Ministerial Appointments and the Federal Government’s Image Obsession

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The ministerial appointments in August and the line of questioning of the Senate during the screening process which showed their preoccupation with “image”, presentation and the portrayal of Nigeria’s institutions in the news over substantive improvement that the ministers could bring to the lives of Nigerians all point at the need for a review of the ministerial appointment process.

The appointments of two of these ministers give insight into one of the major problems with the current process. After an uncharacteristically strident screening of Bosun Tijan by the senate, he was appointed as Minister of Communications, Innovations and Digital Economy.

The newly appointed Minister of Information and National Orientation, Muhammad Idris Malagi also addressed the senators’ questions on fake news and the portrayal of the country in a “bad light” by media and citizens online.

The legacy of the APC is media and communication suppression. From arresting activists and citizens based on their social media posts, to revoking access to the social media site Twitter from June 2021 to January 2022, and increasingly stringent media and social media regulations, the party has always showed its contempt for freedom of expression, once this entails pointing out the ills of the governments it has constituted.

The key regulations for suppressing independent views include the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill sponsored by Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the Niger-North Senatorial District and Senate deputy whip who is a member of the APC. Senator Abdullahi has also been appointed to serve in Tinubu’s administration as Minister of State, Agriculture and Food Security. The appointment of such figures into the Tinubu cabinet is a harbinger of the administration’s relationship with the rapid dissemination of information and the free expression of opinions that social media platforms provide. 

This, alongside the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other Related Offences bill would, according to Amnesty International, “give authorities arbitrary powers to shut down the internet and limit access to social media, and make criticising the government punishable with penalties of up to three years in prison.”

In questioning Minister Idris, one of the senators highlighted the problem of graduates going decades without jobs and his constituents, in particular requesting recommendations from him to get jobs. However, in spite of the reality that he highlighted, he still asked Minister Idris, how to make Nigerians believe in a system which by his own earlier admission has failed them.

Senators from different parts of the country are more focused on portraying falsely positive images of the problems facing Nigerians in their constituencies, despite the challenges of insecurity, economic downturn, and poverty.

Their preoccupation also entails pre-election campaigns. TechCabal reported that in the last elections, social media influencers were employed to “shape narratives” and “boost the appeal of their messaging to their audience”. Globally, there is an increase in warnings and outcry against fake news. In Nigeria, there is an observably growing level of discourse on social media surrounding “fake news”, poor representation of the country in international spaces and public criticism against government officials and institutions.

These conversations often attributed to “bots” and undisclosed paid influencers, and government agents, often tend towards greater media suppression, censorship, restrictive laws and punitive measures against “law breakers” as the solution. The frequency and tenor of these conversations surrounding “fake news” and poor portrayal of the image of Nigeria’s institutions often coincide with growing criticism of government and are levelled as responses to Nigerians’ recognition of excessive and inexplicable governmental expenses.

Bosun Tijani: an unreciprocated apology

Bosun Tijani’s tweet as read by Senator Abdulfatai Buhari read “Nigeria is a bloody expensive tag to have against your name. Leave patriotism for a minute- that tag is a bloody waste of energy. A second foreign passport isn’t sufficient to clean that sin.”

In his defence statement, Tijani stated “now I have a taste of what the youths do to you as well”. Adding that the unread second half of the tweet read, “For us to lift this country, we must find a way to correct our image to project a positive image.”

Dr Bosun Tijani, co-founder of Co-Creation Hub and newly appointed minister was described by Senators as “an EndSARS protestor” who a Senator described as doing “what any of their children would have done”. Although said in Tijani’s defence, this remained an attempt to infantilize the actions of all those who risked life and limb to protest against the brutality and murderous tendencies of the Nigerian police, particularly the elite SARS. It downplays the death and assault and ensuing suffering at the hands of SARS. It fails to address the fact that victims have not received justice and that Nigerians are still subject to police brutality and killings 3 years after the protests. A recent example is Bolanle Raheem who was killed by Assistant Superintendent of Police, Drambi Vandi on Christmas Day in 2022.

