President Muhammadu Buhari, the same man that propagandists have labelled a fundamentalist and Boko Haram sponsor for many years has picked for himself yet another pastor as his media adviser. He is Femi Adesina, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the Sun newspapers, a consummate media man – cerebral yet jocular. His email is my nickname for him; firstname.lastname@example.org and with him, many expect to see presidential media relations with a difference.
While he was still in talks with Team Buhari, I had called and prayed with him and told him how much faith I and the Nigerian media had in him to succeed. He may not have the time to return all your missed calls and patronising texts, but he is most likely going to turn out one of the finest journalists that ever served in government, especially in terms of how he liaises with media organisations while serving his new boss.
Before joining the Weekend Concord (now defunct) where he wrote bestseller cover stories as easily as he eats kulikulii, Femi worked in the Advert Department of Vanguard newspapers and that was where we met, working for Nigeria’s current most senior publisher, Uncle Sam (Amuka-Pemu). I couldn’t have written a better tribute to Femi than his own valedictory speech which I reproduce below…
‘BUHARI HAS WON, AND WE HAVE LOST’ BY FEMI ADESINA
How do you begin a valedictory piece? How do you start to say goodbye to people you have shared almost everything with for more than 12 years? Is there really any good in goodbye? Ask the musical group, The Manhattans, and they’ll tell you: This has got to be the saddest day of my life I called you here today for a bit of bad news I won’t be able to see you anymore Because of my obligations, and the ties that you have We’ve been meeting here everyday And since this is our last day together I wanna hold you just one more time When you turn and walk away, don’t look back I wanna remember you just like this Let’s just kiss and say goodbye. But is there any good in goodbye? Yet, we are often compelled to say farewell, as we travel the journey of life. And we are at that juncture today. We’re at a point where I must bid regular readers of The Sun Newspapers, and of this column, goodbye. At least, for now. Yes, President Muhammadu Buhari has asked me to be his Special Adviser on Media/Publicity. The news came last Sunday night via a press statement. And as I listened to that piece of information on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) at 9.00pm, it took me back in time to 2007.
One of the regular readers of this column since 2003, Japhet Ogunniyi, had asked after the general elections of that year: “Can you serve in government, if you are invited?” I paused for a moment, reflected on the question, and replied: “No. I can’t serve in government. I don’t want to serve in government, except perhaps it is headed by Muhammadu Buhari.” Buhari had run for President in 2003, 2007, 2011, and didn’t ascend to the country’s number one position. But it did not change my conviction that he is very good for our country.
So I continued to support him. On the eve of the 2011 race, he said it was his last outing, but he still didn’t win. His political enemies had perfected the art of manipulating the people against him through all sorts of misinformation and disinformation. As the 2015 polls approached, I was among those who canvassed that Buhari could change his mind and run, if he wanted. I also reiterated the position I’d maintained in 2011, that to get the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) out of power, you needed a coalition of many political parties. Well, as they say, the rest is history. The All Progressives Congress (APC) was formed, Buhari became the presidential candidate, and today, he is President. Did I ever remember what I’d told Ogunniyi in 2007, as I offered support to Buhari again in 2015? Did I think I was going to serve in his government? Not for one minute. Am I not the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of a thriving national newspaper? Am I not President of the elite Nigerian Guild of Editors? Am I not richly blessed and clothed with grace and favour already? What then do I need in government? All I needed to do was enjoy my job, and look forward to retirement in a couple of years, God willing.
