Friday, April 18, 2014

Keeping vigil for the infallible Dame, By Nasir Suwaid

Published:

Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwaid says that the media aide in the presidency mismanaged the first lady’s illness.

My impressionable years as a child were a period of unique discoveries about humans as social beings who act within a certain parameters of what is acceptable and what is not. For instance, because ill health is a fate bestowed upon us by nature, when anyone is afflicted , everyone including his or her most trenchant enemies sympathise with the person (at least outwardly) because it is the universally accepted norm.

I fully exploited the human state during my early years of life. Whenever I wanted to ditch school, avoid a compulsory house chore, drew unnecessary pity and ask for undeserved favours, either in form of cash or other valuables, I feigned illness.

It was in the context of such a primordial thinking, that the reported but officially denied illness of Nigeria’s first lady came to my notice. The media reported that the first lady suffered from a ruptured appendicitis, while the government’s stand is that a tired public official is taking a deserved rest from a hectic First Ladies Summit schedule.

But unfortunately for the administrations information management team, the mass media gained the public’s trust and majority of Nigerians took to the story of the media. As such most news outlets or portals became awash with all kinds of stories about the health status of the presidential spouse, but the expected pouring of sympathy from the readership community seems to be missing from such forums.

Perhaps this was the greatest fear of the president. At the last National Working Committee meeting of the People’s Democratic Party, he openly complained about the propaganda available to Nigerians. The president opined that the propaganda is the handiwork of the opposition whom he considers vile, vicious and unpatriotic.

The president also inferred that his information management aides failed in their duties and announced the beginning of new tactics in handling media matters. It was the president who said that there is no greater threat to the trust between a government and its citizens than lack of information. He agrees that it only leads to destructive rumours and dangerous speculations.

Indeed, it is on that basis that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan appointed Dr. Doyin Okupe as his Senior Special Assistant for Public Affairs. Upon Mr. Okupe’s assumption, he announced himself the attack lion of the administration. Yet, in the past few days, the self acclaimed king of the jungle, hardly roared a clarification, on the health condition of the mother of the nation.

Recently, the ever communicative Dr. Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, had in the previous week gallantly defended his principal with a much celebrated article. But he suddenly became unavailable to answer queries about such an important matter. The issue if left un-clarified would simply feed the rumour mills.

But, it was the First lady’s Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Ayo Osinlu, who spectacularly failed his boss. All the first lady really needs from him is to court and build sympathy for her. She is already a figure who is not liked very much and could certainly do with some empathy. Ill health is not the sort of weakness that should be hidden from the curious Nigerian public; after all, no matter the narcissistic belief and tendency of a government critic, he or she could never ascribe infallibility or immortality to the first lady.

Hoarding any information makes the media desperate. And since the issues of confidentiality between a doctor and patient exist, a journalist is caught between the need to provide factual data and the normal human trait of pandering to rumours. Thus the journalist will use what is accessible to it, he will make conjectures from the bits and pieces of information it gets to develop a story, and the public is left to make its judgment from what is available in the media.

It would be highly disingenuous to ascribe Godly powers to journalists; the journalist has no ability to know everything, if his legitimate right to information is hindered.

Indeed as the presidential media management team have often trumpeted to the admirers and supporters of this administration, it is the present leadership in Nigeria that effected the existence and functionality of the Freedom of Information Act. They say it is a bid to bridge the gap between the government and its citizens, with the press playing the critical role of a convenient tool and vehicle for the dissemination of information.

Thus it is exceedingly counterproductive and even comical to hide facts about public officials, when it is a much easier and need I say a more smarter option, to manage such a circumstance to the greatest benefit of a politician by projecting the image of a servant leader, who fell to stress as a result of strict adherence to the code of selfless work ethics.

As such rather than the First lady resting from hosting an event, let the tedious duty of assisting the president in delivering the necessary dividends of democracy, be the likely cause of her momentous faltering into a hospital bed.

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