Tag Archives: public relations

Leading Ladies Africa speaks to Alima Atta, MD Sesema PR

by ‘Jola Sotubo

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Running a successful PR Consultancy for over 12 years, takes a lot more than luck or serendipity. Alima Atta, Managing Director of Sesema Public Relations, shares how she has successfully run a thriving business in a male-dominated industry.

You’ve successfully run a PR Consultancy for 12 years; describe the journey?

Sometimes even I can’t believe it has been that long. It has been hard work. At times it has been extremely difficult, other times exhilarating. There have been periods when I have felt despondent and other times, elated.

I guess any business owner would feel this way if their goal is to build something lasting as opposed to just making money. I am more driven by my desire to have a good reputation and recognition.

Over the years I have met all kinds of people and had to deal with the best and worst of situations. High points include getting the Edelman affiliation and receiving appreciation notes from clients.

Low points include dealing with people who do not understand PR and who decide you are no good as a result; and, staffing issues. Now, I am quick to spot people who do not understand PR and if I am unable to educate them, I walk away.

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Over the years, you’ve deliberately maintained a low profile, who exactly is Alima Atta?

I am not a loud person by nature even though I have my moments amongst friends. I am actually quite shy which may seem strange for someone in PR. I also do not believe that a PR professional should promote themselves to the extent that they become like a celebrity – see what has happened to the PR Guru Max Clifford. That is of course an extreme case but look where he is today, and everyone knows who he unfortunately because he made sure they did.

Our job is to ensure that our clients are presented in a positive light and through our good work, we in turn get recognition. Of course there is nothing wrong with lending your thoughts to a good interview or article about your sector to demonstrate your knowledge but there should be a limit.

So to answer your question about who I am; I come from a solid background, born to two awesome parents who taught us from an early age that a good name, strong morals and decency are more important than anything.

This is something that definitely runs through my life. I am also driven; tough and focused. I can be impatient because I want things done yesterday, but I am also sensitive and kind.

 You started off running your business in a predominantly male-dominated industry. How have you fared and how have things changed in recent times?

I get asked this a lot. When I first came along, yes it was a male dominated industry, and guess what – it still is! There are more women running agencies now but still not many compared to the number of men.

Being a woman sometimes works in my favour and other times it doesn’t. I have gone to pitches where I see men in suits looking like ‘men’ and then I turn up looking like … a ‘girl’ and I know instantly that I may not get the job. Other times people are looking for the woman’s touch or just fancy you (let’s be honest here) and it helps! Have things changed in recent times? Not much to be honest.

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Why did you choose to be an entrepreneur and why did you choose the field of PR?

I think the main reasons why I became an entrepreneur are because I have always known I don’t enjoy the 9 to 5 environment; I wanted to work for myself and I had very clear cut ideas of HOW I wanted to run my business.

I had spoken to one or two agencies when I moved home but they were not doing what I wanted to do, or doing it how I wanted to. Oh did I mention that I have OCD and want things a particular way? People that have worked for me can attest to that!

Also money wasn’t my main objective because as you know at the beginning as an entrepreneur you don’t make much money until you have that break through. Well.. let me say some entrepreneurs!

I stumbled into PR actually. I studied French and had this dream that I would be an interpreter working in Geneva. Then I studied Marketing and wanted to be this Marketing Guru.

I had several jobs then ended up creating and managing telecoms events after a stint at AT&T in the USA, and finally a recruitment consultant sat with me, pointed out all my skills to me and told me I should consider a career in PR. So I did and got a job at a small tech agency in London, and as they say the rest is history!

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced running a PR Consultancy?

Staffing, staffing, staffing. Did I say staffing? This is probably the biggest challenge. It is actually easier to get clients – if you do a good job. But getting good staff and when you do, getting them to stay; that is hard. Churn in the industry is high.

Young people want to fly before they can walk and want expensive clothes, phones and gadgets, so it’s all about money. No one wants to work steadily and build up; they want to become big yesterday. It is quite sad because this way they don’t learn enough. They will leave and take that job that pays them more – being ‘liquid’ seems more important that knowing the job.

