DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In a manner of speaking, I sympathise with the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina. He appears to be labouring under the burden of the distress of a double barell syndrome.The first layer of the syndrome is that the more untenable and unpopular the government they serve gets, the more the media managers and promoters are stressed and prone to lose composure, driven to extremes and lapse into incoherence in defence of the indefensible -lashing out left, right and centre in blind aggravation.Their sense of proportion and ability to discern and respect the boundary between truth and outright falsehood, becomes ever so blurry and steadily deteriorate until they become a menace to the cause and Principal they serve.
Ironically and invariably, in the ultimate recognition of their downward spiral into dysfunction, they are shown the door.
Shopworn is the saying that the medium is the message. In his present unmoored distemper, it is best imagined what kind of medium Adesina is increasingly and wilfully turning out to become. There is an American parallel to this.You remember Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders?. They are of the Donald Trump infamy?. To dispute the polls showing him as one of the most undesirable American President at the beginning of their tenure,Trump caused Spicer to go and tell the American audience to disregard the evidence of their eyes and declare that he pulled “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”.To give you an idea of what becomes of those who go the way of Spicer, the only industry he could find rehabilitation after he was shown the way out, was comedy and at his first outing as a clown he was adjudged a disaster. It is an indication of the communication crisis the Trump presidency is enmeshed that he is into his third Press secretary three years in office.
Trump and President Muhammadu Buhari are two of a kind, not least in their penchant for deliberately fostering and promoting wedge issues and divisiveness as tools of entrenching themselves in office. The idea is to groom their supporters into becoming mindless robots precluding them from any sense of objectivity and reason ;and encourage them to judge issues solely on the basis of we versus them, blind loyalty and fanatical support. In Nigeria today, this mentality has been overtly and covertly nurtured with crass discrimination and unprecedented nepotism in public policy thrusts, appointments and patronage.The poverty of this culture is the license it inherently gives for the exploitation of public office for corrupt enrichment and empowerment. Integral to the logic of overt and deliberate discriminatory practices in government policies and conduct is the imputation of individual appropriation of such preferments for personal gain and benefit. Why else would Mele Kyari from Maiduguri succeed Mohammed Baru from Bauchi as Group Managing Director of NNPC? In a situation in which President Buhari from Katsina State is the substantive Minister of Petroleum and his Chief of Staff from Maiduguri a Board member?
With this pattern of placements and distribution of appointments in nearly all (what Nigerians call, in the idiom of corruption, ‘juicy and lucrative’), ministries and parastatals, MDAs -the conclusion to draw stares us all in the face. And so, whatever lip service is publicly paid to fighting corruption-should be understood as meant for the consumption of the gullible public-as everyone in the loop rightly second guesses. Just play it smart, if you can and if you can’t, be smart enough to make a preemptive move at the anti-corruption agencies and the courts. But we are in the age of globalisation from which Nigeria can run but cannot hide. And so while the President was busy gratifying himself as a model of integrity and avenging angel of corruption in the metropolitan capitals of Europe, the Transparency International was unveiling a contradictory annual report in which the truth of how deep Nigeria has sunk in corruption is laid bare for the world to see.
The second layer of the syndrome is that it is in the nature of power politics that all presidential palace courts consist of insiders and outsiders. At the attainment of power, the immediate sociopolitical circle (of the President) comprising family, close friends, proteges, professional colleagues and political trouble shooters constitute the default inner caucus- with reasonable margin for cooptation, membership proscription and time out. As the going gets tough, those of the president’s personal staff who do not belong to the insider inner caucus begin to feel vulnerable and easily dispensable. They see less and less of their principal and get less and less assignments and inevitably, the redundancy psychosis sets in. The first and most critical symptom of this pathology is the exhibition of the desperate need to overcompensate, to be catholic than the Pope, royalist than the king and caliphate than the Sultan.The unravelling is further revealed in the scurrilous sycophancy of elevating their principal to the status of a demigod and relentlessly advertise their willingness to advocate and defend the principal with, as the cliche goes ‘the last drop of his blood.
