By Chief Mike Ozekhome,
Crimes are vices that should not be tolerated in any society. They are offences against the state and are punishable under the law. The essence of punishing people convicted of crimes is to serve the criminal just desert, make restitution to the victims and deter other people from engaging in criminal activities, amongst others.
Sometimes, the President and Governor of a state may decide to show the milk of human kindness to people already found guilty of crimes. This practice is, respectively, sanctioned by sections 175 and 212 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as altered. This practice is even Biblical. For example, Pontius Pilate wanted to grant pardon to Jesus Christ. But, when the mob protested, he released Barnabas instead of Jesus, and washed his hands off the baying at the blood of an innocent man already exonerated by him and King Herod, in preference of Barnabas who had been accused of treason and other heinous crimes (Mark 15:6). Pardon is an unusual show of kindness to people whom the State has already condemned for certain ignoble acts they committed.
Pardon is a loud statement. The meaning of the statement is determined by the context and circumstances of the act. For example, in a state where there is a high record of kidnapping and cyber fraud, showing mercy to people convicted of kidnapping and cyber fraud could be construed as State connivance, or an impetus for offenders to commit more of such crimes. Nigeria, for example, is rated the 149th out of 180 most corrupt countries in the world, and the second most corrupt country in West Africa, by Transparency International (TI), under its anti-Corruption Perception Index. Granting pardon to people convicted of corrupt practices, whether still serving or having served, may be construed as a tacit approval of such corrupt practices. This becomes more worrisome under a government which made fighting corruption one of its tripodal mantras.
MEANING OF PRESIDENTIAL PARDON
A pardon is an executive order granting clemency for a conviction. It may be granted “at any time” after the commission of the crime.
This right of pardon is granted to the Governor and the President, respectively, under sections 212(1) and 175(1) and (2) of the Constitution, and is legally available to all classes of convicts in Nigeria. It can be obtained by a convict who applies to a Governor or the President, as the case may be, for grant of the prerogative of mercy or pardon in his favour, either personally or through a Solicitor, or even through the prison authorities where he or she is incarcerated and is serving term of imprisonment.
For the purpose of exercising this power, section 153(1)(b) of the Constitution establishes the “Council of State,” which advises the President in the exercise of his prerogative of mercy. The council, as a government agency, is composed of high- heeled and distinguished Nigerians who are believed to be the have full complement of the country’s ethos.
Thus, although the President’s powers in this area are not subject to the strict approval of the Council of State, he cannot act unilaterally, whimsically, capriciously and arbitrarily. The usage of the word ‘shall’ in the phrase, “The President’s powers under paragraph (1) of this section shall be utilized by him after consultation with the Council of State”, demonstrates this. The exact legal force that the advice of the Council of State bears, i.e., whether it should be taken as limiting the President’s powers of pardon, or whether it is merely a courteous procedure to abide by, is a thorny issue amongst analysts. The President’s obligatory gazetting in the Official Public Notice of the Government of the Federation concludes the pardoning process. The President, including the Governor, by extant constitutional provisions, have no constraints or hurdles whatsoever on whom they can grant pardon to.
State pardon is therefore a discretionary power that must be utilized with utmost caution and must accord with the law. It must never be used as a tool of political patronage, nepotic purposes, monetary benefits, or for self-aggrandizement. It must be used in a fair and impartial manner, free of prejudices, bias and public disapproval. It must be strictly in accordance with the best interest of the nation, and the letter and spirit of the Constitution and the code of conduct applicable to all public officers in Nigeria.
THE LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE GRANT OF A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON
The Legal effect of presidential pardon was expatiated upon in EX-PARTE GARLAND 71 U.S. 333 (1866) thus:
“The inquiry arises as to the effect of a pardon, and on this point the authorities concur. A pardon in the eye of the law, cleanses the offender and make him as innocent as if had never committed the offence”. Such a convict is like Naaman the leper who deeped himself in the River Jordan and became cleansed of his leprosy. In FALAE V OBASANJO (1999) 3 LLER 1(CA), the Court of Appeal held that a pardon relieves the person of all sins. Musdapher, JCA (as he then was) said:
“In my view, under Nigerian law there is no distinction between “pardon” and “a full pardon.” A pardon is an act of grace by the appropriate authority which mitigates or obliterates the punishment the law demands for the offence and restores the rights and the privileges on account of the offence. The effect of a pardon is to make the offender a new man, or novus homo, to acquit him of all corporal penalties and forfeitures annexed to the offence pardoned”.
