By 100 cuts – The miscommunications of President Buhari’s Team
The 2015 election reason was Buhari himself for many, they knew and trusted him. Many promises were made, most of which did not emanate from the candidate, but that’s neither here nor there. The party apparatus steps in during election season with manifestoes and pointers and Buhari at campaign events, touched on increasing jobs through employment in the minerals sector (mining in particular), assets and fund recovery through a more concerted effort by the EFCC and improved security by addressing the challenges currently facing the Nigerian security apparatuses. These are the three ideas dearest to the president and if one had cause to listen to him on the campaign trail, they formed the bulk of his pithy campaign speeches.
Garba Shehu penned an article in anticipation of 100 days milestone of the Buhari government. He dismissed all promises of achievements of the administration by this marker. One of the promise documents in question was prepared by the Gov. Fayemi led policy team and signed off by the president; if going by the Chatham House video that Shehu used as reference to buttress his claims, we can accept that the president dismissed some campaign documents as ‘fraudulent’, but no one with a ounce of credibility can conclude that the he was referring to a document commissioned by the party and authored by the official policy think-tank. Was Shehu authorised to publicly impugn the credibility of that document and by extension, its authors? On the face of it, this appears to be a political gaffe but it points to what may appear to be the beginnings of a rift in the presidential communications team. Garba is junior to Femi Adesina by designation; it is not out of order to assume that the latter would be aware of the former’s op-eds. However, when asked about the now infamous ‘100-days’ article, Adesina denied prior knowledge of it! True as this maybe, it doesn’t do anything for the image of the president as an informed leader.
Further, it is unrealistic to expect that the party could have overseen the reams of documents, pamphlets, emails, etc, sent out on its behalf during the campaign. The APC benefited from the dedication and efforts of zealous young people, who might have over-promised on the president’s deliverables but that is a fact quite aside from the document in question here.
Garba missed a golden opportunity , he arrogated to himself, unwittingly, the job of the opposition. Did he mean to say that if the promises in the ‘Covenant with Nigerians’ document were unfulfilled, the president had not been up to much? Or was his underlying point that the president will not be bound by the policies crafted by the ACN wing of the party? Further, is the APC’s manifesto still a going concern or is it to be discarded as well?
In trying to enforce the party line in settling the House of Assembly leadership dispute, the president emphasised the supremacy of the party, repeatedly but the fall out here betrays an ideological schism within the party, the southern liberal/libertarian aspirations of the old ACN bloc was not sold or fully merged with the CPC/ANPP. It is without doubt that the bulk of ideas floating around as the APC’s manifesto came from the party’s southern wing. Did they consult the party’s other blocs? Was Buhari aware of the policies and achievements promised as ‘quick wins’’? These questions would be immaterial if communications and strategy was handled as it should be. Unfortunately, everyone appears to be jostling for influence even at the risk of painting their principal as unable to manage his own core team.
The president risks frittering away the boundless optimism Nigerians felts towards his administration, confused press releases, rambling tweets and a certain tone deafness from his frontline communication staff has thus far meant a constant cleaning up of the intended message. The unnecessary dust-up over the 100-days promise was started by the presidency itself, if one of GEJ’s most grating trait was how he seemed to have no control over what his staff was doing, this show of amateurism from Aso Rock doesn’t bode well for Buhari’s long term image as a leader.
The APC appears to still be reeling from the surprise of winning the elections, such that the party has been unable to resist its propaganda mode. What needs to be clear here, Nigeria doesn’t run a parliamentary system, the APC has no role in the executive arm of government, it should train its focus on maintaining discipline in the congressional APC and leave the business of communicating policy or findings to the Presidency.
Aso Rock must understand the public playing out of what many suspect to be widening fissures in the power blocs of the party will only hasten the onset of cynicism, Nigerian dared to hope that this government would be different, efficient with decisive leadership. In order that a semblance of this image is maintained, either Adesina or Garba must be reigned in. These two men have proven to be ill-suited to the highly sensitive and visible job of communicating the president’s vision to Nigerians.
It’s almost 100 days since President Buhari was sworn in, he has proven to be more aloof than hoped, a fact made only acute by the deficiencies in communication but it’s still early days. Hopefully, he will address Nigerians and provide some insight into what his government has been up to thus far.