By Mike Jimoh
Sometime in 2004, I went to see a friend Samuelson Olubunmi Aturu working with Federal Fire Service at the Domestic Wing of Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja. It was one indolent afternoon when, as an unemployed idler about town with much time as befits my status then, I met Sam in his office.
It was the administrative headquarters of the federal government department in Lagos, and also their operational base. Sam and I come from the same local government (Akoko Edo in Edo state) lived on the same street in Igarra the council’s headquarters. Somehow our paths crossed pre-university, remained so after and then – like most graduates in rural areas – beelined it to Lagos for better opportunities. So, my visits were more like brotherly calls.
There were always two or so fire trucks on standby, and just a glancing distance away, you could see camouflage-coloured military helicopters sitting like giant metallic birds in another part of the tarmac separate from that for domestic flights.
With no catastrophic fire outbreak demanding his immediate attention, Sam took me out to lunch and we fetched up in one of the restaurants in the Arrival Hall. Just as we were stepping in, someone was descending the elevator at that moment.
As he emerged from the see-through lift, we couldn’t help but notice him, as others did because there was momentary silence in the hall, the kind that attracts attention when a famous person enters a room. The man in question was dressed all in white up to his cap, though he wore black or brown sandals, I can’t remember which but it was one of those hues.
At a glance we knew who the man was. On a whim, Sam and I decided to say hello. We walked straight up to him and did just that. “How are you?” the man asked, followed it up with a firm handshake. It was our closest encounter with a former head of state, a soldier-turned-politician who, the year before, had lost a presidential election to another general-turned-politician, Olusegun Obasanjo – all of that unscripted, just by chance.
Not that we were overawed like teenage fans mooning, swooning or whatever they do over their favourite stars. We were impressed by the man’s simplicity, his ordinariness in carriage and sartorial disposition.
It is doubtful if Sam and I would have been drawn to him on the spur of the moment as we were that day if he were grossly out of shape, if, for instance, his neck disappeared completely into his shoulders such that you couldn’t tell if he had one in the first place. It was the attraction of a man of moderate gastronomic indulgence and, possibly, every other aspect of his life. Even his steps were brisk, not one-at-a-time slow shuffle.
Nineteen years after he was dethroned as head of state by fellow general Ibrahim Babangida in a palace coup, six years after he was PTF Executive Chairman under another general and one year after he was defeated in a presidential election, Muhammadu Buhari didn’t look like the typical Nigerian big-man wanting to be noticed everywhere they go with a retinue of aides and sub-aides. There was just one man with him, dressed also in white as they stepped out of the elevator.
Whatever his mission was in Lagos that day, I can’t say. He came in as unobtrusively and quietly as possible, then probably departed in as much manner from whence he came. For Sam and I, it was a first great impression.
Military trim, you could see his ascetic life in his disciplined physique. We took to him right away, which was why we decided to salute a man who had been in power and occupied plum positions in government without the sudden physical transformation and self importance such attainments bring about in some individuals.
One day, too, sometime in 2012, I had cause to see a former editor who had become the DMD of The Sun newspaper at their Kirikiri head office in Apapa. Though I had resigned from the tabloid two years before, I had an amicable relationship with him, and we could talk about just anything. By that time, at least three media professionals had become chief spokesmen to presidents of Nigeria: Segun Adeniyi and Ima Niboro. Reuben Abati was a year into his appointment as Goodluck Jonathan’s chief spokesman.
I think it was partly for that reason I asked why he has not taken up any such appointment with the government. With his famous smile fringing the corners of his mouth and a level gaze, he shook his head severally. “No, No,” he said. “This government is too corrupt. But if it was a government headed by Buhari, yes, I will.”
Three years after that off the cuff declaration, Buhari was elected president of Nigeria. One of the very first appointments he approved, or the very first so it as been said, was of Femi Adesina as Special Adviser Media & Publicity. Of course, Adesina gladly accepted the appointment. In all my years in journalism, I have never heard anything more prophetic, a sort of prescient prediction of what was to come. And it did!
What is the connection between these two separate incidents – the first, a chance encounter and, the second, something that became a prophetic pronouncement?
The connection is nothing more than what we saw of Buhari that inauspicious day and how Adesina has equally perceived his principal from early on up till now as PMB’s SA Media & Publicity. I cannot say exactly when Adesina started championing Buhari’s cause. But it was long before he sought elective office, a genuine admiration for an individual he felt was, and still is, a cut above the rest in leadership qualities. We felt the same way on the day we ran into the former head of state.
