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How NOT to be a spokesperson

BEJXT1 Ein Stapel Zeitungen

By Tonnie Iredia

A political party like every other organization requires to be managed to attain viability so as to survive over time. It is the lack of understanding by our politicians of the centrality of management to the survival of their parties that explains the several weaknesses of Nigeria’s party system. These include: lack of unity of purpose and direction of our political parties; the inability of party members to subordinate their individual goals to the overall interest of their parties; and failure of politicians to appreciate the gains of cooperation and collaboration in party operations. Most importantly, it throws light on why functions are hardly shared on the basis of specialization with different people scampering to do what they like rather than what they know how to do. It shows why a function such as information management is zoned geographically rather than professionally.

An obvious deficiency in the running of political parties in Nigeria is weak management of information. It is more of an exception to find a political party in Nigeria whose publicity secretary came into office with a track record of cognate media experience or communication expertise. In many cases, people are made spokespersons of political parties because they are eloquent or argumentative which often turns such spokespersons into parrots saying so much about what they neither know nor understand. In addition, because truth is a scarce commodity to our politicians, party leaders determine not only what should be said or hidden about an event but also how it should be handled. This appears to be a fair reflection of how Nigerians understood the performance of Yekini Nabena, the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, with respect to recent political developments in the nation especially the invasion of the National Assembly by security operatives.

As if the role of the APC’s spokesperson is only to speak without bothering about how people would rationalize his speech, Nabena immediately issued a statement distancing his party from the condemnable invasion. The statement which meant that the government party was different from the government was incredible to our people. Such idealism belongs elsewhere not to Nigeria where the chairman of the same party, Adams Oshiomhole a few weeks back in the guise of party supremacy openly chastised Dr, Chris Ngige, a serving minister of government.  If Nabena was not prompted to hurriedly make the statement, he would have had a few more moments to properly consider the statement before issuing it. He would in earnest have seen the futility of suggesting that security operatives under the supervision of the head of government and leader of his party can without an official mandate take the laws into their hands.

Interestingly, the same spokesperson was made to issue another statement the next day justifying what his first statement had condemned. Because of our infrastructural challenges which make information get to people late, some people may have seen Yekini’s two statements either at the same time or the last before the first and they would have had cause to really wonder about APC, its spokesperson and Nigerian politics. The thing about information is that such a gamble would take ages to disappear from peoples’ sub-consciousness placing ample doubt and credibility gap on future statements from the same source. What this calls for is a great care in information management by government or the ruling party. The care we refer to here is by far higher than that of a non-governmental body or subject. This is because research findings over the years have shown that Nigerians have a habit of disbelieving whatever government says it did or is doing while at the same time believing what anyone says government poorly did or failed to do. In other words, government organs cannot afford to be casual about public information.

There is doubt if APC would take cognizance of the thrust of this article, because the party does not appear to believe that it has anything to learn from elsewhere. This deduction is made against the practice whereby both the APC and also the PDP are consistently absent at training programmes organized by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies NIPSS in its mandate to help parties develop their manpower. This year alone, there have been two such programmes mounted not at NIPSS location in Kuru-Jos, but in Abuja which the parties could have attended with ease. The first was on the essence of developing a media policy for political party operations while the second was on political broadcasts. Any party spokesperson who attended the training programmes must have made some gains especially from the case studies which offered room for interaction and the sharing of professional techniques. But as usual, only the small political parties were in attendance.

Those who were absent are likely to follow the old method of parroting instead of managing information; issuing press statements without identifying the subject or object of news in addition to taking the public for granted. APC did that last week when it sang discordant tunes about the invasion of the National Assembly by issuing two unlike statements in 24 hours which rather than inform created room for confusion. The second statement which sought to justify the invasion was more tragic as it raised the following questions. First, if the intention of the Department of State Security, DSS was to avert trouble, why did the operatives not start from what they did later, that is, allowing entry to those who work there through identification while stopping those who have no business in the place? For instance, did it occur to anyone that stopping journalists from entering meant depriving the public from knowing what was happening in the place? Second, why did the Head of government not know of such a major policy and why was the DSS boss not able to convince the Acting President of the usefulness of his intention?  Third, does the argument that what the DSS did was instigated by the Senate President not show that the latter is more in charge of government?

The APC spokesperson argued that his second statement on the party’s position on the invasion saga was based on investigation. If so, what was the basis of the first statement which was hurriedly made only 24 hours earlier? In fairness to Yekini Nabena, he assumed the role of spokesperson of the party less than a week ago. It is hoped that he would quickly acquaint himself with the intricacies of information management recognizing that quite often, silence could be golden.

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