The dilemma of image-makers

The dilemma of image-makers

Thursday, March 9, 2017 7:32 am


Bola Bolawole

By Bola Bolawole

Femi Adeshina is the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari. Before his appointment, he was president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors as well as Managing Director of the SUN group of newspapers. In all respect, Femi was a big player in the print media. He is one of those we can say has seen it all. He also has carved a niche for himself as someone who had been careful to ensure a good name, reputation, and integrity for himself, not one of those gruffly, irresponsible, ethics-my-foot journalists or those “Ghana-must-go” editors. Femi qualifies as one of the fast-depleted tribe – in fact, endangered species – of editors that another journalist called the “Thank-you” editors.

These are editors who did their job professionally and dispassionately and were satisfied with receiving a mere “thank you” rather than demand for gratification or appreciation in cash or kind. Femi Adeshina is well-respected in the media. He has paid his dues as well. When his appointment was announced, I thought it followed in the tradition of our erstwhile military leaders who looked for those leading top professional groups such as the Nigerian Bar Association to appoint as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. Another former Guild of Editors president, the late Mrs. Remi Oyo, was Chief Press Secretary to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The colleague of Femi on the media team of the Presidency and my own contemporary, Garba Sheu, was also a former President of the Guild.

Later, however, I found out that Femi’s appointment had more to it than that. He is said to be a long-standing friend of Buhari. There were, therefore, those who had seen the appointment coming. That ought to have been a plus for Femi. A media advisor’s job is one that you should not venture into if you do not have very good rapport with the boss. You should be a confidante, who will make the kitchen cabinet, if you are to enjoy the job as well as be effective in the discharge of your duties. Government is a labyrinth of sorts and like power theorists position, every government is a conspiracy. You must be in the thick of the conspiracy to not only survive the unending plots but to also partake in calling the shots. Or else, you stay on the periphery and be contented with whatever crumbs – or fate – that comes your way.

Femi is different from many of the “big men” in his position. He picks calls. He responds to text messages. He has soft and helpful words and is not puffy. He receives visitors even if he does not have more than a bottle of soft drinks to offer. But it would appear as if this man is hamstrung in some very important ways. Things he would have loved to do, it does appear he is unable to do. Either his office is not well funded or he is not allowed enough leverage in this government or both. There is no way this will not affect his productivity and level of confidence. He will suffer, the job will suffer, and his boss, ultimately, will suffer. If this was not made manifest in the past, it has now been thrown open by the president’s health saga.

I have watched Femi try to wriggle out of the tight corners that his professional colleagues have tried to pin him. And, O my! It always was a classic case of someone caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Femi is a not just a pastor but a true child of God; so lying is out of the equation. He has the job of an image-maker to do and he must put in his level best. Then he has a friendship to keep. I do not envy him at all. Unfortunately, those around the president, and possibly the president himself inclusive, do not have a sufficient understanding of the dilemmas of this man as he grapples with a public sceptical of the discordant tunes oozing out of the many unprofessional handlers that have taken it upon themselves to foray into a territory alien to their proficiencies.

When, eventually, the president spoke directly with Femi – for so he told us – he was gleeful and announced it for the whole world to hear. “He spoke to me” “He spoke to me”. This, I dare to say, is very embarrassing. The president speaking to his image-maker is not a gift but a must. It is something that must happen routinely, especially now that there is media buzz around the president on account of his health issues. In fact, Femi or Sheu should be there in London with Buhari to professionally handle his media. Apart from the doctors, the next most important professionals needed by Buhari right now are his media team.

The president’s health saga is object lesson to those in positions of authority. Those appointing media advisors should note that they must appoint only those they can trust with their top secrets, since they may, at some point, be made privy to them. And those taking up such jobs should note that they are not civil service but top confidential jobs. It is a job that should qualify you for the “inner, inner” of the kitchen cabinet.

Now that we have found ourselves in this quagmire, there are those who think Femi and Sheu should tell “white lies” and keep a straight face. Even when they have not smelled the president, they should say, “Oh, yes, I just finished speaking with him!” There are also those asking them to just walk away. Not so easy, folks! The “principalities and powers” who have erected themselves as “Berlin wall” or “wall of Jericho between the president and his image-makers should make way without delay. This is the rational thing to do – and it is in the best interest of the president who they think they are protecting.

Bola Bolawole, turnpot@gmail.com, 0807 552 5533


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