Even in lying, be consistent!

The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

By the way, where is Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the honourable minister of information? The question is not to suggest that the indefatigable minister is missing from the federal cabinet. I am just worried that Lai has been uncharacteristically less forceful at this time when the force of argument is required to explain properly certain happenings at the federal level.

His abdication (I don’t really know if I should call it so) has left the turf for everybody including the comptroller-general of customs, Col. Hameed Ali, to explain very badly issues that only Lai Mohammed could put to rest. Last Friday at some occasion to revive Buhari Support Organisation, apparently with 2019 in view, Ali on whom the whole Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had given up when the Distinguished Senators could not compel him to wear the customs service uniform, said bad things are happening because bad people had replaced good people in the composition of the President Buhari-led federal government.

Hear him: “I must confess here that we have been infused by people who were not of this journey and these people are the ones that call the shots today. That is why we are derailing…Everyday, especially in the recent past, when you wake up, there is a story that makes you shiver.”

We are getting somewhere. At least, there is a convergence between the views of a core Buhari man and preponderance of opinions in the public space: we are derailing. And this is like coming from the horse’s mouth. Specifically, Col. Ali was reacting to the re-engagement into the federal civil service of fugitive former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pensions Reforms Commission, Abdullahi Abdulrasheed Maina.

The entire presidency was caught napping. None knew how to react to the sudden beatification of a sinner into saint without throwing up more moral questions. Here was a man accused of stealing big public money, put on trial to explain, absconded, declared wanted and put on Interpol watch. And then without undergoing plastic surgery to alter his physical features or even mere change of name to confuse those paid to track him, he reappeared, heralded in quietly and given back his job with a big thank you by way of promotion and payment of accumulated salaries from when he disappeared in 2013.

Somebody needed to explain this urgently and very well too to a bemused nation. Consequently, there was haste to say something; just anything by the presidency. But it is not for nothing that the sages say more haste commands less speed. Nobody reminded the various speakers of this point. The interior Minister, Gen. Dambauza, Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita, Special Assistant to President Buhari on media, Shehu Garba rushed out to say things from different perspectives, like the contradicting accounts of the proverbial blind men that went to see the elephant.

Interior Minister, General Bambazau even answered questions that were not asked. He sounded and looked pathetic, especially after Oyo-Ita denied issuing the directive that reinstated Maina. He was like the bad boy who was only asked to state his location on a particular date and time but went ahead to say that he did not take any meat from his mother’s pot of soup.

Mallam Shehu Garba is somehow growing or more appropriately, contracting out of character. He sounds more like a jester than he sounds as a man who explains the Presidency to ordinary folks. In-between serious acts, he takes centre-stage now and again, as in Shakespearean performances, to offer comic relief. It was he who propounded the Rat Theory, which states that at increasing level of presidential inertia, the probability of invasion of the presidential fortress by rats and rodents is greater than one. It was he again who first constructed and introduced the PDP premise in the Maina narrative. Colonel Hameed Ali only expanded the premise to include more areas, especially the aspect that differentiated between the original and fake prosecutors of Buhari’s vision.

I wouldn’t know if Ali and Garba meant the same thing as Aisha Buhari. The First Lady had been saying that ruthless strangers, some of whom she actually called jackals and hyenas had captured her husband for almost 30 years, since May 29, 2015. She stands vindicated if her description of the ‘strangers’ in Aso Rock fits the picture that Ali and Garba have painted. I doubt.

There were other official commentators on the Mainagate. One Okoi Obono Obla described as Special Assistant to President Buhari on prosecution (as if there is one on defence or protection) said since no court had convicted Maina of the charges of corruption, his re-absorption into the service on those compensatory and extremely robust terms was in order. Meanwhile, the Department of State Security (DSS) under Alhaji Lawal Daura has since the beginning of the Maina story gone deaf and dumb. It has maintained a loud silence on how fugitive Maina escaped security watch and resumed peacefully as the acting director of human resources at the interior ministry. Also, the Economic and Financial Crime (EFCC) got suddenly active, raiding houses in search of Maina as if Maina was a new phenomenon.

So much is pointing in the direction of Minister of Justice and Attorney-general Abubakar Malami as the originator of the confusion. Key documentations of the Mainagate, including a letter absolving Maina of wrong doing, and asking for restoration of full benefits allegedly originated from his office. But he is not saying enough to deepen public understanding of the issue. Itse Sagay, professor of law who advises Buhari on how to kill corruption said Maina should be arrested immediately. He was supported by Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana. The police has not reported any arrest. Instead a video of Maina in which he maintained his innocence and accused some quarters of persecuting him for serving Nigeria well has gone viral.

In all of this, President Buhari has maintained his trademark taciturnity; saying nothing specific to squarely place the huge blame. Mr. Femi Adesina, the President’s Senior Adviser on media only issued a statement on behalf of his boss sacking Maina with immediate effect. And since so many accounts of the same event had been given by Dambazau, Oyo-Ita, Shehu Garba, Hameed Ali, Abubakar Malami, Okoi Obono-Obla, etc, the President through Mr. Adesina ordered investigation into the matter to establish the truth, which could be lying somewhere among Malami, Lawal Daura and Dambazau.

In all cases, consistency is essential to effective communication. Even if it is a lie, it should be consistently stated to earn credibility. Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Dr. Josef Goebbels did it so well in Nazi Germany. The Maina lie, as many other lies in Buhari’s Nigeria, has been poorly told. This poor communication is robbing the Buhari show of much needed public empathy. Nobody is willing to suspend his or her disbelief and soon there will be nothing left of the pre-2015 huge integrity of Muhammadu Buhari.

The situation in the presidency is critical. In combat (because we are really in war) when situation gets critical and there is no plan to surrender, two steps are considered: retreat or reinforce to forge ahead. The reinforcement needed here is Alhaji Lai Mohammed who knows what to say, when and how to say it. Specifically, he is needed to make telling of lies in the presidency a bit more consistent.

On the Mainagate for instance, Lai would have said something far more believable than the incoherent blabbing of the multitude. Something like the Maina that was declared wanted in February 2013 is different from the Maina that resumed at the Internal Affairs Ministry as acting director of human resources. That is the touch of a master!



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