By Olu Wole Onemola
“I am whatever you say I am. If I wasn’t, then why would you say I am… In the paper, the news, everyday I am…” – Eminem
On the 1st of October 2010, while the former President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was inspecting a military parade in commemoration of Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary, a bomb went off less than one kilometer away from the venue of these celebrations, killing sixteen people. Immediately, media reports attributed the attacks to the radical group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), who had said that they would be carrying out an attack within that period.
Nevertheless, a day after the aforementioned episode, in a shocking reaction that was rightly or wrongly attributed to ethnic sentiments, Dr. Jonathan, who hails from the Niger Delta region, while speaking at the ECOWAS parliament, absolved MEND of the attacks, and stated that it was “erroneous” to think that his people – namely the Niger Delta militants – could have been involved in such attacks. This statement by Dr. Jonathan drew the intense scrutiny of the press and the public because MEND had released an unambiguous statement claiming responsibility for the attack.
Two years after the MEND incident, in June 2012, while engaging Nigerians in a primetime media chat, President Jonathan again raised eyebrows when he responded extemporaneously to a question about public asset declaration that he did not “Give a Damn” what Nigerians thought about the issue as he was not legally required to declare his assets publicly. This was in spite of the fact that the issue of public asset declaration was less about the legal requirement, and more about the personal integrity of the former President.
Recently, less than a hundred days into his tenure, President Muhammadu Buhari has been stirring up some controversy of his own that can be attributed to both his actions and his utterances.
First and foremost, there is a concerted clamour from many Nigerians about the obvious tilt in political appointments from the Northern region thus far. Even though the number of appointments that have been made by the President stands as less than 20 – with over 5000 still left to go – many opposition politicians and groups are using this development as an avenue to tell Nigerians: “We told you so.” These groups of Nigerians are basing their argument on the 2003, 2007 and 2011 general elections, where presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, was carefully (and falsely) painted by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) machinery as an individual with religious and sectarian tendencies due to many of his intentionally misinterpreted utterances.
Additionally, President Buhari’s recent gaffe about treating constituencies that gave him 97% of their votes differently from those that gave him 5% at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), has given fuel to those that preach anti-Buhari fire. This is happening despite the President clearly stating in his inaugural address that he is committed to being a leader that belongs to everybody, and nobody.
What the President, and specifically, his media team must understand is that these mistakes are inexcusable in this honeymoon period of the administration. Less, than 100 days in, many Nigerians who want this administration to succeed will be sure to forgive these mistakes. However, many others – who have been opposed to this dispensation from the get-go – will be sure not to forget them. As in the case of Dr. Jonathan, who lost the 2015 elections gradually from eroded press and public support, President Buhari must be conscious that if it takes a thousand chinks to break armour, after a thousand chinks that armour will surely break. Hence, the number of useless chinks to the President’s armour must at once be limited to a bare minimum, and self-inflicted chinks by the President must immediately stop.
The president’s communication team must ensure that Mr. President does not sustain pointless political or public perception damage that could come back to haunt him, and ultimately, his party in the future.
In addition to this, the president’s communication team must always be on top of the public’s perception on issues that concern the president and his government AT ALL TIMES. This has become necessary in this era of rapid-public-engagement where not too many utterances or actions by relevant public figures pass-by without scrutiny by the press and ultimately, the public.
Furthermore, while rooting for the success of this Buhari and APC-led dispensation, we must always have the results of the 2015 presidential elections at the back of our minds. Only 2 million votes separated the victor from his closest rival. In this regard, it would be a mistake for President Buhari and his team to assume that having been elected with 15,424,921 votes to Dr. Jonathan’s 12,853,162 votes, the current administration cannot experience setbacks if the current political capital that the president enjoys wanes overtime due to negligent statements, actions, and inactions.
Finally, even though President Buhari is said to always be resolute in his decisions – one of the traits that endears him to many Nigerians – he must be made to understand that every decision of his, or a lack thereof, has a cost, and every utterance from his presidential lips is a potential positive or negative headline or trending topic waiting to be analyzed, scrutinized, interpreted and/or misunderstood as another building block in his public perception profile.
I rest my case.
About Olu Wole Onemola:
He is a pragmatist who writes from Abuja. He tweets via @Olu1NE.
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