While an undergraduate at the University of Ilorin, UNILORIN, one basic (textbook) principle of reporting I learnt as a journalism student was that a few things said by an aide could be reported to have been said by his or her principal. It becomes a no-brainer if such aide works in the media department. My tutor and mentor, Liad Tella, himself a veteran of the profession, would however always add a caveat: let decency, decorum and sound ethical journalism principles dictate what you eventually publish. Of course I never saw the wisdom in the words of the veteran until recently.
As a reporter, I always struggle to pay little or no attention to whatever comes from Lauretta Onochie, President Muhammadu Buhari’s social media aide––irrespective of its news value. Ms. Onochie’s numerous gaffes, to my mind, are capable of unsettling even the most unthinking fanatical supporter of his principal. I sometimes imagine the chaos the nation would have been thrown into if, just once, any of her utterances and “gutter fights” were to be attributed directly to her principal. But then I have read many people rationalise her notoriety on the basis that she is employed to do what she is exactly doing, an argument that enjoys its validity from Ms. Onochie’s continuous stay in that position and, worse still, her descent – or could it be ascent, depending on how one perceives her job description? – into the Golgotha of indecency by the day.
But Ms Onochie’s notoriety on cyber Nigeria comes as no surprise, frankly. In the strict professional sense of it, she comes into the office largely un-credentialed. (She, by the way, got the job because she reportedly played an ‘important role’ in the election that brought in Mr Buhari, having served in the media directorate of the Buhari Support Organisation, BOS). It is then arguable that her conception of what it entails to do the job she is recruited for would be dictated by her narrow perception of issues, largely from the political angle. Her divisive, largely uncultured, them-against-us outbursts on Twitter, many of which are devoid of the decency expected of contents emanating from an aide to the president of the nation, are pointers to this.
In her conception of media engagement, or so it appears, there is no gulf between governance and politics; there is no difference between the period of electioneering and the time to deliver on promises made on the campaign podium. It’s all about media usage for crude politics, divisive propaganda and imbecilic lies. When the chips are down, it appears, she would have made more enemies for her principals than friends. But that’s by the way.
If Ms. Onochie, given her background, could be forgiven, ignored even, for her numerous gaffes, the case of the two principal spokespersons of Mr Buhari––Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu––appears quite worrisome.
What makes the case of both journalists worrisome, indeed, is that both are not just veterans with decades of experience in the profession, they at different times served as presidents of the profession’s apex body, the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Mr Adesina, in particular, was renown for his lucid writings in his column on the backpage of DAILY SUN on Fridays (particularly because of the initials of his memorable email address––‘Kulikuli’); while Mr Shehu, one of the finest journalists to emerge from the nation’s north, once served as media adviser to former vice president Atiku Abubakar. The credentials notwithstanding, events of the last three years, particularly the last few months, have been troubling.
In recent time, there appears to be a much coveted weekly prize for the most embarrassing presidential press statement between these two veterans of the journalism profession. And by my deliberate usage of the word embarrassing, I am keeping it civil. The gaffes are too much that an attempt at listing them here would be futile. But a keen look into one or two would perhaps drive home the point.
Earlier in the week, Vanguard newspaper reported that Mr Adesina whimsically dismissed people’s attachment to their ancestral home as central to the conflict we are witnessing on the Plateau and other parts of the country where “suspected Fulani herdsmen” are maiming and killing people.
The paper reported that while speaking on an AIT morning programme in response to a question on ancestral attachments to land, Mr Adesina said: “Ancestral attachment? You can only have ancestral attachment when you are alive. If you are talking about ancestral attachment, if you are dead, how does the attachment matter?”
If this statement, bereft of tact as it appears, is juxtaposed against similar statements that the presidency has been churning out on the killings in recent times, one may not need to look out for the equally insensitive comments of some of the spokespersons of Miyetti Allah in recent time.
Earlier, Mr Adesina it was who reeled out figures of casualties during the government of Goodluck Jonathan, juxtaposing it against his boss’ as though governance is a contest of blood-fest.
Placed side-by-side with the optics of Mr Buhari’s pro-Fulani demeanours in the middle of the whole kerfuffle, conspiracy theories don’t come “more logical”. Expectedly, Mr Adesina has been the butt of jokes on Twitter and Facebook, raising once again the age-long debate on whether journalists are essentially good publicists. It is doubtful whether Mr Shehu would allow Mr Adesina take the glory all alone for so long a period before he comes up with his own “bombshell”.
So when Mr Buhari lamented the other day that those who accuse him of giving tactical support to the people behind the killings are being mischievous, he is probably not conscious of his own immediate realities. And these realities are evident, first, in his own annoyingly insouciant reaction to the killings and, again, in the atrocious wordings of the press statements his aides continue to churn out.
In all, er, well, while one expects that the president will take decisive actions about the madness going on on the Plateau, in Benue, in Zamfara, in Taraba and elsewhere, SATIRE SATURDAY also expects that his major spokespersons would be more circumspect in their public engagements going forward.
As per Ms Onochie, it may be pointless mentioning her own misdemeanor here. It is doubtful if she is not enjoying a pay raise in the middle of all this, given the energy she commits into the job daily. In the spirit of patriotism, SATIRE SATURDAY is tempted to inform her principal about her own misdemeanor too but then, it might be a waste of resources and energy.
In essence, even the most undiscerning observer of public communication and perception trends would know for a fact that in recent time, aside the president’s own failings, some of Mr Buhari’s aides are to the president what AIDS is to the human system: destructive agents. But then, what if Mr Buhari is not aware of all of these, even?
Follow Olawoyin Oladeinde on Twitter via @Ola_deinde