It’s apparent that Femi Adeshina is getting increasingly frustrated by the strident criticisms of President Buhari by Nigerians. The once cool and calm Presidential Spokesman now loses his temper easily, gets irascible and abrasive in his rejoinders and public communications. He speaks rudely to the leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and dismisses Prof Ango Abdullahi, a man who was a university professor and vice chancellor over 35 years ago when Femi was just entering the university, as “a general without troops’’. Any Nigerian who criticizes the president is described as ‘naysayers’’ or ‘’enemies’’. All too often, he seems to be talking down on the people.
Femi has not always been like this. In the early days of the administration, he was ebullient, jovial and full of confidence. His press releases were polite, full of assurances for a better future, reminding us of how far we’ve come. He it was who adapted the term ‘Wailing Wailers’ to describe the ever growing tribe of ctitics. As a journalist, Femi wrote with flourish, humour and mirth. I took to him early on and offered my goodwill soon after he arrived Abuja. In 2017, I visited him in the Villa to wish him well. Since then, especially in this second term, I have observed his steady transformation from a gleeful PR man to a mordant and caustic person. Obviously, my friend is no longer happy in the job. But why? First, I will admit that Femi and his colleague, Garba Shehu, are doing a very difficult job. It is a thankless duty. I did the same job for many years for two big banks sometime ago. It was gruelling and unforgiving. Everybody criticizes you, and some even angle to replace you. I can only imagine what they are going through now in the palace, with the avalanche of condemnations that dog the administration every day.
These attacks arise from the growing security and economic challenges we face. The government also has its problems, some self-inflicted by the perception of insularity and sectionalism the President creates. Femi has also been flummoxed and unsettled by the hurtful assaults from the evangelicals, notably the Christian Association of Nigeria. CAN and its key members are at odds with this President for several reasons: first, they believe that by the seeming lopsided political appointments he has made, the President is unwittingly creating an environment for the growing religious intolerance in the country. Second, CAN (and indeed many southerners) think that the lopsided appointments of the security chiefs, the president’s refusal to change them despite national outcry and the location of all military institutions only in the northern parts of the country are the reasons the terrorists are so emboldened to attack members of the Christian community with reckless abandon. Three, there is also the belief that the administration’s tardy and clumsy response to killings by marauding herdsmen and other ethnic militias is a sign of weakness or acceptance. Four, the increasing audacity of Myetti Allah, the umbrella association of the herders in making incendiary statements rankles a lot of people. Four, there are influential Christian leaders like Bishop David Oyedepo and Archbishop Mathew Hassan Kukah who have not disguised their disdain for this president for these and many other reasons. Their large followers have also taken a cue. In addition, there are also many feisty individuals and socio-political groups like Afenifere, Northern Elders Forum (led by Prof Ango Abdullahi), Ohaneze, etc that disagree with the government for the narrowness of its worldview.
In the welter of all these, the administration’s achievements are pushed to the background by the din of mounting criticisms, while Femi and Garba become increasingly helpless and petulant. I can understand, and I pity them. But anger will not address the issues. The solution is for the duo to remove their emotions from the job, and bear in mind that Buhari will never solve all of Nigeria’s problems. Emotions becloud wisdom, clarity of thoughts and logic. They should also understand that there will always be critics in a democracy, some for partisan political reasons and others well-intentioned. In fact, freedom of speech, including the ability to be rude to the leaders, is one of the sweetest ingredients of any self-government. Critics are not necessarily ‘’enemies, haters or naysayers’’. They just want a better nation and more productive leaders.
Many Nigerians will accept that the government has degraded the terrorists considerably in the last four years, the reason they now operate in sleeper cells mostly in remote villages, from where they launch suicide attacks at soft targets and abductions. Even then, our crime situation is not worse than Mexico, South Africa and other countries. The President has pumped a lot of resources into the war. The administration deserves our cooperation and support in the war against terrorism. I personally commend our men and women in uniform for their untold sacrifice and loyalty to the nation. I salute our military and police families for their losses and pain. The nation owes our policemen and our troops in the frontline, and their families eternal gratitude. Nigerians should acknowledge the challenges the nation is facing and the progress we have made so far. Femi ought to honestly accept that these problems exist; and keep outlining the administration’s efforts and strides in tackling them. Nigerians will more likely be sympathetic and understanding if the message is honest, polite and genuine than if they are filled with insults, acerbities and brashness. No matter the provocation, rejoinders from the Villa should always be couched in elegant and elevated language, with accent on what the government has been doing. In some cases, some insignificant comments should be ignored all together. Silence could be golden sometimes. In the early days, I had advised the duo to maintain a pool of surrogate-writers who can do the mudslinging on their behalf, while they concentrate on the big picture. I am not sure this has been done.
Etim is a banker and journalist