Presidential Assistant on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, has been severely criticised for describing the Goodluck Jonathan Administration as the “first Internet-age Presidency” Nigeria ever had.
In an interview posted on his personal website, Abati stated that the proliferation of online platforms and the various social networking sites had made his job as the President’s spokesman tasking.
He said that though social media forms may be seen as symbols of the freedom of expression, many “sadists, psychopaths, mischief-makers, Luciferian characters and their cheerleaders,” were “exploiting” them to cause public disaffection.
He accused some Nigerians of using the freedom online platforms offer to utter “nonsense”, adding that such people hide their identity, tell lies and say things they would not ordinarily say in the open.
He said, “There is no doubt that the Jonathan Presidency is effectively the first Internet-age presidency that Nigerians have had. The Internet didn’t start in his time, you know. Under former President Olusegun Obasanjo the Internet was there and the social media in Nigeria was just emerging as a tool of socio-political engagement.
“Under late President Yar’adua too, it was beginning to find its roots. But under President Jonathan, the social media has become an explosive, unavoidable phenomenon such that as spokesman to the President, I have to deal with an entirely different kind of communications and public relations template. I doubt if any spokesman in this office before has had to deal with the same scope of Internet penetration.”
Abati said that though he makes use of the social media for publicity purposes and as an observatory for monitoring tenor of public discourse, the associated online networks were an “imperfect medium.”
“Today, everybody is a journalist. All you need is a phone, an i-Pad and access to the Internet. You can set up your own blog; you can rely on a BlackBerry smartphone, and you don’t need a licence. But the question is: who guards the guardians? I think that is a relevant question. Otherwise, the social media could do more harm than good in many circumstances,” Abati added.
But Nigerians, who read the interview online, wondered if the “Internet-age Presidency” referred to by Abati should be a hindrance to development and the fight against corruption.
The respondents said they were surprised that the presidential aide would preoccupy himself with such a description of the presidency when there were many issues begging for attention in the Nigerian polity.
Some of them asked Abati if his description of the Jonathan Presidency should be counted as an achievement.
One Ali Flab on Twitter asked, “When did you people start using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in Nigeria? Why not say that he (Jonathan) is the Chief Executive Officer of social media.”
On Facebook, one Akinola Dhikrullah said he agreed with Abati’s position. But he added that it had had no positive effect on the welfare of the people.
“We can say yes, but how has that put food on the table of the masses? Does he operate any social media account by himself? If no, that means the essence of creating one is defeated,” Dhikrullah said.
Another respondent, Seun Fakuade wrote on Twitter, “I’m glad how that (Internet-age Presidency) has transformed Nigeria. Hallelujah. Keep wallowing in your delusions your lordship King Reuben.”
Also on the same social network, one Awobode Emmanuel wrote, “Is it the Internet that will bring about development in Nigeria? The President should focus on governance.”
Commenting on Abati’s website after reading the interview, one Okey urged the Jonathan administration to take the fight against corruption seriously.
“This is a powerful interview. I only have a point to make: which is that a lot more needs to be done about corruption. I’m not talking about beheading anyone, just simple justice. The law needs to be seen to be effective, if things are going to change. For the depth of depravity Nigeria has reached, quietly strengthening our institutions is not enough. In government today people are stealing left and right,” he wrote.