By Mohammed Adamu
ROCK musician ‘Roy C’ was the one who sang that 60s’ raving number ‘Don’t Blame The Man’, saying ‘a man can’t get no farther than a woman let him’; and reminding the woman ‘a man, can’t get your love, unless you woman let him’. So is the relationship between the professional media practitioner and his principal. Not only does it start at the instance of that principal, a media aide in fact can get no farther than his principal let him.
Besides, every political principal, whether he is righteous or he is debouched, is entitled to the spokesmanship of a professional media practitioner. The same way every man accused of a crime is entitled to representation by a lawyer. If a lawyer is legally right to accept a brief to defend any accused person, he cannot be morally wrong for securing his acquittal.
Down memory lane
I was a Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to Aminu Wali, then Special Adviser to President Obasanjo on National Assembly Matters, when I was invited to join the Obasanjo-Atiku Media Campaign Committee for the 2003 Presidential election. And need I say that we really had a bowl? With a daily buffet of breakfast, lunch and dinner right at the ante-room adjoining our Yaradua Center Media ‘War Room’, the primary object of our daily brainstorm was APP’s presidential flag bearer, Muhammadu Buhari.
Our job, daily was to offend the enemy and to defend the ticket from enemy offense. We threw political red herrings and we figured out how to parry political red herrings. And as the stakes got higher you bet, the fight did get even messier.
The Obasanjo-Atiku Media Campaign team was headed by Onyeama Ogochukwu, then Director General, DG National Orientation Agency, NOA. He was assisted by two good friends and senior colleagues of mine: Chris Mamah, then Media Adviser to Vice President Atiku and Garba Shehu who, afterwards would replace Chris Mamah in that capacity. In fact, this more than twenty-member Committee was made up of some of the finest media marksmen that space will not allow me to list.
Or should I say made up of some of the finest ‘dartsmen’? Because ours was like a dartboard of sort upon which an imaginary effigy of the foe, Buhari, was hung. His ‘heart’ was situated right where the ‘bull’s eye’ should be, and our job description was, daily, to throw our little darts, hoping each time to hit the red spot and make gaping wounds from it until it issued life blood. And a couple of times that we were impatient with occasional misses, we were not averse to walking up to the board, look the lifeless effigy in the eye and drive our little dart-daggers in the heart of a man we loved to hate.
And I imagined that if Buhari’s darted effigy was like Caesar’s multi-daggered body, and if there was a Mark Antony to speak over its gaping wounds (as when he said “In this place ran Cassius’ dagger through”, or “through this the well beloved Brutus stabbed”), I wondered what Antony would have said about the many wounds that my little dart-daggers had made on Buhari’s body as a member of the Obasanjo Atiku Media War Room.
When Buhari failed to appear for the Presidential debate with Obasanjo and the latter had to face the Panel alone, the task fell on me to write a most biting piece ‘Buhari’s Debate Fever’; and like Mark Antony said of Brutus’ stab, mine was one of “the most unkindest cut of all”. For I said in it that Buhari “did not have the intellectual balls to face up to a probing panel and an inquisitive audience” and that “he did not have the moral courage to appear where he would back up every electioneering boast he had made”.
And perhaps how much worse would the gaping wounds have been, which must have been made on the political effigy of Buhari by Garba Shehu himself who, ironically today, is one of his two Media avenging angels, striking to offend for Buhari and shielding to ward off daggers meant for him. Often they have to fence with their bodies, taking in all the little dart-daggers that both the cynical and the critical public throw.
Politics, like diplomacy
And that is politics for you. Like they say of diplomacy, in politics too -as in media management- there are no permanent friends and there are no permanent enemies. There is only permanent interest. For the politician, his own political interest; and for the Media manager, the political interest of his Principal. Besides,–unlike the legal practitioner who can have as many briefs and as many clients as he can- the rule for the Media manager is ‘one principal at a time’. And like the legal practitioner, if you are not legally right to accept to manage a political principal, you will not be morally wrong to give in your all to defend his interest.
The constantly shifting interests political principals, of a necessity aggregate to shift the professional obligations of their media managers.
The Wali connection
I had met Sule Lamido –in the course of my media practice- long before I met Aminu Wali. And in spite of the perception that the one was ideologically radical and the other politically conservative, any skilled media manager should have no difficulty managing either of them. Nor should they have any moral inhibition working with principals of particular ideological hue or the obligation to reject others. And so after the Sule-Rimi PSP, in collaboration with the late Sunday Awoniyi’s ANC and Atiku’s PDM were midwife by covert military esprit de corps to form the PDP, I found myself working through Aminu Wali to advance the interest of Awoniyi’s ANC group in its battle to secure the Party’s nomination for Alex Ekweme.
