The Story Of An Accidental Spokesperson By Samuel Aruwan
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The Story Of An Accidental Spokesperson By Samuel Aruwan

Dumebi Ifeanyi



unnamed 1 - The Story Of An Accidental Spokesperson By Samuel Aruwan

I am grateful to the Kaduna State chapter of the NIPR for the invitation to speak at this occasion. I really don’t know what to say or share with you in view of your status as seasoned PR professionals, I am wondering how my story will shape our discourse, but I am optimistic, you will find my story valuable and appreciate our struggle for a better Kaduna State.

For a life time I will be grateful to my boss, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, the Governor of our beloved state of Kaduna, who trusts me with this sensitive and onerous responsibility as a young man. It is a privilege I don’t take lightly. It offers one the platform to learn and broaden my horizon added with my background as a professional journalist, who has worked as a Reporter and became Bureau Chief of two national dailies (LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group and Blueprint Newspapers Limited) before I was released on leave of absence in 2014 to serve as spokesperson.

Secondly, since 2015, a thought has been ringing in mind and it’s about, what prompted my boss to appoint me spokesperson in view of the huge challenges at that time. Whatever it is, it is clear I was chosen out of trust and a desire to mentor young minds as public servants. Since I am yet to get the answer, I have considered myself an ‘Accidental Spokesperson’ and do not accuse me of plagiarism and the title of my submission here is ‘The Story of An Accidental Spokesperson’.

I will start this way. I was born, raised, schooled and I’ve worked in Kaduna as a journalist. I could boast of knowing our state and it’s history until I resumed work at Sir Kashim Ibrahim (Government House) and I suddenly realized that I knew nothing in view of the complexities and dynamism of our state and beyond.

To effectively understand the terrain and to live up to expectation, I have tried to serve and learn, and it is rewarding. The job is dotted with challenges. Its primary function is communicating with and engaging the public on government policy. The job is being done in a climate where certain persons have become accustomed to blackmail, demonization and abuse of media power for divisive reasons.

After a successful outing as spokesperson of the Nasir El-Rufai Campaign Organization, I received my baptism of fire as a public servant on my first day as official spokesperson of the Governor and Government of Kaduna State.

On the 29th May 2015 at the inauguration and swearing-in ceremony held at Murtala Muhammad Square, I got messages from journalists asking for our reaction to the killing of five persons in far away Sanga Local Government area. About one hour into the ceremony there was an unruly behavior of a certain group of youths towards some guests, which I condemned instantly in a terse statement. After the swearing-in ceremony, on our way to the Government House, I got calls and messages from another set of journalists asking for our reaction on the killing of about four persons in Birnin Gwari. As you can see, one was greeted with these challenges on the first day of the job.

Communicating Public Policy

The communication strategy of this government has centered its messaging on Equality of Opportunity, the Sacrifices required by change, and the necessity to privilege ordinary people as governance priority. It takes off from the commitments outlined in the Restoration Programme, which promised to focus on human capital development through Education and Health, reform governance, promote investments and jobs, and to reform land administration.

After 16 years of rule by one party, the election of an APC government in Kaduna State in 2015 meant that there will be a different style and orientation to governance.

This new style was signalled early on by bold actions to reduce ministries from 19 to 13 initially, and then 14. When it was time to appoint commissioners, the proposed portfolio for each nominee was clearly indicated in the correspondence sent to the Kaduna State House of Assembly. Where the previous government had 24 commissioners, we have only 14. Five of this fourteen commissioners are women. The two attorneys-general so far appointed have been women. The Commissioner of Works is a woman. Key agencies like KADIPA , Primary Health Care, Drug Supplies are headed by women.

In 2015, the Kaduna State Government became the first to government in Nigeria to implement the Treasury Single Account (TSA), completing the process within six weeks of notifying the commercial banks. TSA closed 470 government accounts in commercial banks, remitting balances of almost N25bn to the TSA account in the Central Bank.

