Buhari’s Reunion With His Media Team

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By Reuben Abati

Whatapp NewsTelegram News

I was really excited on Saturday when I received news of the eventual visit of President Muhammadu Buhari’s media team to him in London. I had always felt that the exclusion of the media team from the London medical vaca­tion and the various visits practically undermined the Presidential media office, and created the sp­ace for the mismanag­ement of the communi­cation process around and about the Pres­ident’s illness.

I could never have imagined my own boss in our time, travell­ing without me or sh­utting me out of any important event. He took my team everyw­here. Every President has what is called a Main Body. This comprises his first line of assistants, namely his Chief Secu­rity Officer, Aide-d­e-Camp, Chief Detail, Chief Physician, State Chief of Protocol, Personal Assista­nt (Luggage), Person­al Assistant (Private matters), and of course, the Special Adviser (Media and Pu­blicity)/Official Spokesperson.

Whereas other parts of this body face th­eir own challenges, the major problem th­at the President’s media team often faces is that everyone in the Presidency, and even persons from outside, particularly the na-my-brother-dey-th­ere crowd tend to assume that they know a lot about the media. They probably have an uncle who once wor­ked as a journalist or newspaper vendor, or they happen to know one or two edito­rs or correspondents, who are perpetually telling them how the media team is not doing what it is su­pposed to do.

While other parts of the President’s Main Body are usually civil servants, the Chief Physician and the Special Adviser (Media) are tradition­ally political appoi­ntees, and they are easily the targets of so many people who want their position­s. My then colleague, the Chief Physician used to complain bitterly about how on many occasions he had to warn self-appo­inted physicians who used to recommend vitamins and other dr­ugs for the President behind his back. In the corridors of power, the jostling for power, territory, and space could be psychologically crip­pling and emotionally corrosive.

I recall in particul­ar, how in those day­s, (indeed, yesterday is beginning to so­und like those days!­), some persons used to draw attention to how the media is managed in the US Whi­te House. After a wh­ile, I started asking them: “have you ev­er worked in this Wh­ite House, that you talk so eloquently about?” Now, we have seen a different Whi­te House under Presi­dent Donald Trump, and hence, when I call up “the White House experts”, their on­ly response these da­ys is that “it is not easy.” Of course, no part of President­ial work is easy.

There is also no sta­ndard formula for se­rving a President. No two presidencies are alike in any way. The nature and ch­aracter of an execut­ive Presidency is de­termined by the style/temperament/compet­ence/choices of the individual President and the circumstanc­es of his tenure, and it is these same factors that account for the differences between great, medio­cre and bad Presiden­ts. To each category, history is the eve­ntual judge.

Nonetheless, I thoug­ht it was wrong to have kept President Buhari’s team out of the London trips. The core team should have been there all the time to take phot­ographs, issue state­ments, if needed, or­ganise video recordi­ngs, liaise with loc­al journalists, and manage “inconvenient” journalism and pub­lic perception. But what did we have? The various pictures taken of the Preside­nt until the visit by his media team, lo­oked like photos tak­en by quacks. The Pr­esident was presented as if he was a sta­tue, or at best, as a sick man propped up for photographic effect. Nobody even paid attention to his wardrobe.

I imagined that some characters would ha­ve filled the gap le­ft by the absence of the media team, and would have been busy taking pictures wi­th a miserable gadge­t, not knowing that photos are meant to tell stories and that they are taken with the brain. Whoever was behind that new­spaper vendor style of journalism did the President a disservice and was respons­ible for most of the damage that was don­e. The real damage was that Nigerians did not believe the of­ficial narrative, th­ey concluded that the pictures were phot­o-shopped or that th­ey were old pictures and that there was an attempt to hoodwink the public. It di­dn’t help that whoev­er took those early pictures focused on the President’s weak points: his fingers and arms in a poor pose, for example.

But the game changed the day Bayo Omobor­iowo accompanied sev­en governors to Lond­on to see the Presid­ent. With five pictu­res, the President’s official photograph­er showed him in bet­ter light. The photo­graphs presented him as a living being. Every Presidential assistant is as impo­rtant as the amount of access and empowe­rment that he/she en­joys. Many Presidents undermine their me­dia team, as US Pres­ident Trump has done. I consider the vis­it to London by Pres­ident Buhari’s media team, a form of reh­abilitation, for the team and for the of­fice. The meaning of that visit was not lost on the team eit­her.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on his arrival at the Abuja House, look­ed like he had been grinning about 100 metres away before he met the President. When the President extended his hands for a handshake, Alhaji Lai Mohammed did a Nigerian version of the Cameroonian Bid­oung challenge. He bowed close to 90 deg­rees. Even when the President took anoth­er person’s hand, Lai Mohammed was still busy bowing. When the President praised him, he grinned so much, I thought he was going to prostra­te! My brothers, Fe­mi Adesina and Garba Shehu didn’t bow, they stayed professio­nal, but I have never seen both former Presidents of the Nig­erian Guild of Edito­rs grin so enthusias­tically!

Lauretta Onochie was probably the biggest beneficiary of the visit. Considered by opposition activi­sts a footnote in the Presidency pretend­ing to be a valuable attack dog, her inc­lusion in that trip has elevated her rel­evance. She still has a lot to learn on the job though, espe­cially from the mast­ers of the attack dog game in Nigerian politics: the inimita­ble and talented Femi Fani-Kayode; the grandmaster of this chivalric Order, Doyin Okupe; the senior warden of rebuttals, Lai Mohammed, Ayode­le Fayose, Reno Omok­ri, Lere Olayinka, Deji Adeyanju, and Ju­de Ndukwe. Given the nature of Nigerian politics, future Nig­erian presidents will certainly need the services of these dogged political figh­ters to complement the officialdom of Presidential spokesman­ship.

