I am writing this letter to you because although it’s been just over two weeks since you were engaged by Nigeria’s president to mend his severely battered image and rebuild his reputation internationally, I had hoped that your impact would be seen and felt a lot more robustly by now. I had hoped you would prove me wrong because I am skeptical about how effectively you can resuscitate a lost cause, but after your initial appearance you seem to have retreated. From my perspective as a concerned Nigerian citizen, you are not justifying your pay.
You did, of course, write Jonathan’s op-ed in WaPo last week. The language and tone of the piece was so unlike the Jonathan we know, I’m eager to see how you will bridge the gap between our knowledge of Jonathan and the illusion you have been hired to create. You tried to make him look strong and in control while being empathetic at the same time. But so much water has passed under the bridge that words alone cannot erase the impression years of inactive and inept governance have formed in the minds of Nigerians. Consequently, you’ll have to do better than that.
I have some observations to make. Let’s begin with the initiatives that Jonathan mentioned yesterday, and also in his op-ed last week. First let’s talk about the Presidential Initiative in the North East (PINE). I have to say I like acronyms, and I almost like the PINE idea. My only criticism is that pine is a soft wood and considering the fact that we’re trying to create an image of toughness and strength it’s not really smart to associate the president’s initiatives with soft wood, is it? Couldn’t you find a way of changing it to SPINE? That may conjure an image of a president with a spine. Do you get what I’m saying? Just a thought.
While decrying the rate at which students drop out of school, the president made this incredibly profound and insightful statement: “If the dropout rate of students at the basic level is as high as 70 per cent, that means that only 30 per cent goes to school.” Really? You don’t say!
Levick, where are you?
Jonathan also said yesterday, “At the federal level, we have the Presidential Initiative in the North East (PINE). They are looking at the totality of what the Federal Government can do…” Who is the ‘they’? Shouldn’t it be “We are looking…?” Why does he seem to be distancing himself from PINE? I know it’s probably just semantics but isn’t that what we’re paying you for, Levick? To help our president communicate effectively?
The president went on to compound my confusion with this statement: “We initiated this initiative with government…” Who is the ‘we’? Is the ‘we’ separate from ‘government’? Isn’t it the government who initiated the initiative? And isn’t Jonathan the government? Is the ‘we’ in this sentence alluding to the ‘they’ in the former sentence? It’s all so confusing!
Levick, where are you?
On a different note, are you aware that it’s now almost 90 days since our girls were abducted? Now, I know you said that our government cannot give us details of the strategies they are employing to rescue our girls lest they jeopardize their recovery efforts, so I won’t ask about that. But I have three questions to ask.
1) The president spoke about the Victims Support Fund which will be launched on 16th July (perhaps to commemorate 90days of the abduction?). This is very noble. However, what is being done practically to support the families of the abducted girls now? Jibrin Ibrahim in his Premium Times column yesterday said ‘So far, seven of the parents of the girls have died from the strains induced by the trauma.’ If this is true, and I see no reason why this would be fabricated, what is being done to support the parents and ease this trauma? Yes, you cannot give us details of the rescue operations, but can you at least give us details about what specifically and practically our government is doing to support these families?
2) What support systems have been put in place to help the girls when they do return? Would you kindly tell us, again in specific terms, what will be done when they return? For while we would like to believe the best, unfortunately, we have to assume the worst. So as cruel as this may sound let’s assume the girls have been raped. Some of them may be pregnant. They will have to live with the shame that rape victims feel, even when they are the innocent victims of these heinous actions. When they return they will be suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome. Memories of their abduction and their abductors will haunt them. They have lived for close to three months now with the fear of harm and possibly death. It will not be easy to shake this off. What happens then, Levick? Have counselling centres been set up to help the victims and their families deal with this trauma? Do we have medical facilities and competent personnel to respond to the needs that will undoubtedly arise when they return? Because if truly we believe that we will get our girls back then we do not need to wait until it happens to prepare for their return.
3) Finally, Levick, I have to ask you this on behalf of all concerned Nigerian citizens: does the scope of your remit extend to the first lady? Levick, if you are able to successfully overhaul the image of Nigeria’s first lady, I really and truly will doff my metaphoric hat off to you.
Ms. Ishaya Audu, a lawyer, school administrator, and member of the Premium Times editorial board maintains a Friday column on politics, policy, culture, and the Nigerian life. She writes from Abuja.