The much anticipated response from the federal government to former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s denunciation of the Muhammadu Buhari has been released.
Verdict: A solid piece of Public Relations (PR) from the FG through the Honourable Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed.
Here are our takeaways:
The administration took its time on this one
Unlike other scandals of this government in which presidential spokesmen sometimes issue conflicting statements in a haphazard manner, this time there was a studied silence from every mouthpiece of the government. In fact, not even the spokesman of the ruling party, Bolaji Abdullahi, offered a comment when he was approached on Tuesday. In the end, it fell on the minister of information, Lai Mohammed, to speak on the matter – and he delivered.
They learnt from Goodluck Jonathan’s mistake
When Obasanjo wrote a similar letter to former president Goodluck Jonathan in December 2013, Jonathan made the ill-advised mistake of responding to Obasanjo himself, in an open letter, with a tone that was harsh, defensive and angry. That only succeeded in adding fuel to the fire. Buhari did not fall into that trap.
The response to the Obasanjo statement was delegated and conveyed through the minister of information. Also, it was done in a gentle manner, deliberately ignoring some of Obasanjo’s harsh rhetoric. “For the record, Chief Obasanjo is a patriot, and he has proven this time and time again,” Mohammed said in the opening of his response in a sweet tone which he adopted all through his statement.
Deflection, Deflection, Deflection
The federal government ignored every argument put forward by Obasanjo which they did not have a plausible response to. Reading Lai Mohammed’s response, you would think he was responding to a different message. A few examples below:
- Obasanjo accused Buhari of nepotism and clannishness. “It would appear that national interest was being sacrificed on the altar of nepotic interest. What does one make of a case like that of Maina: collusion, condonation, ineptitude, incompetence, dereliction of responsibility or kinship and friendship on the part of those who should have taken visible and deterrent disciplinary action? How many similar cases are buried, ignored or covered up and not yet in the glare of the media and the public?” Obasanjo said.Lai Mohammed completely ignored this weighty allegation in the federal government response.
- Obasanjo accused Buhari of “making the nation more divided”.Lai Mohammed ignored that in his response.
- Obasanjo accused Buhari of “passing the buck… If things were good, President Buhari would not need to come in. He was voted to fix things that were bad and not engage in the blame game.”Lai Mohammed ignored that in his response. In fact, he still engaged in some buck passing.
- Obasanjo accused Buhari and some APC governors of insensitivity and callousness for speaking about a second term for the president a day after 73 persons died in Benue.Again, Lai Mohammed said nothing in response to this.
There were several examples like those highlighted above. Needless to say, in the coming weeks and months, Nigerians and the opposition will raise several of those issues again.
Deliberate misreading of Obasanjo’s statement
Lai Mohammed thanked Obasanjo for commending the government on its achievement in tackling insecurity and corruption. So he focused more on the economy in his response.
However the truth is Obasanjo did not completely hail the government on those two issues. Here is what he said: “I thought President Buhari would fight corruption and insurgency and he must be given some credit for his achievement so far in these two areas although it is not yet uhuru!” Notice the highlighted word: “thought” there.
Highlighting the positives
Lai Mohammed excelled on this. Knowing that his response to Obasanjo would get a lot of airtime, he spent a massive chunk of the statement listing what the FG considers as its achievements on the economy, agriculture, social security and infrastructure. In the coming days, there would be ample conversation, fact-checking and debate on each of those highlighted achievements. But as a response, it was the smartest thing to do.
Second term is a distraction, really?
One of the most interesting parts of Mohammed’s response addressed the strongest part of Obasanjo’s statement which was that Pres. Buhari should consider a “deserved rest at this time and at his age.” In other words: Don’t run for a second term.
Lai Mohammed said: “On whether or not President Muhammadu Buhari should run for another term, it is true that many Nigerians have been calling on the President to run again, while others are opposed to his return. However, we believe this issue is a distraction for the President at this time. This is because Mr. President spends every waking hour tackling the enormous challenges facing the nation, most of which were bequeathed to his Administration by successive past Administrations. He is committed to fulfilling the mandate given to him by Nigerians in 2015. And that’s where we are right now!”
Now this is interesting because the president’s actions in the past month has been that of a man very keen on reelection. In fact at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting today, Buhari campaign caps were shared to council members, right there at the meeting. That is what distraction looks like. You can read up on that story HERE. So maybe we should stop the kidding about this issue being a distraction.
On the balance, this was a very good response. Any thing else would have just aggravated the situation and in that case there would have been no winning for the government. But it is hard to criticize the government for its response when Mohammed ended it with a sweetener like this: “We have no reason to believe that former President Obasanjo has any motive beyond the well-being of the nation in issuing his Special Press Statement. We have also taken his admonition in good faith, and we thank him most sincerely for taking time off his busy schedule to pen such a long statement.” Very subliminal.