In a country as divisive as Nigeria, inter-ethnic loyalties are a rarity, especially politically. Thus, our political affiliations tend to follow ethnic considerations. Where we come from oftentimes determine the political parties we belong to, support or sympathize with, a phenomenon that seems to be encoded in our DNA. (A random check from Independence till date more than proves this to be true.)
As members of the Fourth Estate of the realm, journalists ought to be non-partisan in politics, at least for objective reports, coverage, analysis and presentation of news to the public. I do not know if Adesina was ever a card-carrying member of the party his boss now leads. What I do know is that his admiration and respect for Buhari predates whatever he may be doing for APC now. It was not the party that appointed Adesina. Rather, PMB himself decided on the matter and that was it.
From all indications, the relationship/ friendship between the two is going swimmingly despite news reports here and there that Adesina is desperately trying all he can to save a job he has not been relieved of. Let’s consider the record. Adeniyi was Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s spokesman for under three years before his principal died in office. Niboro served for less before Abati replaced him. Adesina has been Buhari’s spokesman for six years now. If that is not a record for a presidential spokesman, what else is?
In the last couple weeks, especially after the appointment of the new Chief of Staff, Ambassador Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, to PMB, some petty minds have taken to the social media regurgitating a supposed ancient offence by Adesina. Consider this one from Sahara Reporters, New York, for instance. Published on May 21 2020, in an unsigned article, the on-line publication wrote that Adesina “Makes Desperate Moves to Mend Relationship with New Chief of Staff to President, Gambari, 12 Years After Damning Newspaper Article On HIm.” (A video voiced-over by a Caucasian has even gone viral on account of it.)
For a publication that takes itself seriously, this time the editors got it wrong. The article referred to was written by Adesina’s friend and co-Buharist, Femi Olufunmilade, who teaches at Igbinedion University, Okada in Edo state. All the newspaper needed to do was clarify with the writer instead of assuming – for their own convenience – that Adesina spponsored it. By the way, the piece in question was unsolicited. Second, the same Deep Throat in the Villa ought to have availed the editors at SR what transpired at the very first FEC meeting Gambari attended. It went swimmingly for all.
Besides, a decent diplomat in the person of Gambari with impressive international credentials and formidable intelligence will never condescend to the level some Nigerians are now enthusiastically dragging him.
After the Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci’s interview, in 1972, with another revered international diplomat, Henry Kissinger, the American envoy put it down as the worst interview he ever granted. In other words, he never blamed the journalist for her candour in reporting what transpired but later praised the petite Italian for her courage.
Equally, those presently pitting Adesina against the new CoS ought to praise the former for his courage. Moreover, nobody raised even a finger of protest at the time. Many years down the line, they have suddenly remembered what Adesina wrote and why. Would they have if Gambari was not appointed CoS? Would they have even recalled it if Adesina remained MD of The Sun without becoming SA Media & Publicity to PMB? It is doubtful.
But what is clearly not in doubt is the sinister motives behind the recent attacks on Adesina. Plainly, some people are uncomfortable with his cosy relationship with his principal. Dredging up a long-ago publication is the latest ammunition to lob at him so they can put a wedge between him and Buhari and, by extension, the new CoS.
Well, as a media spokesman of a politician and leader, such cannons are fired indiscriminately, sometimes savagely, and often to no purpose, what many Nigerians know and call bad belle.
To understand the extent such hatred goes, we cannot but conclude this piece with what Adesina’s counterpart in one of the South-east states told a journalist recently.
Asked what his biggest challenge was and has been in his capacity as Chief Press Secretary to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra state, James Eze could have been speaking for dozens of spokesmen in a lengthy interview with Fred Iwenjora in Vanguard of May 16, 2020 titled “Burden of being Obiano’s Spokesman.”
“The biggest challenge of any governor’s spokesman in Nigeria today is the deliberate use of social media by mischief makers to circulate false reports about people in leadership positions,” Eze told Iwenjora. “It is commonly known as Fake News phenomenon…unconscionable people who are restrained by neither morality nor good taste have often misused 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…Sometimes you shudder at the hammer blows our humanity has taken.”
Jimoh is a Journalist based in Lagos