Port-Harcourt: 1, Abuja: 0 ,By Garba Shehu

Garba-Shehu1-580x340A racy editorial by the Sunday Trust headlined, “President, Call Your Men to Order,” caught my attention as one more in a long line of similar editorials written recently by a couple of newspapers such as The Guardian, Peoples Daily, ThisDay and The Sun all of them saying “Mr. Jonathan, you are wrong on Rivers.” I could not but come away worrying about the future of the honeymoon between this government and the press.
Has the President lost touch with public opinion? Hear the Sunday Trust: “Many eminent Nigerians have condemned the events in Rivers State and President Jonathan’s complicity in them. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, former Bar Association President, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, and prominent lawyer Femi Falana, SAN all joined in the condemnations,”
If the climate of opinion against the President in the mainstream media is bad, it is worse in the new media where Dr. Jonathan has effectively been chased out of the social media. He hardly tweets, if at all he does that these days.
Another leader would have paused to ask questions about why things are going wrongly for him. A local proverb says that “the one who wants to come out of the hole must first of all stop digging himself deeper”.
The President’s response to his abysmal showing in the battle for public opinion a new report just said, is to have his strategists throw money into this problem. This report says a good section of Minister Sama’ila Sambawa’s hotel, the Sigma Apartments on Aminu Kano Crescent – Wuse, Abuja is now housing tens or hundreds of internet-savvy young men who are being housed and fed there for the purpose of using the internet to manufacture public opinion in favour of the President. A primary target of this internet war is Governor Amaechi of Rivers, who must be made to look bad. A lady who said she sighted the document behind the scheme to simulate or forge the on-line public opinion said a hundred of such young men will be hired and housed in hotels for the same purpose, in all the 36 state capitals of the federation.
The problem with the strategy is that telling a lie one hundred times doesn’t make it the truth. To convince Nigerians that they are safe, they must themselves feel safe at home and on the streets. Nobody will believe you when you say you improved electricity when the bulbs don’t light up. How can you make sense talking about job creation when we have our sons and daughters, cousins and near relations coming to ask for bus and taxi fares roaming city streets looking for work to do? Government can make outrageous claims on these as a measure of the lack of accountability in our system but as the Yoruba say in one of their rich proverbs, “if the one being told the story does not know that he is being told a lie, the one telling the story knows that it is a lie”.
The Nigerian mass media both old and new must be held in a justifiable esteem for their critical stance against the current engagement of the First Family against the democratically elected government of Rivers State. This is not the way to change a government in a democracy. The action of the police backed by the Presidency in Rivers State is capable of truncating the Fourth Republic if allowed to fester. Terrorists planning more attacks on our country need no more than watch the video aired by Channels TV in the evening that the five emboldened members attempted to take control of a parliament of 32 elected members. Terrorists have reasons to feel emboldened after seeing that ugly spectacle on TV. Terrorists strike when there is intelligence failure or as in the case of Port-Harcourt, the government which controls the police shows the way.
I note that since the incident, the spectacular media showing of the Rivers State government has remained unmatched by the federal government. Dr. Doyin Okupe whose turf it is to respond to these matters could only muster words that are abusive. He had my admiration when he served creditably as spokesman for President Obasanjo. At the time of his appointment, the media community felt much insulted that a medical doctor, not a professional journalist had been appointed to such key government position. But Doyin steeped himself in job, ignoring all criticism and in the end did a better job of it than most of those so-called professionals who held the job. But on the dispute with Rivers, it is Ebim Semenitari, the information commissioner 1, Doyin Okupe 0.
Doyin doesn’t need to orchestrate hypocrisy theories to explain media attacks against the President. Hausas say “if you eat mangoes, flies will follow: throw away the mango if you don’t want the flies”. No matter what the President says, the media will always offer criticism because that is their job. They will even twist his words and put meanings which were not intended.
The media will always blow up matters. The President is the President and this goes with territory. If citizen Babagana, Baba Karami or Baba Kekere speaks, the media will not even find it worthwhile to analyze. If Dr. Okupe doesn’t have anything to say; no defence to offer, he should just remain silent. Another sad role in the whole of this crisis is that of Minister Nyesom Wike. Wike was the Chief of Staff to Governor Amaechi before he was appointed as Minister. Now an Abuja man, Wike has realized that his seat could decisively tilt the balance in 2015 not only in Rivers but in the country as a whole. When he came to Abuja, it was very much in his capacity as Amaechi’s trusted lieutenant. Turn-coats don’t impress Nigerians.
As for the continuing criticism of Abuja by the entire gamut of the media and public opinion, there is no better way to cleanse the country of criminal malcontents who, because they have money and muscle, think that they can throw out democratically elected state governments without going through an election.

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