Why President Jonathan Cannot Lead
"Gentlemen, welcome to this emergency meeting. Today is a sad day for our country, as you all know. Apart from the lives we lost, the bombing of the UN building is a source of great embarrassment for Nigeria. I have summoned you all so we can quickly agree on the president's immediate response."
"Thank you, Oronto. As the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, I swung into action immediately. I have already drafted a press statement. In fact, I was on my way to secure presidential clearance to release the statement when I got your summon."
"Emâ¦ Ken, what do you think?"
"Thanks, Oronto. Well, it's a good thing that Reuben has acted so quickly. His reflexes are good. But the country has just suffered a major terrorist attack. We are talking the UN here. This is huge international stuff. Should Nigerians and the international community be comforted by a presidential messenger?"
"Ken, take time. Seriously, take your time. Who is a messenger? Look, Oronto did not summon us here to insult each other o"
"Sorry, Reuben, it came out wrongly. Reno, what do you think? What would Trippi advice that we do?"
"Em, cool temper gentlemen. I think Ken has a point. Once a country is hit by a major international tragedy, the management of that tragedy becomes the yardstick for measuring the quality of its leadership. Look at the recent Norway bombings. Within minutes of the tragedy, the Norwegian Prime Minister was all over the world's airwaves - from CNN to BBC via Aljazeera â comforting his citizens and reassuring the international community. Spectacle and perception are crucial in this business. Nothing beats the image of a hands-on leader getting to the trenches to comfort his people and the world."
"Exactly! My sentiments, Reno! We also saw the British Prime Minister in action during the recent London riots. He cut short his vacation and returned home to lead. He was constantly in the street, addressing his country and the world."
"Yes o, Ken, it was reassuring seeing the British Prime Minister. Not to mention what an American President would do in these circumstances: rousing and reassuring speeches to Americans and the world atop the rubble within minutes of an attack. Reuben, do you understand what we are talking about now?
"Ok, Reno, you and Ken have a point. So what do we do, Oronto?"
"Well, if I understand you guys, you seem to be suggesting that instead of Reuben's press statement, we should throw the President out there so he can address Nigerians and the world in front of cameras?"
"Not only that, Oronto, he should also rush to the scene of the tragedy with little or no siren. He should be dressed in jeans or khaki and should go there to lead rescue workers for five minutes and reassure a traumatized nation. BBC, CNN, Aljazeera, and Reuters are all there. Even NTA is there. Let him stop in front of their microphones to take questions and comfort the Nigerian people."
"Are you guys serious?"
"Oronto, do we look like we are joking?"
"Either you are joking or you have forgotten the problem"
"Yes, the problem. I will jolt your memories. Ken, do you remember your recent interview with that Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail?"
"Ah, yes, I remember."
"Good, what did you tell them about the President's stage presence?"
"Ah, yes, I said that's the only area he needs to work on. Emâ¦ I mean, I praised him so much it was looking ridiculous so I had to throw in something that at least looks like a weakness to make him human. So I said that he needs to improve his stage presence"
"Don't worry, Ken, we are not blaming you. You guys are here talking about young, charismatic, and energetic world leaders who are masters of oratory. People who can give unscripted, impromptu speeches and electrify their audience. And you want us to throw oga out there and make him perform like those people? Are we miracle workers? Reuben, are you a miracle worker?"
"Well guys, you know I am new here and Reno told me last week that I am not paid to think the things I used to think when I was outside. It's not that I haven't thought of that little problem"
"Little problem? Reuben, you call that little problem? Look, we are all talking strictly off the record here. Nothing said will ever leave this room. Not a word will leak. This is a we-we situation and we can talk frankly and freely. Ken, tell Reuben."
"I should tell him?"
"Yes, tell him"
"Well, Reuben, the truth is that it takes us 1000 hours of coaching and practicing to prepare Oga to read a five-minute speech on TV. And you know what Nigerians and the world still think of his performance with all that effort. Whenever Oga is going abroad, we do nearly 3000 hours of coaching. That CNN interview with Christian Amanpour, you have no idea how many hours we sweated to prepare Oga. And you know the result. So, truth is, Oga just doesn't have it. He will never electrify an audience. He will never not look sleepy, lost, and uninspiring in public. There is just no way to improve Oga's stage presence. That's the truth we all whisper to ourselves around here but our job is to protect him from that glaring weakness. "
"That's the truth gentlemen. If after thousands of hours of coaching, we only manage to get Oga to perform below average in scripted interviews and public speeches, imagine the disaster of throwing him in front of the world's cameras unscripted today of all days. It will worsen the tragedy we have on our hands. We lost eighteen lives today. This is no time to add to Nigerians' anguish by reminding them of words like clueless and lost when they see their president on TV."
"Ok, Oronto, I guess we need to take a vote on how to proceed. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs has already spoken on BBC. Ban Ki-Moon has already spoken. And the world still hasn't heard from the President. There is no time to waste."
"Ok, all in favour of Reuben acting in loco parentis for the president say âaye'
"Gentlemen, we have a decision. Reuben, go and release the statement. I'll go and brief the President."
Presidential Press Statement
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria utterly condemn the barbaric, senseless and cowardly attack on the United Nation's Building in Abuja this morning.
The President believes that the attack is a most despicable assault on the United Nations' objectives of global peace and security, and the sanctity of human life to which Nigeria wholly subscribes.
He extends his sincere condolences to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and all members of the United Nations family who have lost loved ones in the heinous attack.
President Jonathan reaffirms the Federal Government's total commitment to vigorously combat the incursion of all forms of terrorism into Nigeria, and wishes to reassure all Nigerians and the international community that his Administration will spare no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The President has also directed all relevant government agencies to assist in the search and rescue effort at the UN Building, and ordered heightened security across the Federal Capital Territory.
He urges all Nigerians to cooperate fully with the government in its efforts to expose the desperate elements who promote violence, terrorism and division in the country.
While noting that by today's attack, we are once again reminded of the international character of terrorism and its indiscriminate targeting of innocent civilians, President Jonathan affirms Nigeria's determination to continue to play its part in the global effort to eradicate the scourge of terrorism in all its ramifications.
He urges all Nigerians and foreigners resident in the country to go about their normal affairs with the full assurance that the Federal Government and its law enforcement agencies will continue working diligently to ensure the full protection of lives and property in the country.
Reuben Abati, Ph.D
Special Adviser to the President
(Media & Publicity)
August 26, 2011