Inasmuch as I admire the person of Mr. Femi Adeshina, the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, The Sun newspapers, for his resourcefulness, professionalism and humility, I am at not sure as to whether to congratulate or sympathise with him on his reported appointment as the new Special Assistant to the President on Media in the incoming Muhammadu Buhari administration.
My fears flow from two main sources. First, Buhari has never had it smooth with the media. He is not known to be media friendly. His reputation as a dictator during his term as Nigerian Head of State (1983-1985) may pass on well as the darkest period in the Nigerian media history, with the notorious Decree 4 featuring prominently. The recent reported “ban” on African Independent Television (AIT) from covering his activities as president-elect strengthens this position. This is one area Mr. Adeshina’s professionalism and maturity are likely to be put to test.
Secondly, he is going to be playing very “dirty” roles. This is perhaps my worst fear for Adeshina. For a man who attends a Church that places much emphasis on holiness, Deeper Life Bible Church (DLBC), how he plays this delicate role, going by what happened to previous occupants of the office, appears herculean!
I recently got the chance to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm again and I cannot but sympathise with anyone in the position of Squealer, Napoleon’s spokesman. Part of his job is to, with graphic details, justify ineptitude, incompetence, and corruption in the Napoleon administration as relating to the pigs and dogs who are in charge of administration on the farm. He has to make others believe the lazy pigs ‘…had to expend enormous labours everyday upon mysterious things called “files”, “reports”, “minutes” and “memoranda”.’ That these works were in fact “…large sheets of paper which had to be closely covered with writing, and as soon as they were covered, they were burnt in furnace.”
The ability to tell bold lies like Squealer is an essential qualification for Adeshina’s new job. Part of the job is to play the role of the Ministry of Truth (or Minitrue) in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, which includes falsifying history, lying with statistics and hitherto known facts, misinforming the informed, compounding the problems for the ignorant, weakening the consciousness of the unconscious, confounding the intelligent and in fact suffering fools gladly! You justify things like: IGNORANCE is STRENGH, FREEDOM is SLAVERY, WAR is PEACE, NO PRESIDENT RESIGNS DURING WAR, 16 is GREATER THAN 19, STEALING is NOT CORRUPTION, and the likes. Again, thinking of Presidential spokesmen, I still remember Ron Ziegler, President Richard Nixon’s spokesman. With all his sound credentials as a media genius, he was made to look silly working hard to defend his boss during the Watergate scandal that rocked and brought down the Nixon administration in 1974. This is sometimes the sacrifice you pay for being a spokesman.
By now Adeshina must be a smart man. If not, he would not have survived the hostile terrain he worked in; after all, he was a Buhari supporter in a strongly pro-Jonathan’s The Sun. To survive in the teeth of opposition from people like Steve Nwosu, Charles Amanze and others who openly called on the newspaper owner Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu to relieve him of his job takes more than just scheming. With this, he should be able to weather the storms his new job may generate.
The memories of Femi Fani-Kayode, who served as Special Assistant to President Obasanjo on Public Affairs and recently Doyin Okupe is still fresh in our minds. These people are not usually your first choice of media professionals, except you need flatterers or “attack dogs”. The best description for these people is that they are embarrassment personified. The good news is that should Buhari decide to follow the tradition of recent past and appoint a Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Adeshina’s work becomes relatively easier by placing more embarrassing functions on that office!
Even at that, the fact that President Jonathan appointed no less a person than Okupe to play his dirty role, I doubt if that ever had much effect in savaging the public image of Dr. Reuben Abati, the President Special Assistant on Media, himself a thoroughbred professional.
It is not all presidential spokesmen that have the instincts of Joseph Gobbels, Adolf Hitler’s Chief Propagandist. There are those who have done remarkably well like Jody Prowell and Eleanor Clift, but this largely depended on the sound performance of their bosses. The job of a presidential spokesman is made easier when the boss himself performs satisfactorily.
It is on this positive note, my fears notwithstanding, that that I boldly congratulate Mr. Femi Adeshina on his new appointment. My best wishes are with him!