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Buhari’s Reunion With His Media Team

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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, organize 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.

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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!

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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.

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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 organized 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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National Issues

2021: President Buhari’s new year message to Nigerians

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Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari has addressed Nigerians in a traditional New Year broadcast.

In the speech, Buhari, on Friday, re-echoed his commitment to the Nigerian project, just as he urged other Nigerians to do the same.

The President’s speech read:

My fellow countrymen and women,

First, I would like to thank and praise the Almighty who saw us through the year 2020 and has given us the opportunity to witness the start of another new year. We especially thank God because the year 2020 was one of the most trying years since our existence as a Nation.

2. This can also be said about all other nations around the world, due to the challenges posed on our collective humanity by the novel COVID-19 pandemic.

3. While acknowledging that 2020 was a very tough year, we saw this year put to test our national resilience and ability to survive these tough times and also gave renewed hope that we will again brave any storms that lay ahead in 2021 and beyond.

4. As we celebrate the opportunity before us in this New Year 2021, we must also acknowledge the passing away of our brothers and sisters who didn’t make it into this New Year. May their souls rest in perfect peace.

5. We must remember that we also celebrated the historic occasion of our sixty years as an independent and sovereign country on October 1st 2020. In the spirit of hope and gratitude, I would like to remind us again that as a country on the difficult journey to nationhood and greatness, we have confounded the many pundits at home and around the world who never gave the newly-born country that emerged unto the world stage on 1st October 1960 a chance of surviving much longer than a few years.

6. Yet, here we are, 61 years by the next anniversary in October, and not only are we here, we are standing tall in the comity of nations as one country united under the will of God and also actively growing that indivisible Nigerian spirit that has enabled us, year after year, decade after decade, to weather all stormy waters and emerge stronger and better where others have fallen and disintegrated. This nation, this Nigeria will survive and thrive.

7. In this journey to nationhood, we have experienced the highs and lows. 2020 indeed came with a lot of challenges ranging from security and economic issues across the regions to understandable protests that were mainly led by our youths and served notice to the demand for police reforms and accountability. This government heard, this government listened and this government is committed to fulfilling the five demands of our youths, fully understanding that we all wish well for Nigeria.

8. In the midst of all these challenges, I had initially pledged that as your elected President and Commander-in-Chief, I would ensure that these ongoing challenges will be faced head-on with renewed determination and with all the appropriateness and urgency required. Your voices have been heard and we would continue to listen to you, and all the key stakeholders who are committed to the unity of Nigeria to ensure that every region of this nation is safe for us all, while guaranteeing that the future is also secure for the coming generation.

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9. I wish to also use this occasion of New Year to reaffirm my commitment to the people of Nigeria, especially the youth who need our collective encouragement and support. In securing this nation we need to secure the future of our youth.

10. Our young people are our most valuable natural resource, at home and abroad. Their ingenuity, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit is evident to all. Many of our young people are excelling in various spheres of life including sports, entertainment, information and communication technology, commerce and are globally recognized as achievers.

11. As a Government we are committed to actively engaging with the creative energies of our young people. In this regard, we will partner with the legislature to develop an enabling environment to turn their passions into ideas that can be supported, groomed and scaled across regions. This will create vast opportunities in fintech, agriculture, business process startups and in the entertainment industry.

12. The year 2021 will indeed be a year where we will work to reinforce the hopes of fellow Nigerians in the vision of a united and progressive Nigeria. This administration would continue focusing on delivering key strategic priorities under our “SEA” – (Security, Economy and Anti-Corruption) Agenda. Some of the key priority areas we would direct our attention and strengths to include:

ON THE SECURITY:

13. Re-energizing and reorganizing the security apparatus and personnel of the armed forces and the police with a view to enhance their capacity to engage, push back and dismantle the operations of both internal and external extremist and criminal groups waging war against our communities in some parts of the country.

14. In line with the current security challenges, we are facing as a Nation, I would like to reiterate the promise I made recently when over 300 of our boys abducted from Government Science Secondary School, Kankara were successfully rescued by our security operatives.

15. The professionalism shown by our Security Forces and the collaboration from all stakeholders across both State and Federal Governments that led to the successful rescue of the boys is proof that Nigeria has the internal capacity to decisively deal with terror attacks on our citizens.

16. However, we recognize that we rapidly have to move to a more proactive and preemptive posture to ensure that these sorts of traumatic incidents do not become a norm. Our administration is fully aware of the responsibility we have to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians, and we will not relent in learning and adapting to changing threats to our national security and civic wellbeing.

