By Donu Kogbara
I DON’T know Mr. Ima Niboro, President Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s Special Advisor on Media and Publicity. But I know quite a bit about him. Iâ€™ve read his reactions to several current affairs issues in various publications and know many people who know him and know him to be a seasoned and talented member of my profession.
While Niboro was working for Tell Magazine in 1999, he came third in the print category of aÂ prestigious CNN-sponsored competition for African journalists.
Since he made the transition from the newsroom to the corridors of power, the statements that Niboro has issued on behalf of his Boss have almost always been lucid, to-the-point and well-written. And I donâ€™t think that anyone reasonable will deny that he handles this aspect of his job very adeptly.
However, it is not enough to churn out intelligent statements and direct them, somewhat impersonally, to the world at large. It is not enough to ensure that competent press releases are regularly emailed or faxed to every major media house in the land. It is not enough to talk eloquently on radio or TV programmes, or to articulately address crowds of journalists at press conferences.
A Head of Stateâ€™s Official Spokesman isnâ€™t just supposed to efficiently echo his masterâ€™s voice in public fora. A Head of Stateâ€™s Official Spokesman should not just be a robotic facts-disseminating machine. A Head of Stateâ€™s Official Spokesman should, in a bid to secure as much goodwill as possible for his Oga, also play a crucial communications role on a simple, human, one-to-one level.
If a Head of Stateâ€™s Official Spokesman is too busy toÂ make himself available whenever serious individuals politely request private meetings with him or just want to speak to him on the phone, he should apologise charmingly for not being available and refer such people to someone who can deputise for him.
A Head of Stateâ€™s Official Spokesman may be a VIP (of sorts) in his own right. But he is also a public servant whose salary is paid with public funds. And he should, ideally, possess the humility and sense of etiquette to respond respectfully when anyone who deserves respect gets in touch to seek help.
And itâ€™s not just about what people can get from a Head of Stateâ€™s Official Spokesman. It is also about what he can get from people who sometimes have influential media platforms or potentially useful contacts or good ideas.
A Head of Stateâ€™s Official Spokesman should, in a nutshell, be willing to listen and learn and create strong relationships with a wide range of people.
Sadly, Ima Niboro does not appear to understand this aspect of his duties.
I was recently approached by a distinguished foreign publication that wanted me to write an article about Nigeriaâ€™s upcoming 50th anniversary; and I thought it would be nice to include a quotation from the President or his Official Spokesman.
Since I have frequently made immensely supportive comments about Jonathan in this column and am not the most insignificant journalist in this country,Â I assumed that getting an appointment with Niboro would not be too difficult.
How wrong can one be?!
I tried to reach Niboro via friends who have access to the Villa. I tried to reach Niboro via a senior chief who called him in my presence and asked him to be kind enough to see me. I tried to reach Niboro direct by sending him amicable text messages, explaining that all I needed was a few minutes of his time. I also made it clear that I wasnâ€™t expecting any financial benefit from him.
But nothing worked. He didnâ€™t even bother to ask one of his office juniors to contact me; and I gave up after three weeks and wrote my article without his input.
Many folks have subsequently assured me that this kind of behaviour is â€œvery normalâ€ for Niboro.Â â€œHe is,â€ said one guy who has also suffered at his hands, â€œmore self-important and less accessible than many Governors and Ministers.â€
One can only hope that he eventually realises that it is better to cooperate with well-meaning media colleagues than to antagonise them for no good reason, particularly during the run-up to an election. Whatâ€™s the point of carrying on like a rude Royal Majesty at a critical time like this?
I donâ€™t need Niboro and donâ€™t give a damn if he hates me.Â But I feel obliged, because he is supposed to be protecting the interests of the our first President from my zone, to offer him a few words of advice.
Winning hearts and minds is not a complex skill or art. All you have to do is display basic courtesy and make worthwhile people feel worthwhile.
The average Nigerian is amazingly forgiving by nature. And most of the people who are bitterly complaining about you at the moment will forget about their grievances if you get off your high horse and make more of an effort.