The image is the message | Dailytrust

The image is the message

The Buhari administration has uncovered a new set of enemies called disgruntled politicians. If you are old enough, you would easily recall that these were the same enemies identified by every military administration in the country. It was easy to picture the disgruntled politicians – men driven out of power and fenced out of power and condemned to watch their khaki clad counterparts strut the stage, savouring power and the protocol of power, enriching themselves and their families and friends. It would not be unreasonable to expect the politicians to give into the temptation of grumbling either in the privacy of their homes or where two or three of them were gathered. No grumbling could be louder than that of a former man of power fenced out of power.

They looked harmless but the generals believed that they were not that harmless because grumbling leads to disgruntlement that in turn leads to the possible eruption of anger against the government. But in all those years, I knew of no one hauled before a court charged with the offence of being a disgruntled politician. Perhaps, disgruntlement was not an offence, just an offensive indulgence by those outside the power loop. Perhaps, this was because all disgruntled politicians, sometimes also called disgruntled elements, were faceless. You did not see them but you verily knew that they were there grumbling and spreading disgruntlement.

The idea that people can be faceless appears to me to be a huge biological error in human development. God gives everyone a face, therefore, no one could be faceless except he is  biological oddity. But given the nature of human jealousy, it is possible for a disgruntled politician to make himself faceless. I would imagine such people beating the path to the shrines of amadioha and other powerful gods in the pantheon of African gods to make them faceless and undetectable by the sleuths permanently in search of enemies of government. It is an interesting phenomenon.

I was surprised to see that the disgruntled politicians are still at their dirty game of creating fear in government just by reason of their being disgruntled. I thought politicians are not usually disgruntled against their fellow politicians since no politician is left out of the power loop for long. When they feel the cold of apparent abandonment, they decamp in an inventive system guaranteed to maintain the stomach infrastructure. I was wrong.

On December 23, as I was counting pennies to see if they could make a small heap for the price of a Christmas turkey, I read the notice served on the nation by Femi Adesina, senior special adviser on media to President Buhari, warning us that some disgruntled politicians were planning “to unleash a campaign of calumny against President Buhari and his office.” He said “the game plan is to launch orchestrated campaign in the days ahead, in which President Muhammadu Buhari would be portrayed as not being in charge of the country, narrative already started from a procured offshore medium by the instigators.”

Disgruntlement has thus taken on a new character, I tell you. Adesina said those involved mean business because “money and other attractive inducements are being dangled before the online media…” Money talks, bullshit walks.

It is interesting that the mainstream media are not part of this conspiracy in the alleged campaign of calumny against the president. Attention is on the online media, obviously the more active segment of the media today. I am unwilling to bet that the disgruntled politicians and their online media men and women would not be found. Part of the reason why disgruntled politicians or elements are never found is not just because they carry the biological oddity of being faceless but more importantly because the phrase is a label. A label is quite often employed by those in power to separate the sheep of obedient supporters from the goats with a bad habit of not keeping quiet. Mee-meee-mee. Got it? Labels serve a very useful purpose because when you hang on them an individual or a group of men – not usually women – you set them up to be treated as enemies; you would then be justified to treat them for what they are – enemies.

I have a sneaking feeling that the presidency wants to set up the online media regarded by Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, as a pain in the side of the government. If the online media have become tools in the hands of those who want to wage a campaign of calumny against Buhari and his government, then it is time to bring the sledge hammer down on them by perhaps a quick passage of the bill on their regulation before the national assembly. Is media freedom about to be egregiously assaulted? Perish the thought.

It is in the nature of human societies that every government, no matter how popular, must necessarily constantly look over its shoulders because no king or president can be absolutely sure that the dagger is absent under all and every babban riga. Enemies everywhere, right? The resort to labels is an easy and attractive option usually employed by a government when it fears that its public image is under-going a dramatic change in colour.

What is really at stake is the image. The image is the message. What a government makes of its image is what the people know about it. Image matters because it defines the character of rulers and their governments. Every government is its own image-maker – positive or negative. Disgruntled elements or politicians do no more than exploit whatever the government and its handlers make of its image. Every government tries to cultivate and sustain a good public image. But as often happens, circumstances either put a shine or mud on its image. Both are up for exploitation. Those in the power loop and their cheer leaders seize on the positive image and pile it on to burnish the government image in superlative terms. On the other hand, those who are critical of government also seize the negative image projected by government and pile on the mud.

When the latter happens, the government goes in search of its faceless enemies or manufactures a label to hang on someone turned into a scapegoat. The positive and the negative go together. It is the ordained nature of human beings and their societies. Image management is a two-edged sword capable of being both positive and negative because of the law of unintended consequences.

Two examples. Much earlier this year, the president’s handlers put out a photograph of the big man relaxing after a meal, picking his teeth. It was meant to impress on the people the favourable image of their leader as a simple man – he eats and he picks his teeth like everyone else. But that image never scored the point because it portrayed him as contentedly relaxing and enjoying himself while his hungry fellow country men and women live in fear of kidnappers, armed robbers and insurgents making life brutish and short for them.

A day or so after Boko Haram captured and took away 344 students from Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, in the president’s home state of Katsina, the president’s handlers put out a video and a still photograph showing him visiting his cattle. To see the big man as a cattle farmer is good but the image the photograph sought to create went awry because it was wrongly timed. It did not do Buhari’s image much good. There is no way anyone would be unfair enough to blame these two instances on disgruntled politicians attempting to smear the image of the president.

On a larger scale, the image of this administration has taken a battering – thanks to the government itself. No one needs a campaign of calumny to learn anew or know the depth of our national problems under the president’s watch. Sure, he has done titanic things but there is no denying, to quote Professor Usman Yusuf, former executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, that “…Nigeria is facing the worst insecurity of its lifetime even since the civil war; … the ship of state is drifting (and) our people are facing the most excruciating poverty and hunger…”

Nor do you need a campaign of calumny to know that the Nigerian state is unable to defeat Boko Haram and is in a defensive position against bandits, kidnappers and sundry violent criminals. Nor do we need a campaign of calumny by disgruntled politicians to know that despite several resolutions of the national assembly and outcry from people whose patriotism is above question, the president has refused to rejig our national security architecture and change the service chiefs. Think of the image; think of the message it conveys and see if disgruntled politicians need to bother themselves with a campaign of calumny against the president and his government.