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ON THE ECONOMY:

17. Our focus is on revamping the economy through the national economic diversification agenda that supports the primary goal of national food self-sufficiency. This has helped reduce the growing food related inflationary figures and have in considerable measure positively impacted our food security status during the long months of the pandemic lock down.

18. We are also currently rebuilding our national infrastructure base and, in the process, introducing transformation through the rehabilitation, modernization, and expansion of the railway system, national roads and bridges both in rural and urban centres, alongside the airports and seaports.

19. The reforms we have put in place in the power sector would guarantee increased efficiency in our drive to significantly expand the generation and distribution of electricity for use in homes and factories.

20. As an administration we are currently undertaking a series of special interventions designed to boost job creation and support the entrepreneurial drive of our youths.

21. With the recent opening of our borders, we expect that the pent-up demand of legitimate cross-border and international trade will boost the fortunes of the many small businesses and agricultural enterprises that depend on Nigeria’s trade and commerce.

22. The message to our West African neighbours is that Nigeria is once again fully open for those willing to conduct business in a fair and equitable way.

ANTI-CORRUPTION:

23. On the anti-corruption drive of our administration, we have recorded substantial gains so far and this year, we are committed to continuing along the path of eradicating corruption, through collaboration with all the arms of Government to effectively prosecute this fight.

24. While we would be working with the Legislature to enact laws that would strengthen this fight, we would also be looking at reviewing some of our laws which would ensure that this fight is more effective. On the part of the executive, we would ensure the diligent and timely prosecution of corruption cases, while appealing to the judiciary to ensure that corruption cases are dispensed with expeditiously.

25. The persistence of various forms of violence has meant that in the most affected parts of the country, the fabric of inter-communal harmony woven through years of investment of effort at building trust, mutual respect, and harmony has been threatened.

26. Insecurity as a challenge has direct repercussions on our national economic stability, growth, and development, setting us back at critical points through the destruction of public and private investments.

27. In parts of the country where chronic poverty, social exclusion, and disillusionment among sections of the youth were already a problem, the cycles of violence that have been unleashed by mindless groups like Boko Haram and others have thwarted the efforts of government to undertake the social policy and associated investments that could make a huge difference in the quality of life of our citizens.

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28. I am aware that for some of our compatriots, the progress we have registered since the inception of this administration is not nearly as fast or as sufficient as they would wish. I do not begrudge them their views in so far as they signify a wish, in which we all share, for only the very best for our country.

29. Nevertheless, I call upon all Nigerians to carefully recall the circumstances of our coming to office, the facts on the ground and the resources at our disposal since 2015 with the accomplishments of this administration.

30. As a people, we have shown admirable resilience in the face of every adversity, an unmatched capacity to recover speedily from every setback, an unparalleled generosity of spirit when we resolve our differences, and a constant readiness to invest faith and hope in the destiny we share as a united country built on the diversity of its peoples.

31. It is these attributes that underpin the Nigerian spirit of “can do, will do” that gives me hope that we shall yet get to destination and fulfill our calling together, especially with the solid resolutions we are setting in this new year.

32. Keeping our country on a forward march is a duty which we all have and share. In this regard, keeping our country safe from a resurgent cycle of COVID-19 as this administration finalizes its plans to procure and efficiently and effectively distribute the COVID-19 vaccines, I urge you all fellow citizens to observe strict COVID-19 prevention protocols.

33. As your elected President, my pledge to you is the same as it has always been; I will play my part fully and without fear or favour. I invite all of us to do the same. It is what we owe to the founding generation of our beloved country and also to the coming generation. It is what we desire for national prosperity for all demands.

34. Long Live the Nigerian spirit of oneness, togetherness, and unity. Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I wish you a Happy and prosperous New Year.

May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

 

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National Issues

SWEGOP charges Buhari, S’West governors to address increased insecurity

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South West Group of Online Publishers, (SWEGOP) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari, the Southwest governors and other stakeholders to put in place modalities that will check the activities of the hoodlums and criminals disrupting the peace of the nation.

Online publishers decried the increasing rate of lawlessness and criminalities in all the nooks and crannies of the country.

SWEGOP, in a statement signed by its Chairman,  Olayinka Agboola and the Public Relations Officer,  Remi Oladoye described the alarming rate of attacks on innocent citizens and members of the general public as a worrisome situation, which requires an urgent solution.

It further noted that since the end of #EndSARS campaign which was hijacked by hoodlums,  the crime rates have been on a high increase and the security operatives seems to have lost control of the ugly situation.

“The situation we have found ourselves is nothing  but a reckless abandonment of  responsibilities  by those saddled with  the task. Everybody  including officers of the  security  agencies now live with the fear of being attack by the hoodlums  who are kidnapping , robbing and killing people for rituals.

