Journalism in the service of society

The rage of presidential spokespersons

“Corruption charges swirl around the leading presidential candidates – all of them without an exception. Their spokespersons should address that and stop the diversionary tactics of fighting dirty and trading insults.”

AS 2023 beckons and the presidential candidates rev up their hustings across the country’s political landscape, the metamorphosis of many of the finest and best of the country’s journalism and legal professions connected with the campaigns beggars belief! Men who have toiled day and night for decades to make a name for themselves while also elevating their profession and its practice have unravelled badly – surprisingly, unimaginably, and disastrously. What is on display is worse than the king dancing naked (Fred Agbeyegbe ‘s “The King must dance naked”) – but this is nothing new! Some of the finest and best in their profession – the journalism and legal professions especially – have soiled their image on the altar of partisan politics working for politicians or becoming politicians themselves. Should men not play politics? Is politics a dirty game, as they say, that decent men and women must avoid like a plague? Not really! Men ought to play politics – but let them do so responsibly and decently. Politics in itself is value-free; it is men and women that play politics that ascribe whatever value they choose to it.

The men in the midst of the gutter-fight, which I have chosen to dub the rage of presidential spokespersons, are my friends and colleagues; some of them call me “egbon”, out of respect (which I appreciate and reciprocate) and probably being also that I am older than them, but I must not spare them all the same. Spare the rod and spoil the child, as they say! What is more, scriptures say it is the child that the father loves that he chastises. Today, I place myself in the position of a friend, professional colleague, and father-figure as I chastise these errant colleagues of ours, believing firmly that they will listen to wise counsel, repent from their unprofessional conduct, and retrace their footsteps. Repent, ye backsliding children, says the Lord God Almighty! To do otherwise is perilous. When Ephraim declined to repent, he chose the path of perdition and destruction and the Lord, regrettably, gave up on him. “Ephraim has joined himself to idols, let him alone”! But not before God had mournfully declared, “Tell Ephraim, he shall be desolate”! May we not be desolate!

The kind of gutter language that some top presidential spokesperson have hauled at each other in recent times demeans themselves, calls their intimidating records of achievements into question, and casts aspersion as well as doubt on the usefulness of the democratic experiment. Should spokespersons not tango? For God’s sake, they should! Should they not trade tackles? For goodness sake, let them – even fiercely and ferociously, but with verifiable facts and figures. And they should mind their language! Descending into the gutter like they have done in recent times does no credit to them or to even the principals they purport to represent. Make your points in a decent and professional manner. Shun abuses and tirades. This is not about apportioning blame here or trying to find out who wins the bragging rights in this war of gutter language. You can – and should – make your points without being abusive. You can – and should – respond to abuse by being polite and decorous.

In the days of the great divide between East and West Germany, in those days of the Iron Curtain, the story is told that, one day, those on the side of the East packed a lot of garbage and tossed it to the West over the Berlin Wall that divided Berlin into East Berlin and West Berlin. In response, those on the West side packed cartons of canned beef, sardines, beverages and assorted drinks and food items and tossed them over the wall into the East Berlin section with this accompanying inscription: “Everyone gives what he/she has!” Quite profound! If you give garbage, you are gibberish! If your response to garbage is garbage, you, too, are garbage. You give what you have!

The 2023 campaign should be issue-based; it should be one of ideas. I am surprised that the presidential spokespersons appear unmindful of the arduous task ahead of them. All of them have a mountain to climb selling their candidate to the electorate. So, I was not amused when the news went viral that supporters of one of the presidential candidates climbed up to the Kilimanjaro mountain to unfurl his campaign banner? They should follow that up by climbing Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, to do likewise! Their candidate sure needs it! Ditto his competitors. Many Nigerians are simply resigned to fate, as it were; the options available to them really being no options in the real sense of the word. All of the leading candidates are “old cargoes”, as they say, and the people are only trying to see which is the least of four evils. So the spokespersons should understand that they have a lot of work to do selling their products and not trying to outdo or outshine one another trading insults and engaging in mudslinging.

