Since last week’s public spat between the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Mallam Isa Pantami, and the chairman/chief executive officer of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, alleging his maltreatment of the latter’s staff, series of articles have been appearing in the dailies seeking to douse the public outrage ignited by the disclosure and portraying the victim as the aggressor. In ample evidence is the antics of a lynch mob, ruled by its muscles rather than its brains and brushing aside every prick of conscience. On the face of it, the essay, “Abike Dabiri’s tales by moonlight,” by Suleiman Uba Gaya, a columnist with The Sun, aspires to a higher morality, but a close examination of the piece paints a different picture.
In the typical style of demagoguery, Gaya begins with a piece of forced erudition: “In the African societies some of us sprouted from, it is common to see grannies passing the traditional beliefs, customs and stories of communities through the generations by word of mouth.” It is telling that the writer sets out with a binary dichotomy: “some of us” versus others/some of them. Pray, is there any African society without its moonlight tales? And who was he implying did not sprout from “African societies”? Or is he here saying that his own African society is more important than others? The arrogance here cannot escape detection, but it need not detain us further.
Next the writer says that in some societies (notice the reductionism), certain individuals “deploy that moonlight atmosphere” (just how do you “deploy an atmosphere”?) to concoct false stories just to indoctrinate their young and upcoming generations.” These individuals in “some societies,” he adds, are responsible for “the trouble spots dotting many landscapes across the globe.” We can help Gaya by noting that all societies have their information manipulators, not just “the African societies” that he and a select group sprouted exclusively from.
Having started with this very logic, he then quickly drops all pretences to patriotism and plunges deep into his mission: the denigration of Abike Dabiri-Erewa and sanctification of Mallam (Dr.) Isa Pantami. Dabiri-Erewa, he suggests, is no longer a journalist, having “crossed to the other side” (of governance); she had concocted “tales by the moonlight” against the gentle Mallam, etc. Yet Mr. Suleiman does not “like commenting negatively on media colleagues,” even though he then proceeds to cast aspersions on Dabiri-Erewa’s journalistic credentials, deviously ascribingg this position of some colleagues. “Abike,” we are told, “decided to go to the marketplace with her condemnation of what she alleged Pantami did, calling the minister all manner of names and, in the process, subjecting the Buhari administration to serious ridicule.” By now, it should be sufficiently clear who we are dealing with. It is, to say the least, sickening to suggest that seeking a better deal for the staff of such a critical outfit as NIDCOM and thus helping to actualise President Buhari’s Next Level agenda amounts to ridiculing his administration!
As the theorist McCornack and colleagues point out in their 1992 monograph on information manipulative theory, senders’ management of given information to provide a receiver with a false perception of that same information is called information manipulation. Authors of such deception, like Sule in the present case, choose certain facts in the message from available quantity of information but omit, alter, or falsify others to draw the applause of unsuspecting audiences. If experience is any indication, such individuals, in fact, supposedly even “fact check” their interlocutors, only that their fact-checking, as Malam Gaya does in his acerbic piece, is driven by prejudice.
Now, the facts: as NIDCOM was making frantic efforts to secure a befitting office space and commence full operations of its activities, the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) offered its annex office located in Mbora District Abuja to it. This was at a meeting held with the executive vice chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, in June 2019. But on February 11 this year, the commission’s staff were thrown out on the minister’s order. Only on May 15 this year, the NIDCOM boss wrote the minister yet another letter reminding him that the commission’s working tools carted away since the seizure of its office at the NCC annex on his orders on February 11 were yet to be released, thus hampering its operations. She noted that, on February 14, 2020, the offices on the fifth floor were broken into without NIDCOM’s knowledge and its property carted away on his orders. She said these were sensitive, private and public documents at the risk of being damaged or lost, together with expensive and irreplaceable personal belongings of her staff. To date, the items yet to be released include data ports, port patch panel, cloud router switch, printers, digital camera, laptops, work stations, swivel office chairs, conference tables, reclineable executive chairs, ergonomic executive office chairs with lumbar support, department files, and roll-up banners, among others.
And in any case, it was Pantami who, in fact, started last week’s Twitter debate, calling Dabiri-Erewa’s officially documented position “a fat lie.” Pantami, in his digital majesty, had not deemed it fit to hold any discussions with “that woman,” before throwing out NIDCOM, a government organisation, perhaps because he believes that some animals are, in the language of George Orwell, more equal than others. From the choreographed rage by his attack dogs, it is clear that his majesty, steeped in chauvinistic miasma, expected no reply when he purveyed the “fat lie” doggerel. It is to the everlasting shame of the writer that what he termed Dabiri-Erewa’s “tales by the moonlight” is supported by textual, visual and other documentary evidence. Eyewitness accounts abound of Pantami’s shabby treatment of NIDCOM staff.
And speaking of ridiculing the Buhari administration, is the writer not aware that, in March this year, during a live television programme, with President Muhammadu Buhari seated, the man on whom he seems to confer sainthood snatched the microphone from the hands of Danbatta, in the middle of an address? Has Malam Sule not watched the video of the secretary of NIDCOM addressing staff of the commission shortly after being locked out of their office on the orders of the Malam Pantami on February 11? Is he not aware of the fact that notice for evacuation was given via a text message on February 9? No matter the level of projection, accusing others of what you yourself are actively doing, by Pantami and his apologists, the fact remains that the honourable minister spat in the face of NIDCOM staff and, by implication, everything the organisation represents. Public office has an expiry date: what does not is history? I notice the hint of disrespect for Nigeria’s hardworking Diaspora, a group typically responsible for 6 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP, however hard Sule tries to hide his disdain by claiming that Dabiri-Erewa schemed her way into becoming NIDCOM boss.
It is true that Dabiri-Erewa has been palpably disturbed by the way her staff were treated, but any decent CEO in her circumstances would. Surely, Pantami should have given the NIDCOM boss audience and allowed her staff to evacuate their belongings themselves rather than breaking into their offices without their consent. Sadly, even as Pantami’s apologists rage, NIDCOM’s staff have no official workplace. The facts remain constant despite the antics of the enablers of dictatorship.
•Abu writes from Jos, Plateau State