In the wee days of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, Spokesman Femi Adesina visited the corporate headquarters of our media firm, BUSH HOUSE NIGERIA, which was in Abuja at the time. His mission, a fulfilment of the promise he made me long before his appointment, was to give us a radio interview. It was a laughterful session on air. That’s not why the recollection gets this pride of place, though.
The encounter is here because of something that happened on and off air. I had asked the newspaper chief if he would continue with his Sun column, a weekly must-read. Without thinking about it, he had responded in the negative, offering reasons I thought weren’t that cogent. Later, just before he was driven off, I had tactfully reopened the topic.
Why would anyone shut down his public relations and enlightenment platform just because he was moving into government? Isn’t a political tenure a more auspicious time to keep or widen the scope and reach of one’s platform? This time, he was more forthcoming and detailed. Sounding as someone who had long thought out the matter, he spoke of the moral angle, the professional burden, the dangers, etc.
I didn’t agree with him. And, three years later, with that disagreement solidifying in my mind, I found myself in a similar conversation with another front line journalist who, like Mr. Adesina, would go nowhere near his first love, public writing, because he was frolicking with government (as cynics say). Pastor Anietie Ukpe, director-general of Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation (AKBC), said from his time as a Deputy Governor’s Press Secretary to when he served as a governor’s Chief Press Secretary (CPS), he had stopped writing opinion pieces. Again, as with the kulikuli writer, I disagreed vehemently with Pastor Ukpe.
Today, I wish I hadn’t resisted their reasonable stand so strongly. I wish I had imbibed the wisdom embedded in the folklore hen and chick exchange. The child had asked why her mother used the mouth (read beak) to scavenge the ground. The response is epic and evergreen: “my dear, when you grow up you would understand.”
Me, I have grown up. I now perfectly understand why powerful men of the pen run away from it the moment they “assume power.” A journalist’s political or governmental involvement softens or weakens his resolve, removes or taints his impartiality, reduces or doubtens his credibility in the public eye and generally ordinarises or in fact, in many instances, criminalises him during and after office. Journalists lose far too much when they answer the call to move away and help out leaders.
Show me one journalist who didn’t lose his voice or name or who got the same let alone more respect from even own fanbase or who evinced believability after having served in government. I can’t say what this annoying thanklessness is a function of, but I am determined not to lose my voice and my platforms -at least not without a try or a fight or both. This mental battle has been raging within me since last July when my home state governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, named me on the board of Akwa Ibom state primary healthcare development agency. However, I hitherto betrayed no emotions enough to speak out because as it were, I had no problem navigating the landmines since I was only on the periphery of government.
Then, boom! the governor last Monday picked me as his Special Assistant on Electronic Media. As happened with the board appointment, I didn’t see this coming at all. In any case, I didn’t believe this was something I would ever accept, having turned down at least three higher offers from ‘the Pharaoh who knew Joseph!’ Alas!
For now, while awaiting briefing by CPS Ekerete Udoh, under whom I am to work, I cannot say for sure how things would pan out. Notwithstanding, there are some basic givens that you can take to the bank now and forever. One, I shall not only maintain this column as long as that lies in my power, I shall also its regularity. Two, I shall never betray or misappropriate the privilege, by taking undue advantage (for example, favouring my state government or party or by disfavouring so-called opponents or enemies).
It is easy for me to say the foregoing because the man in Government House, Uyo is not a Nigerian politician. Believe me, this is not patronising Mr. Emmanuel. The Professional-in-Politics governor (investment banker and economist) has in four years and counting remained true to God, and man, and himself. It’s for these reasons I would heed any call he makes for me to help him unpluck even the lowest-hanging fruits in our state!
I thank the visionary governor for this honour and everyone for the outpouring of goodwill on air, online, on phone and physically. For those who think that the office is below me I thank them as well because truth to tell, until recently I carried that consciousness myself. It is sheer pride and stupidity for the man or woman under authority to want to decide for the person in authority. And, office is about service -not self!
I pray for wisdom, knowledge and sense on this unexpected journey. I pray for the team lead, members, the environment and for provision. I pray for me. I pray for the peace-, industry- and development-Governor, the First Family, Deputy Governor Moses Frank Ekpo, MFR, the administration and the state.
Finally, permit me to attempt to discharge the chronic debt of gratitude I owe to some people, the first four of whom tried unsuccessfully to get me to support Candidate Udom Emmanuel in the build-up to the governor’s first coming in 2015: Arc. Ezekiel Nya-Etok, Mr. Don Etim, Prophet (Dr.) John Linus and then-Gov. Godswill Akpabio. Also, mention must be made of Rt. Hon. Speaker Aniekan Bassey, Senator Bassey Albert, Rt. Hon. Usenobong Akpabio and CPS Ekerete Udoh who played critical roles in bringing me out to ‘renew my PDP vows’ on 9th February, 2017. Of course, I cannot forget Mrs. and Miss BUSH, the church, and two prominent sons of Onna who in their quiet humility and stoicism have borne the financial burden of sustaining our Udom media efforts two years on: Pastor Uwem Andrew-Essien and Dr. Nathaniel Adiakpan; not forgetting Barr. Emmanuel Enoidem, Dr. Glory Edet, Arc. Ime Ekpo, Dr. Iniobong Essien, Dr. Dominic Ukpong and Rt. Hon. Frank Archibong and ALGON for their incredible support. God bless and keep Nigeria!