Even before former head of state and president Olusegun Obasanjo made it a public habit, it was former Minister of Information Tony Momoh, a former editor of Daily Times, who pioneered the art of public letter writing.
The idea of new minister of Information, Mohammed Idris wrote an Op-Ed newspaper article titled “Home and abroad, Tinubu’s Nigeria is taking its rightful place” on BusinessDay on 26 September 2023 and other Newspapers to extol the good things that are happening to Nigeria with Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s presidency is just as novel as letter writing.
Before analysing the article, it is important to note that Mr Idris has started on a sound footing. Indeed, he’s building on his appearance before the Senate for screening, at which he introduced and presented himself to the hallowed Chamber and the Nigerian citizens, home and abroad, with such a high level of professionalism. He clearly exhibited himself as a thorough public relations and media practitioner.
On his first day in his office, he made a declaration to Nigerians that the ministry will not need to tell lies to defend the government rather “we will always say it as it is.”
This statement recalls Mahatma Gandhi’s counsel to those managing information in challenging times: “Choose the right path and always speak the truth.” He further assured that the ministry and the government will be transparent and truthful while giving out information and would own up where it errs or makes any mistake and try to adjust where necessary.
He promised to roll out a plan on how to protect the country’s image and give visibility to its actions and activities and hinted at the need for greater attention to the National Orientation Agency (NOA) as a vehicle for heightened efforts for public awareness creation.
Experts have welcomed what is definitely a break from the past in which government officials thrived on claims of achievements that were unverifiable; where criticism of the government was confronted with derision and stereotyping instead of fact-based refutation. In fact, the right of media professionals to challenge false claims by the government was challenged.
Now, there appears to be the birth of the era of professionalism and truth in the dissemination and management of public information, which is in tandem with the ethical code of conduct of all PR practitioners, among whom Idris has been one for nearly three decades.
However, Mohammed Idris’s task is not easy – he faces myriad challenges of explaining and defending the policies and actions of his boss, President Tinubu, some of which have led to untold hardship, such as the removal of subsidy on premium motor spirit (PMS), popularly known as petrol; FG’s policy of floating the Naira as a result of which the value of the national currency has continued to deteriorate. There is also the state of insecurity that continues to defy any solutions. There was also the threat by workers to shut down all activities across the nation from October 3 (but eventually shelved).
Idris’ approach, grounded in proactive PR and media practices, that exude honesty and ethical practices, is bound to soften the ground for Mr. President to push through with his painful, but inevitable, policies
Meanwhile, resentment from the elections that brought the present regime continues unabated, with the decisions of petition tribunals and courts generating additional tensions. There is a lot that effective information management can do to douse tension.
Idris’ approach, grounded in proactive PR and media practices, that exude honesty and ethical practices, is bound to soften the ground for Mr. President to push through with his painful, but inevitable, policies. The people must be given enough information to enable them to appreciate the fact that, beyond the pains in the dark tunnel, there is light. He goes philosophical, quoting the President as saying in New York: “I am mindful of the transient hardship that reform can cause. However, it is necessary to go through this phase in order to establish a foundation for durable growth and investment to build the economy our people deserve.”
Meanwhile, Idris has taken the pains to highlight the activities – and their significance — of his principal in the present month:
• In India for the G20 Summit on the special invitation of Prime Minister Modi
• A stopover in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on his way back home for a crucial meeting with that country’s leadership on lingering issues of concern between UAE and Nigeria
• To New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at which he delivered a “powerful and iconic” speech reminiscent of “Africa Has Come of Age”, a speech by Murtala Muhammed, almost five decades ago, that asserted Nigeria’s preference for relationship of equality and not that defined by condescension, pity and greed.
In the article he would later publish, the minister rationalizes the need to end “a costly and wasteful fuel subsidy regime that has, over the decades, deprived the country of tens of billions of dollars in potential infrastructure and human capital investments.” He commended the overhaul of the Central Bank of Nigeria, to “abolish an inefficient system of multiple exchange rates, which, like the petrol subsidy, has seen a lot of abuse, and stifled domestic and international confidence in the economy”.
He notes Tinubu’s assemblage of “a cabinet with an impressive representation of young people and women, while also creating new Ministries and ministerial portfolios to reflect the pressing realities of the 21st century, as well as the priorities of our administration.” He lists the newly created Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy to enable realisation of “the unlimited potential of that sector to produce national prosperity” and that of Creative Economy; as well as the expansion of the Ministry of Agriculture to include Food Security, “underpinning the President’s declaration of a national emergency on Food Security early on in his administration.”
He notes the leadership that President Tinubu has provided to ECOWAS, in response to the wave of military takeovers that have rocked the sub-region. “I expect his diplomatic efforts to yield enduring fruit in the months ahead,” he says.
He says President Tinubu’s understanding of the importance of engaging with the world to achieve this informed his month-long diplomatic shuttles, in which he has met with Presidents and Head of State from the United States, India, Germany, South Korea, South Africa, Angola, Jordan, among others. He lists the global business executives the President has met to include those of Exxon Mobil, Bharti Enterprises, Oracle, Hinduja Group, Indorama, Skipper Seil, and others, from whom he received pledges amounting to several billions of dollars in new investments.
“We will continue to finetune and amplify our narrative in this regard—a message that the President reiterated at every opportunity in New Delhi and New York—that Nigeria is open and ready for business, with partners who are equally open and ready for business with us, and who are not looking to exploit us or treat us like junior partners. And we will follow up the talk with action.”
He says the Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation will be very critical to the success of our national messaging, and we will give it everything required for our narratives to succeed. His plan is to redesign how the Federal Government of Nigeria engages with the Nigerian people at home and abroad, and with the world.
Can Bola Ahmed Tinubu succeed where others have failed? Mohammed Idris is genuinely emphatic: “I have absolute confidence that success in this regard will be a defining legacy of this momentous era of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”