Femi Adesina’s job as the Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, is by no means a tea party. He and his team constantly project, defend and prevent any embarrassment for the administration.
His career in the media traces back to over three decades with experience in broadcast, print, and digital media. The journey started at Radio Lagos as a writer. The Vanguard and Concord Newspapers set him up for progress to an enviable pedestal in his career before joining the Sun newspaper. There, he rose to the prestigious position of the Managing Director/ Editor-in-Chief in recognition of his skilful writing and information sharing from extensive research. He resigned to take up his current job.
This torch-bearer is an alumnus of Lagos Business School and the Obafemi Awolowo University institutions. His ever-smiling face masks the enormous tasks in his office since he assumed the position on August 31, 2015. He once served a two-year term as a president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and was named Editor of the Year by Nigeria Media Merit Awards in 2007.
In this interview with Abdulfattah Abdussalam at the State House, Abuja, he unmasks his principal; President Muhammadu Buahri GCFR
Sir, it had been said in some quarters that Mr. president is not adequately engaging the media to project his policies and programmes and, some would want to blame your office. How do you react?
Some Nigerians do not understand the dichotomy between presidential communications and government communication. There is a difference. For instance, my office is strictly for the daily activities, of Mr. President It is the ministry of information, headed by the minister, that handles government communications. The beginning and end of what we do here concern Mr president, while the things that concern his administration is in the purview of the ministry of information or other government agencies that are saddle with such. People say so because they do not understand how government information is passsed to the public. In addition, no one should accuse Mr President of not using the media enough to explain his programmes to the masses. It is the responsibility of his media handlers to interface between him and the media. And, it is also the responsibility of the Media to be nationalistic enough to seek and report his programmes to Nigerians. President Muhammadu Buhari is there to run the entire country and, the least of his worries should be how to use the media.
How much criticism do you manage daily for Mr. President?
In anything that one does that involves human beings, there will be criticism. Therefore, I take them in my strides, as it comes every day. But I see lots of twisting of facts and fabrication in the Media. What we do is to ensure he is well reported in the Media and not the opposite. Some will deliberately do it out of mischief so that people can start abusing me, my office and my principal. What many do not understand is that the criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari dents the image of the country more than his image. And such is also not helping us as a people.
What has changed in the image of PMB since 2015 and now?
A lot, I will go back as far as 2015 before the elections. You know that as a military head of state, they demonised him as an iron-fisted tyrant, draconian ruler and other names. Unfairly, some people cast him in the mode of a religious bigot, a ferocious shariah proponent, someone that will only support a part of his country and, these worked against him. But in late 2013, the coalition of parties that formed the current ruling party began to work on his image and, Nigerians thus began to see him in a different light. Today, I believe that there is a better understanding of his personality. Nigerians have understood him away from the Buhari of 1984, 1985 and his early political forays from 2003 till 2015. The image has changed tremendously, but there are still a few people who are still holding to their misperception of him. At a point in time, my office had to engage the Christian Association of Nigeria for their misinformed outburst on Mr. President Policies and personality. Mark you, CAN is the umbrella of the Christian Organisations in Nigeria and, its leaders are fathers of my faith. But, notwithstanding this, we seriously engaged them and may still do so if there is a need. I will not give up until all Nigerians understand the good intention of Mr. President for the country.
Who is PMB in your eyes and mind?
In my eyes, he is a nationalist and a man that loves his country dearly. He is also a man that loves the poor masses of people. PMB is a man who wants to make a change in the lives of Nigerians and a man who wants to bring change to Nigeria in all the areas we have deficits in, like infrastructures, integrity, economy, agriculture, and probity. He equally is a man who wants to see things working for Nigeria.
Sir, would you have said these if not working for him?
I have been his admirer since 1984. He was then the Nigeria military head of state. That was even way back in my third year as a student at the University. That tells you, I was old enough to make up my mind about his personality. So what I said earlier about him is my assessment and not hero-worshipping nor because of my current job. He and General Tunde Idiagbon, of blessed memory, did well for this country. Unfortunately, they ruled for barely 20 months before their overthrow. I felt sad when that happened. Since then, I have held him in high esteem. If he had been allowed to have ruled longer, the country would have been a better place. Therefore,, when in 2002, he joined partisan politics, I began to support him. I followed his journeys in politics and have been writing and reporting on him ever since. We met through my writings. He will read the write-up on him and phone me to discuss afterwards. That suffices to say my relationship with him is beyond my current office.
