Mallam Garba Shehu is one of most respected political communicators in Nigeria. He has been the media handler of the former vice president Atiku Abubakar. A graduate of Mass-Communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he was at one time the Managing Director of triumph newspaper, Kano and General Manager Corporate Affairs of Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON), in Akwa Ibom. He had also served as President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE). Malam Garba Shehu is a thoroughbred journalist and political communicator. He speaks to The Spokesperson on qualities expected of political communicators, especially in Nigeria
What in your opinion are the basic qualities a political communicator must possess?
Since this is basically a communications business, one should be able to communicate well. You need good grammar, if not eloquence, and to be able to convey ideas and thoughts very well. A good political communicator should be able to pretend to knowing the big issues of the day, and be able to discuss them intelligently. But above everything else, you must have a mastery of your own subject. Without this, you can’t approach your job with confidence.
Would you say that your years in political communication have been worth all the trouble?
I certainly believe in what I am doing, otherwise I would have opted out. It’s a lot of trouble, though. Access is key to getting it right. You must answer the phone all the time or return all the calls whenever you are unable to pick them. The biggest gain I have made is not in terms of money; it is the knowledge of people.
Is it not a betrayal of the principles of journalism when a journalist decides to work for a politician?
No I don’t think so. There shouldn’t be any confusion about the two roles. In Journalism, your boss is the truth or facts as you may wish to call it. In political communication, your boss is the Governor or President or whoever you work for. Many Journalists make the mistake of thinking that the response or attitude of say a Radio Nigeria journalist to a given report will be the same now that he is a media adviser to a political leader. They are wrong because the call of duty is different.
Why in your opinion do you think we have more men in political communication than ladies?
I have no answer for this. But it is also a fact that in Nigeria, media work is generally seen as a men’s turf. Even where women are in it, they mostly contend themselves with women’s and children’s pages in the newspaper and news reading or continuity announcement in the broadcast media.
Should journalists in government be seen emphasising/ promoting the use of money to subvert truth?
Any PR strategy that is based on money will not be successful. The simple fact is that if you pay to get published, the day you do not have money you will not be published. Equally, Journalists who know that you dish out money whenever you deal with stories, they will create mischief for you whenever they are broke. Success in this work is determined by your knowledge of people. The more people you know, the richer you are; the more successful you will be.
Who is a successful political communicator?
The one who successfully carries the media and PR needs of his/her Principal to full satisfaction while retaining credibility and support with the mass media and the general public.
At the personal level, would you consider yourself a success in this area, and why?
In my culture, men are not allowed to grade themselves. Let others, including your employer say you are successful, assuming you are.
How would you advise a political communicator to approach his/her duty in a crisis situation in which his principal or his interest is the issue?
Stay on your job and do it well. There is always the temptation to dabble into politics, with many communicators behaving as if you are the expert or a guru politician. If they hire you as Communications Specialist, stay on that and prove yourself. Let the politicians do their own thing. If you ignore your job and embark on carrying out the work of others, who will do your own?
Who is your role model in political communication?
Alistair Campbell, Spokesman of Prime Minister Blair. Those who like him call him the spin master. Those who don’t call him “Blair’s virtuous thug”.