this can often leave one frustrated. Many times, people also peddle half-truths or falsehoods that are so ridiculous that the first thing one wants to do is lash out and debunk those claims.
Criticism is tough to take, and most of us go on the defensive when its time to get feedbacks. Every public servant, however, should understand that it comes with the position held, and that he signed up for it when he elected to serve. People will criticize you for doing something, and also rail at you for doing nothing. Criticism is inevitable in public office, and one would expect a certain level of refinement and civility as the spokesmen respond to questions regarding decisions made by the offices they represent. When the spokesman to the president of a country starts invoking the wrath of God to consume critics and the people requesting information, then I’m left wondering whether we are still in the age of human sacrifices and star gazing.
What are the recent contentious issues? The health of the president and the presidential jet that’s on standby to convey him to Nigeria when his medical tourism is over. The former was addressed by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, who happens to be the current president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. He responded to the rumor of the death of the president earlier in the year with an article titled “they learnt nothing and forgot nothing”, and has also recently ‘released’ another essay about the same issue titled “President Muhammadu Buhari and the descendants of Shimmei”.
In the context of the spokesman to the president of a country, I couldn’t make sense of any of the articles, and as an assumed response to allegations from the two vocal usual suspects in the opposition party and their ilk, those articles are too low to emanate from the office of the President of Nigeria. There’s no prize awarded for mudslinging, and please do realize that the office you represent is that of the President of Nigeria. Please, respond to allegations with facts, figures, and where possible, proofs. I have been most impressed by the former Twitter handler of the EFCC, who is an expert at owning idiots without getting dirty with them, and I’m sure you can learn a thing or two from him on how to diffuse potentially combustible situations without resorting to incantations and mudslinging.
The issue about the standby jet was handled by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, who also happens to have held the position of the president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors 16 years ago. He tried explaining that the cost of parking is likely to be waived, and in the event that it isn’t, it can’t be more than a thousand British Pounds a day. What he hasn’t told us is how many people are on the team waiting on the president and how much that translates to. He also tried to explain the standby jet as protocol, and that our current president is not the first to have a jet wait on him (I’m assuming he was referring to former President, Yar Adua), and won’t be the last. I was left wondering when previous acts of stupidity became acceptable justification for current stupidity? I see no sense in blaming the previous governments for our current predicament while we retain many of the detrimental mindsets and actions that led us into trouble.
The finances of Nigeria are on life-support, and we presently spend more than the entire annual revenue of the Federal Government on recurrent expenditure, while borrowing every Naira we spend on capital expenditure. Surely, we can save some money by doing away with the protocols that conflict with common sense based on our present financial situation? Surely, we can ask questions of our government without being labeled agents of darkness? We the citizens of this country look forward to that time when political engagement between rival parties will move from the boxing ring of blame game and name-calling to the theatre of intelligent and intellectual expositions.
Olugbenga A. Olufeagba