Olusegun Adeniyi is Nigeria’s latest Tony Snow. And who is that? He’s American President George Bush’s spokesman. Analysing the performance in office of Mr Snow so far, one foreign columnist did not only praise how well this spokesman handled the press (The Snow Show, she had called it), she also praised how well he projected President Bush’s administration. This is to say that Mr Snow is a professional and he has been doing a professional job. The White House loves him; and he has been holding his own with the press too. This is what should be the case with whoever has the duty of being a presidential spokesperson. Speaking on behalf of a nation’s leader is no child’s play.
Years back, one professional was appointed as the Special Assistant, Media, to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. But he was a professional in the medical field. Imagine a medical doctor with no special training in how to handle media matters. And it was not surprising what one saw: a gregarious individual who saw his job as one of those that had been termed, “job for the boys.”
He ended up handling his job with everything but professional touch. There was something jocular, the kind one is likely to find in the dispositions of a master of ceremony (MC) at owambe parties in the way this man went about doing his work. It was said that the medical doctor would accompany Mr President to an occasion – even a press conference – where the president might crack a joke, and that his spokesman would in such an atmosphere clap, laugh and eventually walk away with his boss. That was his idea of a successful outing; end of the work to be done.
But is that where the job of a man who has the responsibility of packaging the image of the president which in turn reflects on the administration in general stops? No wonder some wiser heads spoke with President Obasanjo. And before long, the medical doctor-turned-spokesman was on his way out. The two other spokespersons to be appointed after him – one, a man and the other a woman – were fit for the job and it showed in the dignity and professionalism they brought to bear on their office.
Mr Olusegun Adeniyi came to the attention of this writer, and possibly many other people’s, when he joined the stable of Thisday newspapers. There, he had a regular weekly column on the back page. But this man has been around longer than this. In fact, he had been covering the State House as far back as the General Babangida days.
He had even been saddled with the unenviable responsibility as one of the more respected journalists in Aso Rock to read out the text of some of the more controversial decisions of that administration (in 1993, the year General Babangida dragged his foot as regard leaving the corridors of power and eventually annulled the June 12 presidential elections) to his colleagues.
There is no doubting the fact that the back page columns of more senior Thisday journalists were ground-breaking in the practice of newspaper journalism in Nigeria. And it was not only that, the newspaper led at a time when full colour printing in newspapers in the nation was a novelty. As a matter of fact, this writer was on the political desk of The Guardian at that time and he was privy to how desk editors would bring a copy of Thisday, place it side-by-side with a copy of The Guardian, and make comparisons. Their conclusion? Management should not let the paper be left behind.
There was something to the way Olusegun Adeniyi wrote in his weekly column. His style was not only engaging but fascinating. And it did not end there. There is this sense of balance, of moderation (which is this writer’s disposition) and non-hysterical, sober touch to his write-ups. His analysis was forever well-rounded and, over the years, this writer cannot remember an occasion when he read Adeniyi’s piece and found a point disagreeable, non-patriotic or downright repulsive as has been his experience with some other columnists that cut across several newspaper stables.
Reading Adeniyi’s pieces gives one the impression he has a sense of mission; that he is a man who realizes that he carries a load as regard what he feeds his readers with. And that is one mark of leadership. This is not surprising as he has always been found among leaders. In fact, many in leadership positions love him. A politician and friend of this writer commented on how many times he met Adeniyi as a member of one committee or the other in his capacity as a representative of the media.
Speaking on a personality interview programme on television last June, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, former Foreign Affairs Minister, while noting that some senior journalists failed to appreciate how much part of the leadership they are in the matter of what they feed the reading public with, commented that Olusegun Adeniyi has become a part of the establishment (another name for those in leadership) and expressed joy on how well he has carried the responsibility.
The media has been called the Fourth Estate of the Realm – after the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government, that is. That is not wrong. For just any of these other branches is capable of pulling not just a government but also a nation down, so is the media. Journalists on the stable of America’s Washington Post – Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein tenaciously investigated the Watergate scandal over which former President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974.
It is no wonder that each successive administration has adopted the practice of sending to the media one of their own. It is the need to handle the media with the importance they deserve that makes the post of spokesperson to be almost exclusively reserved for media people, which thus translates into putting a square peg in a square hole.
That Adeniyi has been taken from his senior position in Thisday newspapers and brought into the inner room of power as President Umar Musa Yar’Adua’s Special Adviser on Communication says the same – the right person, unlike the drama of 1999, has been put in the right place. For Adeniyi is not new to the corridors of power. He has been walking there for well over a decade. He therefore understands the responsibility of leadership.
He is a man who has heard the groans, seen the pains and the aches on the faces of leaders, so he knows better than to bring them to the pages of newspapers as Professor Akinyemi had accused some journalists of doing. Equally, Adeniyi has demonstrated over the years the kind of balance, sense of purpose and mission, with the maturity and professionalism that his new position needs. These are more than enough requirements that this latest presidential spokesman will need to make a good job of his position and present his boss in good light. Congratulations, Olusegun Adeniyi.
Ajibade, an author,
writes from Wuse 2, Abuja, 07037832734 or