Every year, we pass and sign the budget for the next year in the preceding year, placing emphasis on a 60:40 capital to recurrent ratio. Capital expenditure by this government is unprecedented in the history of the state. We rejected the incremental budgeting that previous governments used, adopt a zero-based budgeting platform that tries to justify every line item and aligns the budget size closer to reality.

The collapse of the oil prices in the global market severely impacted government revenues from 2015. This has forced many states to focus on improving Internally Generated Revenue. In Kaduna State, we laid a basis to grow IGR by reforming the law governing the sector. The Tax Codification and Consolidation Law lists in one document all taxes and levies payable in the state, and it appoints the Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service (KADIRS) as the sole collector of all revenues. The law prohibits collection of cash and eliminates the problem of harassment and multiple taxation. These steps have doubled IGR in the state. We are still far from the target of N60bn every year. But we have moved close to the N30bn territory.

Our public service reform aims to inject youth into the public sector, modernise it and make it a more efficient and responsive deliverer of service. It is an ongoing process, but key to it has been a public service reform and revitalisation strategy. Away from the limelight, this government has reviewed the entire the pay schemes in the state to harmonise and streamline them.

Kaduna State’s deliberate efforts to attract investments has been accompanied by steps to make taxation more transparent, less onerous and to make it easier to do business. The World Bank Subnational Doing Business Report 2018 has just ranked Kaduna State as the most improved place in the Ease of Doing Business. The Olam poultry investment in Chikun local government is one of the fruits of this investment promotion work.

As I said earlier, this government has focused on equality of opportunity. We have anchored our governance agenda on putting people first, by making lives better and by reordering the priorities of government to privilege human capital development.

Crucial to this human capital development programme is our concentration on Education and Health. We are giving the children of ordinary people access to decent education, providing them a platform for social mobility. On behalf of the future of our children, we have taken great risks and made defining decisions. We have spent money to fix schools, providing furniture, better classrooms, water and sanitation. We are rebuilding schools where necessary. It has been a costly exercise, driven with vigour since we declared a state of emergency in the Education sector in 2015. We have replaced the 21,780 failed primary school teachers with 25,000 new ones. We have commenced the recruitment of 7,600 secondary school teachers. The children of the poor deserve quality education.

We have invested in teacher training, and we have successfully replaced those teachers that could not meet the standards for teaching our children.Basic Education is free in Kaduna State public schools. For girls, it is free all through senior secondary. By abolishing hidden fees and levies, we save parents in Kaduna State N3bn every year. We have provided uniforms and raised the quality of meals in boarding secondary schools. In selected secondary schools, we are running a pilot programme that involves giving students computer tablets instead of printed textbooks. We will compare the performance of the 15,000 students, mostly girls, using the tablets with those taught with more traditional methods going forward.

In Health, we have taken decisive action to improve health outcomes for our people. We are reducing infant and maternal mortality, increasing life chances for mothers and their babies. This progress has been anchored on our project to renovate and equip 255 PHCs, to make them better able to offer antenatal care, and offer safer deliveries. Health care for under-5 infants and pregnant women is free in our hospitals. Since 2017, we have been providing cash cover for treatment of senior citizens for diabetes and hypertension in our public hospitals.

For our youths, programmes like KADSTEP, KADAT and KADEEEA offer alternative routes to skill acquisition and financial support for the enterprising.

Some challenges

I will cite a few challenges, we faced during our information management vis-à-vis the deliberate misrepresentation, that our administration has waged a clamp down on the media as follows.

Public policy in the past has encouraged and rewarded identity politics. This has led to the perpetuation of ethnic and religious divisions, as people have come to believe that they can use Faith and Tribe for bargaining. Since the democratic restoration in 1999, we have had Sharia riots, Miss World Riots, 2011 post-election violence, violent attacks in southern Kaduna in 2012, 2013 and 2014, resuming in 2016. Although the curfew in Kaduna metropolis has been lifted, the state is still recovering from the aftermath of the recent crisis.

