Home Governance REMINISCENCES: THE BANANA PEELS IN THE CORRIDOR OF POWER THE INVOLVEMENT OF...

REMINISCENCES: THE BANANA PEELS IN THE CORRIDOR OF POWER THE INVOLVEMENT OF PRESS SECRETARIES IN POLITICAL GOVERNANCE MY WITNESS

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Let me commence by stating that this piece has not been crafted to boost my ego. It is part of my memoirs being compiled; but which I have decided to share in public and national interest at this critical juncture of our national life. Intrigues occur in every gathering where people interact. People would gossip and tell lies against perceived opponents and do all sorts of terrible things. Occupants of the political office of press secretary require a great deal of conscience to excel. You may only remain in office by divine intervention and hard work. I say so because of my firm belief that God comes first. You cannot achieve anything without the knowledge and backing of the Creator. Every accomplishment is by the grace of God, and dedication is a choice and not a gift; and is a critical determinant of success. Therefore, success demands hard work, sweat and determination, while laziness attracts failure. Then a bit of luck because several equally good brains were not located for that particular position you occupy. Loyalty to the boss and the cause of the organization are of tremendous importance. Once your conscience is clear, just forge ahead in discharging your professional assignments.
The pre-eminence of the press secretary in governance has ever been part of the executive branch of government as far back as records go. The need for proper management of information increased both the status and the visibility of the press secretary with the advent of military rule. The visibility accorded the professional was enhanced from the days of Eze Alex Nwokedi, who was known and addressed ordinarily as Press Secretary to the Head of State. Chief Duro Onabule was Chief Press Secretary. Great minds like Mallam Haruna Mohammed who served Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Mr. Tunji Oseni who was Special Assistant to President Obasanjo never acquired superfluous titles. These people were very influential and had the ears of their bosses. Then came our era with the proliferation of titles like Director of Press, Special Adviser, Senior Special Adviser, Senior Special Assistant, etc. Because we love titles, we upgrade the title of Press Secretary and added to our titles: Communication & Strategy; Media and Publicity, Strategic Communication, (etc) that have been essentially covered by the simple title: Press Secretary. Meanwhile, the title of Press Secretary to the president of the United States, from where we imported wholesale our political system, known as the White House press secretarys title remains unchanged for almost one century, with the annual salary of the appointee pegged at US$172,200.
The White House Press Secretary is a senior White House official, whose primary responsibility is to act as spokesperson for the executive branch of the United States government administration, especially with regard to the President, senior executives, and policies. The White House has had 31 Press Secretaries since the first appointee was named in 1929. You could still earn a fantastic amount commensurate to your responsibilities by answering to simple titles. The importance of the role of the White House Press Secretary could be gauged by the fact that the United States government does not maintain a Ministry of Information. The nearest to this is the United States Information Agency, an independent foreign affairs agency supporting U.S. foreign policy and national interests abroad. The agency conducts international educational and cultural exchanges, broadcasting, and information programmes. The White House Press Secretary has to moderate newspaper publications in active circulation that have, according to Dale Nelson increased to 1,200 dailies, in addition to the many new monthly magazines, and the electronic media.
MY WITNESS
I would say that I have been privileged and lucky to have had the wonderful opportunity of serving personalities, who gave me wide latitude to perform my official and professional functions while serving in different governments, and I was fortunate that they also trusted my inherent capabilities. The bosses are, Navy Captain Anthony Udofia (retd); Colonel Theophilus Bamigboye, (retd); Colonel Anthony Obi (retd) and Chief Bisi Akande whom I served as Chief Press Secretary from 1994 to 2000, before my voluntary retirement from the public service. I later served as a political appointee as Chief Private Secretary/Adviser on Policies, Programmes & Plans Implementation to former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola for the entire duration of his tenure. Again, I was directed to be responsible only to him. Working with these people has provided me the opportunity to acquire a rich blend of knowledge, experience and maturity, that I have continued to share with the public. The intention is to demystify what governments and political actors do.
My first direct involvement in the decision-making process at the topmost echelon of government came through my appointment as Chief Press Secretary to the Military Administrator of Osun State in January, 1994. I always think it was divine because I was sleeping when the telephone rang for someone at the other end to offer me the covetable job of Chief Press Secretary. Rtd. Navy Captain Udofia told me without any reservations, that I was being appointed to be directly responsible to him and to no other public functionary. In addition, my constituency was not any particular local government or town, but the whole State that also constituted the constituency of the military administrator. I knew what he meant. I knew I was required to give unbiased, untainted and dispassionate advice as his eyes and ears and do so conscientiously. I tried, as much as possibly to adhere to this regulation; and I must confess that this development has contributed to whatever measure of successes that may be credited to me, particularly during my public service career. This is the only way dispassionate recommendations and steps could be taken in the overall interest of the society. My second outing in government was also divine and came like the first one came. The period of manifestation from when God spoke about the appointment and actualization was over one year.