As someone who runs an agency where communication is important, over the years I have seen some very worrying things. The education level in the country has dropped and people don’t speak or write properly.

Social media doesn’t help because everything is done in shorthand or with icons, so it doesn’t really help writing skills. Having said all this, I have had some great staff that have helped build the agency to what it is today.

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Some are of the opinion that PR is a dying branch of Marketing; what’s your take on that?

Is that why every year there are more companies making requests for PR? I don’t believe that for a second. The only issue I see is that companies don’t pay agencies well for enough for the service. The whole issue of intangibility still exists.

You run a PR Consultancy, have a show – Talk Business on Smooth FM, and at some point used to have a column in a magazine. Do you have any plans to own and maybe run a full-fledged media outfit in future?

No, I am trying to retire! I am just someone who has a lot of ideas, likes to try different things and who enjoys creativity. The show Talk Business was one such idea. I felt that we needed something on radio for our industry where we could announce our news and our clients’ news – like a magazine.

I took the idea to my client Visa and they decided to sponsor it if I made some changes, so, it became a general business programme instead. Visa sponsored the show for a year and a half with me as the host. I really enjoyed my time at Smooth. I had done a couple of radio interviews before but never done anything as a host. I learnt a lot.

In 2007, you hosted the first ever Annual PR Conference in Nigeria, any plans to bring that back?

It actually ran in 2007 and 2008, and then the following year we ran a training course for Enterprise Creative’s career fair. We try to do something each year where we help educate a certain number of people so it doesn’t have to be in the PR Conference format.

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It’s been said that most entrepreneurs drive themselves really hard, and those around them? Does this hold true for you?

I am afraid it does and I do. I believe this is the reason why I have been successful. I am never satisfied and I believe there is always room for improvement. The other day I had a eureka moment when I realised that I must have done something good with the number of staff I have had who have gone on to be head of communications in companies – after just two years with me.

This is unheard of and typically a head of comms would have worked for probably closer to 8 years or so. So clearly something is being instilled in some of them that makes them want to strive improve and succeed.

Where do you see Sesema PR in the next 5 years?

I see Sesema PR maintaining its position in the market as one of the most respected agencies in Nigeria. We already have an international affiliation with Edelman, the largest agency in the world; we already have a solid client base. If we get staffing right then we are on to good thing.

How do you know when it’s time to take a break and how do you relax?

No one has to tell me when to relax and take a break. I am very good at recognising this. I also believe it’s important for the brain and the body. I relax by going on holiday; reading on my couch and watching TV!

Is there truly anything like Work-Life-Balance, and how does it translate to the modern-day working woman?

It really depends on the individual. The modern day working woman is typically a wife and mother who has to balance working, looking after her kids and spending time with her husband. It can’t be an easy thing to do. I don’t have those issues so I am able to live as I like.

Name 5 women you admire and why?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have always admired Steffi Graff for her calm, strategic way of playing tennis and her ability to stay in control even when she was down.

I admire Michelle Obama because she matches and at times surpasses her husband’s capabilities. I admire Oprah, my mother and my sister Sefi Atta for ditching her career in accountancy and becoming a well-known writer.

If you weren’t in PR, what would you be doing?

Running a bar in the Caribbean feeling irie!

What advice would you give younger women in PR/media, or those just starting out?

It depends – are they starting their own business or working for someone else? In any case, listen and learn; keep your ears and eyes open. Emulate someone you look up to for the right reasons; ask for feedback and be prepared to receive it too.

What is your philosophy or personal mantra?

Live your life and not someone else’s

3.20.13 - YvonneU_FullLength

Yvonne Unubun: What I’ve learned so far… (30 Days, 30 Voices)

3.20.13 - YvonneU_FullLength

 …this is for everyone out there who is on their grind, hustle, struggle, journey and chasing their dreams – don’t stop!

For someone who claims to enjoy writing and would pick writing an essay over solving a math equation in a heartbeat, this write-up has definitely caught me off guard, and left me short of words.

Why? Well because it’s always easier to write about someone else or something else other than myself, and my experiences – not just the writing part, but actually sharing one’s self with the online world requires courage and makes one vulnerable. You share yourself with the online world, and stand back and wait for the reactions.

