President Buhari won the historic 2015 presidential election defeating an incumbent in a well-coordinated and funded campaign. Buhari’s message of “Change” was well-accepted by an overwhelming majority of Nigerians which earned him 15 million votes.
Buhari, again, won re-election in 2019 making him the second incumbent to do so since 2003. This victory was against well-funded and prolific opposition propaganda.
In the last six years, how has President Buhari’s media team fared?
I will set a background here. President Buhari, admittedly, is not an orator by his introverted nature. His deputy, Vice President Osinbajo, is a better handler of public communication. In the end, the Presidency is one.
In rating the President’s Media Team, I will use the following metrics: visibility, public engagement, and timeliness.
MINISTER FOR INFORMATION: ALHAJI LAI MUHAMMED
Alhaji Lai Muhammed needs no introduction for those who have been following political developments in the last decade or so. He made himself a household name in the art of party spokesmanship with his brilliant, timely, and needed interventions as APC (previously AC/ACN) image-maker. As an opposition spokesman, no one beats Lai.
His appointment as Minister for Information is a different matter altogether. As Minister, he is barely visible. He is supposed to be the most visible Minister in Buhari’s government, but he appears to be on a long holiday. This appears to be the case with agencies under the Ministry (NOA, NBC etc). His engagement with the media is often below par. But he did an excellent job in tackling CNN over their report on Lekki Toll Gate which led them to backtrack. Apart from this and a few other interventions, Lai is largely absent. He is also not, like many in the Buhari Media Team, on time. Issues are allowed to fester for too long before they react.
SPECIAL ADVISER ON MEDIA AND PUBLICITY: FEMI ADESINA
Many people fondly remember Femi Adesina as a prolific writer, columnist, and Managing Editor at DAILY SUN. His write-ups and call to action are top-notch. His sacrifice working in a hostile environment like DAILY SUN whilst supporting Buhari deserved commendation. Femi is still one of the best writers the country has today. It’s doubtful if anyone can outwrite Femi on his day.
It should be no surprise that Femi was the first appointment Buhari made in 2015. His performance in office is another matter altogether. However, what no one can take away from him is his fervor for the nation and unyielding loyalty to the President.
After Lai, Femi is supposed to be the most visible in the president’s communication team. Apart from dropping STATE HOUSE PRESS RELEASES, writing occasional articles, and few media interviews, his impacts in shaping narratives and deliberately magnifying the president’s achievements have often been left to guesses. More often than not, his interventions do not solve the problems. He doesn’t appear confident whenever he speaks to the media which makes one wonder if he is hiding something.
For me, he has the capacity to do more to shield the president from frequent media attacks. In fact, most of the routes to media attacks on the president have been through him and Garba Shehu (I will come to this later).
SENIOR SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT ON MEDIA: GARBA SHEHU
Like Femi Adesina, Like Garba Shehu. Garba is more of a politician or representing some political interests in the team than actual Buhari’s spokesman. Like Adesina, his engagements are sometimes very insensitive. Garba’s press releases are known to stir more controversies than anyone else in the presidency. In some cases, one wonders if he’s actually writing the president’s thoughts or some political interests.
In a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria, Shehu does a good job affirming a particular diatribe, but it’s impossible not to concede that he is very powerful in the Media Team having survived an open confrontation with the wife and children of the President.
For all his weakness, reporters in the Presidency say Shehu is very friendly.
I think Mr President should call them in for a serious review.
SENIOR SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT ON MEDIA (OVP): LAOLU AKANDE
An astute reporter with Guardian and former US university lecturer, Laolu Akande has made a name for himself in the profession of journalism. He is said to be the only Nigerian journalist to have interviewed a sitting US president in the White House, according to Wikipedia.
Therefore, his appointment as Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media (OVP) did not come as a surprise to many people.
His appointment proved to have paid off largely. Laolu is a clear departure from Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina. In timeliness, Laolu gets it right often. His writings are never nebulous. His engagement with the media is far more mature than his peers
He has been able to use his Twitter and other social media handles to engage Nigerians on the activities of the Buhari administration, however, Akande needs to try to fill in the gaps left by his seniors and also mend relations with some sections of the print media some of whom he engaged in media warfare just before the 2019 election. He did sustain some injury in those avoidable encounters when he took on Dele Momodu and Festus Adedayo. He should make more friends.
SPECIAL TECHNICAL ASSISTANT: LOUIS ODION
There isn’t much about him other than his time as a flamboyant columnist at The Cable, and editorships in some major newspapers. But there is no significant impact since he was appointed. However being a former information Commissioner and retired editor, much is expected from him perhaps to fill some of the gaps in the President’s Media Team.
SENIOR SPECIAL ASSISTANT ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS: AJURI NGELALE
Ajuri left his mark for his brilliant presentations at CHANNELS TV. He’s known for his ability to fact-check his guests which means he knows his job then thoroughly. This is why his appointment as SSA was hailed by many.
Ajuri at the beginning was about the most engaging presidential spokesman on Radio. His Radio Tours has given many Nigerians insights into the projects and activities of the Buhari administration.
But, it appears Ajuri has soft-pedaled or even disillusioned in recent times. Besides, he has had very limited appearance on major TV stations, significantly reducing his impact -few appearances on NTA, and AIT where he once worked. NTA officials say he was almost prevented from the Station at a point because some ministers felt he was often speaking out of turn on matters of policy. But it’s curious no one has seen his appearance at all on Channels TV, his last employer. If need be he could mend fences and be less arrogant.
SPECIAL ASSISTANT ON NEW MEDIA: TOLU OGUNLESI
Many remember Tolu for his brilliant tweets and write-ups during the #OccupyNigeria protests in 2012. His special media activism is top-notch. Therefore, his appointment in 2015 was largely on the basis of competence.
In his role, he has done his best projecting the activities of the Buhari administration on Twitter. He has used his Twitter handle to engage Nigerians. He was one of the most active during the 2019 presidential election telling Nigerians the projects of the Buhari administration and countering fake news.
Someone like him can be put to better use on the team, he is level-headed and perceived as a professional especially on Social Media.
PERSONAL ASSISTANT ON SOCIAL (NEW) MEDIA: BASHIR AHMED AND LAURETTA ONOCHIE
I have taken these two together because their roles are similar. Both contributed personal resources towards Buhari’s victory in 2019. This, in my estimation, was the basis for their appointments.
Bashir’s engagement is largely posting the president’s pictures and announcing visits to the Presidential Villa. Onochie’s case involves engaging in “take-no-prisoner” conversations on social media.
For me, both have no significant contributions to the Team.