OFFICE POLITICS
It is essential to highlight that a lot of politicking, accompanied by intrigues and envy go on behind the scene in the corridor of power. There is the politics of place of origin, politics of religious inclination and politics of affinity. Leaders who want to succeed must be fair and firm and avoid playing into the hands of those seeking relevance on account of these issues. I have always believed in agreeing or disagreeing on issues based on my personal conviction. I do not also believe in taking hasty decisions, either in writing or orally. I know the importance of being well-guarded in actions and utterances. I have always been conscious of the fact that I could be misquoted or quoted out of context. My relationships with my bosses and subordinates have been quite cordial and have been based on trust and confidence. I cherish relationships and speaking truth to power. Expectedly, this created some misconceptions and misgivings on a number of occasions. By my nature, such misgivings do not bother me, since my conscience has always been very clear. How many accusations will one entertain? It is certain that even where one is adjudged to have taken a wrong step, it is still okay if the action was not deliberately and foolishly taken.
Because of high visibility, public perception could be misleading on the ‘enormous’ powers purportedly held or accumulated by a press secretary. In my own situation, so many believed that I was, and have been sufficiently close to my bosses such that I could influence any action of government. In truth, this belief is far from the reality. It is true that I was, and I have remained close to my successive bosses. What many do not realize is that I would have been checked if I had at any time over-stepped my bounds. It is important for public officers to be very humble. Such was the belief in my invincibility that even various interest groups lobbied each time military administrators changed. But God was kind to have caused me to be retained on each occasion by empowering me to ride safely on storms. Today, these occurrences further reinforce my faith in Almighty God. In my thoughts, a Biblical passage usually explodes about the ability of God to support His beloved ones And the key of the house of David will I lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Isaiah 22:22) That translates into the fact that it is only God that makes things happen. If He decides to move, no human being can stand in His way. There are people who are very close to the big boss who would go behind your back to attempt to bring the professional down for various reasons. These untrained media handlers pretend to know more than the professional knows. This happens because our society permits such misadventures.
As highlighted, lots of politicking and intrigues go on behind the scene from which a respectable professional would keep a distance. Gossiping and back-biting should normally be expected to be part of the features, usually occasioned by envy and feelings of inferiority complex on the part of indolent people who find themselves in the corridors of power; or are brought up in settings where intrigues thrive. They thrive on the basest of sentiments. It takes prayers, very hard work and a bit of luck for those occupying sensitive positions to be able to survive where intrigues thrive. Conversely, a disloyal employee, occupying any office, high or low would most certainly be detected at a point in time. Indolence is a vice that cannot be hidden for long and no sane boss would relate closely with indolent and dangerous people whose stock-in-trade is to damage the character of another person in an attempt to gain relevance and prominence. Lobbying and related acts have gone to ridiculous extents. In most cases, lobbyists are not as respected as those who earn their positions on merit and competence. The society, it is hoped, will very soon come to realize the importance of having very credible people in positions of trust and responsibility. Loyalty has a price. It makes an aide enjoy the confidence of the boss and a perfect and harmonious working relationship. Of particular importance is efficiency and capability.
REACTING TO INTRIGUES
I suspect very much that I made a lot of enemies because some people felt I was telling my bosses about all the occurrences in the State; and some of these affected them. They were very wrong. By my nature and upbringing, I do not play to the gallery. I have always striven to remain as sincere as possible in my dealings with my successive bosses, and that is one of the reasons our relationships have been cordial. I never went to any of them to report or discuss people with intent to drag people down. Only cheap minds do this. Those who run people down can never earn respect of reasonable people. They constitute the dregs of the society. If I were to make my position known on issues, I did so without reservations, up to the extent that I could request for a sack if things are not the way I have presented them. My successive bosses knew that I would never tell them A or B is abusing you in the society. Even God Almighty is abused. Doing so would amount to my creating a deeper gulf between personalities. I only informed them of my findings if their careers or lives were threatened. Such people ought to have known that heads of government have various sources of information – solicited and unsolicited; official and unofficial.
One of those issues that attracted several adversaries was a schedule of duty that I was privileged to coordinate. I was quite friendly but that was not enough to assuage feelings. On one occasion, the Director of Protocol told me that people complained to him and said both of us would always walk into the office of the governor to dictate to him that he should take a particular line of action. What a warped reasoning! Are bosses robots? On one occasion, I told our principal, who in turn asked me to show them his approval on which he appended his pen. My reaction was that it was better that such people held us responsible; because it is the duty of an aide to shield his or her principal because of possible mischief. When the true situation became known; our accusers repented. That is God. I was sometime under the ministration of Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo who captured the spiritual angle this way: If Americans decide to go fight in Baghdad, the type of military equipment they would carry and use differs from the type they would use if fighting the Republic of Benin. This translates into the fact that the grace and divine favour that a personality enjoy, will determine the type of formidable vicious attackers and adversaries that are sponsored by Satan, and how deadly they could be. For those who believe, hard work, professionalism and praying without ceasing is the antidote. The devil does not take delight in attacking a personality who is already down. I have suffered costly deprivations in the course of performing my official functions on account of straight conducts. It is better for the professional to be straight; than pursue a crooked path for mundane considerations and inducements. I have never believed in stabbing people on the back.
