Femi Adesina is Nigeria’s presidential spokesman. He is the President’s mouth piece. A few weeks ago, he was the guest of City People. He had a session with City People editorial team during which he revealed so many shocking things about his boss President Muhammadu Buhari; whom he has known for very many years.
For the very first time, he revealed how he manages the president’s public image and how he is perceived in the public space. He revealed to City People what he goes through, for instance, with the new crop of social media practitioners. “As a President’s spokesman, I have become a lot more familiar with social media. I have no choice in the matter. It is the reality of our age”.
“I have had to balance my thinking like a newspaper man and news room editor with thinking like a digital person and how many press statements could be misinterpreted. And I tell you. It is like it is an art to misinterpret, particularly the President on social media. They just take what he has said or what the spokesman has said and they twist it. It is an act now. They just take statements and twist and it becomes an issue. So, I am alive to that reality.”
Femi Adesina says managing the President is not an easy task. “You know as a spokesman you are not speaking for yourself. The easiest way for a spokesman to fall into trouble is to speak for himself. You speak for your principal. And when your principal is a man of few words, if you are a basket mouth you will fall into trouble. What of if you say something and he says who told you to say this?
These are fundamental issues. But it is easy for me. Because I sit in at almost all his meetings. I know how his mind works. So if something comes up that I know his opinion I can issue a statement because I have heard him speak on it and I know his mind on it. I know his mind on Devaluation, Deregulation and so many things. But there are certain things you dear not speak about until you’re consulted him. You dear not speak. When it happens you will go to meet him. You will tell him this has happened what should be our position. When you are a spokesman you are responsible to your principal. You manage his image. You give information on his activities. You expand on his activities. You defend him when necessary. You must keep those goals ahead of you.
Don’t go ahead of your principal. The best you can do is to be by his side. If you go ahead of him you will land into trouble. There are certain basic things you must spell-check with him. You need to crosscheck from him. There are certain things he may want to keep quiet about and you have gone ahead to say something.
He will ask you: who told you to say this. You must know your principal. And then your strategy must conform with his own way of thinking and his own way of doing things, otherwise you will get into trouble.
Femi Adesina explained that a lot of people think President Buhari is media unfriendly. He is not. It is not true. Do you know the first thing he does every morning when he gets the office? He goes through the media. Before he gets to work, we would have prepared what we call “Media Highlights” for the day. That is the first thing Mr. President does when he gets to the office. He told me that at times when he has read the highlights he may not need to read the main story again. But if he reads the highlight and he is not satisfied he then goes to look for the paper and reads the entire story. What is in the papers is very important to him and that is the first thing he does every day. He listens to the news too. He listens to radio too. He watches TV.
Of course at night when you get to the Villa you will find him listening to the news, is more current than you think. A lot of people think he does not like the media. They are wrong.
People have criticized him that he does not rush to visit sites of incidence. The reason is simple. His style is different. He does not like just going for photo effects, his own is to get the job done. He will get in touch with the Governor on ground and get all the necessary briefings. He is a president that believes more in result. He is a man of few words. But he likes action.”
What has helped Femi Adesina to do his job well is the closeness and intimacy he enjoys with Mr. President, a man he has admired from his days as a student.
“My admiration for Pres. Buhari actually started when he was in office as military head of state, in the 1980s. I was in the University then, and was impressed by his single-minded dedication to making Nigeria a better country, and tackling the rot and corruption that had long plagued us.
I was of course disappointed when he was overthrown, and excited when, many years later, he joined partisan politics I always say it that the day the Buhari/Idiagbon regime was overthrowm remains my saddest day because I just felt someting was not quite right with Nigeria. Why the regime may have made some mistakes, they mistakes of the head and not of the heart. The regime was shut lived. If the regime had lasted for 8 years like IBB lasted, Nigeria would never have been the same today.
We would not have been in this mess we found ourselves today. That has always been my opinion.
So, when he joined patisan politics and he became a candidate for presidenticy, I always supported him. 2003, 2007, 2011, I supported him. By 2011 I began to also write that unless there was a broadbased coalition round him, he may never be President because the political map of Nigeria didn’t favour him emerging President except there was a broad based coalition. And when that coalition came through APC, I remember I did one article in which I wrote that the political map of Nigeria had changed and I just knew that the PDP won’t win that election, because if you have the whole North, as a block, add South-West with it and you have part the Middle Belt there is no way you would not win the elections”.
“I remember I wrote that article that the political map has changed and the PDP will never win. What I did, PDP people abused me. The elections came and it happened that way. Once you formed that kind of national alliance you will win. I used to write a weekly column in The Sun. What I found interesting was that sometimes I will write about Gen Buhari in that column and either on that Friday on the following day, Saturday night, my phone will ring and it will be him. And he will discuss my write up and he will thank me.
