Dear Dr Abati
I trust that this letter meets you and yours well. Let me start by commiserating with you on the recent transition of your beloved mother. May the good Lord rest her soul and comfort you and everyone that she left behind.
I should also show some empathy on your apparent frustration at the refusal of a lot of Nigerians, especially the opposition parties to see the good work that you say your boss, President Goodluck Jonathan is doing for Nigeria. That is life my brother.
A couple of years ago, you were on the other side and nothing any spokesman said could convince you that the Obasanjo administration had anything good going on. Not even the fact that your friend and colleague, Olusegun Adeniyi occupied the same position you now hold, saved the Yar’Adua from the venom of your pen. And as is expected in a democratic environment like ours, you were allowed your say at every turn. I cannot remember any occasion in which anyone poured invectives on you or queried your right to free expression and for that, you became the hero of many Nigerians who saw your good self and the pen you employ as selflessly righteous on their behalf. I am sure that management of the The Guardian newspapers, where you were Editorial Board Chairman remember the special attention that your columns drew to the Friday and Sunday editions of the medium. I bet that you savoured the attention which your “forthrightness” at that time must have drawn to you. This is why I cannot understand your seeming growing intolerance for the other view.
Of all the statements that you have issued in response to views expressed by ordinary Nigerians and opposition political parties, I find your democracy day statement most objectionable and unprofessional.
As a public relations manager in the public service of your country, you owe the Nigerian people, from whose sweat you and your boss currently derive your means of livelihood, any explanation which they desire at any time. And it does not matter if you have to say it a million times before they understand exactly what you are saying. You are in that office to serve them and serve them you must. Besides that, having to repeat a point over and over is actually one of the tricks to effective communication, the more you say it, the more believable it becomes. That is as trite as for you not to get angry over having to explain again.
Although we are all still learning the democratic ropes, I submit that you and others who work for the country’s first man owe us exemplary leadership in the promotion of free speech and the right to dissent even in the face of unreasonableness.
Assuming without conceding that Mr Fasakin went too far to malign the personality of the President and the character of the Presidency, I think you should have granted him the right to communicate with his President by addressing the issues that he raised in a professional manner, to the extent that he may even begin to feel sorry for speaking about the President in that light. In any case, Nigerians really have reasons to hesitate before taking your words for it.
Were you not the same person who, told us that the Manitoba Hydro power contradict had been cancelled only for your principal to tell us not too long after that the contract just needed some regularisation? Did you not also tell us that there were “back channel” discussions with Boko Haram last year, something the President would eventually deny? What about your attempt to convince us that the First Lady was not ill? These are examples of occasions in which you have been caught feeding us with half truths and half hearted denials.
I am sure that there are issues that you cannot readily disclose to the public for security reasons, but there are some very smart ways of not revealing when the time is not ripe. Journalists would not hold it against you, for instance, if you told them that you did not have information at that time but to offer half truths or make mediocre attempts to cover up mistakes always end up fuelling the rising tide of distrust between the people and those that they elected.
Moreover, treating members of the opposition or ordinary Nigerians who do not share your views about Mr President like a dangerous mob by raining invectives on them can only be counterproductive. It would not only diminish you as the medium through which the President communicates with Nigerians; but is bound to very likely produce more haters for your principal.
If I were in your shoes, Dr Abati, I would tender my unreserved apologies to Mr Fasakin for those unkind words that you spoke in anger. Imagine how Mr Fasakin’s children would feel when they read a statement describing their father with reckless words like “brainless” and ” Ignoramus” How would your children feel if someone said those to you?
And if you ever find yourself in this situation again, dear sir, I suggest that you treat such statements, no matter what mischievous intents you sense, with the professionalism that they deserve. You must learn to accept mistakes when they happen, acknowledge concerns on either side, even encourage opponents to bring suggestions forward and focus on winning more supporters for Mr. President than antagonists. As a communications person, the respect with which you treat friends and enemies alike will, to a large extent determine how effective your message is.
I pray that the God that you trust in will see you through.