But the Constitution of this country recognizes and upholds individual rights, including the right to live and work anywhere, practice the faith of your choice and to be secure. The legacy of violence in Kaduna State is something that we must overcome. This is not the only diverse place in Nigeria. We must learn to respect the right of everyone to live in peace, and to unite against criminals who menace all of us. We are all humans and citizens, and must all agree that violence does not pay.

1. In May 2016, a journalist in Kaduna falsely reported, that a religious crisis had broken out with Christian youths attacking Hausa-Fulani traders around Television Garage, Kaduna. The same journalist reported in April 2016 that Kaduna State Government has commenced Islamisation by not declaring public holiday. The mother of all crisis, the same reporter attempted to cause in the state was his report that the Governor and his Deputy physically fought, and the Governor fainted and was rushed to the hospital. He was invited by the security agencies to substantiate his claims, and when he couldn’t, he confessed to his guilt and was charged to court. It was also found out that he used pseudo names related to some ethnic groups in the state to give credence to his abuse of the media power.

2. On the 24th January 2017. The Vanguard Reporter in Kaduna falsely reported, that Fulani herdsmen killed five students of Kaduna State College of Education, Gidan Waya, in Jema’a Local Government Area of Kaduna State. The headline of the report was ‘5 College of Education students killed in Southern Kaduna’. Let’s go through the report:

“Five students of the College of Education, Gidan Waya, Jema’a Local Government Area, Kaduna State, were, Sunday evening, reportedly shot dead close to Gidan Waya, when a commercial car taking them to school from Kafanchan was waylaid by herdsmen, sources told Vanguard yesterday.

“Vanguard gathered that the herdsmen ambushed the taxi carrying six passengers near Gidan Waya, in the troubled southern part of Kaduna State and shot five of the commuters, but spared the life of the driver, Sunday evening. However, Kaduna State Police spokesman, ASP Usman Aliyu, said he was not aware of such development. He said: “In fact, you know what, nothing like that happened.” Also, the Senator representing Southern Kaduna, Senator Danjuma Laah, told Vanguard that he has also been informed that six students of the school were killed in an ambush, but that the Kafanchan Police Area Commander has denied the incident. “I am still in Abuja and I am doing everything to find out what really happened, and I will get back to you,” he said.

“A relation of one of the victims, Michael Joseph, said his brother, James Joseph, 26, a final year student of Mass Communication in the College of Education, Gidan Waya, had spent the weekend in his native home of Kurmin Musa, Jaba council, Kaduna State, and was returning to school. He said the driver of the vehicle suddenly stopped at a sharp bend on the Kagoro-Passakori- Gidan Waya Road around 5p.m., Sunday, claiming the car had developed a problem. He said: “Suddenly, a group of armed herdsmen emerged from the bush, brought out the five passengers and summarily shot them at point blank range. They did not touch the driver. The killers disappeared back into the bush. “My family was informed that a farmer, who was on a hill not far away, saw everything. We have taken the corpses to the Zangon KatafGeneral Hospital.”

“When contacted, one of the management staff of the institution said it was true that such violence took place, but that only four of the victims were students of the school. He said: “I cannot talk to you officially. But I can attest that it was four of the victims that were students of COE, Gidan Waya.” Natives of the place claimed that since residents of the villages on that axis have all fled, after their homes were burnt, the road had become very insecure. COE, Gidan Waya had been shut down last November when many of its surrounding communities came under siege from herdsmen. But, some students still stayed back, especially final year students.”

Before I interrogate the report, I like to point out that many lives were lost due to this false reportage (Samaru Kataf and Kan Kurmi in particular), and it out rightly complicated the fragile security situation in the state.