SELF INTEREST SEEKERS
These are numerous in the corridor of power. They engineer confusion and speak ill-advisedly about others. The press secretary will hear so many stories here and there about people and what they say, but it was never my style to react to issues until they are proven beyond reasonable doubts. Even then, I, most times did not betray any emotion. I knew that everything would always work for good for those who put their trust in the Lord. Expect false accounts and sometimes imaginary stories peddled simply to court the favour of the big boss. Wrong stories would be written to embarrass the boss. There were stormy periods, occasioned by bad press or negative reports, but I tried as much as possible to first turn our adversaries to friends, by counselling them very respectfully and asking them to also view our position, which was the other side of the coin. Whenever this approach failed, coordinated reactions from my end became compelling. In 1998, Retd Colonel Theophilus Oladapo Bamigboye succeeded Colonel Anthony Obi (retd) and came with a strong resolve to transform Osun State. A very firm gentleman officer, who never allowed himself to be tossed around by self-interest seekers and interest groups. He was blunt to a fault in his private and official dealings.
I never knew those who wanted me removed to be able to plant their stooges had reached out to him in Bauchi before moving to Osun State. To the glory of God, my first few official encounters with him revealed my personality and my worth. He wanted news about his activities published immediately. And publishing in communication terms accommodates the electronic media where I had lots of friends and sympathizers. He was to later publicly disclose how people approached him to remove me at the launching of my publication: The Press Secretary in Osogbo in November 1998. At the ceremony, he stated openly and unequivocally that there was no vacancy for the position of Chief Press Secretary and warned those bothering him to keep off. I never knew until he spoke publicly. Surprisingly, the arrowhead of my removal was a gentleman I guided/assisted somehow on how to move to get appointed the Chairman of the Board of a strategic government agency. When I challenged him and reported him to my friend who was his cousin who earlier facilitated our interactions, he begged me profusely and stated that it was his community that gave him the task of removing a mere press secretary to install a son of the soil. I overlooked the matter. I reasoned that what if God never caused the matter to become known to me?
SHAKING OFF THE BEAST
Leaders and those who are engaged in both political and corporate governance are very open to deceit. They would always be misguided. The antidote in proper investigation before action is taken. Dr. Doyin Okupe, Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Obasanjo once disclosed how he confronted a Minister in the government of his former boss who misrepresented the situation report of a successful industrial action by organized labour movements in Nigeria while briefing the former president. The Minister lied to his principal to curry favour in a manner that could injure public interest. Doyin Okupe opted to present an accurate situation report of a very successful labour crisis, that contradicted that of the Hon. Minister who chose to table a false account to please Mr. President. This is one of the ways some political functionaries cause mischief and mislead their bosses. What if the Press Secretary didnt have the courage to confront the Minister in the presence of Mr. President? The boss might not know those who truly serve conscientiously and faithfully, until he or she leaves office. If Jesus Christ could be betrayed, the boss must also expect disloyalties.
There is nobody walking in the corridor of power unchallenged. There are too many vested interests who may not necessarily mean well for the big boss. In legal parlance, these are busy bodies looking for relevance. In Biblical terms, they could be termed rough edges that God allows for all to acknowledge His majesty. They would do everything possible to bring others down. I have always believed in proactive steps rather than reactive options. Over the years, I knew that to succeed, one required mental alertness, diligence, perseverance, cheerfulness, speed, accuracy and above all, divine guidance. When people peddle damaging untruths, I am not always bothered because no one can successfully cover the truth for long. Some would do everything possible to pull others down. A few years back, an elderly friend, who was close to a particular seat of power called me and advised me to be very careful. I asked why? He explained to me that my name was being mentioned in high places as a letter writer at the behest of one of my bosses. I told him that was the ploy of the devil. I wondered what those personalities would gain by concocting falsehood. I noted that I was too inconsequential to be so badmouthed; especially because I had no electoral value. But I knew that I was not the main target, but the boss I was serving.
Finally, I conclude with Proverbs 19:9: A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who tells lies will perish. That is the Word of the Lord.
To be continued.

BOOKS ON GOVERNANCE AUTHORED BY FEMI ADELEGAN
GOVERNANCE: An Insiders Reflections on the Nigerian Polity
AFRICA: The Game Changers & Dynamics of Power
TECHNIQUES OF INFORMATION MANAGEMENT IN GOVERNANCE
USEFUL GUIDES ON FOREIGN TRAVELS/BORDER POST/PORTS & IMMIGRATION MATTERS
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