In the same vein, the court in OKONGWU V STATE, (1986) 5 NWLR (Pt. 44) 721, held that a free pardon had the effect of erasing “all suffering, consequences, and punishments whatsoever that the said conviction may ensure, but not to wipe out the conviction itself” from the pardonee. Thus, even where the fines have been vacated, the conviction will forever remain on the record of the court. Thus, even if a person has been pardoned, he can still legally appeal his conviction.
This was why in OKONGWU V STATE (1986) 5 NWLR (Pt. 44) 721, it was held that a free pardon has the effect of blotting out “all suffering, consequences, and punishments whatsoever that the said conviction may ensure, but not to wipe out the conviction itself”.
The 1999 Constitution in sections 175 and 212, have made provisions for the grant of pardon, respite, or clemency to any person, either free, or subject to lawful conditions as may be determined by the President or the Governor, respectively. Such pardon could be for an indefinite or specified period. They could substitute a lesser form of punishment or remit the whole or any part of such punishment, or substitute a less severe form of punishment. While under section 175 (2), the President shall carry out such an exercise after consultation with the Council of State, the state Governor shall carry his out “after consultation with such advisory council of the State on prerogative of mercy as may be established by the law of the State”.
There is the more worrisome legal conundrum in the entire presidential pardon as it pertains to the two Governors. This is whether the president could have legally granted pardon to former Governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba States respectively, having regards to the fact that both men were convicted for offences allegedly committed between November 2000 and May 2007. The offences under which they were tried and convicted fall under State laws which took place after the promulgation of the1999 Constitution during which time they were Governors. Specifically, they were tried and convicted under sections 115,119 and 309 of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, LFN, 1990, obviously an existing State law within the meaning, import and true purport of sections 315(1)(b) and 318 of the 1999 Constitution. This Act which became effective as a state law is applicable to the FCT and the Northern States. This Penal Code Act ,not being a federal legislation of the NASS, became an existing state law deemed duly enacted by the 19 Northern States by virtue of section 315(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution. It becomes clear therefore that only the Governors of Plateau and Taraba States could have legally and rightly granted pardon to Dariye and Nyame,invoking section 212 of the Constitution; and not Mr President under section 175 of the Constitution.
The doctrine of separation of powers ably propounded in 1748 by Baron de Montesque and which is accorded constitutional imprimatur in sections 4,5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution operate here. Should anyone challenge their pardon, an interesting constitutional issue would have been thrown up for constitutional pundits and legal analysts like yours sincerely. Let us now look at the moral implications.
THE MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE PRESIDENTIAL PARDON
The moral implications of granting pardon to people may send different messages and signals to different people. The messages could either be seen as genuine forgiveness, connivance, condonation, conspiracy, or impetus, etc.
There is this aphorism often credited to Benjamin Franklin, to the effect that “to err is human, to forgive is divine and to persist is devilish.” This saying is true. It is Biblical that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Jesus also admonished that if ‘we’ say that ‘we’ have no sin, ‘we’ make Him (Christ) a liar and the truth is not in us. In the case of a woman caught in the act of adultery brought to Jesus Christ for just determination, Christ demonstrated forgiveness by challenging the mob to first cast a stone at the woman if they had no sin. Shortly after the mob departed, Jesus forgave the woman and commanded her not to go back to her sinful lifestyle. Christ gave this woman who was about to be stoned to death a second chance to mend her ways.
Pardon is however an exercise that should be exercised sparingly after due consideration of the fuller implications and after full contrition and penance on the part of the offender. For example, during the military junta, some human rights activists were prosecuted unfairly and executed, some under retroactive laws. Such was the unforgettable grieving fate of the trio of Bartholomew Owoh (26), Lawal Akanni Ojulope (30) and Benard Ogedegbe (29), who were accused of drug peddling, but whose execution was sanctioned by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) as military ruler. This, notwithstanding the intervention the heart-rending pleas by Playwrites Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and J.P Clarke. Granting pardon to people should be viewed by the society as a recognition of a cause worth celebrating, not offensive and fouling the air.
