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Published On: Fri, Dec 13th, 2019

Dilemma of a presidential spokesman

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One can only imagine what is going on in the mind of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on media and publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, now. The amiable presidential spokesman has been placed under most vitriolic media attack by the most powerful woman in the land.
It is painful to be at a spot facing barrage of allegations and the best one can do is to keep mute. It is even more intriguing when one is being vicariously challenged in his turf and the best one can do is shudder. Such is the situation of the fiery presidential spokesman who has never shied away from media challenges especially when his competence and loyalty are being called to question.
Shehu obviously incurred the wrath of the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari, in the course of discharging his official responsibilities as the media aide to the President. When it is in the public domain that Mrs. Buhari’s relationship with her husband’s nephew and the closest confidant to the President, Mamman Daura, has gone sour, it is difficult to imagine that Shehu, whose duty is to manage the image of the President, will eventually become the fall guy.
The First Lady had issued two venomous statements indicating that she hates Shehu’s gut. The Presidential spokesman surely must be enjoying the trust and confidence of his master otherwise he would have been out of job now as far as the wife of the President is concerned.
Even when media professionals and the generality of Nigerians will concur that Shehu is a professional media manager with truckloads of integrity, it appears that the wife of the President sees him as nothing but a scoundrel being used by some powers to destabilize her family.
Going by the two series of statements curiously having the same tittle: ‘Garba Shehu has gone beyond his boundaries’ released by Mrs. Buhari on different occasions, it seems one of the Buhari’s spokesman’s unpardonable sin against his boss’ wife was the audacity to declare on mass media that there will be no office of the First Lady.
According to Mrs. Buhari, Shehu was doing the biddings of her husband’s nephew even when it is public knowledge that the President had in 2015, during his first tenure, rechristened the Office of the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as Office of the Wife of the President. The President had said that the Office of the First Lady was not recognised by the constitution.
Her tittle was to change weeks after the President was sworn in for a second term. She announced a change so as to avoid confusion. Speaking during an award night and dinner in honour of wives of former and current governors at the Presidential Villa on Thursday, June 13, 2019, she said the new title takes immediate effect.
She said, “When my husband was elected newly I personally chose to be called the wife of the president, but I realised that it causes confusion from the state as to whether the wives of state governors are to be addressed as the first ladies or wives of the governors. So, forgive me for confusing you from the beginning, but now I chose to be called the first lady.”
In the first statement made available to the press in November by the First Lady, she had alleged that “It will also be recalled that when we first came into office, it was the same Garba Shehu who claimed that there is no office of the First Lady & later he confirmed that he was instructed by Mamman and he even went ahead to say that the time he called my aid to confirm whether the First Lady goes to her office or not he was sitting right in front of Mamman. He later apologized it was a very serious mistake which attracted the anger of Nigerian women. He didn’t realize the fact that First Lady’s office is tradition which has become an institution. However, that didn’t affect my development programmes that already have impacted on the lives of many.”
Another point of clash with her husband’s spokesman was when she alleged that Shehu stopped the airing of an interview she granted on her arrival from a vacation in London in October by the government owned NTA. According to her, Shehu acted on the directives of her husband’s nephew accusing him of being disloyal to her husband and family.
She also accused him of ordering the sack of NTA reporters covering her office. Mrs. Buhari said it took her intervention through the security agencies to save the jobs of the concerned journalists.
In a tone indicating more troubles for her perceived enemies, First Lady said “Let me warn those that are still working on Mamman’s script NOT to consider the kindness in me as a weakness. The beast in me is not DEAD but SLEEPING “
In the second statement, the First Lady was more pointed in her allegations against Shehu calling on him to resign his position because the first family no longer trusts him.
The loaded statement read “Nigeria’s development is hinged on the ability of public officials to execute their mandates professionally, and to be shining examples in their various areas of endeavor. It is not a good sign when officials abandoned their responsibility and start clutching at straws.
As spokesperson of the President, he has the onerous responsibility of managing the image of the President and all the good works that he is executing in the country. Rather than face this responsibility squarely, he has shifted his loyalty from the President to others who have no stake in the compact that the President signed with Nigerians on May 29, 2015 and 2019.
To make matters worse, Mr. Shehu has presented himself to these people as a willing tool and executioner of their antics, from the corridors of power even to the level of interfering with the family affairs of the President. This should not be so. The blatant meddling in the affairs of a First Lady of a country is a continuation of the prodigal actions of those that he serves.”
She even dropped another weighty allegation against the Presidential spokesman when she said “The latest of his antics was to wage a war on the first family through an orchestrated media campaign of calumny by sponsoring pseudo accounts to write and defame my children and myself.”
Shehu obviously have a defence against all these allegations but he advisedly remained mute presumably as a show of respect to the First Family. Yes, it would be the height of disrespect and embarrassment to the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the country should he begin to banter words with the First Lady.
The presidential spokesman must be burning inside, itching to correct some perspectives and respond to allegations contained in the wife of the President’s statements. No! It will be sacrilegious to join issues with the boss’ spouse.
Even when Shehu may not under the control of the powerful Buhari’s nephew as being speculated by the of the wife of the President, it is equally difficult for him to come out to say so. The dilemma posed by the First Lady’s challenge leaves him with no option than to remain silent until an auspicious time when he would have the opportunity to state his own side of the story without imperiling his integrity. Perhaps, that time will come at the expiration of Buhari’s second mandate. For now, silence is not only golden but inevitable.
But then, even though Mrs. Buhari’s rage is to cast aspersions on Shehu’s competence and question his loyalty to the President and the First Family, discerning minds, taking tracks of political events in the country, remain convinced that the Presidential spokesman is just a victim of family squabbles. He is a pawn in a chess game of power with no option than to bear the cross of a powerful woman’s rage.
What is however consoling is that there has never been any report that the President has found Shehu wanting in the discharge of his responsibilities as his spokesman. It therefore behoves on the President to continue to encourage him and imbue in him the confidence required to trudge on.
The President and all those concerned should also make moves to placate the First Lady who obviously have reservations on the way she is being treated officially and domestically. For peace to reign in the Presidency, Mama must carried along; she must be made to smile and trust the people around her.

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