It may interest every PR practitioner the appointment of media person and editor as the spokesperson to the new President Yar’Adua. r. Segun Adeniyi former Editor Thisday newspaper has this to say on his appointment:

It was a moment of crucial decision, one that could alter the course of my life, one way or another. But when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua spoke to me on phone on May 31, asking me to come and work for him, there was only one option left. Notwithstanding the interesting stories that have been published about my appointment, and I have read some really ridiculous ones, between April 27 when I was first offered a job as presidential spokesman and May 31, when I finally accepted to serve, a lot of water, as they say, passed under the bridge. All that would, however, form the prologue of what must be an interesting chapter should I ever write a memoir.

There have been several reactions to my appointment and I appreciate all the people who have either called or sent mails/text messages to wish me well. I have also received encouragement from highly respected people (home and abroad), and I feel sufficiently satisfied that I have taken the correct decision. Just before I boarded my flight from Lagos a fortnight ago, I received what I considered the most important call, at least as far as this page is concerned, and I was relieved by the words of encouragement. If there is anyone who can take credit for The Verdict According to Olusegun Adeniyi, it is Mr. Tunji Bello, until recently the Lagos State Commissioner of Environment.

Ten years ago, Tunji Bello it was who directed me to start a column to replace the one by his deputy, Mr. Sam Omatseye, who was relocating to the United States. That was after he had elevated me to the office of Sunday Concord Deputy Editor vacated by Omatseye who is now back in the country as Chairman, Editorial Board, The Nation newspapers. Bello handed me cuttings of works of respected columnists in several foreign newspapers to read and also gave direction of what he wanted. Number one was humour. Number two was gist (in which case it must be reportorial). And number three was that I come out very strong in my opinion. I did not even have an idea of what name to give the column until Louis Odion, my friend and then assistant coined the name, The Verdict According to Olusegun Adeniyi. And for the first three months, Louis and I were practically co-writing the column even while it carried my name and photograph. Not too long after, I also mastered the craft as I began to attract readership. As it would happen, however, I left Concord in January 1999 for THISDAY.

Coincidentally, a few weeks after I arrived THISDAY in February 1999, it was decided that we should personalise the backpage column and I was assigned Thursday so the column that I thought had died with Concord resurrected at THISDAY and the rest of the story, as they say, is now history. I know many people would be disappointed that I have joined government, and some would be very well justified because I said I would never do such thing. To those people I plead forgiveness. I, am, however, also aware some people would be happy that this column is off.

I have told the story of how the column started to explain why I use my day to day of experience or that of others (be it an okada rider or some casual acquaintances) to drive home my point. This of course never created any problem if the person whose name was mentioned on this page happened to be ‘unknown’. But if he/she were a ‘big man’ that would be ‘name dropping’. To those whose sensibilities I might have offended as a result of what was published on this page, I tender my unreserved apology too.

I go into government as one of a few people who can claim to know the vision of President Yar’Adua having spent three days with him in Katsina in reportorial capacity at a time I had foreclosed the idea of joining government. But I have no hesitation at all that he is one person I love to work with. I do not doubt his honesty and commitment and he espouses values that I believe we need for a time like this. Of course he comes to office with a heavy baggage given how the election was messed up. And our nation has never been so besieged in terms of problems even in the midst of endless opportunities. But I am even more encouraged to work for him given the fact that he is not a man in denial, he has the capacity to admit errors and can take the hard decisions. A day before his inauguration, I was told, Yar’Adua had sat with his speech writers and instructed them on the issues he wanted to address and the order in which the speech should take, beginning with the election. This, I gathered, was not well received with the consensus being that it was better Nigerians were allowed to forget the election matter. But he reportedly insisted by saying: ‘We all know we have a problem and the solution is for us to confront, rather than attempt to run away from it.’

In trying to make the speech writers see the enormity of the problem, the President was said to have given an analogy: ‘What happened is like having a group of students sit for an examination with the best candidate scoring 49 while the second person scored 25. As a teacher I consider that a bad result but the fact also remains that the student who scored 49 took the first position. The point I want you to make is that we have to improve on such dismal performance because that is what I intend to do.

The electoral reform is indeed one of a few key issues Yar’Adua has promised to pursue with all vigour and he means business. In the last two weeks, I have sat with him in high-level meetings both at home and abroad during the G-8 meeting in Germany, and I see him as a man who wants results. I was also around the night preceding the National Assembly inauguration and election of principal officers. I knew how much pressure was put on him to name his candidates for Senate President and House of Representatives Speaker. The important thing for me is that I have always seen public service as a trust and one that everyone so invited should weigh very carefully before making up his/her mind. In my case, I have already given 17 years of my life to journalism and it might help to seek another experience before I return. As some people have argued, after spending years writing about what I consider the failings of those in government, now that I am offered an opportunity at a very high level, it might not be a bad idea to see whether I could help make a little difference. Having examined all the factors, I have decided to join the Yar’Adua train.

I thank the readers of this page who have supported and encouraged me over the years. And I am glad that the angry young man who is succeeding me as Editor of THISDAY, Simon Kolawole, is now the darling of most readers; so in a way it may actually be good for the newspaper that I am moving on. But as I sign off today, I want to assure my readers and all Nigerians that I remain, and will always remain, the Olusegun Adeniyi that I am. I will not compromise the ideals and values I have espoused on this page. That pledge I have also made to my Chairman, Mr Nduka Obaigbena, as he grants me leave of absence from THISDAY, certain I will one day be back to the newspaper.

I see this as an opportunity of a lifetime, one for which I am grateful to President Yar’Adua. I will not betray his confidence. Whatever the problem with the process that brought President Yar’Adua to power, he is one person who understands the enormity of the problems confronting our nation today and has made a resolve to tackle them; after consultations with relevant stakeholders in the bid to adopt a sustainable approach to addressing the myriad of contending issues. That process might appear slow in a society where, perhaps due to the recurring failure from the past, people prefer the quick-fix. It is, however, one that I am much persuaded will ultimately work for us as a nation.

I am also aware some people are apprehensive about the choice I have made and to be honest, so am I. But life itself is about risk. A United States-based citizen journalist friend of mine in analysing my decision wrote: ‘You should understand that you are in a tight spot, but just understand that you put yourself in it so you would have to deal with all the consequences that come with the turf. Certainly you are going into power-raw naked power – as bad as it can get. I guess you have started already and any advice really at this point is belated. You have written about power and what may be wrong with it a lot and as such you need not borrow any lesson from the ‘The Prince’ by Niccolo Machiavelli. All you need do is go back and read your writings as far as way back when you were still very angry with the system; there lies what needs to be done to make a difference. I must, however, say that you have a difficult task. As a cabinet level Communication person, it is your duty to arrange all the lies that need to be told as long as you hold that position. Those include what you would like to be told and what you wish you never will. You are right, you can always leave if things don’t work out but the public (our nation) would like information as cleanly as possible on your honour.’On my honour, I promise to be honest in my job.

Last Sunday evening, Al-Jazeera aired a broadcast of an interview with former President Olusegun Obasanjo apparently recorded a few days before he handed over power. I switched onto the station at the close end of the interview but the last question and answer was instructive: ‘Now President Obasanjo, how do you want Nigerians to remember you?’In the nature of Obasanjo, I expected a long winding response but that was not what happened. He said: ‘That I was given the opportunity to serve my country and I did my best.’That is what I want to say when I leave this job. When that time comes, however, I would also hope that my best, in trying to help President Yar’Adua alongside other credible people I have seen around him, was good enough to have impacted positively on the lives of majority of Nigerians. That would be enough for me.

Will this court please rise?


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