The major responsibility of a presidential spokesman more so in an age of information is to maximize the impact of favourable messages, and minimize the impact of unfavourable ones. Chief Duro Onabule did this with distinction in his days as spokesman for General Babangida, the self-styled evil genius who hilariously called himself president after a palace coup. Double Chief even successfully distanced his principal from the June 12 debacle after publicly admitting that his regime interfered to save the judiciary. Confronted by international election observers and reporters over his principals deceitful ‘transition without end’ and treachery against MKO Abiola, his friend and by extension, the nation, Double Chief with straight face and serious countenance insisted “government had in no way whatsoever interfered in the conduct of the election either before or after”. He reminded those who were in doubt of Babangida’s Decree 52 of 1993 which stripped the jurisdiction of the courts. He ensured the unsigned instrument of annulment written on a sheet of paper came out through Nduka Irabor, the press secretary to Augustus Aikhomu, Babangida’s deputy.
Aso rock seat of power has since 1999 produced a number of combative spokesmen with some remembered more for the enemies they made for their principals. But none has worked as hard as Garba Shehu to change the public perception of his principal. Much as the president tries to sell an image of a democrat by his actions and inactions, Garba’s every intervention reinforces people’s perception of Buhari as a dictator. Some segment of the media today addresses him as a General while Garba’s last week unrestrained attack on Pastor Adeboye and others that had canvassed restructuring as answer to our crisis of nation building has led more Nigerian especially Christians to now openly refer to the president as Pharaoh. His outbursts against eminent Nigerians that offer alternative approach to the resolution of our crisis of nation building continues to undermine the goodwill the president hitherto enjoyed among Nigerians. And his other encounters with Nigerians in the name of President Buhari, whether over Miyetti Allah grazing rights, non-Nigerian Fulani herdsmen terrorists, community and state policing or the larger issue of restructuring, the president has often come out worse, with bartered image.
So who exactly is Shehu Garba who has even been criticized by the president close relations working for?
Who for instance gains from his attempt at setting the president against elected southwest governors over the floating of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), a community police, code-named Amotekun? Despite the outfit’s support by the police at its formative stages, Garba Shehu went on to declare without restraint: “Whatever name they go by, Amotekun or whatever, they will be streamlined and run in accordance with the structure as defined by the Inspector General of Police”.
Who gains from Garba’s attempt at creating disharmony between the president and leaders of Nigeria’s federating nationalities over Miyetti Allah? The cattle breeders association took refuge in the 1999 military constitution to insist they have right to embark on open grazing inside any of the federating states.
Then Garba’s crooked logic: “The Miyetti Allah group is like Ohanaeze and Afenifere. It is a socio-cultural group. There are criminals within the Yoruba race and you cannot say because of that, Afenifere is a group of criminals”.
Reacting to Pastor Adeboyes’s call for “the United States of Nigeria and his warning that “It is either we restructure or we break up, Garba, had dismissed the cleric’s views along with those of other concerned Nigeria stakes holders as “unpatriotic outbursts”, warning that the “government will not succumb to threats”.
Whose government? Many will swear Shehu Garba spoke for himself not President Buhari.
In any case, Adeboye is not alone. Politicians, Nigeria’s opinion leaders, leaders of ethnic nationalities such as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Igbo apex socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the major stakeholders in the Nigeria project, as well as elders statesmen, traditional rulers , retired generals, former presidents, scholars, have at different times identified restructuring of the country as parts of solution to our crisis of nation building. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had on September 28 also warned that Nigeria could break up if efforts are not made to address cracks in the nation, adding; “Fortunately for us, our walls are not yet broken, but what we have are apparent cracks that could lead to a break if not adequately addressed”.
Many will argue the president did not ask Garba Shehu to dismiss the interventions of these eminent Nigerians as well as that of the vice president as “unpatriotic outburst”. It also defies logic for Shehu Garba to assume that it is only he and the interest he represents, who are fiercely opposed to community policing, devolution of power, fiscal federalism, fairness and justice are the only people that love Nigeria.
Chief Awolowo hinted over 80 years ago that Nigerians were better assured of justice by the colonial masters than our educated elites. Some of what today constitute parts of our crisis of nation building such as devolution of power, fiscal federalism and right of nationalities over their own affairs were settled issues before 1920. They were regarded as rights not as privileges by foreign powers.
For instance, Lord Lugard in his Dual Mandate in Tropical Africa had identified two critical administrative principles viz; decentralization by ruling the people through their indigenous authorities, and principle of continuity, by utilizing indigenous institutions and authorities in order to preserve continuity with the past while laying foundation for progressive improvement of indigenous society.
The colonial administration therefore on its own decided to preserve our cultural diversity by preserving the indigenous political structure they met on ground. The native police policed their area and administered the prisons and the native and Alkali courts administered justice except where the punishments fell short of British ideal of natural justice and humanity. They did not impose Christian schools because the Islamic schools were well developed except where the chiefs wanted Christian schools for their children.
The British without prompting freely did all the above for colonized Nigerians over a hundred years ago. Unfortunately, they came under attack at the first opportunity the new inheritors of power had at making constitution in 1963.
Today, 60 years under the reign of our new inheritors of power, Abuja is imposing in the WAEC, religion syllabus on Nigerians children. Garba Shehu and the interest he represents are saying our villages must be policed from Abuja. Instead of Abuja directing its energy towards helping the north which was 70 years behind the south in education at independence, they are disingenuously using JAMB to slow down the south.
Garba Shehu the combative president’s spokesman must understand that restructuring along negotiated federal system poses no threat to our corporate existence. It only frees all of us from the tyranny of the state so that we will once again enjoy freedom, fairness and justice, our enduring colonial legacies which the new inheritors of power took away in the name of independence.
The only people that have something to lose are our internal colonisers that have held the country hostage since the collapse of the first republic in 1966.