Contributing Editor, Tunde Abatan, writes on the mixed fortunes of journalists who have served as media aides in government at federal and state levels and what those aspiring to take similar jobs should expect.
If a former editor of a national newspaper who prefers not to be named is asked for advice by any senior journalist offered a media aide’s job to a governor or any other political appointee, he would counsel against taking the offer.
Although he once served as media adviser to a governor, he wished he didn’t.
With the benefit of hindsight now, he thinks it would be better for professionals, except they have no choice, to stay back and develop their skills instead of seeking government appointments.
According to him, his acceptance to serve as special adviser distracted him from his chosen track of being a top digital media professional when only a few journalists understood the terrain.
“If I had declined, I would have developed the digital media skills that would have given me a push and some advantage as an early starter in the digital media,” he said.
The former editor noted that governors are lords in their states with appointees having to hang around them and be at their beck and call.
He said he was, however, able to set up a schedule of work which freed him from the need “ to hang around the governor at every turn which can mess up not just your private itinerary, but also your family life.”
“ I went there to engage our colleagues on the demands of the 21st century and how to support them. I’m glad I was able to achieve that.
“ The job also provided the opportunity to know every part of the state and appreciate their peculiar development and socio-cultural agenda. This was a big asset having schooled, worked and lived outside the state for several years.”
The former editor’s experience is typical of the mix fortunes of gains and pains for journalists who become media aides at state and federal levels.
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Over the years, the journalists have always been appointed by the military, elected officeholders and political appointees to serve mainly as spokesmen in various capacities. From the usual post of Commissioners and Chief Press Secretaries, many now serve as Special Advisers and Assistants on Media and Publicity.
The President of the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), Mrs Funke Egbemode was recently nominated as a Commissioner in Osun State, while former Editor of The Nation, Gbenga Omotoso is now Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy.
A cross-section of those who spoke with the Media Career Development Network (MCDN) shared different perspectives on their experiences during their tenure in government quarters. Their experiences depended on various factors, including how they were appointed, their previous relationship with their bosses and the support and understanding of the civil servants they worked with.
Yemisi Fadairo, a former editor of Post Express and one time political editor of Daily Times said his experience was mixed in the sense that while he had the opportunity of knowing the workings of government and even trained some of the civil servants when he served as Special Media Assistant Information and Publicity to former Governors Saminu Turaki of Jigawa and Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun, the fact that he never knew his principals before accepting the job was a major challenge for him.
In Ogun state, he served for seven years. While he did not get his severance benefit in Jigawa, he did for only the first term in Ogun.
Although he is happy he had the opportunity to have at least contributed his own quota in the administrations he served, he said another major challenge with both appointments was his principal’s decision that he had to work with those he described as ‘Lagos Editors.’
The implication according to him, is that “ you may have among those Lagos Editors who are the unofficial spokespersons of the governors working from behind who may be your juniors in the profession.”
He said the smooth working relationship he had with the media was due to his rapport with his colleagues in various media houses, but noted that non-payment of severance package after four years of service leaves aides with nothing.
Corroborating Fadairo’s experience, a former special assistant to a deputy governor in the south-west said he also had a bad experience regarding non-payment of severance allowance despite the token monthly salary which was first paid after serving for four months having left his top editorial position in a national newspaper.
He also had the unpleasant experience of being called to witness unscheduled interviews by journalists who are friends of his principal.
While Fadairo was able to manage civil servants and politicians, Farouk Adejoh -Audu, a former staff of Punch Newspaper served in Kogi state where according to him, establishment people “always want to teach you your job in most instances and be reactive to situations.”
He noted that though anybody who has anything to do with the public needs a media and image manager, “many of them have poor knowledge of what media management is all about and as such, they want you to be an appendage as a spokesperson.”
“Everybody especially those who surround the organisation or personalities always think they know the job and how to do it. Words like, ‘have you replied them’ is common. But when you tell them you are not supposed to be reactive all the time, they flare up, ” Adejoh-Audu recalled.
According to him, the problem with media management and perception has to do with employment and engagement of people who do not have anything to do with media to the position. He cited the case of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who appointed, Dr Doyin Okupe, a medical doctor as media aide.
Such instance he said also repeats itself in a political party which appointed a publicity secretary who has no idea of information management and perception.
“Media managers are hired to clean and do damage control of misdeeds of such misfits, but unfortunately, professionals are held in contempt by people outside the system, “ he said adding that those who know the terrain are better than the outsiders.
A former journalist with a Lagos-based national daily recalled the humiliating experience he had while working as media adviser to a former Chairman of a political party.
“ When there is any negative report about my boss, he and the wife always accuse me of not doing my job. The wife will always say are you supposed to be a former editor in your paper why is your paper publishing negative reports about us. I was not paid for months and I was only lucky to later get employed in another newspaper,” he recalled.
Another former editor was forced to resign his appointment when he was literally told to shut up when complained of not been allowed to do the job he was hired for.
Yusuff Olaniyonu, former Sunday Editor of THISDAY who was former Information Commissioner in Ogun state under former Governor Amosun and Special Adviser on Media to former Senate President Bukola Saraki feels that in many cases “government job impoverishes you and expose you to needless ridicule.” Nevertheless, he believes like Fadairo that the appointment offers journalists an opportunity to serve and see public service from an insider perspective.
MCDN learnt that contrary to the belief that journalists who take government appointments make a lot of money, some end up being poorer than when they held their former top editorial positions. They are regularly asked for money by colleagues, friends and family members who assume they earn a lot.
“ There are things I could afford while I was an editor which I couldn’t pay for when I was in government. The official salary is not really much. Where you can make money are the allowances you are entitled to but that will also depend on opportunities your boss gives you,” a former appointee disclosed.
Some bosses, especially those who crave for lots of publicity, are said to be very generous and allocates generous fund for media aides to utilize.
There are allegations of some media aides who get rich based on what they take from money allocated for media relations and publicity. Some also benefit from the influence they wield in government and patronage from other government officials.
Responding to criticisms of experienced journalists accepting to be political appointees instead remaining the watchdog of the society, Bolaji Tunji, former Editor The Nation on Saturday and National Mirror who was a former media aide to former Oyo state Governor, Abiola Ajimobi contended that it is an opportunity to serve.
“ The thinking that when someone believed to be a critic of the government in power takes up appointment is a betrayal is not always so,” he said noting that ” it is an opportunity to serve in order to put right all those things he/she opposed before accepting the offer.”
“One should not be a perpetual critic. I recall the late Tai Solarin also took up the offer of service in the Babangida regime as chairman of the Peoples Bank and prior to that he as an ardent critic of the government was always in the forefront of protests.”
According to him, the acceptance to serve is sometimes based on various pressure and promises from different quarters.
In the face of it all, the depression in most media houses may to some extent be the motivating factor for senior professionals to accept to have a break from unpaid remunerations even when they are not paid severance allowances, unlike the elected public officeholders.