By Fred Iwenjora
Ace journalist, Public relations practitioner and poet James Eze is the Spokesperson for Anambra state governor Chief Willie Obiano.
Eze whose book of poems Disposessed is reigning strong both locally and internationally speaks to FRED IWENJORA on a wide range of issues including his many challenges and burdens as well as his triumphs on a job in which according to him one is required “to sleep with eyes on the last headlines and wakes up with their eyes on the breaking news”
Could you make an assessment of six years of working as a spokesperson for a Nigerian state Governor?
It has been a challenging but exciting experience for me. It is challenging because I actually wear two hats; I am both Spokesman and Speech Writer. I would be telling a lie if I told you that it is an easy job. But I would also be lying if I said that it hasn’t pushed me to the edge of a new and exhilarating drive for personal excellence that I didn’t quite know I was capable of. I came to this job with what you might call a rich private sector experience.
But the public sector trumps all experience in intrigue, gamesmanship and clandestine politics. Nevertheless, the challenge remains the same. A governor’s spokesman must understand the personal philosophy of his boss; his outlook on life, his passions and obsessions as well as his unspoken thoughts. He should be able to communicate these with the greatest clarity to the larger audience without running the risk of being misunderstood by his boss or his audience.
It may sound a little complex but it is easy once you are ready to roll up your shirtsleeves and demonstrate appropriate sensitivity to your job. And for me, after six years of working closely with a leader that is largely seen as one of the brightest hopes of our country, I think I have gained a lot of experience in how leadership works. On the whole however, the job of a governor’s spokesman is a delicate one. It places one on a kind of tight rope from where one is constantly negotiating for understanding and acceptance.
What’s your routine like? Any thing changed?
My schedule is essentially determined by the routine of my boss. But in between, I have to come up with initiatives that will keep my team busy. There are moments when everything gathers a blistering speed and you find yourself gasping for breath. I remember our first four years in office and I shake my head sometimes when I think of the enormous pressure we endured. It was intimidating.
But to answer your question more directly, in this day and age, everyone goes to sleep with their eyes on the last headlines and wakes up with their eyes on the breaking news.
In my position, you don’t ever want your boss to be the first to hear what is happening out there before you. You must be a step or two ahead of the matter else the standard verdict would be “you are not on top of it.” And that is a large statement. Again, if you lead a team of bright men and women like I do, you must be adequately prepared always. You must be on your toes, mentally, psychologically and emotionally. If you are not, just one niggling question from any member of the team might make you look like a ridiculous imposition.
What stands as your biggest challenges on the job so far?
The biggest challenge of any governor’s spokesman in Nigeria today is the deliberate use of the social media by mischief makers to circulate false reports about people in leadership positions. It is commonly known as the Fake News phenomenon.
That is the nightmare of every governor’s spokesman. Unconscionable people who are restrained by neither morality nor good taste have often misused the social media to circulate false and sensational stories about leaders on different platforms.
And because there’s hardly any regulation, many uninformed people have no way of telling which story is fake and which is factual. Sometimes you chuckle at how some of the most grotesque and outlandish stories are easily believed by people. You wonder how eager we sincerely are to believe the most implausible stories about other people. Sometimes you can’t help but shudder at the hammer blows our humanity has taken. This menace is a constant threat to my peace of mind.
What about the triumphs?
The triumphs are many but I’ll stick to the major ones. The biggest one is the unprecedented electoral victory my boss recorded in 2017 when he ran for re-election. It is a watershed in the political evolution of Anambra State.
In the run up to the election, we had listened to a lot of tough talks. Some political elements in the state had even sworn that Governor Obiano could only return to office over their dead bodies. But not only did the governor win his re-election, he actually made history by winning in all the 21 local governments in the state. Now, you wonder why I consider it my own personal triumph. Never mind.
The truth is that I took my boss’s re-election as my own personal challenge. I believed that he had done enough in his first term to be given a second chance. I thought that it would be a grave injustice if he was denied re-election. I went to war in my own way. We had a very brutal media war. I threw in everything I had. I made enemies of course.
In the end, my boss won. I remember that the columnist, Ebere Wabara said in his column after the election that he was certain that I was one of the few people that would have fled Nigeria into exile if my boss had not won his re-election.
Ebere was absolutely right. I had no doubt that I would have been targeted if the result had gone the other way. Another little triumph that I must mention here is my repossession of my creative writing gift which culminated in the publication of my first collection of poems titled ‘dispossessed.’ I think my writing struck a magnificent new rhythm when I returned to the South East.
The book was well-received and has been doing well at home and internationally. It is sold on major online stores in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Germany, Ireland, Russia, South Korea, India and South Africa. It is also listed on Goodreads. So, there you have it. That’s a great personal triumph there.