On one hand you are thankful for the fact that you can’t see the faces of the readers, but on the other hand you slowly prepare yourself for the possible barrage of comments that are to come; they range anywhere from nice, to reasonably respectful, sweet and sour to downright sour! Some sour comments if allowed have the power to kill dreams, but the keywords are ‘if allowed’. I respect public figures and entertainers who for the love of their craft put themselves out there and face verbal abuse, and criticism – fairly and unfairly – day in day out, but brush it off and do the best they can to live their lives regardless, because at the end of the day, you cannot please everyone and people will talk – whether na sweet talk o, or sour talk o, dem must talk.

The same goes for being an entrepreneur, which is where my story begins. I majored in advertising and public relations in college, and before I graduated, I was sure advertising was where I wanted to end up. I landed a full-time position at a reputable digital advertising agency, but during the job-search phase I got thrown into freelance PR by a friend, who introduced me to my first client. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was on a journey that led me to discover my love and passion for life as an entrepreneur in the PR lane, which led to the creation of Mayven PR. As a PR consultant, I hear the word ‘No’ a lot! Initially, this was a bitter pill to swallow. You have this wonderful client or proposal; you make your pitch to a potential sponsor or media outlet and think you’ve nailed it only to be turned down.

If allowed, such things can kill one’s drive and dream. In my short time on this journey, I have met and worked with a number of wonderful people, and fellow entrepreneurs who inspire me and whom I respect; not just because of the fabulous things they do, but for the courage to wake up every day and chase their dreams. Even with all the sweet and sour critiques they encounter, the obstacles that come with building a business and the numerous amount of “No’s” they get, they choose to not allow such things hold them back. Such determination serves as motivation to me, to continue to work hard and represent them even harder!

So this is for everyone out there who is on their grind, hustle, struggle, journey and chasing their dreams – don’t stop! Albert Einstein said “you never fail until you stop trying”. You might hear the word no, but you will get your yes. Don’t compare yourself to others; you don’t know their journey and their story. Instead celebrate yourself and your journey. You never know who you are inspiring along the way! Thank you to all the wonderful dream chasers who inspire me every day and my Mother who keeps telling me that the word ‘fear’ does not, and should not exist in my world. You are all amazing!


Yvonne Unubun is the owner of Mayven PR and currently is the official PR partner to the Nigeria Entertainment Awards. She also organizes seminars and panel/networking sessions aimed at empowering the African entrepreneur (Afropreneur), while maintaining her full-time job at a digital advertising agency in New York City.  Yvonne is from Edo State, and in her down time loves to travel, shop and be surround by good company.


30 Days 30 Voices series is an opportunity for young Nigerians from across the world to share their stories and experiences – creating a meeting point where our common humanity is explored.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


Opinion: Jonathan and his Police College PR blunder

by Niran Adedokun

I wanted to cry when I learnt that the President described the ChannelsTV documentary as a smear campaign calculated at embarrassing his government. And until now, I do not understand what pushed the President into saying such a damaging thing.

Far beyond the constant squabbles between the Federal Government and those who call themselves opposition parties on the performance of the Jonathan administration, I think the president really needs help from himself.

To be sure, I am not a politician and so, I am not interested in the verbal wars that politicians engage in to hoodwink and convert the unwary to their side.  I am therefore, not on a mission to vilify the president.  On the contrary, mine is a candid attempt to help the leader of about 160 million Nigerians from bungling every good opportunity that he has to connect with the Nigerian people and present himself as a leader who cares.

Until this very moment, I have not seen anyone who does not agree that the president’s decision to pay an unscheduled visit to the Police Training College, Ikeja last week was wise. Within minutes of his arrival at the premier facility, the news was all over the place, especially the ever-vibrant social media. From everywhere in the country, people hailed the president; many felt that he got this one right! I noticed that even some of his most virulent critics on the social media agreed that here was a responsive action. I understand someone actually wrote that if this was what Jonathan meant when he promised that there would be a lot of surprises this year, then he should just ride on! It remains, to my mind, one of the best Public Relations moves that the president has ever made in recent years.

