In one of his first calls, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed former university lecturer, Mallam Garuba Shehu and Mr. Femi Adesina, the President of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, spokesmen. Shehu will serve as Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity) and Adesina, Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity). To translate the hiring in Jonathenese, one of them will be a Reuben Abati and the other, an Attack Lion/Bastard/ Doyin Okupe.
Shehu and Adesina are honorable men. They represent the cream of excellence of journalism. And they are abundantly capable of managing President Buhari’s public communications.
But if the honor we presume them to have is real, one of them ought to respectfully decline the appointment. The reason is so obvious it doesn’t have to be mentioned: The President doesn’t need two spokesmen. Either of them is sufficiently competent to serve the President well without the putative supplementation.
Of course, this appointment, like every human act, is potentially defensible. A little hairsplitting and a subtle delineation of territory, and we would have two distinct job descriptions: a basis to argue that Shehu and Adesina were tapped to fill two real vacancies. Their offices do not overlap.
But the truth is that Garuba Shehu and Femi Adesina won’t have separate offices. They have a split appointment. They would be expected to share power.
This suggestion to reject the offer would certainly be an outlier to the stream of felicitations they have been getting since Buhari signed off on their appointment. I imagine they are currently dealing with an avalanche of congratulatory messages. This had been rumored long before it was confirmed. Long lost friends, age mates, classmates, professional colleagues and total strangers are thanking God for their ‘’well deserved’’ appointments – and repeating the final wish of the sober thieve crucified next to Jesus, ‘’ remember me in your paradise.’’
The roar of the crowd of family and well-wishers is sure to outcompete with the small, still voice of reason. And Shehu and Adesina could yield to the self-contrived temptation to resolve the contention by siding with the swing of the democratic pendulum. They could decide to take the doublespeak job on the strength of a poll majority: ‘’those who are for us are greater than those against us.’’
But they would have betrayed their deep convictions. They would have turned their back on thousands of followers who pursue their opinion and hold them to be models of patriotism. They would have traded their name for the orgasm of power.
Both Shehu and Adesina have penned forceful columns, attacking the dysfunction of the structures of government. They have relentlessly combated the rationale for many needless political appointments. Never have they shrunk from seizing any opportune moment to shame the authorities to rethink the tradition of overpopulating government offices.
Now they are personally involved. They used to fight against the system, as outsiders. They have been invited to enter that same system and become its salaried advocates.
They have been offered a chance to subscribe to a philosophy that they had passionately derided and questioned. They can be beneficiaries of the rot. They can grow richer, increase their clout and accumulate privileged eye-witness experience of the Abuja theatre –the stuff best-selling memoirs are made of.
But if Garuba Shehu and Femi Adesina have a drop of honor, they would not acquiesce to be cast as caricatures of their former selves. They would send the message to President Buhari that he has to choose one spokesman or none of them would accept the appointment. They would not accept his doublespeak job offer.
President Buhari had remarked in his inaugural that Nigerian leaders have often ‘’misread their mission’’. Shehu and Garuba have a wonderful opportunity to advise Buhari to recheck his reading of his own calling. Buhari simply acted like a Jonathan. Hire one spokesman for fairly decent public engagement. And hire another one for disparaging your critics. That’s exactly how to read your own mission through the spectacles of an ugly precedent.
The hire of two for the job of one conforms to the old inefficient stereotype. It is a gesture of allegiance to a detestable past. The change we voted for obligates President Buhari to conduct the affairs of government and to staff his administration in a radically different and sensible way. And Shehu and Adesina should not acquiesce to be cast in a sequel to the past.
It’s been speculated that many Nigerian journalists, columnists especially, criticize the government because of ulterior motives. They do not write the wrongs so that the people in power could take notice and right them. They don’t disparage the system because its inherent malfeasance is inimical to the progress of Nigeria. They write because they are angry that the system is yet to admit them. They write to win attention and earn a foothold in government. And we have had otherwise brilliant writers validate that cynical suspicion.
Upon taking the appointment, they bend themselves to rationalizing the most stupid actions of their employer. They insult the rest of us; they call us emotive and naïve. We gravely err because we have yet to be exposed to the ambiance of the higher realms in which they now live. They say so condescendingly that we don’t understand the workings of government outside it. If we were to taste the fruit in the centre of the garden of Aso Rock, our eyes would open and we would join the choir singing the government’s praise!
The hypocrisy is revolting. Because they become so born again, so desperate to metamorphose and adapt to their new world that they tragically overcompensate by being aggressively zealous. They become apologists of the regime, with an interminable tolerance that precludes them from resigning.
Garuba Shehu and Femi Adesina have a clear choice. Grab the doublespeak job quickly – before more enthusiastic people take it. Or turn down the amorphous job offer. But the choice they make would define them – forever!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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