Let me start with a statement of fact. Presidential senior special assistants and special advisers on media and publicity are not appointed on the basis of their capacity to lie to citizens. I am not aware of any President, Prime Minister, Senate President, or Speaker of the House of Representatives in Nigeria or overseas who deliberately hired media assistants because of their accredited record of lying.
Accurate representation of the President is a professional job. Those who do the job and do it well are the President’s special confidants. They are held in high regard by the President. It is not a job for anyone. In this context, presidential spokespersons are required to convey the truth at all times. They are the public face of the President. If they do not have the full facts, they are not obliged to say anything. They must not lie just to avoid scrutiny by the press.
The worst thing any presidential spokesperson could do is to take the public as naïve or gullible. Ever since President Muhammadu Buhari returned from his extended medical leave, the Presidency and the nation have been engaged in a dialogue of the deaf. Everyone is speaking and no one is listening. The Presidency believes it has the best plans to protect the President. Incidentally, the chief defender is the senior special assistant on media and publicity, Garba Shehu.
In his role as chief information curator, the senior special assistant often struggles to tell the truth. Shehu’s fanciful story that rats destroyed President Buhari’s office flies in the face of facts and common sense. When he told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and other local media that Buhari would work from home because some audacious rats destroyed the President’s office during his absence, Shehu did not realise the damage he had done to the office of President. That statement ridiculed Nigeria and cast us all in the image of jesters.
Shehu’s statement was not in the best interest of Buhari or Nigeria. The statement carried serious consequences in many ways. First, there was the impression that workers in the Presidency were so lax that they abdicated their responsibility to look after the President’s office when he was on medical vacation. How could rats chew the furniture and air conditioning units in the President’s office for three months without anyone noticing the damage? Paradoxically, the damage was noticed only after Buhari returned to Nigeria.
In trying to shield Buhari from possible criticisms of being unfit to resume work soon after he returned to the country, the President’s senior special assistant chose to present untruthful accounts of the situation in the President’s office. If the office of the President is not in a usable state, it could not be because of rat infestation or damage caused by rats.
By the extraordinary fictional story about rats in the President’s office, the senior special assistant has demonstrated lack of professionalism required to engage directly and truthfully with an increasingly sceptical public. There was no need to lie. Shehu could have told the truth, unvarnished truth, and attracted the sympathies and understanding of the Nigerian people.
I often wonder why presidential assistants or special advisers on media and publicity in Nigeria convey the impression they were hired to lie on behalf of the President. Why would the President’s senior special assistant engineer an eccentric tale about rats in the President’s office?
I am not aware that the ability to lie abundantly is a key criterion for the appointment of any President’s senior special assistant on media and publicity. Lying is an art. But it is not an art that comes easily to everybody. The scale of this scandal and the fact that the author of the far-fetched story has not been sanctioned or suspended for embarrassing the President should really make you wonder how we do things in Nigeria. What a shame. People who hold positions of responsibility should live up to public expectations.
It is true that the job of a senior special assistant on media and publicity might be difficult in certain situations, especially in a country in which too many people are cynical or distrustful of government. In our society, citizens do not trust political leaders. People have no faith in public office holders. This is perhaps the reason that there is no mutual trust between citizens and political leaders.
When citizens perceive politicians and public officials as amazingly corrupt and insincere, every explanation by government officials must be viewed with suspicion or as hype.
There have been instances in the past during which media assistants lied to the Nigerian people. During the time of President Goodluck Jonathan, the nation was served with a diet of lies so big it was difficult for anyone to crunch. When Jonathan’s wife travelled overseas secretly for medical check-up and treatment in 2012, her media assistant, Ayo Osinlu, denied vigorously in public and private that Mrs. Jonathan was ill and had travelled overseas for medical attention. He said without feeling embarrassed: “If you look at her itinerary in August, you will be wondering how she was able to accomplish that. In the course of this week, she will be back home. But remember, it all depends on her plans.”
However, the lie was later blown wide open at a special thanksgiving church service held at the Presidential Villa on Sunday, February 17, 2013, when Mrs. Jonathan narrated how a disturbing illness nearly consumed her life in the previous year. She told the congregation that she underwent nine surgeries in four weeks and that she was “dead” for seven days before God dragged her safely from the jaws of death in an overseas medical facility. You could see her narrative did not match the official lies told by the Presidency during her absence.
While Mrs. Jonathan was receiving treatment overseas, the Presidency maintained a consistent line of lies, which claimed that Mrs. Jonathan was holidaying in an undisclosed overseas country following her excess workload during the 2011 presidential election and the stress of hosting the African First Ladies’ Summit in Abuja.
That experience showed, as we have also realised from the story about rats and the President’s office, that lying comes naturally to media assistants and senior special assistants on media and publicity.
What is clearly obvious is that some genres of lies cannot be assembled and served to an audience that has grown increasingly apprehensive of government. The Presidency cannot continue to treat Nigerians as nursery school children. No one in the Presidency should ever force-feed citizens with false information evidently intended to mislead, misinform, misrepresent or deceive. We have all grown up, you know.
Marginalisation: Ndigbo to go spiritual
…As Ohanaeze inaugurates Igbo Day committee
From Chidi Nnadi, Enugu
Igbo apex socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, yesterday said that it would use its 2017 Igbo Day celebration to seek the face of God to help the Igbo nation overcome the long years of marginalisation and myriad of problems facing them in the country.
The Chairman, National Organising Committee of the 2017 Igbo Day celebration, Dr Gregory Ibe, who disclosed this at a world press conference held at the Ohanaeze secretariat in Enugu after the inauguration of the committee, said they have lined up several church activities for the one-week long celebration to seek divine solution to the problems of the Igbo, as well as pray for the nation.
His words: “As you are aware Ohanaeze annually organises the Igbo Day Celebration as a way of commemorating the unique Igbo traditional heritage. Against the backdrop of the current challenges of Ndigbo and as a way of seeking divine solutions to these problems, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has decided to use the annual Igbo Day Celebration for 2017 to mobilise Igbos across the globe to pray and seek the face of God for Nigeria and Ndigbo in particular.”
According to him, the prayers which would start in Sabbath and Celestial churches on September 23 would see the Igbo raising as prayer points supplications to God to help the Igbo get justice, peace and equity that would truly make them belong to Nigeria.
“The Igbo operate on the premise that there is God; God dictates the pace, so we will put everything in the hands of God, we are now looking unto God to help Nigeria to be one,” he said.
Dr Ibe, who is also the Chancellor and founder of Gregory University, Uturu, Abia State, said the theme of the celebration is “Oganiru Anyi di n’aka Chukwu”, meaning our moving forward is in the hands of God.
The chairman who said that the grand finale of the celebration would be held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State which is the host state with Enugu State co-hosting the event added that a day world be set aside for prophetic prayers in Abuja after an interdenominational service in selected churches across the country and in the Diaspora.
He said that Ohanaeze would mobilise Ndigbo at home and in the Diaspora to pray for the country to give the people their due in the nation, enjoining all Igbo to participate in all the programmes lined up for the celebration.