Corruption charges swirl around the leading presidential candidates – all of them without an exception. Their spokespersons should address that and stop the diversionary tactics of fighting dirty and trading insults. The candidates are not new to Nigerians. They have all held public offices in the recent past. There are question marks about their performance in those offices. Their spokespersons should address that. Nigerians are of the opinion that the leading presidential candidates – all of them without an exception – cannot wash themselves clean of the fact that they have been part of the problem and that they have contributed to bringing the country to its present sorry pass. Their spokespersons should speak to that. Which of the presidential candidates have not changed parties like the chameleon? Which of them has not been accused of political prostitution? Which of them has not made promises but failed to fulfil? Which of them has not been accused of treachery and back-stabbing? When statements they made in the past are now replayed, which of the candidates does not squirm or sweat or feel uncomfortable? The spokespersons should speak to these! We can go on and on!

What will you do differently now? Are you born again? Have you repented from your evil ways? Will you now act differently – and in what and which way or ways? The story is told of a Nigerian Army General who, during the Nigerian civil war, reportedly looted the Central Bank of Nigeria in Benin. When he became military Head of State years later, he reportedly repented and returned his loot. He thereafter reportedly died penniless. How many of our presidential candidates, if this cap fits them, will do exactly what that General reportedly did? Who, among them, will be the biblical Zacchaeus of our own time? “And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” Which of the presidential candidates is ready to be the Zacchaeus of our time? That is what we want the spokespersons to tell us, not the ongoing mud-slinging that profits us nothing but which obfuscates issues and diverts attention to inanities. Sell your candidate to us! Tell us how he will take us out of the miry clay that Muhammadu Buhari and his cohorts have driven the country.

There are far too many serious issues to discuss than the ongoing circus show between presidential spokespersons. The United States has started evacuating its citizens from Abuja after its advisory that terrorists’ attack on the city was imminent. The UK and other Western countries have followed suit with their own advisory to their citizens. Did I not say before now that we were on the road to Afghanistan? Did I also not warn that Rwanda was loading? Have I not cried myself hoarse that we should avoid becoming another Somalia? These are issues the spokespersons should address. How will their principals tackle insurgency? A bag of rice is N45,000 in a country where the minimum wage is N30,000 (which many states and local governments are not even paying!): How will presidential candidates address the economy that has been ruined by the Buhari administration? Floods have ravaged virtually the entire country; even the dead are not spared in their graves. Buhari has given the agency responsible three months to come up with a blueprint! It means there was none in the first place! If the rage of the waters continues unabated, what will be left of the affected communities before Buhari’s blueprint rears its head in three months’ time – that is, if it does at all! And if a review committee is not set up thereafter before a white paper drafting committee is set up after which the report is left somewhere to gather dust! Tell Nigerians, ye quarrelsome spokespersons, what will your principal do differently? Are we even sure they have an understanding of the problems of global warming, greenhouse effect, etc? Tell us!

Stop belittling yourselves! Sheathe your swords!You are damn too much for what you are subjecting yourselves to. This is not journalism you are practicing! This is not our profession at all! I read a statement credited to a presidential spokesperson in which he took a Yoruba or Oodua nation activist-cum-leader to the cleaners. For sure, he has the right to answer. He is perfectly justified to respond to the Professor of African history and Yoruba nation advocate-cum-leader. If you say a presidential candidate is engaged on an ego trip (or something like that), you also should expect to be asked “who made you a judge over us”! But the language of that presidential spokesperson shook me to my very roots! What has become of the time-honoured Yoruba tradition and custom of respect for elders? Even when an elder is wrong in Yoruba land, respect for “grey hairs” must be kept intact. This is sacrosanct and politics must not be allowed to take it away. For goodness sake, address the issues; make your point as forcefully and as pungently as possible but be decent and decorous; first in deference to the other person (especially if he or she is an elder, and one old enough to be your father for that matter) and secondly because your own manner of speech, regardless of whether or not you have been provoked, speaks volumes about who you are. It is not our culture as Yorubas to call our elders names. When we have cause to differ from them, we do so politely and reverentially. Anything different from that is not Yoruba but an aberration.

Have I in any way and by any means stepped on toes? That is not intentional! I come in peace!

  • Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of the Westerner newsmagazine. He writes ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in the New Telegraph newspaper. Bolawole is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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