President Goodluck Jonathan’s first ever known opinion article has surfaced in the Washington Post, after it became clear the president is splashing N195 million of public funds on a U.S. firm to whitewash his struggling image made worse by the Chibok schoolgirls abductions.
In an Op-Ed by the president and published by the United States-based newspaper Thursday, Mr. Jonathan delivered a poignant assurance to the international community that has scathingly criticised his effort at rescuing the kidnapped girls.
“My heart aches for the missing children and their families. I am a parent myself, and I know how awfully this must hurt. Nothing is more important to me than finding and rescuing our girls,” the president wrote in the 504-word article.
The president said he remained quiet about “continuing efforts” by Nigeria’s military, police and investigators to rescue the girls, to avoid “compromising the details of our investigation”.
He said his silence has been misused by partisan critics to suggest inaction or even weakness.
“But let me state this unequivocally: My government and our security and intelligence services have spared no resources, have not stopped and will not stop until the girls are returned home and the thugs who took them are brought to justice,” the president said.
For months, Mr. Jonathan has faced crushing criticisms at home and abroad for his lukewarm response to a bloody insurgency by the extremist Boko Haram sect that has killed at least 12,000 Nigerians since 2009.
International outrage at the Jonathan administration’s effort at rooting Boko Haram- including a largely ineffective emergency rule in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States- reached unprecedented levels after the abduction of nearly 300 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State April 14.
While the girls remain in captivity two months later, news reports have shown this week how the president launched a blistering image rework, splashing $1.2 million on a U.S. Public Relations and lobby firm, Levick, to help change “international and local media narrative”.
Washington DC based newspaper, The Hill, which reports the U.S. Congress, quoted details of the contract including Levick’s promise to assist the Nigerian government in effecting “real change”.
“A more comprehensive approach using vehicles such as public diplomacy and engaging outside experts to enact real changes is how the advocacy industry is evolving,” Phil Elwood, a Vice President at Levick, told The Hill.
Levick will also be working with Jared Genser, a human rights attorney, who has worked for notable personalities such as South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutut and Burmese pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi in the past to publicise “President Goodluck Jonathan Administration’s past, present and future priority to foster transparency, democracy and the rule of law throughout Nigeria.”
The effort will cover opinion articles published by foreign media outlets, advertisements, video production and internet campaign.
The piece published by the Washington Post is said to be part of that effort. The article is Mr. Jonathan’s first ever known, and evidently, its appearance in a foreign outlet is not a coincidence.
Since taking office as president in 2010, the Nigerian president has not granted interview to any Nigerian news outlet beyond speaking to reporters at events, and holding a periodic interview with a panel of journalists drawn from varied outlets and beamed live on state-owned Nigerian Television Authority, NTA.
Some of his key decisions and pronouncements have been made public through foreign outlets, mainly the CNN.
Mr. Jonathan delivered his first public comments on late President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s health, in an interview with Ms. Amanpour in 2010, where he spoke of how the ailing president’s family blocked him from seeing Mr. Yar’adua.
The president has also yet to respond to a request for interview with PREMIUM TIMES. The president did not even acknowledge receipt of the letter requesting the interview which was couriered to his office more than a month ago.
But long before the Boko Haram insurrection spiralled out of control, Mr. Jonathan maintained a fair appearance on foreign outlets, even paying to appear for interviews on foreign channels.
In 2013, PREMIUM TIMES obtained documents showing how the president paid another American lobbying firm, Fleshman-Hillard Inc, $60,000 to help arrange these interviews with foreign channels including the CNN.
Fleishman-Hillard Inc. later informed PREMIUM TIMES that out of the stated sum, it received only $40,000 for fixing the president’s appearances on the foreign channels.
The company said the service was in support of the president’s trip to New York for the 2010 United Nations General Assembly.
This time though, the president manifestly has more to deal with, as he faces unrelenting criticisms over Boko Haram. He appears determined to deliver a heartfelt message to U.S. policy makers who have labelled his government corrupt and inept.
The president also seeks to shed light on Nigeria’s peculiarities, and make the international community understand the local challenges allowing Boko Haram to fester.
“In Nigeria, there are political, religious and ethnic cleavages to overcome if we are to defeat Boko Haram,” he wrote in the Washington Post article.
“We need greater understanding and outreach between Muslims and Christians. We also know that, as it seeks to recruit the gullible, Boko Haram exploits the economic disparities that remain a problem in our country.
“We are addressing these challenges through such steps as bringing stakeholders together and creating a safe schools initiative, a victims’ support fund and a presidential economic recovery program for northeastern Nigeria. We are also committed to ridding our country of corruption and safeguarding human and civil rights and the rule of law.”