From newspaper accounts, ordinary Nigerians, including policemen, (whose perpetual subjection to exploitation by their superiors was revealed by the Channels Television documentary which exposed the rot at the police college) came out to hail the President. They were said to have used words as kind as “God-sent” to equate him to a messianic leader. Besides, news reports generously described Jonathan’s visit as the first by a “sitting President”.  I marvelled at what reputational capital this man had built for himself with just one action and just wished that the President would go on in that light. I hoped that he would realise that a lot of time, public perception is shaped by this kind of action, which I assumed, he took without any serious promoting or indeed need.

But the man did not allow us to rejoice for long!  Right there on the spot, the president reversed this great advantage by his utterances. I wanted to cry when I learnt that the president described the Channels TV documentary as a smear campaign calculated at embarrassing his government. And until now, I do not understand what pushed the president into saying such a damaging thing.

Please do not misunderstand me; the president is by all means entitled to his opinion. He has a right to feel scandalised by this or any other report, which attacks him or his government but sometimes, the import of high office dictates that you express such emotions in the confines of your office, to the hearing of the most loyal of your staff, who should know the professional way to deal with any real or perceived attempt to embarrass government.

More than the impropriety of such utterances, however, I see no way in which this report was meant to embarrass the government. And I will give you a few reasons to buttress my point.

The first is that the television outlet had said from the outset that the report was a Corporate Social Responsibility project. It had even gone ahead to put a programme together with the aim of mobilising assistance for the college from the private sector.

The second reason is that I see no way anyone would blame Jonathan for a problem that did not start today. That report shows every clear evidence of years of rot which has just come to a head. And more than that, do we really expect Jonathan to personally know what is going on in every institution owned by the Federal Government? Do we not realise that the Police Service Commission, the Ministry of Police Affairs and the Inspector-General of Police are in office, and collect outrageous allowances and salaries just to take care of such issues?  Are we not clear that Aso Rock is occupied by a human rather than some Omniscient being?

More importantly, why do we have media organisations? Why is the media described as the Fourth Estate of the Realm? Organisations like Channels Television exist for the simple reason for which the President now accuses them of complicity in some ploy to embarrass his government.  Rather than condemn the report, the President should actually have thanked the media house for exposing a likely fundamental reason for the decay in the Nigerian Police Force, for to be honest, I see no way in which anyone trained in that environment would be civil in the execution of their duties.  To be interested in reforming the Nigerian Police is therefore to be ready to tackle this appalling state of affairs in that college.

I may concede that the president has a right to query police authorities on how the report was allowed but that is an administrative issue which should never have been initiated in the full glare of the public, including the media.

I want to submit that President Jonathan should advise himself on the need for tact in his public utterances. I think he would have done himself a whole lot of good by not saying a word during that Ikeja visit, that would have done him far much good than the unfortunate comment he made about Channels, an organisation just carrying out its legitimate civic duty.

Mr. President should know what to say, what not to say, when to talk and when not to talk. He should explore the gold that is possible in silence and see how that may, once in a while, add to the equity of the Jonathan brand.


Adedokun is a Lagos-based PR consultant.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


Opinion: Bad publicity is just plain bad publicity

by Lucinda Boddy
I don’t agree with the notion that appearing in the media – no matter the context – is better than not being spoken about at all. And while it may not be possible to control what is said about your brand in the media, a prompt and honest response goes a long way to gaining the public’s respect.
There can be no greater myth than the old adage, “no publicity is bad publicity”. While brands and organisations cannot always control the kind of publicity they receive, how they react to negative publicity can make or break their reputations.
With social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, blogs and online forums the consumer has an open stage to voice their opinions. This can be rather daunting for a company or a brand, when you consider that reputations that take years to build can be destroyed in matter of seconds via social media networks.

Livewired’s approach centres on education, both for clients and the journalists who write about them. Our clients are coached on how to handle negative press that occurs on social media networks. Interestingly, I have found that in many cases social media fans police the forums themselves, responding to complaints from a position of brand loyalty.

Of course, this is far more credible than any response the brand could provide itself because it comes directly from the consumer.