This brings us to the case of Senators Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, both former Governors, who had been convicted and imprisoned for stealing billions of naira from the coffers of their state treasuries and thus impoverished the very people they were elected to govern. These individuals were the Chief Executives of their states. They had sworn oaths of office and allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and vowed that they would govern their states with utmost good faith. However, they betrayed their people by stealing from them. They breached the trust reposed in them. None of them admitted their guilt or wrongdoings until the courts found them guilty, up to the Supreme Court. As a matter of fact, Joshua Dariye was a sitting Senator when the Supreme Court affirmed the 10 year jail term earlier passed on him. What then is the basis for granting pardon to these individuals in a country where corruption is the bane and struts around imperiously like a peacock?
I had noted severally since 2013 (after my release from a 3 week horrific ordeal in the hands of kidnappers), that we must kill corruption which had become the 37th richest and most potent state in Nigeria, before it kills us. By granting pardon to these treasury looters, Buhari is reviving, nurturing and watering corruption with State powers.
When former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreiye Alamieyeigha (DSP) whom I had defended throughout his State-sanctioned ordeal was granted pardon by former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, I wrote and justified it. I did so for the following reasons: DSP had fully served his term of imprisonment after his conviction. He had earlier been pardoned by late president Yar’Adua who later died before consummating the pardon, until Jonathan succeeded him under the “doctrine of necessity”. As noted by former Attorney General, Mohammed Bello Adoke, at page 62 in his 270 page book, titled ” The Burden of Service”, DSP had also shown contrition, remorse and repentance. He had also earlier been pardoned by Yar’Adua, though not gazetted before his death. DSP had also helped greatly in brokering the peace process that led to amnesty in the restive Niger Delta region that halted oil production. This in turn led to stability in the area and reduce pipeline vandalism, kidnapping of expatriates, and thus improved oil production which had plummeted to a state of nadir, leading to national ruckus and impoverishment. He had evidently demonstrated that he believed in one stable Nigeria.
Perhaps more significant is the fact that Alamieyeigha was gravely ill with life-threatening ailment, from which he later died barely 2 years after the pardon was granted him.DSP had thus earned the state pardon after the Council of State recommended approved it. The same cannot be said of these two Governors who were still serving their jail terms.
Thus, the act of granting amnesty or pardon though discretionary, this discretion must be exercised judiciously and in the best interest of the country, so as not to create doubts in and dampen the confidence of, the citizenry in the national moral fabric, and in the fight against corruption.
So, when the Council of State recently authorized the pardon of 159 convicts, including Senator Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and ex-Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba State, who were both imprisoned for stealing N1.16 billion and N1.6 billion respectively, many Nigerians justifiably showed anger, because these two political leaders had been duly tried and convicted for stealing money belonging to their respective states. The courts in Nigeria were unanimous in their verdicts that they were corrupt and had corruptly enriched themselves while serving as governors of their respective states. They were still serving their sentences.
These men had betrayed the trust their people reposed in them by stealing money meant for the development of their respective states while serving as their chief executives.
Many Nigerians thus viewed the action of Mr president in granting them pardon as recommended by the Council of States, which is a body peopled mostly by friends and political benefactors or allies of the convicts, as an action taken in bad faith. This is more so that President Buhari had assumed office on the goodwill of the Nigerian people, largely fuelled by his avowed commitment to fight corruption in all its ramifications, to a standstill.
The purpose of criminal prosecution is to secure justice, not only for the accused, but also for the victims of crimes and the State; and to some extent get reparation and restitution for the victims, while deterring others from going the same route.
Where lies the justice for the impoverished people of Plateau and Taraba States who will now watch their tormentors stroll out with red carpet treatment?
The government budgets huge sums of money for the prosecution of such accused persons from the tax players’ sweat; and if after the rigorous period of trial and subsequent conviction, the guilty are simply let off the hook in such a brazen manner, the little remaining lean hope the citizens have in the system is further diminished.
I dare say that in these two instances, both the President and the Council of State goofed and abused their undoubted constitutional powers and privileges.
A constitutional issue as volatile as this could have been better managed if the minders of the president had told him the embarrassment this could cause the government in the estimation the comity of nations. And it is doing just that.
This brazen abuse of power will definitely ricochet and erode the confidence of our international partners in the fight against corruption. It will also dampen the morale of the agencies fighting corruption, such as EFCC, the Nigeria Police Force, and the ICPC, amongst others.
