Eddie Iroh: On Kabiru Turaki’s ill-advised tirade against the media

by Eddie Iroh

Eddie Iroh

Turaki launched a tirade against the media, the very institution he needs more than they need him to bring assurance and reassurance to a jittery populace.

As many will testify, I hardly dwell on persons in my occasional interventions on this page. My reason is that there are so many issues of concern to all of us to worry about, for one to dwell on individuals and personalities, even though we know that in nearly all cases it is individuals and their actions that underlie issues. But on this occasion I will make an exception.

First let me give The Honourable Kabiru Turaki his full, mouthful title. He is the Minister of Special Duties and Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue, and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North. Now not only is Turaki’s title fulsome, his responsibility in the resolution of the crisis in our national security is serious, strategic and critical to our survival as a corporate entity. I have no reason to believe that Turaki is not fully aware of this. Indeed I believe he must be aware that he is one of a handful of ministers in the federal cabinet whose performance or lack of it will determine the fate of the Jonathan administration. In this category of strategic ministers are Power, the Economy, and Works, among others. But few would disagree that without security; there would not be a conducive environment for the other desirable ends to be achieved. There has to be a safe and secure Nigeria for national development, for transformation, to take place.

It is in this context that I reacted with horror when I read the cantankerous altercation that Turaki engaged in with newsmen last week. According to both newspaper and online reports, newsmen had, quite within the bounds of their constitutional and professional duties, asked Chairman Turaki if he had made contact with the Boko Haram Kingpin, Shekarau. I believe this question was in the context of rumour that the chief terrorist had been killed or captured. Let us quickly recognise two things. First is that the question is totally legitimate because rumour is dangerous and damaging especially in times of crisis and national emergency. And rumour thrives where there is no reliable information. As my old friend Ken Mackenzie once wrote, sitting on the safety valve does not make for safety. But that is only one half of the story. The other half is that Turaki, considering the sensitivity of his task, does not have indeed has no obligation, to answer the questions from the journalists. At least not in the manner they put it or even the answer they wanted. And there is no contradiction here.

But Turaki’s handling of what should have been a simple response left me wondering whether he truly recognises the crucial link between his work and the mood of the nation in general and the affected areas of the North in particular. Admittedly I see no reason why Turaki should disclose the inner details of his efforts to achieve his objective. That kind of accountability is his responsibility to the president who appointed him. Every fair-minded Nigerian, including the reporters who asked the question should have no problem with Mr. Turaki dodging the question. That is what politicians do all the time, anyway.  And this is more in Turaki’s favour because in his responsibility for Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution he has also to be a diplomat.

But confronted with inquisitive journalists probing him for understandably unanswerable questions that touch on national security, Chairman Turaki proved that he was neither a politician nor a diplomat.  He could unleash an armoury of the good work his committee was doing, their expectation that peace can and will one day be achieved in the affected areas, and draw attention to what the security forces are doing to win the hearts and minds of the citizens of the area, – you know, take the opportunity to reassure the populace while dodging the sensitive question. Turaki did nothing of the sort. Instead he dug into his armoury, brought out an assault rifle – and shot both himself and his committee on the foot! Turaki launched a tirade against the media, the very institution he needs more than they need him to bring assurance and reassurance to a jittery populace.

In a bizarre outburst Turaki challenged the media to show what contribution they have made to fight terrorism, and practically accused the press of siding with the enemy. It also left me wondering what newspaper Turaki has been reading, if any at all. As a member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY, that paper has supported the state of emergency even when some of us found some contradiction between that and the need for dialogue. Similarly his committee has enjoyed unequivocal support. While I do not and would not want to hold brief for any media organisation that may have an axe to grind on the Boko Haram issue, I believe that the media have by and large been on the side of Jonathan and his administration on this issue because nothing unites a nation more than the security of the homeland anywhere in the world.
But what shocked me in this more than any was Turaki’s concept of communicating with the citizen. In his angry confrontation with media men Turaki blurted: “We can’t go on speaking on the same issue every day!  I speak on it tomorrow, and next tomorrow…’ But that precisely is what communication is about, and this skill calls for creative and innovative handling of the reporters who are asking the very questions that the citizens are curious about. No one would suggest that Turaki should compromise national security in order to satisfy our curiosity. But with a little more skill, and need I say humility, Turaki could have done his committee and its work a power of good in the public eye, in the areas I had mentioned earlier on. Another lesson for Turaki is that he could have actually repeated what he said yesterday, today, tomorrow and next tomorrow, with just a little imaginative variation. At least he would be seen to be consistent, which can be helpful in dealing with a largely sceptical and even cynical populace.

A more patient and diplomatic negotiator than Turaki could have engaged the media men for over an hour without divulging anything that touches on the security of the nation. It is a matter of skill and style. And we have to ask whether Turaki has got what it takes. In the end what made the news was his tirade!

It is possible Turaki was haunted by his earlier faux pax a few months ago when he prematurely announced that a cease fire had been reached with Boko Haram.

It was an undiplomatic blunder that forced President Jonathan to contradict him and say that while there might have been behind the scene consultation with opinion leaders in the affected areas, there was no cease-fire. Fair enough. As Igbo people would say, a child who has been bitten by a snake is terrified by the sight of a lizard’s head. But Turaki appears to have reacted in a totally opposite direction of engaging in a tirade against journalists who did not, as far as I know, put the words of his ceasefire claim in his mouth.

In conclusion, there is something much more fundamental and widespread here in the Jonathan administration. It is the very obvious fact that very few ministers in the administration speak for the government they belong to, sell its products, its achievements, where they have same to sell. It is all well and good to give ministerial briefings in the mid term. But government and its work is a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly business that should ideally produce results and services for the welfare of the people.

Surely they must see how their colleagues in other parts of the world handle the challenge of m communication, constantly aware that in an information-driven world, unless the people have heard it, you have not done it. Unless of course there is a moratorium on Cabinet Minsters, except the Information Minster, keeping Nigerians informed, I see no reason why there is often such a dearth of information available to the public. Else I see no reason why every minister has a Chief Press Secretary and a battery of Chief, Senior and other Information Officers attached to every Minister.

But we need to also look into the nature of the relationship between the government and the media, especially the corps of reporters that cover the corridors of power. One senses a certain condescending disposition towards the press corps. One notices something akin to a mixture of disdainful irritation and nonchalance on the part of top officials when dealing with reporters.

As my people say, it is of course the way a son- in- law presents himself that decides whether the mother -in -law law serves him ready pounded yam or asks him to pound his own yam. I do not believe that editors assign their most mature and respected reporters to the corridors of power as happens in Washington, London, Paris et all.  When we assign people who can be easily looked down upon professionally, then we cannot complain when they get the Turaki Treatment.

Still ministers and public officials should know, must know that communication is at the heart and soul of all human activities in today’s world. If you are then confronted with this reality, the response is not to hide behind angry tirade but to recognise, as Simon Kolawole reminded Turaki last Sunday, that it comes with the territory. For as my people would say, if you don’t know how to eat roasted palm nut, you should opt out of trying it.


Read this article in the ThisDay Newspapers


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

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