I also believe that educating the media is an important step to combating misperceptions…

Setting the facts straight

In the past, we have had experiences where negative publicity has come about simply from factual inaccuracies. In such cases, one would contact the journalist responsible and provide them with the correct information. When journalists and consumers are armed with the correct information, there is less chance of inaccurate reporting damaging the brand or company’s reputation.

The relationship between an organisation and its public relations agency is key when it comes to building and managing reputation. For example, when we take on a new client, we undertake a comprehensive analysis of potential risks, which allows us to devise a relevant crisis communication plan, which can be adjusted to suit the situation at hand.

Keep it open, keep it honest

An open and honest relationship between client and agency is vital – knowing the risks and pitfalls inherent in particular situations allows for effective troubleshooting.

I believe that a proactive approach must be taken from a PR perspective… Connecting with the media and the consumer by providing quality content is the first step to building a healthy brand or company profile.

Core to the process of managing negative publicity in a responsible manner is being honest and transparent at all times. It’s about responding quickly and providing all the facts. Trying to hide information from consumers or the media is the worst course of action. Often it is the way in which an organisation handles a crisis in the media that earns them loyal consumers, or conversely, causes irreparable damage to their brand’s reputation.

I don’t agree with the notion that appearing in the media – no matter the context – is better than not being spoken about at all. The risks inherent in negative publicity are endless and can translate directly to a decline in brand and company loyalty, sales or investors. And while it may not be possible to control what is said about your brand in the media, a prompt and honest response goes a long way to gaining the public’s respect.

Lucinda Boddy is MD of Livewired Public Relations.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


Reuben Abati: The difference between journalism and public relations

by Chido Nwakanma

One of the reasons the article fails woefully is the high level of “channel noise” Abati himself introduces into the discourse. You cannot seek to win over people by first insulting them! You lose that audience immediately.

Presidential spokesperson Dr. Reuben Abati wrote on Sunday August 26 an article syndicated in at least three major Sunday newspapers to attack critics of President Goodluck Jonathan and to deflect criticisms of the President.  “The Jonathan They Do Not Know” was a wide-ranging discourse of largely the discontent expressed in the media by the public against the President and an attempt to defend him seriatim on the issues.

Specifically, Abati stated:

• “They” do not know and misunderstand President Jonathan.

• “They” are “all the cynics, the pestle-wielding critics, the unrelenting, self-appointed activists, the idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger, the distracted crowd of Facebook addicts, the BBM-pinging soap opera gossips of Nigeria”.

• These people “seem to be in competition among themselves to pull down President Goodluck Jonathan.”

He lists the charges by these publics against President Jonathan to include being “a clueless President”, failure to provide infrastructure, the right of Ijaws to produce a President, as well as claims that he is spending billions to feed and that he drinks ogogoro.

By his position as Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Dr. Abati works in public affairs, a key aspect of public relations.  What follows is an analysis of his essay from the prism of public relations practice and theory.

First, the essay runs against the grain of what public relations ordinarily should seek to achieve. According to scholars, (Broom, 2009) “public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.”

The Public Relations Society of America identifies the functions expected of the public relations specialist to include:

• Monitoring awareness, opinions, attitudes and behaviours

• Identifying policies, procedures and actions that conflict with the public interest and organisational (institutional) survival

• Counselling management (the President) on the establishment of new policies, procedures, statements and programmes that are beneficial to the President and the public

• Producing measurable changes in awareness, opinion, attitude and behaviour inside and outside the institution.

These finally result in “new and/or maintained relationships between an organisation and its publics”.

Mutuality is at the heart of everything done in communication. Media relations as one of the key tools of public relations and under whose banner Abati wrote, seeks primarily to “develop public trust and support” for the principal with primarily the media. In essence, Dr. Abati’s intervention ought to lead to the result of improved relationships between President Jonathan and the audiences Abati identified.  This is because public relations and public affairs as a sub-set “is the discipline, which looks after reputation, with the aim of creating understanding and support and influencing opinions and behaviour.” It is a “planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics”.  On the contrary, however, Abati sets out to attack these audiences.