This singular ill-advised act of abuse of power will also definitely embolden political thieves and unrepentant pilferers of our national commonwealth. It shows that once you are a friend of the President or a member of his political party, or his acolyte and supporter, you can get away with any crime. In other words, in Nigeria, corruption surely pays!
With this action, the fight against corruption appears forlorn and a mirage. What is the essence of spending scarce resources in the name of fighting corruption if at the end of the day the convicts will be pardoned and stroll into their palatial homes in splendour in this ugly manner?
Granted that the constitution gives the President and the Governors the power of prerogative to pardon criminals in deserving circumstances, must it be done in the vulgar way and manner the instant case was handled?
In fairness to the president, not all the 159 convicts and ex-convicts granted presidential pardon are politicians. But, the most prominent of them are the two former Governors. That is what has led to the national rockus,bedlam and hoopla. This is because it could be argued ( and rightly too), that the main essence of the last meeting of the Council of State was to give imprimatur to, and grant pardon to the two political heavy weights, while making up the number with some insignificant lightweight ones, using garnished veneer and sleight of hand .
The president by so doing has certainly violated the provisions of the Constitution and his oaths of office and allegiance to defend the Constitution. This recent pardon, in my humble view, is the worst way to fight corruption. It will further water, nurture and elevate corruption to a fundamental objective and directive principle of State policy. It is so sad and counterproductive.
Re: Kogi East Senator Isah Jibrin, Killer Squad, Echocho Boys, Launches Violent Attacks on SDP Supporters
When the news of Senator representing Kogi East Senatorial District, Jibrin Isah Echocho was published in several online platforms on September 28, 2023, “titled: Kogi Guber: Kogi East Senator, Jibrin Isah Killer Squad, ‘Echocho boys’ launches violent attacks on SDP supporters”, it aroused my interest and of course, any other person who has flair for investigative journalism would have waded into such dastardly act by a sitting Senator with a view to making news headlines.
Ajiolo Ojaji is a community in Dekina Local Government Council and home to the two term lawmaker. Before now, Echocho has ‘cult-like’ followership because of his antecedents when he was working in the banking sector. His magnanimity and philanthropy earned him respect not just among his contemporaries, elders, and youngsters.
His commitment to philanthropy over time influenced the choice of some families naming their born male children after him, “Echocho” . It is paramount to know that when he was in the banking sector, he was into his philanthropy without envisaging that he would one day delve into politics.
His professional background forms part of his decency and decorum after he had made foray into politics, first as a Chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 2011, when he contested for governorship primary and won before the turn of events at the time of the former governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris. In the past eight to nine years he became active in politics, he has never been associated with political violence not even at a time that injustice was done to him.
Thus, the “Echocho boys”, as it were, are names named after him in admiration of his lofty contribution to the development of the communities in and around Dekina Local Government Council and were never evil intended as being portrayed in some sections of the media.
Though, it is understood that at this political period, politicians of his standing are vulnerable to media vituperations by the opposition and those harboring empty grudges, hence one is not taken aback over reports alleging that he has killer squad as findings revealed that the altercation at Ajiolo Ojaji that led to violence was a usual fall out among brothers.
It was also discovered that those who were involved in the fracas, and the victims were once members of the same political family in the past, but have now divided interest, a development that has led to the nursing of animosity among themselves.
Despite the accusations and name callings, Echocho visited the victims, and cautioned the youths , as a Father.
More worrisome is the fact that one of the alleged victims, who was captured in their publication laying on the stretch was never part of the saga, but pretended to have been attacked and he was reported in the media to have been receiving medical attention in the hospital as a result of the crisis. All these were their desperate intention to damage the sterling reputation of the Senator.
It was clearly affirmed that the article was deliberately written and sponsored to project the Distinguished Senator in negative light, but unfortunately, they failed.
Interestingly, from our investigation, we have unveiled the pseudo name behind the libelous article to be one, Yusuf Abubakar.
We would follow due process as our lawyers have been briefed to ensure that justice is done through court processes. Those involved behind the scene will be summon soon.
– Atekojo Samson Usman, a journalist, writes from Abuja.