The following are the flaws of the deliberately fabricated report, I outlined and will subsequently discuss.

a. The College of Education was not in session
b. Mass Communication is not an academic course in a College of Education
c. The Reporter created fake identity of town (Kurmin Musa) and name of the students allegedly killed (James Joseph)
d. Kurmin Musa is in Kachia LGA and not Jaba LGA
e. The military (Air Force, Navi and Army) DSS, Police and Civil Defence refuted the false report
f. The School authorities did same
g. The National Association of Kaduna State Students also refuted the spurious report

These are two out of many cases, there is also another one of a teacher using hate and inflammatory messages and also a journalist who was in a group discussion and endorsed a mass protest, that could lead to breakdown of law and order in the state. The recent kidnapping and killing of one of our finest traditional ruler is a sad case in view of the outright manipulation of the Four Force. These are issues one will have loved to exhaust along with matters related to Kaduna Preaching Law, the Nigerian Army clash wit the Shiites, the ongoing reforms of the civil service, traditional institutions and other related policies and actions.

These are the huge issues, one has been tackling within the last three and the half years as a spokesperson amidst demonization, blackmail, intimidation, deliberate distortion, misrepresentation and a-times denigrated and abused as wicked spokesperson.

There are twin key points, I will love to highlight as the ultimate foundation of any successful spokesperson. The twins are TRUST and LOYALTY. Today, I seem to be putting out more fires and possibly not practicing with the principles of Public Relations as taught. Thankfully, many of you know my principal as a very bold, fearless and courageous Nigerian.

How we are surmounting the challenges

I can frankly say we have been victors of all the above subjections and it has been courage in conviction not certifications that has taught us to be adept at organizing and dispersing information that is devoid of sentiments, bias and prejudices. I have however, learnt to borrow a leaf from my principal on the need to filter the signal from the noise and in so doing, be focused on doing the task at hand, setting my eyes on the ball.

That being said, there have been cases where it was necessary to abide by the very ethics of information management which my office is held by. In such cases, the Kaduna State government has utilized its prosecutorial rights to sue defaulters who have sworn to defame the government.

As a matter of serving the public interest and to quell fake news, the Kaduna State government has led the adoption of other opportunities beyond traditional sources to disseminate authoritative information directly from the governor and from the Kaduna State government. The personal twitter page and official page for the governor now boast of a cumulative follower base of over 1.4Million from where all state jobs and tenders are advertised.

This is a step in the right direction as a few weeks ago, the Kaduna State government won the NITDA award for the Best State Government in adoption of Information Technology. This accolade has given credence to the work put in by our Media and Communications Department in ensuring the state’s website is engaging with its audience at all times.

To that end, I believe that all true spokespersons must possess common attitudes necessary for the craft. Lucky enough, these traits can be learned and in the case of experienced practitioners gathered here, it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

• Obedience to the ethics of journalism as regards attribution and verification of information dispersed and enactment of sanctions for defaulters
• Ability to gather facts and apply them effectively
• Quick wit, wisdom and critical thinking skills as regards swift response in issuing rejoinders, quelling rumors, etc
• No compromise on the delivery of facts regardless of sentiments
• Relating with professional courtesy to colleagues
• A Can-do attitude and good self-image that is unperturbed in the face of backlash from divergent quarters
• Focus on the task ahead. This helps you exercise great influence over information that goes out, how it can be perceived and how people use it
• Tested integrity that serves as an arsenal to shoot down information misrepresentation, misinterpretation and ignorance
• Humility to accept what you do not have a categorical answer for or to rescind an earlier statement
• Initiative and proactivity, thereby reducing the constantly need to put out fires for issues that could have been nipped in the bud before they escalate into a crisis
• Must be self-motivated, resilient and must have ability to design and execute media initiatives that explain, project and promote policies

This is by no means an exhaustive list but in today’s practice of PR, if the qualities mentioned above are assessed, then there will be a ripple effect resulting in true and-effective information management.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not unmindful of the discipline and selfless service you make every day towards ensuring that information disseminated to your audience is objective, balanced and devoid of bias. And so, I will want to commend your efforts and urge you to work even harder towards making public relations a profession of pride and the envy of all Arts and Social Sciences.

Thank you for the opportunity and God bless.

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Updated on February 8, 2019 at 11:56 am