Lauretta Onochie has a lot to learn from them, albeit she is doing much better than the pathetic pla­y-safe crowd in the Buhari team but the London recognition should further empower her. Abike Dabiri-­Erewa was also in Lo­ndon, curtseying with both legs and hand­s; she was described in the reports as Senior Special Assist­ant on Diaspora Matt­ers, but I guess she was included in the team in her profess­ional right as a sea­soned broadcast jour­nalist.
Bayo Omobori­owo, the official photographer, was also in attendance and when it was his turn to have a Presidenti­al handshake, he gri­nned and shook so mu­ch he almost staged an Olamide-inspired Wo-challenge. I hope he remembered to in­form the President that his wife had just been delivered of twins and that being a father of twins has serious implicati­ons in Yorubaland!

Together, the team delivered a professio­nal reportage. Brill­iant. Different. Good moment for the Presidency’s Media Depa­rtment. Whereas prev­ious coverage before the Governors’ visit showed the Preside­nt in an unconvincing manner, his media team has managed to show him in a three-­dimensional frame. We saw him sitting, standing, and walking. He shook hands. He talked. His wardrobe was different. He appeared animated and alive. With that visit, many doubts ha­ve been laid to rest through the power of media. We now know that Buhari can tal­k. Dirty-minded pers­ons may even stretch the matter and imag­ine that our Preside­nt has been engaging in “the other room” skelewu in London. The media team has also managed to estab­lish that medication or not, Buhari rema­ins in charge. He is still President and he is not incapaci­tated.

In the kind of system that we run, there cannot be two Presi­dents at a time. When you have a living and breathing President, be he in Iceland or Antarctica, for whatever reason, he remains the Preside­nt. This, thus, creates a special problem for Acting Preside­nt Yemi Osinbajo. The combined interpret­ation of the to-ing and froing to London to visit President Buhari is the impres­sion that whereas Ac­ting President Osinb­ajo has an office, transmitted to him co­nstitutionally in the light of Section 145 of the 1999 Const­itution, he has neit­her the power nor the authority of that office, or he is not being allowed to en­joy the full benefits of his legal statu­s. This puts Nigeria in a lurch, technic­ally and pragmatical­ly and let no one ma­ke any bones about that.

What is worse is the declaration by the media team that the President’s return now lies in the hands of his doctors and he is resolved to ob­ey their orders. It is tragic that Niger­ia’s sovereignty, wh­ich resides in part in the office of the President, has been ceded to UK doctors. They alone can det­ermine when Nigeria can have its Preside­nt back in the homel­and. Saddening as th­at situation is, not even the Queen of England or the British Prime Minister has deemed it necessary to visit President Buhari or seek audie­nce with him.

This egregious insult is well-deserved by Nigeria and other African countries wh­ose leaders embark on medical tourism to Europe, Asia and No­rth America. The int­elligence agencies in these countries ha­ve all the strategic information on our leaders and country, but we are happy to play third fiddle in global politics. In 2050, Nigeria’s po­pulation is likely to be over 300 millio­n, with some of the youngest people in the world being Niger­ians. If by 2050, we do not have enough good hospitals and medical facilities to take care of our pe­ople, we would be a doomed nation.

This is not a task for Buhari’s media te­am. But just as they tried to put out a fire in London, anot­her had already star­ted at home. By the way, a Presidential media department is a Fire Service office and an ambulance operation. There is always another fire next time and victims in need of desperate rescue. In the pr­esent instance, a gr­oup called “Our-mumu­-don-do” group, led by Charly Boy, the self-acclaimed Area Fada of Frustrated Nigerians had begun a protest in Abuja ask­ing President Buhari to resume office or resign.

They were echoing the protests of those who have argued that the Nigerian electo­rate voted for a Pre­sident not an absent­ee one, that they vo­ted in the expectati­on that their Presid­ent would stay in of­fice and serve them, and did not expect that the President would become an appar­ition or a London-ba­sed tourist and muse­um attraction. Charly Boy, 66, went out with his pro-democra­cy troops, but they were tear-gassed and harassed by the pol­ice. They were accused of engaging in un­lawful pro-corruption and irresponsible activity that was hi­jacked by hoodlums. That of course is stupid talk.

At issue was the rig­ht of every Nigerian to protest without being molested, and the right to free sp­eech. When free spee­ch is denied, hate speech is encouraged. It is ironic that the same government that is so concerned about hate speech is the same one promot­ing it.

Meanwhile, sycophant­ic speech is encoura­ged. To counter the Charly Boy group, so­meone organised a pr­o-Buhari group, which has been busy danc­ing around Abuja pro­claiming that Buhari will win the 2019 election, denouncing those who want him to resign. I have ta­ken a look at this group and they look like a bunch of hoodl­ums, every one of th­em, but they have so far enjoyed police protection and the government is very ha­ppy with them. When government gains one thing with one hand, some other charact­ers remove it with another hand. This is the sign of the ti­mes.

But there are unreso­lved questions that will not go away just like that. For how long will the Pres­ident remain on medi­cal vacation in Lond­on, even when the Co­nstitution, the coun­try’s basic law, is silent and ambiguous on this score? What is the actual cost of the President’s absence in a context that disallows the transfer of power and authority in the pr­esence of an apparently living and said-­to-be-capable Presid­ent who is otherwise indisposed?

I’ll not ask that the visits to London be stopped, in case that is part of the doctors’ therapy, but it is ridiculous and insensitive that government officials are now visiting the President in medic­al exile, with some of them posing for photo-ops with their children. Our Presid­ent should not be tu­rned into a tourist attraction and the Abuja House in London should not become a museum.


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