Having watched several media debates during and after the subsidy palaver, I must confess that the verdict of most commentators should be a source of worry and discomfort for the office of Aso Rock media high command which counts Abati as a player. From the intellectually polished Max Gbanite to the wannabe television studio huggers with all their pretentious gibberish, the verdict on Abati and his co-travellers was damning, damaging and dangerous. There is general consensus that all the media hands fucked up like an amateur motherfucker who fell asleep after the first round on a warm four poster bed, leaving madam stone-faced!
The universal fanfare that greeted his appointment as a spin doctor is turning into a nightmare. He has demonstrated all the complacent shortcomings of an ill-prepared spin doctor at a critical moment when his paymaster was most vulnerable and under ambush. As head of the Aso Rock media high command and undoubetedly its fugleman in the black arts of spin doctoring, Reuben Abati failed woefully in the way he communicated with the public during Jonathan’s worst and fractious week in government.
Before and during the near-revolution of the subsidy debacle, he was unseen, unheard and unreachable. He missed the media jewel reserved for his bald head if he had performed well during the subsidy removal backlash. He did not come out with any great and grand strategy to enlighten the public and stem the rising tsunami of editorial poisons written and broadcast about Jonathan’s oily effrontery. There was a discernible dithery, weakness and timidity in his handling of the subsidy fiasco. He fluffed his chance to put the best possible spin on the subsidy tug-of-war and thus failed to offer any guidance to information hungry Nigerians.
Rather than surprise the public with daring, audacious and unpredictable coup of memorable, mediacratic liners, Abati taunted the media about his justification for remaining silent on Jonathan’s subsidy plan. Abati is unravelling and demonstrating a crass lack of experience in media wizardry that would have favour and serve the interest of a poodle-like president like Goodluck Jonathan. Nearly a year into his appointment he is yet to disengage from the old mentality of editorial boardroom grandstanding where members roll in the luxury of personal opinions. In less than a year, Abati has transformed Jonathan’s acres of promising goodwill into a spiralling media narrative of confusion, half-truth and disarray almost all of it down to failure of refined political communication. He cannot go on enjoying the office of media adviser to the president without putting enough grit into his job.
As I write, Abati is yet to put in a shift in gear in the handling of the president’s critical public communication unit. His new job description should have been clear enough. A motherfucker no-nonsense media hawk, moderator, proactive press officer, lobbyist, political journalist, damage reduction strategist, enfant terrible, provocateur, devil’s advocate, challenger, cross carrier, propagandist, public relations expert, polemicist and to add a bit of brashness to the pedigree, a formidable mischief maker.
It is really annoying to put the once combative journalistic intelligence of Abati under scrutiny but since he draws his salary and fat allowances from the public purse, he must be ready to receive some punches. He failed to demonstrate the essential attributes of a real media adviser to the president of a nation. What are the attributes? Aside from his job description above, he is expected to be an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent media match maker before and during the heat wave of the subsidy warfare. His mission is akin to that of a media missionary who dedicates his talent to winning souls for God and foretelling the gains of heaven. Prior to the sudden but ill-advised timeline of the subsidy removal, Abati should have been publishing consultation papers in reputable papers, social media like Facebook and blogs and even in the ‘Rubbish Dailies’ like…
The idea of trailing stories like this cannot fail in the hands of a savvy practitioner. By planting exclusives in reputable newspapers, online blogs and engaging editors in debates, government plans on subsidy initiatives would have been properly gauged by the viewing and reading publics. His omnipresent streak should have been seen in virtually all television studios and far ahead of every breaking news. It boggles the mind that at that moment when we all desired to see Abati straddling talk show emporiums and performing his role as a media missionary, he was out of our sight. He had waited too long and Labour decidedly problematised and seized the centre ground of the protests. In a rapidly mediating political culture, perceived opponents should not be allowed to set the agenda.
Realising that he was out of the way, combustible comments began to colour the airwaves and bang, the government briefing initiative was hijacked and Nigeria seized by organised labour, NGO’s, hard-bitten political opponents, Occupy activists and the chanting, disenchanted Nigerian masses. Where was the man who had the job of coordinating government presentations for all the press hounds? Where was the man who was to explain the difference between subsidy and ‘shopu sidi’?
Months before the subsidy removal, one of the escape routes for the president, at least in terms of media management was to throw a red meat on which journalists, editors, programmers, pundits and analysts could gorge themselves. Goodluck Jonathan is eternally aware of the divisive policy of subsidy removal and the need for public goodwill. Here, Abati would have handled all the negative innuendoes months ahead by doing rounds in television studios reminding Nigerians of the big picture, of better infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, jobs and industry which the gains of subsidy removal would introduce. We would all have seen Abati as engaging, principled and a man of the moment. Abati’s media plan should not send us back to the era predating the advent of digital revolution when media makers and consumers were relatively powerless in their inability to feed back, to intervene and shape mainstream media processes or become part of the process.
Or could Abati have been a victim of his own glorified editorial and punditing escapades? Or has Aso Rock proved to be a giant Goodluckratic gridlock where Abati is now in the firm grip of a Houdini’s handcuffs? Has wealth and the smell of influence disfigured the old warring journalism of Abati to render him grovelling in a grotesque Aso Rock world of high featherbedding? Abati is unable to move, unable to act and unable to ride freely in the open highway of information freedom. Today, Abati stand accused of sacrificing his personal popularity and integrity on the altar of incompetence, timidity and the rejection of radical media agenda for a president who needs a radicalised mediaspace. Today, the president needs a team of rapid, responsive, proactive, blustering and highly focused spin doctors as opposed to a wannabe theatre artist and former editorial chair who has no vibrant presence in the info-democratic community of YouTube, twitter and the freeloading Facebook site.