And then Buhari won! In a jiffy, all sorts of permutations began to come up. You will be the next presidential spokesman, people would tell me at every turn. I just kept the sayings in my mind, watching as things unfolded on the political scene. And then, on May 20,Thisday Newspaper reported that I had been pencilled down for the position of Special Adviser, Media and Publicity. My phone lines exploded, my email box was jammed, and when I went on Facebook to try and read what people were saying, I fled. The sheer volume of the messages I had sent me showing a clean pair of heels. But last Sunday night, there was nowhere to run to again. Come had come to become (apologies, K. O Mbadiwe). Now, it’s time to say goodbye. Next week, I will formally resume the position I’ve been offered. Have I now changed my opinion about serving in government? No. So, why am I going? Simple. Because it is a Muhammadu Buhari government. He can make a difference in Nigeria, and he needs all hands (good hands) on deck. Do I consider myself a good hand? Let me leave the answer to the Publisher of this newspaper, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu. When I first discussed the idea of going to serve in government with him, he first let out a big sigh. He kept quiet for some minutes, and then said: “Baba Femo (that’s how he calls me). You have my blessings to go and serve, because President Buhari will need good people round him. But the government will never know the sacrifice I’m making by letting you go. You run my business honestly, and have returned the highest profit so far in the history of the company. The investors, the staff, everyone is happy. But I will make the sacrifice, and release you to serve in government. I will give you a sabbatical.”
After the general elections, I’d done a piece on those I considered heroes of the APC victory, who are Igbo, and Kalu was among. Only time will adequately tell the role he played in the power change in the country. I keep some of the things he did close to my chest, but already in the public domain is the absolute freedom he gave us to run The Sun Newspapers. He had told me: “You are the professionals. I want a balanced newspaper. We are not for PDP, neither are we for APC. We belong to the people. The Sun has gone beyond me. It is now a public trust.” So, you see that even before President Buhari, there had been one man who belonged to everybody, and belonged to nobody. That is Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, the most liberal newspaper publisher I’ve ever met. What have I found in President Buhari that makes me want to go all the way with him? His simplicity. Love for country. Discipline. Affinity for the poor! Desire and dedication to see change. Now, change has begun, but the journey is still very far. What I saw in Buhari is what Pastor Tunde Bakare also saw, that made him run with him in 2011 as vice presidential candidate. That is what Pastor Yemi Osinbajo has seen, that made him run alongside the man in 2015. And that is what almost 13 million Nigerians saw, that made them elect Buhari as President.
Am I saying Buhari is a perfect man? By no means! Like every mortal, he would have his shortcomings. But does he have strengths that can bring enduring change to our country? Sure. And that is why I have agreed to serve him, at great personal cost. Government would not pay what I earn at The Sun. My family may not see me as frequently as they would love to. And I would be leaving my second family at The Sun Newspapers, a family I’d developed strong bond with in the past 12 years. Since the news of my impending exit broke, not a few staff members have come to my office to weep. Some rain had fallen from my eyes, too. Today, as we say final goodbyes during formal handover to Eric Osagie, the new Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, may the dams not burst. There is truly no good in goodbye. However, I’ll never forget words uttered by Vivian Onyebukwa of our Saturday title. As she entered my office, she exclaimed: “MD, Buhari has won, and we have lost!” Quite touching! To those who have kept faith with this column since 2003, I say thank you very much. I first began to write on Saturdays, in the inside pages, and that lasted till 2007.
When the back page of the Friday paper became vacant, our then Deputy Managing Director/Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Dimgba Igwe (God rest his soul) told me to move my column to Fridays. I was reluctant. In fact, he had to eventually issue an executive order before I complied. Now, from next Friday, you will read someone else on this page. Truly, the only thing constant in life is change. I leave you with this sobering message from fellow journalist and friend, Chuks Iloegbunam, which he sent me by email this week: “You have gone into a patriotic, challenging, exciting and, sometimes, thankless job. Your good nature, your sense of duty and your professional accomplishments should combine to ensure that you acquit yourself creditably in the assignment. May God, the Almighty Father, never allow anyone or any group to steal your heartily uproarious laughter. That is all that I have for you.” And I say a big amen to that prayer.
May uproarious laughter never be stolen from us! But the only thing that can steal laughter in this circumstance is failure. May the Buhari government never fail Nigerians! May true enduring change be brought to this land. May sorrow turn to joy. May despondency give way to gaiety, and may disillusionment be replaced by a new dawn of effervescent hope. And then the uproarious laughter will always be there. Adios amigos. Goodbye, my friends.
Not goodbye, my friend; it’s just au revoir, as the French say it. You and your principal, Buhari – indeed all of us called NIGERIA will succeed in Jesus name. Amen.