Buhari’s unhelpful spokespersons
Photo credit: @LhidhiasStanley

By Rotimi Fasan

In the afternoon of Sunday, October 11, there was news from Abuja that the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had disbanded the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad popularly called FSARS.

It was indicative of the urgency of the announcement that it had to be made at a news conference on a Sunday afternoon. The disbandment of FSARS followed several days of what had grown to be a nationwide protest, mostly spearheaded by young Nigerians, sometimes under the figurehead of well-known pop-culture personalities.

The protest for the disbandment of FSARS took an international dimension in the past week, making it to the stable of international news media. Perhaps it was this international dimension, coupled with the fact that some casualties were beginning to be recorded (witness the shooting to death of a protester in Ogbomoso among others), events that could only reinforce and prove the claims of the protesters of a brutal, often authoritarian police force, that spurred Abuja into action.

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A news report had it that the IG’s announcement would have come on Friday, October 9, three clear days before it was finally made, but for the intervention of presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, who allegedly argued that Abuja should not succumb to the threats of ‘twitter warriors’.

For all I care, this allegation about Adesina might well be false and without any foundation even in fiction. It could also turn out that Adesina did make the remark or something close to it. But that is neither here nor there.

The fact that anyone would even attribute such remark to him points to his typical response when issues like this come up. Adesina would more often than not dismiss criticisms of Abuja- be it the president, his government or their policy, in a manner that gives short shrift to their critics. He would appear to question the very right of these critics to dissent, however justified is their position.

His is always the smug, arrogant response of a superior, real or imagined, that put down critics with a wave of the hand. If it’s the faceless general public, his response would seem to highlight their ignorance. But where it is some Nigerian with huge name recognition, Adesina seeks to undermine their position by dismissing it as just an opinion of one Nigerian among many others.

Either way and whatever their position or personal or group achievement, Nigerians simply cannot win with Adesina. What Adesina is yet to tell anyone is what moral stance authorises his dismissive response to almost every critic of the government he serves.

Apparently calm and soft-spoken, he has without appearing to know it grown quietly hawkish.

What I say about Adesina, the Dr. Jekyll of the presidency, applies to the same or even greater degree to Garba Shehu, his Mr. Hyde, twin brother of the presidential spokespersons.  Which leads me to the main point I want to make here about how spokespersons of President Muhammadu Buhari, be it the duo of Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, and his appointees like ministers and other surrogates tend to amplify what many, rightly or wrongly, consider to be the president’s weak point, given these spokespersons tendency to misspeak or go on the offensive even when there is hardly any reason to. Aisha Buhari, the president’s wife, loudly spoke against this tendency in the aftermath of her public spat with Fatima Daura.

When supporters of the president speak about this, they do so from the perspective that the spokespersons or appointees of the president very often fail to highlight for the benefit of Nigerians the achievements of the government. While there may be no human being without their weak side, my point is that these spokespersons’ utterances often accentuate the president’s weakness or portray his government in negative light in the manner they downplay issues that are of life and death concern to Nigerians.

If in the heat of the anti-FSARS protest some complain that the president failed to speak to the concerns of the people and was therefore too distant from them, what does anyone make of the comment by the voluble Lauretta Onochie that the entire protest that has now led to the disbandment of FSARS was sustained while it lasted by internet fraudsters, aka yahoo-yahoo boys?  What kind of reductionist thinking would make anyone make such astounding claim?

While it is very probable that cyber fraudsters could have joined the protest, it would be too much of a stretch to conclude they were the backbone of the campaign, or say in Femi Fani-Kayode’s parlance, that they bankrolled it.

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It is only in the butcher’s mindset of a woman like Onochie in which every problem looks like a piece of meat to be sliced to bits that things could be this black or white. Her blind defence of anything out of Abuja wrongfoots what could pass for the merit of her position in some cases.

She and others like her are worse than critics of Buhari that hate won’t permit to see anything good in any of his action. What’s wrong in conceding the merit of a superior position, more so one that could enhance the human side of a president that is viewed as standoffish and is, therefore, rightly or wrongly seen as unfeeling? Between the position ofLauretta Onochie and Zahra Buhari who lent her voice to the concerns of Nigerians of her generation in their anti-FSARS angst, who appears more human and empathetic?

It was in this same vein of aggravating a bad situation that the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, advised striking university teachers opposed to enrolling in the new payroll system to take to farming. What is the purpose of such statements? And after such flippancy by a man who should know better, does he still expect the disaffected lecturers to sit at table to negotiate the terms of their return to class?

What does he expect them to make of his position during negotiation? Let’s not forget that other unions whose members are on IPPIS already want out. How does Nwajiuba’s comment help advance the debate on IPPIS in any meaningful direction?

The dust on the farming advice had hardly settled when Nwajiuba needlessly heaped the blame in the university system on professors who he says are too many and taking more than their fair share of what goes to the universities. What explains this change in a man whose utterances seemed well-thought-through being suddenly given to making irresponsible remarks?

One has had cause in the recent past to call attention to statements being spilled out by Buhari’s appointees that are not just unhelpful but clearly harmful to the cause of their principal. Rather than contracting, the rank of these careless talkers appears to be expanding apace.



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