The Sun News

A haunting past

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is having a field day. It is savouring the absence of an opposition party in the country. As an opposition political party that wrested power from a ruling party, even if by default, the APC deserves a full dose of the arsenal, which it used to destabilise and decapitate the then ruling party. But it is not getting any of that. The opposition died because the forces that forced the former ruling party out of office also ensured that it does not rise again to constitute itself into a formidable opposition. What was supposed to be the opposition after the emergence of the APC, therefore, went comatose. It is in disarray today. The result is that the ruling party has no rival political party to keep it on its toes. That is why the APC is having a ball. The situation in the land is serving its purpose. But we cannot say the same thing of its effect on our polity. Whereas the APC is on a roller coaster, the country’s democracy is on a free fall. There is no institution to call the ruling party to order. The opposition, which ought to do the job, is non-existent. In the absence of a virile opposition, what we have are shrill voices of dissent, struggling to fill the gaping hole, which the absence of an opposition has created in our polity. The APC is certainly the better for it. That is why an Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who, as an opposition spokesman, did his job with gusto, is not being called to account by anybody. As an opposition spokesman, Mohammed regaled the polity with propaganda. He was always in the news. He always joined issues with the party in power. He was always the first to take a position on any national issue.

Given this pedigree, the APC, which he helped to wrest power from the ruling party, did not have any problem appointing him as the chief spokesman of its government. The expectation was that with Mohammed in place, the government would not have any problem telling its story. Mohammed, they thought, could make the public to believe anything. That was the ideal. But the reality of the situation has given a lie to that fanciful expectation.

Nothing exposes the impracticability of that ideal more than the crisis the government is currently facing over the health of President Muhammadu Buhari. Since the health of the president became an issue for public scrutiny, the media machinery of the government has been in disarray. The interventions and interjections of the government’s media managers have been anything but coordinated. Each has tried to do better than the other. This has resulted in puerile contradictions. The public is clearly confused as to what is what. The situation we gave on our hands is that of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

In the face of the uncoordinated vibes wafting out of government’s media machines, some discerning members of the public have had cause to remind Alhaji Lai Mohammed of his past.  Some seven to eight years ago, the health of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s then president, was an issue. He was in Saudi Arabia where his health was being managed. The scenario was shrouded in secrecy. Nigerians hardly knew what the situation truly was. Tongues wagged. In the midst of the confusion, Lai Mohammed made a pointed demand of government. He demanded that the then Minister of Information should be briefing Nigerians on a daily basis on the health of the president based on authentic details provided by the president’s doctors. That was Lai Mohammed in 2009. His demand sounded so simple to him. He delivered it with familiar and accustomed self-righteousness.

Eight years after, the role of  Lai Mohammed has changed. The demand he was making of someone and some people has become his lot and that of the government he serves. The hunter has become the hunted. As the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed is not doing what he asked someone else to do. He is putting up a bold face, pretending as if he is on the right track. Clearly, the minister is in a quagmire. He cannot wriggle out of the situation no matter how hard he tries. He is not even trying to help himself. Suddenly, the once super spokesman has become reticent. He is trying to grapple with a haunting past.

A few days ago, my friend and colleague, Femi Adesina, tried to come to Mohammed’s rescue.  Femi had argued that the Yar’Adua and Buhari health scenarios were not the same thing and that it was wrong, therefore, to expect Lai Mohammed to engage in daily briefings on the health of the president in line with what he demanded of someone else eight years ago. If I were to be in Femi’s shoes, I would not speak for Lai Mohammed. The man should be allowed to defend himself. But no matter what he says or does, he can no longer lead the people by the nose. As spokesman of the opposition, Lai was applauded for keeping the ruling party on its toes. But no one is applauding him as the spokesman of the government. He may have impressed many as spokesman of the opposition. But he does not impress anyone now. This is because propaganda and good governance are strange bedfellows. Those who serve the people must do so truthfully, otherwise they will lose credibility. It is this credibility crisis that is haunting Mohammed at moment.

As the Lai Mohammed struggles with his past, I advise innocent freshmen like Femi to be less exuberant in this job. Information management is a testy and trying assignment. It is odd. You may never get it right in the eyes of the public, especially if you are in government. Governments, largely speaking, especially in developing countries, are seen as enemies of the people. The governed are always suspicious of those in positions of authority. That is why they sneer and jeer whenever government makes a pronouncement. This being the case, those whose responsibility it is to manage information about government’s activities have a tough task in their hands. They have to do battle with the cynicism of the people. The people, more often than not, sneer at them. You can only try to sell the government but the people may never be convinced enough to accept the product, which you are marketing. It, therefore, makes better sense to be restrained and less exuberant.

As I counseled earlier, it will make better sense if the likes of Femi Adesina do not plunge headlong into the raging controversy over the president’s health. The issue is a sensitive one. It requires tact and restraint. It does not call for grandstanding or self-righteousness. Lai Mohammed was right when he said in the case of Yar’Adua that the health of the president as a public figure cannot be of interest only to his family and friends.  This truth told by Mohammed eight years ago still subsists even today. Trying to paint a different picture of the situation simply because the table has turned is unconscionable. The incontrovertible fact is that the health of the president is of interest to all Nigerians. The president did not get to office on his own. It was the mandate of the people that elevated him to that position. If he is having any problem in the discharge of his duties, the people have the right to ask questions. It, therefore, does not do the government and people of Nigeria any good if what they are fed with are uncoordinated pieces of information. Every information manager of the government does not have to speak on this issue. Let the media team articulate its position at any point in time and let it out through one source. A cacophony of individual voices is muddling up the situation for government and for Nigerians.

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