How are you able to manage the general misperceptions about him?
It is because I believe in him. Managing Mr. President requires a self-conviction. If one does not have such, it could have been futile. For someone to think it is only about coming to do a job as his spokesperson, one would fail and not report back to work in his office. My belief in him helps me understand his personality differently from the ways others portray him. So far, I am satisfied working for the success of his administration. I will do it till he leaves the office.
Sir, there is criticism of your principal’s administration highhandedness on the media. How do you want to react?
Whenever such allegations arose, I ask for one or two examples of such highhandedness, but often none can be given. Therefore, to my knowledge, his administration is not against any media house or individuals working in these houses. For example, there is no single journalist detainee or prosecuted in Law courts in Nigeria. So, that assertion is not correct. Contrary, some media houses are not being fair to him. Sometimes their professionalism is questioned. These few media will write editorials against his regime and allow their guests to dish out uninformed information about governance if it is a broadcast station. In addition, including the social media platforms, people call him all kinds of names that do not represent his personality. The Punch Newspapers, for instance, would call him a General than addressing him as a president for ulterior motives. Most times if, such depraves are to his knowledge, he laughs them off. I remember the Punch Newspapers often call him General. He doused their mischief by agreeing rhetorically. ‘I am a general truly’. Furthermore, when Africa Independent Television, AIT, did a programme on him, he did not act harshly on the station. So, these thoughts about his administration are mere flashes of a camera that have no lasting effect.
What is your take on the anti-hate speech bill at the National Assembly?
It has nothing to do neither with the Executives nor with Mr. President. It is a private bill been sponsor by a member. He brought it up and, it is left for the National Assembly to do what it feels is good for Nigerians. But, the truth is that social media needs some regulations because most of the hate speeches come through that platform. Users heat the polity. Being a journalist and for having served as the president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. I am of the view that the social media space needs some regulation. There must be repercussions for spreading fake news or hate speeches to prevent a situation that can set the country ablaze. The genocide that happened in Rwanda years back was due to hate speeches, which fan the ember of hatred among the components of Rwanda.
Do you think Nigerian media is professional enough in its duties?
I will say Nigeria media is professionally vibrant and sometimes too vibrant. That vibrancy leads some of its practitioners to exhibit some exuberance. But by and large, the Media has done well, but it can do a lot better in partnering with the government. I am not asking for a Media that stay in bed with the government but for one that identifies critical national issues and support the government to address such through its objective, reports and intellectually driven write-ups. Sometimes, their reportage of some events especially, the ones on the security, can be counterproductive.
Why Media staffs salaries are are not being paid by their employers?
I think the reason is that most Media houses run a mono-product platform, which cannot sustain them in free economy competitive markets. If all a media house has is just one title, and everyone is on that to eke a living, it would not be enough. They must become multi-Media, companies instead of ordinary news companies. I think this might be of help towards ensuring the staff salaries are prompt. I feel that is why some are now into online platforms, entertainment and awards ceremonies in addition to their present Newspapering business. It is currently challenging for media owners to make profits as they are doing. We can only appeal, through the Newspaper Proprietors, Association of Nigeria to do all that is business possible, to shove up their incomes to always promptly pay good salaries to their workers who are toiling day and night for their businesses to grow.
What has been the motivational pull for you here on this job?
Every day for me is an opportunity to serve the man I admire. That is what motivates me as a person.
Who is Femi Adesina?
Simply Femi Adesina is a Nigerian Journalist; who, since he left the walls of the University, has never done any other job; except Journalism. In 2015 Mr. President asked me to be his advice-giver on media and publicity. I would never have imagined taken a government job from anybody except him because it would have been hypocritical of me and a disservice to Nigerians to do otherwise. I professionally projected him to the Nigerian people, who voted for him massively in 2015. I am married and have two children. We are grateful to God for His mercies. My son is a pilot and, my daughter runs a French training institute.
L-R Abdulfattah Abdussalam, the Managing Editor of the PEACE Magazine with Femi Adesina, at the State House.