These have not been the best of times for President Goodluck Jonathan. Since the Nyanya bomb blast that consumed over 70 souls and the abduction of nearly 300 teenage school girls from Chibok in Borno State, the President has been at the receiving end of well-aimed barbs.
As he confessed recently, it is impossible for him to sleep. The President cannot sleep because he is obviously dazed from uncountable blows carefully aimed and delivered on his head by cerebral pugilists from Nigeria and across the world.
From acerbic press conferences and/or statements by international icons to scathing editorials by media houses, both local and foreign, the President has been ridiculed, vilified and maligned using all known literary weapons – caricature, burlesque, lampoon, mimicry, parody, travesty, and even outright abuse to maximum effect. Indeed, no known President in history has been so rubbished. I sympathize with him.
The Guardian, renowned for its fierce independence and from whose stable the President’s spokesman got elevated to his current position, fired the first damning salvo in a searing editorial entitled, “The insensitivity in Kano”. This opened the floodgates of vitriolic editorials and
press statements. The Economist of London and the New York Times followed suit with – “A Clueless Government” and “Jonathan leads a corrupt government that has little credibility”.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, America’s immediate past Secretary of State, and Senator John McCain completed the routing from the US end. This is apart from comments by numerous other international figures, other local newspapers’ editorials and satellite TV news reviews in which the President is repeatedly and continually called names. But, “if you must blame the hawk for being harsh”, says an African proverb, “you must first scold mother-hen for exposing her chicks to danger”.
The immediate cause of this barrage of abuses is the seeming nonchalance of the government at rescuing the kidnapped girls. No government, however misguided and incompetent, will go to sleep when such a huge number of her young citizenry are abducted.
Without a grain of doubt, the government must have been doing her best to rescue these young students, but President’s media team failed to live up to expectation. The President is not expected to brief the nation daily on steps the government is taking to rescue the abducted girls. It is someone’s duty for which he lives off the government and is handsomely remunerated.
Yet the President is lampooned for the ineffectual rescue efforts because the buck stops on his table. Even the military spokesman that claimed that the military had rescued nearly all the abducted girls, a day after the incidence, when the contrary was true, didn’t help the image of Jonathan and his government.
The President’s image makers (Dr. Doyin Okupe, Dr. Reuben Abati, Mr. Labaran Maku and Mr. Reno Omokri; and the PDP spokesman, Mr. Olisa Metuh) have been both ineffectual and ineffective in their duties. Indeed, the team’s performance has been woeful and shamefully disgraceful. Whereas the President is sincere and determined to improve on the fortunes of Nigerians, the opposition hung the tag of
‘cluelessness’ on his neck.
It is the duty of his image makers to repeatedly inform and educate the public that the President is not what he is called by the opposition. This is done through persuasion not the abrasiveness and gutter language that Abati and Okupe employs in tackling critics. A presidential spokesman represents the President and must thus appear presidential in carriage, speech and demeanor, at all times.
On CNN, both Dr. Okupe and Mr. Labaran Maku, the Minister of Information, caught a pitiable picture. They were unsure of their answers when interviewed by Isha Sesay on the actions taken so far by the government to rescue the missing girls, so much so that in order to cover up their inadequacies, they resorted to shouting to intimidate the journalist who stood her ground.
Both were abrasive, unpresidential in comportment and incoherent. Like millions of viewers, I was also baffled when they confessed that three weeks after the abduction of the school teenage girls, an information centre was yet to be set up.
When are we going to learn to get things right? Is the President to set up an information centre? What is the duty of Mr. Labaran Maku, Dr. Okupe, Dr. Abati and Mr. Reno Omokri, if they have to wait on Mr. President to personally direct them to set up an information centre on the abducted girls? The President is being insulted because of the failure and gross incompetence of his image makers.
Most bewildering was Mr. Labaran Maku’s unmitigated incoherence on the allegation that the military was informed some four hours before the attack on Chibok began, but did nothing. Hear Labaran Maku, “I will investigate”. “No, we will investigate”. “No, I will investigate”, “I will investigate”, “We will investigate”. This was most ignominious.
Dr. Okupe, on the other hand, said that they have not being relaying to the public the actions of the government because they (the government) are not showbiz people. So how do the citizenry get to know what the government is doing when they are kept in the dark? Would you then blame the citizenry, who because of lack of information from the government, accuse it of nonchalance and incompetence?
Political communication strategists aver that politics is war in which munitions are not deployed. Like the prosecution of war that involves tactics and propaganda, politics also involves these two key tactics.
Josef Goebbels, the head of the Nazi propaganda machine, once quipped that “a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth”. The opposition hung the tag of “a clueless President” on the neck of
Goodluck Jonathan and it has been so oft-repeated that it is turning into the President’s middle name and gradually becoming the truth.
This is “kitchen sink” that was poured on the President by the opposition, as American political communications strategists would say, and it is embarrassingly disconcerting that it has stuck because of the ineffective and ineffectual media team of Mr. President.
It is discomfiting and shameful that the President’s media team has not been able to wash this off with huge budgets and national electronic media – TV and radio – at their disposal.
If the negative perception of the President’s personality and performance is to change, he must wield the big stick. His ‘clueless’ team of image makers that has no answer to the opposition propaganda machine must be sacked. They are to blame for the vilifications Mr. President has been visited with. They are dead woods and must be fired without delay.
Finally, seasoned political communications strategists have of late being at work for Gen. Buhari (retd.), and the difference is evident. Who would have imagined that such persuasive press statements crafted in sweet prose and perfumed diction, would have emanated from the table of the strong-talking Buhari?
Gen. Buhari’s two statements in the past three weeks have helped his approval rating which has soared going by the comments of readers of Nigerian online newspapers. Following the release of the first press statement on the Nyanya bombing, even the President hailed Gen. Buhari as a respected statesman.
That is the effect of a good media team – to shore up and sustain a positive image of their principal. Given the fierce urgency of the moment, the President needs a good team of political communications strategists and consultants to replace his current
failed media team.
Written By Dr. Prosper Ahworegba
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