Presidential title and discordant tunes from presidency

THE Punch stirred up a hornet’s nest and got the country talking with its last Wednesday’s editorial comment where it stated that it would henceforth prefix President Muhammadu Buhari with his Army title of Major General (retired) because of what the newspaper termed Buhari’s dictatorial tendencies. While views on the newspaper’s position are varied, of interest to Borderless today are the positions taken by key presidential spokespersons on this matter. While Mr Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, said there is nothing wrong with the media outfit’s stand to address the President with his military title since he worked hard to earn it, Mallam Garba Sheu, Senior Special Assistant to Buhari on Media and Publicity, described the paper’s stance as hatred for the President.

According to Sheu, ex-newspaper editor and a former president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the Punch’s editorial policy is indicative of the paper’s descent into the murky waters of partisan politics. He said, “It is obvious that the Punch newspapers are playing partisan opposition politics which has nothing to do with journalism.” He added, “The Punch newspaper should separate journalism from partisan politics. What it is embarking upon is purely political and it is designed to play to the gallery and cause confusion. Punch Newspaper’s double standards in cuddling some of our past dictators and their open contempt for President Buhari clearly show that the paper has sinister motives for its current curious editorial judgment.”

The obvious takeaway from these two differing reactions from the same office to the same action is the stark reality that political office holders are indeed prisoners, held hostage by those who work and relate closely with them. More often than not, unless he is strong-willed, focused, independent-minded with a high dose of self awareness, a political office holder is at the mercy of his lieutenants who manipulate him to advance their own causes. Associates of an office holder can lead him by the nose and turn him against the people. The fact is that every appointee has his own personal agenda, which may be at variance with the principal’s. This, more than any other thing, determines the quality of counsel he gives the principal.

Why did the Media and Publicity Office of the President need two reactions to the same issue? Why did Mallam Sheu have to issue another statement when Mr Adesina, head of the office, had already made the position of the office public? Was that borne out of competition for the President’s attention? Was it meant to curry favour of the President or some other people in the Presidency? Why did the principal officers of that office have to show the whole world that those who speak for our president do not work as colleagues but as adversaries?

The deeper concern from this ugly development is that those who are supposed to champion the cause of the people are oftentimes not bothered by what matters to the people. A presidential spokesperson is not supposed to just speak for the president, he is also to serve as a liaison officer between the president and the media, his primary constituency. He is supposed to mediate between the media and his principal, not aggravate their relationship.

From the foregoing, it is apparent how dangerous it is for Nigerians to leave their fate in the hands of those who work with the president as personal aides, ministers or political associates. They see their being in government not as an opportunity to champion the cause of the people but a chance to feather their own nests. Consequently, they are not beholding to any lofty ideal or ideas but are moved by the tides, all in the bid to continually position themselves to reap from the state coffers. So, they have no qualms trading away the interest of the people to protect theirs. The issues that matter to the populace are too important to be left in the hands of men goaded by greed. This is why the people cannot leave their fate in the hands of the president’s men.

The truth is that the Nigerian state will not be salvaged by the ministers or the lawmakers or presidential aides for they are too comfortable to be bothered. They are too protected in their cocoons to appreciate the hardship in town, they are too well-heeled to care about those who are ill. Those whose responsibility it is to save the country are ordinary citizens who are hurt by the poor policies of the government, whose children are denied quality education, whose parents are neglected by the state, whose personal economies have been ruined.

The average citizen must learn to speak for himself and not wait for anyone to be his spokesperson. We must learn to speak truth to power. We must let the president feel our pains, we must speak to let him know that we are hurting, we must let him know that our children’s future is endangered, we must let him know that the country is getting close to the brinks. We must speak and speak, perhaps he may be roused into acting on behalf of the people and that would make all the difference. But if we keep quiet because of the fear of the goons and their guns or because we are too lethargic to push our issue to the front burner, then our fate would be sealed and that would entirely be our fault.