Edo 2024: Obaseki’s ‘divine’ forgiveness of Shaibu’s ‘political follies’
By Ehichioya Ezomon
“He who is begged or pleaded with is king,” is an adage that the average Edo person doesn’t take for granted, mostly if the act for which forgiveness is sought is committed publicly – such that the aggrieved feels slighted and injured – and the mollification is also displayed openly.
Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki aptly symbolically assumes a kingly position lately, as he exhibits the spirit of divine, to forgive Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu, who’d “erred” by aspiring to succeed Obaseki in 2024.
It’s Shaibu’s inalienable right to aspire to be governor in an off-season election in September 2024 to round off Obaseki’s eight-year tenure in November 2024. But Obaseki reckoned the act as in bad faith and taste.
Deputy governors aren’t satisfied with playing second fiddle, and they begin plotting how to become the Chief Executive the day after their swearing in. To justify their aspiration, some deputy governors boast of influencing the governor’s pick for the position.
But woe beside the deputy governor, who thinks the influence of their godfather will carry them through after the governor has assumed the full powers of office. Most times, their political benefactors become their first victims.
In Nigeria’s brand of democracy in which the Constitution clothes the governor with powers of overlordship that subsume other authorities – ancient and modern – the deputy governor is laughably a “spare tire,” who owes his stay in office to the benevolence of the governor, and thus should be heard and not seen, or they risk being rendered redundant in the scheme, or hounded out of office when they want to assert their authority.
A deputy governor can hardly survive risking relationships with their principals on account of aspiring to succeed them. It’s either the governor engineers the mostly pliant members of the State House of Assembly to impeach the deputy governor over nebulous allegations of “gross misconduct,” or their powers are curtailed, and access to the governor and state activities limited or frozen.
Such was the fate that befell Shaibu in his undisguised ambition to be governor in 2024. To clear all roadblocks, he filed suits in courts to pre-empt Obaseki deploying the State Assembly to impeach him and scuttle his ambition.
Obaseki felt that Shaibu had gone about the project in a manner that betrayed their cordial relationship since they came together in a joint ticket on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2016, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2020.
To Obaseki, who’d dealt with his acclaimed political godfather and predecessor in office, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole – culminating in the now Senator for Edo North being sacked by the courts as National Chairman of the APC – Shaibu’s a small fry to make mincemeat of.
Thus, he cut communications with, and barred Shaibu from accessing him; stopped him from certain official activities, and relocated his office to outside the Government House, Benin City, via a two-para memo dispatched by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr Osarodion Ogie, dated September 15, and received on September 19.
The memo, “Relocation of Office Accommodation,” reads: “I write to inform you that His Excellency, the Governor, has approved the relocation of your office accommodation to No 7, Dennis Osadebey Avenue, G.R.A., Benin City.
“You are therefore requested to ensure your compliance in line with Mr Governor’s approval, please.”
Surprisingly, Shaibu, after resuming in the new office, tendered his apology to Obaseki.
The months-long political feud between Obaseki and Shaibu had the potential to threaten the peace and security of the proudly homogeneous Edo State dubbed the “Heart Beat of The Nation”
Particularly on the verge of getting dragged and enmeshed in the murky waters of politics and personal ambitions were the people of Edo South and Edo North, where Obaseki and Shaibu hail from, respectively.
But before Obaseki could twist the screw further, well-meaning Nigerians stepped in to engender truce, leading to Shaibu’s withdrawal of his writs in the courts, and offering “sincere apologies” to Obaseki for whatever his follies.
Shaibu told journalists in Benin City on September 21 that: “I will use this medium to appeal to Mr. Governor, if there is anything that I don’t know that I have done, please forgive me so that we can develop our state together.
“If there is any mistake that I have made as human, is (sic) not an act of maybe wickedness, because I’m not wicked. I have a very clean heart.
“So Mr Governor, please, if there is anything that you think I have done, I am sorry. I need us to work together to finish well and strong because that is my prayer for you.”
Shaibu vouched for his loyalty to Obaseki, and said he’d taken a personal vow with God to support the governor, stressing that, “If I have a vow with God, there is nothing that will change it.”
He hoped for a return of the good old days with Obaseki, saying: “And I can only wish that the relationship that we had, in the next few days and weeks, I know it will come back… We’ve been the envy of the entire country; it (cordial relationship) is still possible.”
