By Rotimi Fasan
There is something about the way presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, responds to issues of grave national importance that makes his position in government increasingly untenable.
To be quite sure, there is nothing to pick between Shehu and his “twin brother”, Femi Adesina.
Both men hardly have anything to say on behalf of the government they represent without coming across as merely sounding off. At the best of times, the job of a presidential spokesperson is hardly easy, as whoever holds such positions have the onerous duty of defending the position of their principal and making sense of such position even when they are most difficult positions to defend.
They can, therefore, hardly do their job without appearing to have suspended their natural ability to think clearly. But to speak for a self-willed and self-righteous man like President Muhammadu Buhari, a man who appears to be so overwhelmed by the demands of his job as to constantly hop on one of the numerous presidential jets for the next humdrum event abroad.
Anything but staying back home to do what is needed. To work with or speak for such a man who postures as the only wise and righteous one Nigerian must be a particularly difficult job.
Yet, as the Yoruba would say, a person sent on a errand befitting a slave can yet go about it with the finesse of a freeborn. This is what both Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina increasingly appear to lack. Perhaps more than Adesina, Shehu appears to be running at the lips so ignorantly as to deserve the medal for making the most flippant remarks on behalf of Abuja.
He is always eager and too fast to respond to just about anything as to have little or no time to think through what he has to respond to or say before he goes on air. He has become so flippantly dismissive of critical individuals and groups; it is clear he has nothing meaningful to say and would have been far better off silent.
To remain silent in the face of not knowing what to say or not having anything to say is not necessarily a bad idea. It could be common sense. One simply needs to keep silent until a better opportunity presents itself.
This simple wisdom goes beyond the comprehension of Mr. Shehu who obviously has to show his principals that he is hard at work and so cannot keep silent when anyone dares to take a position short of heaping praises on President Buhari or his government.
These days one is hardly able to separate the actual words of President Buhari from those of Garba Shehu who many times inserts himself in the position of the president and is forever straining to explain the mind of the president by either quoting him or putting words into his mouth.
Both ways, he wants the world to believe it is the president talking. As the “presidency” or Buhari does not appear to refute the words of Shehu, one would have to assume his words and those of the president are frequently the same.
Shehu is, perhaps, unconsciously trying to avoid the ire of Aisha Buhari, wife of the president, who recently launched a blistering attack on her husband’s spokespersons for not defending the president and his family well enough.
It is surely far better to be in the good book of Oga Madam than to take embarrassing public broadsides or worse, yet face the risk of being thrown into the outer darkness of life outside Aso Rock Villa.
In the last couple of weeks, Garba Shehu has committed at least three avoidable gaffes that make him come severely short as a government spokesperson. As at two days ago, the latest of his flippant sound bites was his claim that Nigerians demanding the dismissal of the armed service chiefs are those making benefits from the activities of Boko Haram
This is a reverse attack on those who have called for the total overhaul of the military response to insurgency in the North-East on grounds that at least the military chiefs, if not the entire military set-up, have been profiteering from the war in that region, for which reason they would not want the war to end.
This is aside the claim that the military chiefs, all of whom are past retirement age but are being retained by President Buhari, have lost both the drive and initiative to prosecute the war in the North-East.
Military commanders have been fingered in diversion of funds running into hundreds of millions of dollars meant for the war. Some of these cases that obviously cannot be papered over are being investigated by the government.
At least so officials of the government claim. Nigerians across all sections of the country, including current and former military leaders, have called for the dismissal of the military chiefs, if not for anything else but non-performance.
Even the National Assembly have demanded a change in the leadership of the military. But Buhari has insisted on keeping the men, much against wise counsel. Yet the state of insecurity worsens by the day all over the country. Now Garba Shehu is telling Nigerians to disregard the evidence of their own eyes which says that Nigeria’s military chiefs have outlived their usefulness.
He is now calling out Nigerians as war profiteers! He is more or less echoing President Buhari who, during his latest visit to Maiduguri, accused the people of colluding with Boko Haram and prolonging the war in the North-East.
Garba Shehu has since followed up his own version of the accusation with another one that some politicians had sponsored street protests to demand the dismissal of the service chiefs. Shehu has yet to provide any evidence for his claim which chimes with an earlier one that Nigerians who booed Buhari during his visit to Borno State in the wake of a mass slaughter perpetrated by Boko Haram were paid to do so.
For Shehu, the chant of “Bamuso! Bamayi!” which the people hauled at the convoy of Buhari could only have been the handiwork of politicians or paid anti-government agents. All of this in a part of the country where people are being killed in scores, if not hundreds, on a daily basis. Such people, according to Garba Shehu, have no reason to protest except they are paid.
Shehu it was who also dismissed the Northern Elders Forum’s criticism of the security situation under Buhari as partisan rants of a one-man army. As far as this man is concerned, there cannot be an objective ground to criticise President Buhari or his government. What this tells Nigerians is that Mr. Shehu’s responses are often not tenable.