Bosun Tijani despite his earlier criticism of the government, was made to apologise for “not minding [his] language” in the face of “anger and frustration”. There was a preoccupation with protecting “the integrity of the institution” and no admission of the failings of the institution.

Whilst none of the Senators apologised for or even acknowledged the cruelty tackled by the ENDSARS protests, Bosun in the face of those whose actions he rightly called to question, renounced his position and, by effect, his protest. He apologised, claiming he “tweeted out of anger”.

Tinubu administration and the media: a revamped image for imperialist forces

In light of the number of media-related aides appointed by President Tinubu, and the grave legitimacy deficits of the government, there is arguably an increased focus on shaping the perception of the Tinubu administration by the international community. During the election cycle, Tinubu’s frequent medical trips to France acquired him the public image of a frail candidate requiring assistance. His constant delegation of election appearances and interviews worsened this. The padding of media aides may be an attempt to alter this perception. The roles include, SSA Media (Tunde Rahman), SSA Print Media (Abdulaziz Abdulaziz), Senior Special Assistant Digital/New media (O’tega Ogra), Senior Special Assistant Media and Public Affairs (Tope Ajayi), Special Assistant Social Media (Segun Dada), Special Assistant Visual Communication (Nosa Asemota), Personal Assistant Videography (Sunday Moses), and Personal Assistant State Photographer (Taiwo Okanlawon). And there are still quite a few others apart from these, all of whom will be paid from the national purse.

It is evident that a lot of financial and human resources are being dedicated to the revival of the Nigerian institutional image. However, the dedication of resources to the sectors requiring revamping has been notably inadequate up to this point.  Meanwhile, the Tinubu cabinet also features media and journalism enthusiasts and professionals placed into positions that will entail their leading sectors for which they lack expertise.

These include Dele Alake who was appointed as the Minister of Solid Minerals Development. He is a journalist, who had earlier served as the Lagos State commissioner for Information and Strategy and then media adviser for the Tinubu campaign. He has no record of experience in the mining and minerals industry. Whilst other positions are held by figures who have drawn criticism for alleged corruption, fraud, and in a particular case for allegedly being a bag-man for a military dictator, many more of the ministers have publicly spoken out about “fake news” and poor portrayals.

The spread of appointees shows that there is no real urgency or priority placed on transforming the dying sectors in Nigeria. It betrays the plan to focus on image rather than substance. There is no consideration for the poor working people who daily live with the consequences of ineffective and poorly considered and enacted policies by unqualified decision makers at the highest level.

The government’s strategy is to please the West, even if it hurts Nigerians. The administration’s decision to threaten war with Nigerien armed forces shows that the government cares more about pleasing Western governments than the Nigerian people.

In defending the interest of France and other Western imperialists it has not adequately considered the geographical, domestic and political implications of warring with a neighbouring country, and the threat of instability that would befall northern states. However, the Nigerian Senate rejected a proposal for military intervention in Niger. And the winds in the sails of ECOWAS for military intervention appear to have waned.

The ruling class is more focused on unsustainable development that appears to attract foreign investors to Nigeria’s economy, but it actually benefits the corporations and politicians. Meanwhile, the masses are forced to live with a reality of rising costs, ill-advised economic policies, ineffective and deprived health and education institutions, and lower standards of living.

The people are increasingly acknowledging and condemning the ruling class’s actions. The fuel price hike following the heavy-handed announcement of subsidy removal by Tinubu, and the televised gaffe by Senate President Akpabio in which he revealed that N2 million was released to all 109 senators “to enable all of us to enjoy our holidays” have drawn widespread condemnation.

The masses are awakening to the unjust cruelty and greed of the ruling class and the extent to which they are willing to maintain their power and wealth including further impoverishing Nigerians. Action must follow this awakening. The people must take back their power and wealth.

by Iretimide OSUNYIKANMI

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