Exactly one week after, on September 28, Shaibu’s prayers were answered, as Obaseki, touting himself as a “person of faith,” said he’s “under obligation to accept the apology”
In a letter, “Re: Public Apology By The Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu,” Obaseki said: “I have noted the public apology made by the Deputy Governor of Edo State, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Comrade Philip Shaibu. This apology followed an aberrant behaviour that contradicts what the people of Edo State stand for.
“To name a few, the Deputy Governor needlessly filed unfounded petitions in the Nigerian courts restraining me, the State House of Assembly and Security agencies from a non-existent impeachment process, followed by repeated breaches of protocol; unwarranted and unprovoked attacks in the media on my person and the State Government.
“The media frenzy as a result of the above and more, provided an impression of crises that has been precarious and distasteful to Edo people in the State and across the world.
“Although these unwarranted provocations caused me severe personal discomfort, as a person of faith, I am under obligation to accept this apology because as they say, ‘to err is human, to forgive is divine.”
“In good faith, I trust that the public apology as expressed by the Deputy Governor is genuine and followed by contrite steps to improve his conflict resolution skills.
“I also enjoin the Deputy Governor to guide his proxies to act in accordance with his piety.”
“It is my sincere hope and that of my other colleagues in government and all well-meaning Edo people, that these rhetorics will be put to an end forthwith to enable this administration finish strong and deliver the dividends of democracy to the greatest number of Edo people over this final twelve (12) months.”
Governor Obaseki deserves some plaudits! Yet, the swords sheathed and the guns silenced, the lessons learned should endure, as political ambition dies hard. For Shaibu – and many in his shoes – the ultimate is to be in full control as the executive governor, despite being deputy for eight years. Nothing else suffices!
So, unless the “terms of the truce” for apology and forgiveness include the total surrender of Shaibu’s ambition, the battle may be over, but the war will continue until September 2024. And it’ll be epic in proportion and ramifications on both sides!
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria
Communicating the President
By Tunde Olusunle
I was opportuned to serve in the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar administration at the beginning of our Fourth Republic. Obasanjo was a rather controversial personality. The media had stereotyped him as unfriendly and adversarial over time. The very fact that he opted for a medical doctor in Doyin Okupe as his very first spokesperson, broadened the hiatus between Obasanjo and the press. Okupe cut his dentition as public communicator, when he was the National Publicity Secretary of the defunct National Republican Convention, (NRC), one of the two political parties established by the regime of former military President, Ibrahim Babangida in 1991, in the run up to the actualization of Nigeria’s botched Third Republic. He was a good communicator in his own way. Fortuitously, a critical core of Obasanjo’s appointees were tested and respected journalists who added steel and spine to presidential communication in the nation’s nascent democracy.
There were Onyema Ugochukwu, Emeritus Editor of Business Times, West Africa and Daily Times newspapers and Stanley Macebuh, (of evergreen memory) whose footprints straddled several publications, including The Sentinel, The Guardian and Post Express. Haroun Adamu, former university scholar and proprietor of the rested The Nigerian Economist magazine and Ad’Obe Obe who succeeded Ugochukwu in West Africa in London, were also in the loop. Younger elements like Steve Itugbu and yours sincerely contributed to making up for observed lacunae in the management and communication of the voice of the president. I was in my 30s. We made friends for him. Tunji Oseni and Remi Oyo both accomplished professionals, (both sadly transited), occupied Okupe’s position at various times during the Obasanjo presidency, adding perspectives to presidential communication.
The preceding parade of presidential communicators was consistent, actually upgrades in instances, on the qualities of previous holders of the office. They were hitherto referred to as “Chief Press Secretary” to the Head of State, or the President, as the case might have been. Alex Nwokedi who was spokesman for the defunct National Electricity Power Authority, (NEPA) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), was Obasanjo’s spokesman in 1976. He was succeeded by Charles Igoh who was once Sports Editor of the Daily Times, upon the ascent of President Shehu Shagari in 1979. Wada Maida who later became chief executive of the News Agency of Nigeria, (NAN), was appointed into the position when Muhammadu Buhari became military ruler in 1984.
