By Jérôme-Mario Chijioke Utomi
At the time, as an undergraduate student interested in nation building and instilling true political leadership in Nigeria, I cherished two leadership recruitment quotes.
The first is from the United States of America, born Jim Collins, a very great expert in human resource development and the other from Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, an Italian diplomat, author, philosopher and historian who lived during the Renaissance and best known for his political work. treatise, “The Prince”, written around 1513 but not published before 1532.
While Jim Collins believes that the first responsibility of a great leader is to find the right people because the success of any administration depends, to a large extent, on the quality of the people in charge, Machiavelli, in a similar style, is that the first opinion we have of a leader’s intelligence is based on the quality of the men he has around him. When they are competent and loyal, he can always be considered wise because he knew how to recognize their competence and retain them. But when it is otherwise, the sovereign is always open to negative criticism because his first mistake was in the choice of his ministers.
This whole idea came to fruition recently during an enlightening conversation with Olisa Ifejika, Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.
The conversational imperative was based on the urgent need to separate fact from fiction and speculation in such a way as to help quell, among the Deltans, the contradictory reactions and the utter confusion occasioned by the asymmetrical interpretations of the public, the misunderstanding of some recent government policies in the public education sector.
In addition to being candid and factual, Ifejika, during our conversation, demonstrated that he understands that a viable democracy has its place in the openness, reliability, relevance, responsiveness and two-way nature of the communications environment.
Remarkably, thanks to his open-mindedness, the conversation became more revealing than expected, yielding three sets of related results.
First and very fundamental, it cleared the heavy cloud that has enveloped the state as a result of the government’s new education policy.
Ifejika skillfully dispelled the innuendo, innuendo, and half-truths that heralded the state tuition hike rumor.
His florid but thorough dissection of the issues went a long way toward restoring the healthy and friendly relationship between the government and the Deltans.
Second, through his transparent clarification of critical issues, Ifejika, unlike most image-makers known for hoarding information, firmly portrays Governor Okowa as a great visionary and proactive leader who chooses the right people and gives them the right jobs. .
Thirdly, like Machiavelli, Ifejika’s humble and friendly disposition that complimented himself and made it very easy for me to feel comfortable in his presence even though it was the first meeting, more than anything else, says a lot on Okowa’s intelligence and wisdom. Professionally, Ifejika exudes confidence and skill.
As a former deputy editor of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), his presence and that of other professionals in the Okowa government attests to the quality of the men the governor presents as aides.
It is therefore evident that Okowa recognizes competence and quality for the general good of Delta.
The reasons why this article largely borders on Ifejika and its director, Governor Okowa’s character trait, can be gleaned from the highly influential 1978 “Mexican Statement” of world public relations professionals, where the group defined public relations as “the art and social science of analyzing trends, foreseeing their consequences, advising the leaders of organizations, and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the interest of the organization and the public interest.
Essentially, aside from the age-old belief that good information management is the common thread of good governance, in communicating government work and policies to Deltans, the chief press officer leaves with the belief exhilarating that he is not a fifth columnist in the fourth estate of the kingdom or a propagandist posing as a journalist but a seasoned news manager, one at home with the art and science of analyzing the trends and predict the consequences.
Broadly speaking, the reason his opening is laudable is that it comes at a time when most Nigerian government spokespersons wear the trappings of Paul Joseph Goebbels, a German Nazi politician and Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. .
He was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest and most dedicated associates and was known for his oratory skills and deeply virulent anti-Semitism, which was evident in his publicly expressed views.
This troubling posture by some government spokespersons has turned their exalted positions into platforms for fierce political and ideological warfare in ways that deny our rationality as human beings.
A great amount of innocent human character was overthrown, wars of words were fought, countless souls were persecuted and martyred. In recent times, spokespersons have failed to communicate lofty ideas and ideals.
This consequence of their failures is responsible for why anarchy is currently prevailing in the country and explains, to some extent, why Nigerians are shrinking and impoverished daily.
For example, instead of telling their constituents what the real issues are or encouraging them to keep the promises that brought them victory at the polls, reducing the challenges facing the people and promoting consensus politics, some spokesperson, to impress, encourage division, defend trending autocratic policies, and promote the media trial of political opponents.
In most cases, they become propagandists using radio, television and the Internet as outlets to relentlessly distort the population.
Whenever some of these spokespersons are confronted with embarrassing facts about their constituents, they fall back on data that is not very objective, generating inferences that can never be called explicit. They barely respond to calls or inquiries from journalists, broadcasters, development practitioners and the public seeking information despite the existence of the Freedom of Information Act which was signed into law on May 28. 2011 by Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Some government spokespersons want to repress and control media organizations and monitor journalists, the true watchdogs of society.
Although I sympathize with the embarrassing position of some of these spokespersons, especially since the communication of public officials is self-defeating and often notorious for encouraging complacency among citizens, I nevertheless believe that finding solutions to the style of management information unwelcoming by a certain image -decision makers will have far-reaching effects both on civil servants and on Nigerians at large, as every decision they make requires value judgment, as different decisions lead to results different.
This is precisely what the work of a government spokesperson should focus on, and a lesson that others in similar positions should learn.
I therefore suggest that spokespersons in the Nigerian political space should learn from Governor Okowa’s Chief Press Secretary, Ifejika, a thoroughbred professional and consummate information manager.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Program Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based non-governmental organization (NGO). He can be contacted via [email protected]/08032725374