In fact, the coast was so clear for the Awoniyis that virtually every discerning political observer had said that the PDP ticket in the build up to that historic Jos Primaries, was Ekweme’s for the taking. Until Atiku’s PDM wing of the Party came with the ‘joker’ –Obasanjo- that was to trump all the aces of the Awoniyis.
And so it can safely be said that Atiku, in cahoots with military esprit de corps, was responsible for the emergence of a former military head of State, Obasanjo as President. Because fresh from Abacha’s jaws of death, Obasanjo would not have had the financial muscle or the political clout to turn the tables against Ekweme’s rampaging bid then.
Whom the gods favour
I remember Obasanjo’s last ditched efforts at Bolingo Hotel in Abuja to woo Aminu Wali off Ekweme’s faction and Wali’s categorical reply: something to the effect ‘I was committed to Ekweme before you were recruited. I will support you only if you become the Party’s flag bearer’. And we wrote all that we could write to promote Ekweme and to de-campaign Obasanjo. That was what we had to do. Not because we hated Obasanjo, or we loved Ekweme any more. But because as Media Managers we had opted hold brief for Awoniyi’s faction and not any other.
In fact, Obasanjo’s military background (which was both his asset and his Achilles heels) and the fact that he once handed over to a democratically-elected government was the object of a piece I wrote titled ‘Obasanjo’s Candidature: The Military as albatross’. And in it I argued that “to credit Obasanjo with returning Nigeria to democracy draws its parallel in history to the age of romanticism and liberalism which credited Napoleon Bonapart with “creating the 19th Century European political order” which was something “far from his mind” or that we might as well “credit Hitler for creating the post 1945 European order since “the evolution of the European community and the spread of democracy to all European states West of the Iron Curtain all ultimately resulted from the denouement of Hitler’s catastrophic failure as a warlord”.
But then after Obasanjo’s victory and my Principal Aminu Wali was made Special Adviser to the President on NASS, his loyalty necessarily had to shift from Ekweme to the man he had fought clubs and cudgels earlier. And I now had to work as Special Assistant to Wali drafting speeches for his new Principal, Obasanjo that I once had occasion to offend. And that is how we all are: politicians, lawyers and journalists. Always having to shift with the shifting moods politics and politicians.
The battle within
But it did not take long for the Obasanjo-Atiku ticket that won the 1999 election, to prove itself an electoral marriage-de-convenance. Because in the build up to the 2003 primaries, Atiku the Vice President was now spoiling to challenge the principal that he had helped to make, Obasanjo. Needless to add that the odds were heavily stacked against Obasanjo. If memory serves right, on the eve of Atiku’s purported possible resignation as he prepared to trade tackle with his boss, my Foreign Affairs Minister-friend –who I probably would’ve been working for- invited me to his Minister’s Hill residence in Maitama.
And I guessed that it was either out of excitement or anxiety about the political goings-on, pregnant then with the rumour of Atiku’s resignation. And maybe he thought that a journalist and a Special Assistant (me) to Aminu Wali (who was respected by both Obasanjo and Atiku) might know a little something extra that he did not. In truth I told him I knew nothing –then.
But I knew that Sule Lamido and Atiku never liked each other’s guts; and I guessed like many in Obasanjo’s cabinet would say four years after, Sule too would rather an Obasanjo had a Third Term than an Atiku allowed to have a shot at the presidency. How much worse that animosity will be today now that they are both after the same thing, your guess will be as good as mine.
Not to waste an opportunity to take a shot -as he always did- at his ideological arch enemy, namely my Principal Wali, Mallam Sule had asked what in the name of the lord I was doing with a ‘reactionary’ –suggesting that a journalist with radical views like me, should not be working for such a Principal. And although I simply laughed it off, I knew that no matter what it was that made Wali a ‘reactionary’ and Sule a ‘progressive’ as he would claim to be, they both were now appointees of a former military ruler who knew nothing about politics until a ‘conservative’ PDM wing of an aristocrat (Atiku) defeated both the ‘reactionary’ ANC wing of a patrician (Wali) and the PSP wing of a radical (Sule), to make him President over us all.
And now as ‘radical’ Lamidos contend with the ‘reactionary’ Walis of their PDP, to pick its ticket, they have to worry also about the ‘aristocratic’ Atikus of APC possibly crossing carpet to trade tackles with them; even as they all have to contend with the incumbent might of an ‘autocratic’ Buhari asking for a second term and the veteran clout of a meddlesome Obasanjo insisting on his ‘right’ to anoint and to thwart. And no matter who wins in the end, we will be there lawyers and journalists, to take legal briefs and to provide media service. Conservatives or progressives, radicals or reactionaries, we will be there to serve all hues and flavours.