Duro Onabule had served as Editor of the now rested National Concord one of Nigeria’s best selling dailies in its time, before he was appointed to the same office by Babangida. Sola Atere who retired a few years ago from the Nigerian Television Authority, (NTA) as Executive Director, occupied the position during the brief stint of Ernest Shonekan as Head of the Interim National Government, (ING). David Attah a former federal parliamentarian who also had editorial and management stints in the Daily Times, Standard and The Voice newspapers variously was appointed to the position by Abacha in 1993. Haruna Mohammed, a former managing director of New Nigerian Newspapers served in the position during the 11-month transitional rule of Abdulsalami Abubakar as Head of State.
Equally vibrant and respected professionals like Olusegun Adeniyi, chairman of the Editorial Board of Thisday and Reuben Abati, former Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian were spokesmen for former Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, respectively. Femi Adesina was Editor-in-chief of Sun newspapers after working with the Vanguard and Concord newspapers before becoming spokesman to Muhammadu Buhari. Garba Shehu was managing director of Triumph newspapers at 37. Adesina and Garba were both Presidents of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE), the umbrella body of Nigeria’s topmost media professionals.
It is compelling, even impelling to establish the foregoing trajectory to properly situate the professional quality, cognate experience and broad network expected of a potential presidential spokesman. Bola Tinubu, present occupant of Nigeria’s topmost political office desires to be seen as very pan-Nigerian in the complexion of his administrative apparachik. He also wants to be portrayed as a believer in the capacity of the youth as important contributors to the Nigerian project. These considerations must, however, not be sacrificed for merit and experience. While attorneys may be assigned to administer the nation’s capital, or a seasoned journalist deployed to the solid minerals schedule, presidential communication requires a lot, lot more. It is neither for greenhorns nor for apprentices. The output of the current holder of the office thus far is at best amateurish, randomly unprofessional and notably un-presidential. The margins of error in this job are thin and minimal.
On two occasions in less than two weeks, Ajuri Ngelale, Tinubu’s spokesman has played the ultimate propagandist. He dished out false narratives and had the unpleasant task of doing a recant on both occasions. While reporting the highlights of Tinubu’s engagements with the authorities in the United Arab Emirates, (UAE) about a fortnight ago, Ngelale told the world that the subsisting visa ban on Nigerians travelling to the UAE had been lifted! It turned out to be embarrassingly false. Officials of the country put out a disclaimer. A few days ago, the overly excitable Ngelale told us that Tinubu was the first African leader to ring the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, (NASDAQ) bell in New York. This again turned out a hoax. Jakaya Kiwete a former president of Tanzania rang the NASDAQ closing bell in 2011. Fact-checking has long been simplified by information technology.
Presidential communication is beyond press statements which seem to be Ngelale’s forte. Even here, he is not in the least impressive. His releases are wordy and characteristically riddled with grammatical errors. Sentences wriggle and wind around and about in serpentine motions. Writing is a very intricate vocation guided by strict rules and regulations. Press statements are all about keeping it tight, sticking specifically and holistically to the facts without unnecessary embellishments and gerrymandering. Leave that to us creative writers and essayists. I should know having written quite a handful in my communication handling career on behalf of Abubakar Audu, Paul Omeruo, Bzigu Afakirya all former chief executives of Kogi State for whom I was spokesman at various times. Not forgetting my years with Obasanjo in Aso Villa.
Sentences are best kept laconic, at manageable lengths not exceeding three dozen words. There must be symmetry between the sound and semantics of the written word. Reclining into the big-manism of having press officers generate drafts for his blind endorsement is unacceptable and dangerous. Ngelale needs to get off his buttocks and face the job very squarely. He must forget the fawning aides around him opening his car door and making his coffee. That is if he’s convinced he truly has quality to offer. With every alacrity, he needs to mitigate his wobbling and waffling which are anathema to information dissemination at the highest levels.
Ngelale comes from the background of the electronic segment of the media. He launched out from the African Independent Television, (AIT) and crossed over to Channels Television. He was on the media team of Buhari in 2019 and was rewarded with an appointment as a presidential aide on public affairs. He also functioned on the Tinubu presidential organisation which culminated in his current recognition. At 37, he must be the youngest occupant of the Office of Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, if I’m correct. If he desires to retain his brief and flourish in it, he must deliberately avail himself of the quantum residual wisdoms of previous handlers of the schedule. Growth and perfection come by deliberate humility and diligent questing. Can Ngelale turn a good patch after his initial stumbles and adjust to the responsibilities of his seat? Tinubu by the way has never been in short supply of savvy associates at the topmost pedestal of the media. Where are they?
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)
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