This is the general manifestation but when you isolate the phenomenon to a specific instance, in this case the Buhari presidency, the malady is escalated in direct proportion to the tendency to reduce the office of the President to a personality cult.The more a president feels and acts insecure, the greater the latitude of the personality cult or cabal culture to fester and magnify. On top of his insular and parochial personality, the protracted and intermittent indisposition forced by the fragile health of the president doubly reinforces the personality cult syndrome. The phenomenon is critically characterised by paranoia and hostage politics. And the exercise of power and authority are arbitrarily wielded by individuals and officials with no formal appointment and those whose official positions do not correspond to the magnitude of control and influence at their disposal.The common vocabulary in vogue in the lingua franca of such an environment is called the ‘need to know basis’- which was the operative phrase during President Buhari’s prolonged medical emergency stay in London.
The most prominent casualty of this phenomenon in contemporary Nigeria is, of course, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Haven been cured of his earlier grand illusions of his true measure, he seems to have come to terms with the reality that there is a difference between what the constitution says and what the President and his powerful surrogates determine. How does a Vice President announce in the morning that there is no truth to the information concerning the retention of newly recruited staff in his office and he is contradicted by the office of the President in the afternoon?.This is the fraught and expansive sea of intrigue in which Mr. Adesina is floating without anchor and in which he is clearly out of depths. Hence, the increasing penchant for remorseless mendacity and impetuous eruptions into bile and blunder. What follows are a sample of his vituperations and give away symtoms of his occupational disorder:
“Akin Oshuntokun appeared on Channels television today and made the false claim that a bomb blast had gone off earlier in the day, killing about 88 people in Maiduguri… Apparently, enemies of peace and progress had expected a return to the infamous past, thus Osuntokun appeared on television with his bag of lies”- This was a press statement he issued on a programme I participated on Channels in which I spoke in English not Portuguese. Could I have suddenly developed cognitive deficiency? I double checked with Channels, they were equally flustered that such falsehood could emanate from Adesina within hours of the appearance in contention. When I called him, he was blissfully confident I made the attribution. I then realised someone was certainly suffering from cognitive disorder but that patient was not me. I gave him time to recheck the authenticity and called him back. Completely without remorse, he waved away the false weighty allegation he made and rebuffed- but you lied on the figures of the casualties in the non bomblast violence
“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?” This was the response Mr Adesina to the grief of the victims of the homicidal Fulani herdsmen terror in the Middle Belt region a while ago.
“There was a time that there were five, six, 10 bombings in a day in this country. If you hear Nigerian media, if you hear social media particularly, even if you hear some international agencies, you will think that it is all over in the North-east. It is not. The people living there will tell you that the difference between now and 2015 is the difference between heaven and hell.” Below is a testimony to the “heaven” of Mr Adesina by the British House of Lords
“More than 5,000 Christians have been killed since 2015, with 1,000 murdered in 2019. The Global Terrorism Index in 2016 and 2017 named Fulani militia as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, with only Boko Haram, ISIS and al-Shabaab being accounted deadlier”.
“We ignore him, reasoning that when a mind is diseased, there is hardly much you can do to point such soul to decency. It remains impervious to anything not from the very nether region of hell” ….Thick skulls and sick minds keep repeating falsehood even when their follies have been repeatedly pointed out” This was Adesina’s choice language on Shaka Momodu. Yet he proceeded in the same breath to pontificate “Foul language is often evidence of poor breeding”!
“Those of us who believe in Buhari will follow him from Cape to Cairo, while those who don’t believe are welcome to their unbelief. Momodu is in the latter group. How do I know?” How does a writer who, right from the title of his write up and all through the body of the same write up, indicated Momodu as the embodiment of unbelief in Buhari-thereafter asks us ‘how do I know Momodu belongs to those who don’t believe in Buhari’? Can you see the conspicuous manifestation of our diagnosis of Mr Adesina?