“As long as I remain in this government, I will reply him fire for fire” -Femi Fani-Kayode
Fire for fire has no place in public relations practice just as fire brigade approach to public issues. This piece is not intended in whatever way to join the debate in the media war between Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, a retired military officer and Lawyer Femi Kayode, Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Public Affairs. It is a PR analysis of the contribution of an officer responsible for public affairs as epitomized in public relations practice.
Though in the Code of Ethics of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), it is recognized that each person has the right to reach his own judgement and in doing that he should respect the right of parties in a dispute to explain their respective points of view. Col. Umar received tremendous spotlights in the media by virtue of his past activities as a military governor and activist while Fani Kayode came to limelight by his past critical views and for being a son of prominent politician in the First Republic. Let me admit from the outset that President Olusegun Obasanjo is a man who appreciates constructive criticism laced with fact and data and cannot be easily cowed by harassment and intimidation.
Therefore the immediate response of his aide on public affairs, which generated a lot of furore, need to be critically examined from the professional angle. Public affairs as a unique aspect of public relations, is employed to establish goodwill and maintain mutual and beneficial relationship between an individual or an entity with its entire publics. The publics are therefore in the best position to assess and judge the impact of a message from the messenger whether it receives goodwill or ill feeling.
Since Col. Umar is a retired military man who may not be trained or assigned the responsibility for image laundering, I am constrained to comment on his Open Letter. But since Barrister Fani-Kayode is presently an image-maker of the government, this review is to examine his rejoinder whether it meets ethical and professional standard. It would not delve on the private and personal life of the SA, especially on the alleged escapades with a lady who threatened the life of Thisday Editor, Mr. Segun Adeniyi. In the lengthy article by the Special Assistant to President on Public Affairs, one may observe the use and misuse of high-sounding derogatory remarks such as ‘pathological liar, treachery, ingratitude, destructive fake, suffer form of delusions of grandeur and misguided sense of self-importance. These are not appropriate words to clear policy issues as they are against the Code of Ethics of International Public Relations Association (IPRA), which says a PR person ‘shall not employ method tending to be derogatory of others.’ It is only in propaganda, an instrument of defending the indefensible that one can exercise the right to distract and intimidate others to total submission.
The rejoinder also tends to join others with the petitioner in total condemnation, though without mentioning names. Mr. Fani Kayode referred to a former military leader, whom many thought is in the good book of the President in unfavorable terms. He mentioned that Col Umar “continues to manifest an inexplicably high degree of love and intimacy for the man that annulled June 12 and brought democracy to a halt, adding that it is the kind of affection that only a dutiful wife should have for her husband. He goes on to point out that, that is the obvious moral degeneration that Umar has now been afflicted with.” Those phrases to rational public may indicate that the retired military officer is either not married or involved in stunning and satanic intimacy with a man. Though such impression is disgusting, morally and spiritually objectionable.
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) warns an officer from using any manipulative methods or techniques designed to create subconscious motivations which the individual cannot control of his own free will. The media attack could not spare the suspected mentor and the petitioner over public misconduct, where the Public Affairs manager queried a donation of $5million USD by the said military leader to Col Umar to start his ostrich farm as whether the amount is not from those looted from Nigerian treasuries. He pointed out that Col. Umar could be counted as one of the principal beneficiaries of the rampant corruption that took place between 1985 and 1993.
Professionally, it is unfair and unjust to join a person and group in official rebuttal when they are not involved in the petition. Other disclosures, which are irrelevant to national discourse, were dropped in espionage bombshells. In fact from the revelation in the article, Gen. Abacha received good mention when the writer states that ” despite his (Umar) nuisance, Abacha did not lock up Abubakar Umar or, at worst, have him eliminated.” One start to wonder whether Abacha is not glowingly portrayed as a responsible and compassionate leader who rather than react negatively to perceived enemies he remained focused to avoid distraction.
The publicist seems to foreclose some personalities that may not be relevant even in 2007 when he said that “he (Umar) and the small group that he holds brief for, will never smell power in Nigeria again” It is not difficult to suggest those categories of personalities from the proceeding outburst. But surprisingly towards the end of the write-up, the writer was more professional as he states the obvious, that “as regards the specific issues raised by Umar in his open letter, we shall, at appropriate time, answer them point by point with facts and figures and not with sentiment and emotion.” It is expected that the rejoinder should have addressed the specifics instead of being temperamental. Since public relations is about goodwill and friendly humour, the rejoinder has a plus where it narrated the past existing rapport between the President and Col Umar with the latter taking the former to even peppersoup party at Chief Audu Ogbe’s house in a cordial affinity. Such humours are useful if only to retain friendship and brotherhood. As there were recapitulations on inexplicable love to somebody so also is on the allegation of Umar looking for contracts and for appointment as chairman of a government agency.
The most unfathomable is the way the lawyer rained a big curse from the Book of Proverbs where he said “‘He who repays good with evil shall never leave his household’ And so it shall be for this ungrateful, bitter and vengeful soul who goes by the name of Abubakar Umar” The Special Assistant should have been advised to update himself and broaden his scope of knowledge on the rudiments of public affairs’ practice. It may not be too late to learn the code of conduct and professional ethics of public relations even though he declared that “I am not the least bit concerned by what Umar or anyone else says or writes about me as long as I am doing my job . . . it is certainly not for Umar or anyone else to tell me how to do it.” Even as a lawyer, there are sanctions for flouting strict rules of professional bodies and regulatory authority. A successful publicist is not judged by power of oratory, expensive regalia and appearance with bodyguards, but by his ability to analyze critically with inquiring mind and sound editorial judgement. Amiability, humility and openness to criticisms, are not weakness but attributes of a good listener with a mission. The impression that Umar may not appreciate the biblical concepts because he is a Muslim is like playing religious sentiments. You don’t need to be a follower of particular religion before you appreciate their faith. Other Muslims who overwhelmingly support the President may feel unease with that intuition from the spokesperson. As a believer, Mr. Kayode should not have restricted his argument with quotations from the Bible but with the Koran too since his rival, a Muslim substantiated his argument from the two holy books. Balance and objectivity are desirable in healthy debate. It is regrettable that the style and approach adopted by Mr. Kayode are unprofessional, diversionary and so cheap that may impact negatively on the image of other public affairs officers and the profession.
Professional values according to PRSA provide foundation for Members’ Code of the Ethics and set the industry standard for the professional practice. These values are fundamental beliefs that guide on behaviors and decision-making process.
The professional values are vital to the integrity of the individual and profession a whole. The Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media) Mrs. Remi Oyo and even the sacked Villa Publicity Aides Garba Shehu and Dr. Stanley Makebu, could not exhibit that level of immaturity in handling public discourse. Had it been Barrister Fani-Kayode is assigned the portfolio of Special Assistant on Legal Affairs by his academic qualification or Special Adviser on Perceived Political Enemies by his present skill, those of us in PR profession would not have bothered.
The British Institute of Public Relations (IPR), in its Code of Professional Conduct advises spokespersons to have positive duty at all times as to respect the truth and avoid disseminating misleading information knowingly or recklessly which may frequently occur inadvertently. But it is not late for the officer to learn from others or be tutored on Ethics of the profession from Nigerian Institute of Public Relations or similar professional bodies to polish himself and the image of our dear President. The profession that does not require qualification and experience is propaganda…real propaganda to hoodwink gullible publics.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in New Nigeria Feb18, Nigerian Tribune Feb19, Daily Trust Feb23, Thisday February 24, Daily Champion February 25, Sun Feb26, Daily Times Feb25-26, 2004