July 12, 2018

Burden of a government spokesman

Femi adeshina

Adesina, Buhari’s SA Media and Publicity

By Ikechukwu Amaechi
THE massacre three  weeks ago of over 200 Plateau State residents, many of them women and children, elicited diverse responses from within and outside the country. Both the executive and legislative arms of government also weighed in.

Adesina, Buhari’s SA Media and Publicity

The All Progressives Congress, APC and the opposition political parties, particularly the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were at each other’s jugular to extract political capital from the killings.

Each competed to wail loudest and curry public sympathy without any party doing anything to cool the temperature of national discourse.

The drama got more bizarre on Wednesday, June 27 when the PDP urged Plateau residents to “take President Muhammadu Buhari and his government to the International Criminal Court, ICC, at the Hague for acting helpless in the face of continuous mass killings in our country.”

The PDP made the point in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, which also declared a seven-day mourning for the victims and directed that its flags be flown at half-mast across the country.

On Thursday, June 28, Aso Rock fired back through Presidential Media Adviser, Femi Adesina. That the government felt the need to respond at all is a window into the psyche of those who superintend over the affairs of the country.

The response itself is not the issue. It is its baleful content. Adesina, a seasoned journalist and President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, at the time he went into government, was never known to be a low road guy.

But he shocked Nigerians by comparing the number of people murdered in the 16 years the PDP was in power with the three and half years under Buhari. He said the APC administration was yet to reach the PDP blood threshold. It was a no-brainer. Nigerians were horrorstruck.

What point was he making? That Nigerians should brace up for more killings since the Buhari administration seems to be in a rat race to catch up with the alleged woeful record of the government it chased out of power?

It would have been better for him to stop at saying that the PDP was shedding crocodile tears and playing infantile political games by declaring seven days of mourning and caution that such theatrics were unhelpful given the political maelstrom.

Adesina ought to have ended his riposte on the accusation that the PDP was dancing “on the graves of the dead, playing cheap, infantile politics”.

If he wanted, he could have reiterated the efforts of the government to ensure there won’t be a re-occurrence no matter how hollow that would sound. Such a dignified response would have put him on the high road of national discourse.

But he didn’t. Instead, he throttled down the low road. Sadder still, he knew exactly what he was doing as the caveat in his statement showed.

“Those who take pleasure in twisting statements from the Presidency may claim we are saying that many more people were killed under PDP than under President Muhammadu Buhari,” Adesina said and concluded that: “It would be unconscionable to do so”.

Pray, what else did he do other than to say what he claimed government detractors would accuse him of saying, which is that many more were killed under the PDP than under Buhari?

Adesina knew that what he did was unconscionable and yet went ahead to do it hoping to blackmail Nigerians into not calling him out.

If the intention of his statement, as claimed, was to show “that wanton killings had been with us for a while,” what was the overarching goal? Did he think about the grieving families and others waiting to be assured by Buhari that they were safe in their own country?

Then, on Tuesday, July 3, Adesina upped the ante on an AIT morning programme (as reported by the Vanguard) where he admonished those opposed to Abuja’s ranching and colony scheme for herdsmen to have a rethink, because they were better off living with the ranches and colonies than dying through persistent conflicts.

When the interviewers reminded him that many Nigerians are emotionally and even spiritually attached to their ancestral lands, he retorted: “Ancestral attachment? You can only have ancestral attachment when you are alive. If you are talking about ancestral attachment, if you are dead, how does the attachment matter?”

That was on a day the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said that history will be harsh on the Buhari government if it failed to stop the killing of innocent Nigerians.

“History will have a harsh verdict for us as a government if we fail to live up to this responsibility and it will not matter if we succeed in other areas.

“Unfortunately, the stark reality now is that our citizens are fast losing confidence in our security system.

“This must not be the case. Before we ebb to the realm of anarchy, we must rise as true representatives of the Nigerian people to salvage the situation and defend our hard won democracy,” Dogara said.

But for Adesina, that may well be gibberish.

“The National Economic Council that recommended ranching didn’t just legislate it, there were recommendations,” he lectured Nigerians.

“So, if your state genuinely does not have land for ranching, it is understandable; not every state will have land for ranches. But where you have land and you can do something, please do for peace. What will the land be used for if those who own it are dead at the end of the day?”

I was perplexed. How could anybody have said that? It is callous and inhuman. That is telling the beleaguered Middle Belters unequivocally, your land or your life, the same way an armed robber tells his victim, your money or your life. It is a blatant promotion of the sickening might is right philosophy.

So, the only solution to the carnage, in Buhari’s thinking, is that the people must cede their ancestral lands to marauding herdsmen or risk being killed and the lands taken anyway.

That, again, is unconscionable.

“Norms can shift at the speed of social life” when the wrong leaders command the megaphone, said American author, Maria Konnikova, commenting on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when extremist Hutus murdered at least 800,000 Tutsi neighbours and moderate Hutus, in her 2017 essay in the New Yorker on “How norms change.”

That is exactly what happened with the political ascendancy of Buhari whose administration has made us grow accustomed to what we previously thought to be outrageous. Norms have really shifted in Nigeria and that is happening at the speed of light.

There is an old saying in politics and life: Don’t punch down. When anyone punches down, he is likely to score an “own goal.” That was what Adesina did with the devil’s alternative he rammed down the throat of the beleaguered people of the North Central region.

Adesina used to be a humble, self-effacing fellow despite the lofty heights he attained in journalism. These days I hardly recognise the man I used to know when he talks on television or writes. Rather than engaging people with superior argument in defending his principal, he talks down on and insults those who disagree with the Buhari government, calling them names.

The haughtiness is insufferable. For him, norms have really shifted.

I have heard people say a friend in government is a friend lost and I also appreciate how difficult it is to clean the mess of a Presidency like Buhari’s.

But that job, as difficult as it is, can be done without punching down to avoid committing reputational suicide. Femi Adesina needs to watch it and the earlier he appreciates that he is on a slippery slope, the better for him.