Opinion: Jonathan on CNN: Where were Oronto Douglas and Reuben Abati?

by Sabella Abbide


The President blew it. As the Nigerian parlance goes, he made a fool of himself. He made Nigeria and Nigerians look bad.

If you are literate and politically conscious enough, but have not seen or heard about the Goodluck Jonathan’s interview with Christiane Amanpour (of the Cable News Network), you must be either living in a cave – or have just awoken from a medical coma. Amanpour is the award-winning and internationally-recognised Chief International Correspondent for CNN and host of CNN International’s nightly interview programme, Amanpour. She has won practically every prestigious award in the field of journalism. Because she is so well-informed and thorough and professional, you have to be well-prepared before you agree to an interview – unless, of course, you want to make a fool of yourself, or be made a fool of.

This was the situation President Goodluck Jonathan was in on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 during a satellite-relayed interview from the grounds of Davos, Switzerland. Several world leaders and leading minds in the fields of economics, politics, science and technology and the academia had gone there to attend the World Economic Forum annual meeting. Once it was announced that Amanpour would have a chat with the President, the world – especially Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora –eagerly awaited what he was going to say. It was also an occasion for the President to articulate his vision and to allay the fears and anxieties of domestic and global partners in terms of democratic gains, security, investment, economic development and growth.

But, unfortunately, a golden opportunity — an opportunity to showcase himself, his country, and future possibilities — became a tragedy. The President blew it. As the Nigerian parlance goes, he made a fool of himself. He made Nigeria and Nigerians look bad. In fact, he missed the opportunity to rebrand himself and his transformation agenda. He looked timid and scared, for lack of a better word. He was nervous. He was unsure of himself and uncertain of what to say and how to say it. Frankly, he looked like a novice, like a man who was making his first appearance before the media. Many a times, he looked like a man who was about to be thrown under a moving train. And in the process, he mangled his answers. It was painful to watch!

The President needs not be a thinker-speaker in the manner of Chuba Okadigbo, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Nnamdi Azikiwe, or Obafemi Awolowo. At the very least, he must have poise, good diction, confidence, and a stable train of thoughts. He must appear like a man who understands not just politics and party politics, but also public policy. And since domestic policy and politics affect what’s going on at the global scene (and vice versa), he must have a good understanding of how both worlds interface. In other words, he must appear like a man who is educated and enlightened and who understands the ramifications of events and phenomena. At Davos, Switzerland — and especially before Amanpour – Jonathan didn’t show the slightest trace of depth or brilliance.And what’s a man without depth or brilliance?

In style and in substance, there was no hint of sophistication or cosmopolitanism in his responses to questions thrown at him. Why? How? Could it be that the snow and the temperature affected the President’s mind and disposition? Was it the long journey from Abuja to Switzerland? Was it the cold air, the food and the water? Or, maybe, the recent outbreak of flu epidemic caused him to miss his rhythms? Whatever it was, he looked bad. He was worse than President Olusegun Obasanjo. And that’s saying a lot because Obasanjo was terrible during one-on-one interviews. In a way, one could pardon the ex-general. He was not well-read. Jonathan, on the other hand, was a product of the well-respected University of Port Harcourt. And he is hyped as the first PhD holder to rule Nigeria. So, what went wrong?

Reuben Abati is the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President. He is not a drive-by journalist. He is not a novice.  This is a man with many years of media/journalism experience and who thoroughlyunderstands how the media and information world works. He also knows Jonathan’s strength and weaknesses. Therefore, he could/should have coached the President on the art and science of interviews. To know Jonathan is to know that he needed and still needs such a drill. Therefore, Abati should not have left Jonathan to swim, unaided and unsupervised, in the raging sea of international journalism where reputation and perception matter. And because his boss was not coached, he took nasty beatings from Christiane Amanpour and from the Nigerian public. What’s more, his global favourability ratings took a precipitous nosedive!

And then there is Oronto Douglas. Douglas is considered by many to be Mr. Jonathan’s right-hand man. He is, perhaps, the most trusted and most relied-on of all the men and women within the President’s inner circle. Exaggeration or not, a source within the Presidency once said that “Jonathan swears on Oronto.” As far as I can tell, he has never betrayed his friend and boss. Knowing this to be the case, why hasn’t Douglas impressed it upon Jonathan to “shape up”? After all, Douglas, like Abati, understands the implications of bad press. He knows, or should have known that perception matters. And especially in an age of social network and instant communication, negatives can be amplified, and positives downplayed. Thus, one of his priorities should have been to guard against the sort of thing that happened at Davos.

In spite of the aforesaid, it is possible that (a) the President is a poor student who, simply, is unable to learn new and old tricks; or (b) he dismissed all attempts by Abati and Douglas to help him become a better communicator. We may never know. What we know for now and with a very high degree of certainty is that President Jonathan needs help. He needs help with his thinking process. He needs help with his image. He needs help running the country. He needs help with his government. He needs men and women to tell him the truth. He needs men and women who are devoted to the well-being of the country and who are not afraid to give him their very best advice. He needs people with superior intellect and unassailable character around him.


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

Comments (0)

  1. My dear writer, you are clearly the typical Nigerian I just mentioned. I hope you also have a PhD or MSc so I can be happier. You say Obasanjo doesn't do well in one-on-one interviews and you even proceed to explain that statement by saying he is not well-read. Can you explain what constitutes "well-read?" Do you know Obasanjo at all? The only fiasco that might be compared to Jonathan your "intellectual" president is Sani Abacha

    Academic certificates is killing and will continue to kill Nigeria

    @OIbhagui, the proud illiterate

  2. Hey, what do you mean? He has a PhD loooooool. Nigerians are real mumu and there's no better poster boy for Nigerians than Goodluck Jonathan. It is him who you deserve


  3. The man is truly beyond rddemption in that regard. That saying about the intellectual disposition of a man at the age of 40 and above is true afterall!

  4. I have read your tratise on Jonathan,Sabella ,with keen concetration. While everything you said about the interview Mr president granted Amampour is technically accurate,laying blame on the doorsteps of Abati and Douglas appear to me to be misplaced because what could have the duo done? Was it ever possible for example, for them to have polished his grammar overnight before meeting Amampour? Was it possible for them to have shaped up his knowledge of public affairs and international relations especially now that he is already president? Even if they told him what to say could they have told him how to put it? Remember the interview was not prepared and given to him to study. The long and short of the whole issue is that the president was not prepared. Period.

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