The publics Dr. Abati attacks — critics, activists and the social media players — are among the most important publics for the Presidency.  They represent the opinion leaders and moulders who help shape public discourse and perceptions of issues in public affairs. By definition, therefore, the job of the public communication specialist in public affairs is to maintain “mutually beneficial relationships” with these critical publics.

Abati’s essay brings to the fore a hodge podge of issues. These include the feeding habits and menu of Mr. President, his taste in wine, his fitness and work routine and his gender sensitivity.

In its public information role, public relations relies heavily on various theories of mass communication including agenda setting, media effects and diffusion of innovation. They would help in analysing the utility or otherwise of the submissions Abati makes.

The agenda setting theory of M. McComb and D. Shaw (1972, 1993) states that while the media has an effect on cognitive levels, they may not affect predispositions. They further show through research that media not only tell people what to think about in broad terms but additionally how to think about them in specific terms and then what to think.

The “agenda” is “a set of issues” such as Abati itemises, but according to Rogers and Dearing (1996) in order for the agenda to be effective and become part of the process it must be communicated. There is a “dynamic interplay” between the media, the public and policy makers.

Diffusion of innovation theory (Everett Rogers, 1995) further highlights the process through which information passes through various layers and is communicated to audiences. Messages pass through awareness, interest, evaluation, trial and adoption. Knowledgeable communication practitioners whether in public relations or advertising consciously deploy elements of this theory when they segment audiences and tailor certain messages to specific targets.

Most importantly, the diffusion process reveals that practitioners cannot achieve major change in attitudes, beliefs, and awareness in a brief time. Further, one cannot attain such changes through news media alone. It also emphasises the importance and effectiveness of channels of interpersonal communication.

In other words, there is much more to public relations than mere publicity, which is the trap into which Abati falls.  As many analysts have noted, Abati dredges up issues, such as President Jonathan’s simplicity and his drink choices, which are of no relevance to his audience. This is the issue of salience in communication. As the venerable Cutlip and Center (2009) note in Effective Public Relations, “For public relations practitioners, getting an issue onto the media agenda can be a good thing (i.e. when you want to raise awareness of an issue) or a bad thing (e.g. when something embarrassing, dangerous or illegal happens at your organisation).” Abati elevates to the public (media) agenda underground talk (rumours) that President Jonathan quaffs kain kain. He deludes himself that because he says the man does not, people would believe him.

This is the last issue. Public relations uses various tools to enhance the credibility of messages. One of these is third party endorsement. Reuben Abati deludes himself that he can transfer his credibility as a columnist to his new role and that readers would still have the same level of confidence or trust in his assertions. It is not happening.

A more astute practitioner would get credible and current media players to report first hand these issues from a disinterested perspective for the benefit of readers, thus setting the agenda with a chance through diffusion of creating awareness as basis for believability.

One of the reasons the article fails woefully is the high level of “channel noise” Abati himself introduces into the discourse. You cannot seek to win over people by first insulting them! You lose that audience immediately. “The Jonathan They Do Not Know” evidences a distancing by The Presidency and its communication team from the vital stakeholders it needs people in the media and the young people who populate online and who GEJ wooed successfully by declaring his campaign on Facebook in 2011.

The presidential spokesperson indicts self when he avers that these key influencers he identifies do not understand or know the real President Jonathan. It is his job to make them understand using the tools of public relations. A key part of that tool is “doing good and shouting to the rooftops about it”.  It calls on the public relations man to be “a sensor of public opinion” and the counsellor of his principal to do the right thing. Often times, the necessary homework precedes publicity, as is the effort to carefully choose audiences, messages and platforms for reaching them. On all these scores, this effort fails woefully and has fetched more coverage that is negative for the Presidency in one week than hitherto.

Reuben Abati the columnist clinically dissected issues, providing strong analyses of the evolving political economy of Nigeria, and earning a strong connection with the audiences he now excoriates. His range was wide and his appeal even more so. There is, however, a world of difference between the front-row in your face approach of the columnist and the back seat of the public relations strategist. The cerebral Dr. Abati needs to learn this quickly and deploy for a positive reputation for our President is good for the country.


* Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.