Why do Presidential Spokespersons Fail?

Seun Igbalode Written by Seun Igbalode · 2 min read >

The decision to take up any political appointment is very risky. The waters of politics are very murky and the apron strings of political appointees are usually tied to that of their principals. Mudslinging, lies, deceit, betrayal et al usually come with the territory. They are hazards of the profession.

Speaking on politics, Hillary Clinton in one of my favourite books, What Happened, said, “Politics has always been a rough business. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams hurled insults at each other that would make today’s nastiest politicians blush. It’s just how the game is played…”

Politics, or rather, public office has its assets and liabilities. Let us say the assets represent the perks of the office: official cars, official residence, a retinue of aides and various forms of allowances, amongst other benefits. The liabilities are the criticisms, and this is just putting it mildly. And the criticisms can come from various quarters. Some can even border on libel and slander, which can then be subject of litigation. Other times, they are insults. And some are simply speaking out against perceived wrongdoings, the citizenry wanting a better life and so on. It is therefore apt to say that going into politics is akin to opening one’s life up to scrutiny. And sometimes, the outcomes are quite damning.

The dirty nature of politics notwithstanding, there are examples of spokespersons who performed creditably. Frank Nweke and Chukwuemeka Chikelu, both past Ministers of Information, readily come to mind. They spoke for the government. The nature of government and presidential spokespersons in recent times leave a lot to be desired, in my opinion.  

Given the sensitive nature of communications, it is becoming more difficult for government spokespersons to leave the job unscathed at the end of the tenure of their principals. A clear case is that of Dr. Reuben Abati.  

A time there was when the name Dr. Reuben Abati was highly revered even beyond media circles where he was once the Editorial Board chairman of The Guardian, one of Nigeria’s most respected newspapers. My bosses – past and present – recommended, sometimes almost mandated, that I read his column to improve my writing. He was widely read and his writings often shaped public opinion.

In his heydays, he was the de facto book reviewer of many books written by many well-knoen Nigerians. His presence even added more clout to book launches. However, his appointment as the spokesman of the former president affected his integrity and societal standing in my opinion.

This begets the question of why presidential spokespersons fail?

Their first failure it seems is their detachment from the occurrences around them. Amongst their failings is their sometimes, blind defence of government actions, even if government actions (and inactions) directly hurt the people. Some of their failings are just too glaring, but it seems they sometimes just go on unbothered.       

Perhaps it is time for the government to reconsider the criteria for the appointment of government spokespersons. Over the years, the government has appointed journalists who have risen to the pinnacle of their careers. Perhaps, it is time for the government to consider Public Relations professionals.      

Only time will tell if history will be harsh or kind to the spokespersons of Nigeria’s current President, Muhammad Buhari. If current realities are a projection of the future, they might as well be preparing for a life of ignominy. In my opinion, they will join a list of past presidential spokespersons who have literally and literarily (pun intended) gone into near oblivion. There is always a life after office.  

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