SWEGOP calls on stakeholders in the country not to leave the role of protecting lives and properties to government alone but see it as a task that must be done by all and sundry.

While commending the South West governors for launching  Amotekun corps, the group however urged the  militia group to do their work diligently and collaborate with other security  agencies in their respective states to curb the crime rates in the society.

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Pan-Yoruba group, carpets S’West governors on insecurity, charges them to empower Amotekun

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Governors of the South-West States of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo Oyo and Osun have been accused of grossly abdicating their primary constitutional duty of protecting the lives and properties of their citizens, judging by the escalating security crisis in the region.

A pan-Yoruba group, the Majeobaje Movement, leveled the allegation in a ‘save our souls’ letter to the Chairman of the South-West Governor’s Forum and Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, which was copied to the five other governors.

In the letter leaked to the press, the Movement described itself an alliance of professionals, entrepreneurs, policy specialists and academics concerned about and working for improved governance in Nigeria.

The group decried the spate of killings, kidnappings, rape and sundry criminal activities ravaging the region under the governors’ watch, with the attendant loss of lives of many illustrious citizens and the destruction of their livelihoods.

Majeobaje wondered why the much trumpeted South West Security Network, codenamed Amotekun, is yet to be effectively pressed into the service of protecting the lives and property of the citizens of the region, against the high expectations of the citizens.

It highlighted several unresolved security breaches in the region especially in different parts of Oyo, Ekiti, Osun, Ondo and Ogun states, which had caused anguish to many families.

The group said it is worrying that little or nothing had been done by the government of these states to mitigate the sufferings of residents in the hands of violent herdsmen, kidnappers, rapists and armed robbers or to bring the band of criminals to justice.

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The group further stated, “Insecurity in the SW has now reached a crisis point, partly because the Federal Government refuses to act decisively, and also because our SW governors are failing to use Amotekun effectively.

“Because banditry has overwhelmed the Northwest, Fulani herdsmen are fleeing desertification, victims of Boko Haram in the Northeast are seeking refuge, and the unemployed from all parts of Nigeria are looking for work, these people are now streaming mostly into our SW states.

“They often do so with a high level of aggression including bearing of AK47 rifles with which our people are being raped and killed with scant regard to the sanctity of life, our culture or the rule of law.”

In a five-point recommendation, Majeobaje wants the governors to act decisively in stamping out criminal activities within the region and ensure that citizens sleep with both eyes closed, especially now that the end-of-the-year festivities have peaked.

The recommendations:
1) That the six governors should urgently allocate more funds to Amotekun so the outfit can be fully equipped and recruit more personnel to improve its operations, especially by the deployment of Surveillance Drones and Forest Rangers. The ongoing assistance to conventional security agencies should be enhanced and sustained.

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2) Use new and existing laws to revamp Neighborhood Associations and to strengthen LGA Security Committees to include Traditional Rulers, Amotekun/Police and Vigilantes. These two units will help document residents, deter criminals, and collate data to monitor the activities and welfare of itinerant workers such as Okada riders, farm workers, herders and others.

3) Encourage the setting up of private security companies that will specialize in intelligence gathering services as well as the imperative use of drones for aerial surveillance and the investigation of kidnappings.

4) Set up or reboot a Security Trust Fund in each state in such a way that will encourage and compel the private sector to support with funding and management of these security initiatives.

5) Demonstrate leadership by physically leading the charge to secure your states, by mobilizing resources at the front lines, and by rekindling the hopes of our farmers, their families and other residents to demonstrate that their governors have not abandoned them to the impunities of marauding forces.

The Majeobaje Movement cautioned that ‘before Apocalypse arrives,’ Governor Akeredolu and his brother governors must urgently act so that the long suffering people of the six states are not left with no option than resort to self-help, the consequences of which can only be imagined for both leaders and the led.

The group said, “We, therefore, call on you and your colleagues to rise up today, take leadership and fulfill your primary purpose of protecting and defending the lives and properties of your people!

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“If you fail to urgently do the needful by pushing back the marauders, we are concerned that our anxious people may regain their composure and be left with no other option than to defend themselves,” the group stated firmly.

Assuring the governors of their highest regard always, the letter dated 12th December, 2020 was signed on behalf of its general membership by its steering committee members including Chief Akintayo Akin-Deko, Sir Gbenga Adebusuyi, Revd. Muyiwa Bamgbose and Mr Ibukun Fakeye.

Other signatories included Dr Dolapo Sikuade, Mr Deola Kumapayi, Mr Yomi Layinka and Mr Ayo Oyerinde.

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