Presidential Spokespersons: Between Publicity and Communication
Before the eventual announcement of Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu as spokespersons to the newly elected President Muhammadu, there had been wide speculations that either of the two would emerge.
Their deserving appointments came with confusion and challenges. The two share the same portfolio but with different designations with Femi Adesina named as Special Adviser while Garba Shehu emerged as Senior Special Assistant both on Media and Publicity.
This writer will deliberately avoid dabbling into the politics of the appointment and who is most senior by age, profession, qualification or on the current position. They have each been role models to aspiring journalists and writers.
When I started writing as an undergraduate in Mass Communications Department of Bayero University Kano back in the late 1980 and early 1990s, there was no internet, email or any form of social media to share my opinions. Mallam Garba Shehu as Editor of the then popular Kano state-owned Triumph newspaper encouraged and published my articles.
The channels available to deliver our write-ups then were either directly or through the post office. I delivered mostly directly and on such occasions, Garba Shehu made sure to provide me some token to defray transportation expenses. As he moved on to become General Manager of ALSCON and later Spokesperson to the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, he had always provided moral and kind supports to my aspirations especially on special media projects. He knows how to attract the best team for every campaign.
For Adesina, apart from being addicted to his weekly column in the Sun, I had been inspired by his style of writing in the Weekend Concord in the 90s. He is a brilliant writer who tackles sensitive and critical issues with fun and jokes, yet hitting the nail on the head in eloquent prose. As President of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Chief Executive of a leading newspaper, he has intervened in saving difficult situations towards protecting the national pride and integrity. Most current Editors, especially of the traditional media, can attest to those unwritten code for stability in the polity.
Being a PR person, I cannot begin to count the numerous special favours we derived from those great editors who put national interests ahead of the need to publish and be damned at a most tempestuous period in our nation's history.
The two gentlemen are not only highly qualified and well-experienced professionals they have served as Managing Directors of leading newspapers and at different periods were elected Presidents of NGE.
While commending President Buhari for identifying great talents and professionalism in these two great Nigerians, he should nonetheless have assigned them different portfolios to avoid unnecessary tension and confusion by distinctively defining their roles for information management for the administration. While one may not envisage infighting between the two mature and responsible spokespersons, conflict may arise through the antics of so-called friends, tribesmen, professional colleagues and other interests. Clashes do occur even among Siamese twins not to talk of professionals from different background in term of education, region, political leaning among others.
The President should redefine their portfolio by ascribing relevant nomenclatures to their beats. Apart from media and publicity, there are also portfolios worthy of consideration such as Public Affairs, Press Affairs, and Strategic Communication among others.
Nevertheless, the officers may on their own decide on who among them should be responsible for Media and Publicity and Strategic Communication.
The common role of a spokesperson is to serve as publicist, by providing publicity in timely and professional manners. A Publicity officer must be close to the principal; waking up before the boss and taking leave after the boss. Publicity officer merely acts as megaphone by issuing statements on actions and utterances of the principal. In fact his roles are typical of media reporter who reports what he sees, feels or told.
On the other side, an officer in-charge of Strategic Communication does not require physical presence with the principal. From afar, a communicator is responsible for tracking and monitoring unfolding issues and provides professional advices in handling the communication process. Like media consultants, communication strategist is hardly seen or heard but facilitate the information flows. Whenever he speaks or issues statement, the message carries weight more than that of the regular releases from publicists.
The clear demarcation between a publicity specialist and a communication strategist is like media reporter and media consultant. In ensuring harmonious relationship, the hidden persuader must operate behind the scene while public talker should be visible on the scene. It may be difficult and embarrassing if in current situation, either of the two spokespersons desires to combine the dual roles.
Meanwhile with the appointment of a seasoned journalist, Laolu Akande as the spokesperson to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Garba Shehu or Femi Adesina may take the responsibility of managing the Presidential Publicity rather than Spokesperson to President Muhammad Buhari.
Yushau A. Shuaib
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