I remember one thing he always said: I do not have 10kobo to give you yet you have decided to support this voluntarily. There are people who can give you millions for your support, you have not gone with them.and decided to offer himself as a candidate for the presidency of Nigeria. I have been a passionate supporter of his ambitions since then; readers of my weekly column in the Sun Newspaper will be able to attest to this.
From time to time, I would write about him in the column and he would get in touch with me on the phone and we would discuss it. He was often full of gratitude. I actually did not get to meet him in person until about 2009. We have been speaking since 2003. Proffesor Tam David West wrote a book about him and it was been launched at the NIIA. I was the MC at that eevent and that was the first time I met the then Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.
Then in 2013, my mother passed on and we were to hold a commendation service for her in Kaduna. When I was sending out IVs I just sent one to our correspondent in Kaduna. I said can you drop this in Gen. Buhari’s house and I forgot about it. On the day of the event, I was at the gate welcoming people and then an SUV drove in. I went after the vehicle to welcome who ever was in it, lo and behold it was Gen. Buhari, I could not believe it.
He pleasantly surprised me by attending the Christian Service for the funeral of my mother. When I sent him the invitation, I had no idea he would attend. He sat through the entire service. And that was a man some people had wrongly labelled Religious Bigot. That reinforced my conviction that the man was good for the country.
That reinforced my conviction that the man is good for the country. And then when the results began to come, the day Orubebe did that show in the night of that day, it was March 31 and the final result came about midnight. I remember I was already home I was watching it. At exactly 20 minutes past midnight my phone rang and the person said please hold on for the General. And it was General Buhari, then the President-elect.
He then said Adesina, I want to say thank you very much for your support over the years. He thanked me. After he got off the line, I told my wife, I said this man calling me at 20 past 12, I am beginning to smell something ooo. At that time, I was MD/Editor in Chief of The Sun newspapers, and President of Nigerian Guild of Editors. In fact, I had just been re-elected for another 2 year terms as President of the Guild.
So, if you ask me do I want to leave my job, I will tell you No. I didn’t want to. So, what did I do? After that late night call, I made sure I stayed away from the President elect. I completely stayed away from him so that he won’t remember that I was there.
But then suddenly on May 20, which made I a year today that we are talking. ThisDay just ran that story, saying Femi Adesina will be Special Adviser (Media & Publicity). It came to me as a surprise just as it came to many reader as a surprise. But then I had a dilemma. Did I want the job? Have I ever planned to serve in government? The answer was No. I even remembered that somebody had asked me in 2007 if I could serve in government, the answer was No. I said No Sir I can never serve in government.
I thought about it briefly and I then changed a little bit I said No. Ok I can serve in a government headed by Muhammadu Buhari. That was what I told that person in 2007. So, when the offer then came in 2016. I was in a dilemma.
There was an attraction to stay at my job. And then there was then the attraction to also go and serve somebody who I not only believe in but I also think is good for Nigeria, I believe that if I turn down that job I can be called a hypocrite. They can say you sold this man to Nigeria in 2003 to 2015 and now he says come and work with me and you say No. So, eventually I had to take up the job.
You know that government does not pay well like the private sector, I was working for a company that was doing very, very well. The salary that the government offered me was like 1/3 of my salary at The Sun. I said well this will be a sacrifice I have to make.
I’ve taken the time to lay out this context in the hope that it will provide some background to the circumstances that triggered my decision to transit from being a journalist and editor and ‘newspaper-man’, to a presidential spokesman. I have always believed that President Buhari would be a great President of Nigeria. I have always been impressed by his qualities – his personal incorruptibility and strong desire to see Nigeria break free from the curse of corruption, his commitment to Nigeria’s teeming poor, the lowly, and downtrodden.
And so for me, getting a chance to work for and with him has been a privilege, and an opportunity to support a man I have long admired, to enable him implement his vision for the country.
One question many often able me is this: Did I ever imagine that I would one day find myself on the other side of the divide, the proverbial ‘Other Side’?
No and Yes, I would say. Let me say that I never really had any desire to work in government. I had, at the time of my appointment, two high-profile and influential jobs, one as Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the Sun newspapers, as you all know one of the highest-circulating papers in the country; the other as the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.
My hands were full, as they’ve always been throughout my working career. I had also actually just been re-elected for a second term as President of the Editors’ Guild, having already completed one term of two years. It is easy to see why I can say I was not looking for another job, and certainly not in the uncertain waters of politics.
But – there had always been a caveat to this stance. Never say never, the old saying goes. It had always occurred to me that there was a possibility of shifting my position regarding serving in government – on one condition, and no more – that the government in question was one headed by President Buhari.
On the day he was declared the winner of the Presidential elections, I got a surprise phone call from him, during which he thanked me for my support over the years. Yet another pleasant surprise. I had elected to stay away because I knew that in the post-election euphoria, he would be under a lot of pressure both from well-wishers and from people seeking one favour or the other from him. But I could not escape for long. I got an offer, thought much and consulted widely about it, and the rest, as they say, is history. Here I am working for the only man with the power and moral authority to draw me from the newsroom to the Presidential Villa.