Isa Ali Pantami has now had a good tongue-level taste of what it means to be under the spotlight–and we should all now hope that this will whip him into growing a thick skin, especially if he has any ambition of staying atop the pyramid for long. Those who want to, accepted or paid their way to be at the center of the spot, once they are finally in, whichever the way, must accept that there is a heavy price to pay.
And since it takes the agency of personal choice to walk one’s way in, managing the reign of stardom should also be one’s business, a reason why I think he had taken upon himself to deal with it his own way despite several offerings, unsolicited.
But Pantami’s first mistake was resorting to self help, a trait he has held onto for a really long. If his social media behaviour is not bad, it is simply predicatable; and in a circumstance such as he now faces, we have a good proof that this is enough of a bad practice. In Nigeria, it is unlikely to find a person in Pantami’s position who does not retain the services of lawyers, medical doctors and even food vendors. But it is almost certain that he has no any public relations backroom; for, why should I pay for what I can do, with Facebook, Twitter and free blogs at my disposal? If, at all, he had had one, even the worst of them, Pantami would not have issued those fast-fingered threats on Twitter, the consequence of which is what invigorated the spirit of the sweeping scrutiny he is now subjected to.
The public relations backroom–and this is not supposed to mean any press release issuing kitchenette–would have quietly contacted the newspaper to talk the matter out, away from any public glare, while carrying out a fact-check of the news. The backroom knows how to engage the newspaper responsible for the report, which normally involves threats, lobby and sometimes intimidation, among other things, depending on the involvement or culpability of the client and infallibility of the facts available.
A client once gave us a threat letter written by his lawyer to send to a newspaper for a libelous report published about him, demanding immediate retraction and apology. We collected the letter and refused to send it. We were already in contact with the newspaper through a third party, who went physically to tell them we were coming to their office the next day, a ploy to buy more time while we do our homework. We did not want, in addition to what may have already been in their possession, arm them with anything written and we were advised not to speak to them on phone as they may record it.
Already, we were running our underground investigation, as we needed to be sure of the facts even before engaging our client. We wanted to also get an idea of the newspaper’s source(s) and which other facts they may have, before engaging them.
The way the first report was written speaks volumes of how much evidence they had; but the editor, a true master of the art, someone I began to respect since that incident, left no any hint about their source! The editor did so in order to seduce our client to respond first before fully coming for his head; and so we knew if the response did not come as anticipated, they would publish more reports, which we thought could help us detect the nature of their source, in the event we could not get it through other means.
Even though we briefed him and his team about our plan of action, in less than 24 hours, the client lost his patience and sent the letter to the newspaper by himself without our knowledge. And exactly what we were avoiding happened. The newspaper published the letter the next morning, because they were sitting on many more facts, far more than we had thought, with their source likely to be from his office or household. We devised a damage control scheme, but, true to nature, a nature of helpless impatience, he and his exploding-headed secretary similarly compromised it before we could launch it. How it ended with him, I do not intend to mention but I later learned that our, now ex-client, who demanded immediate and unequivocal apology, ended up apologizing to the newspaper.
The second mistake, directly linked to the first, was his inability to exercise reasonable self-restraint before reacting. One of the most important capitals for a public office holder in dealing with Nigerian media is his or her ability to exercise self-restraint. The other is talking as little as possible. And the third is avoiding loose talk. And these are even much more so if one has a record of a past littered with so much talk, many times controversial and on sensitive issues, as does Pantami, who is a career-talker. You can blame this self-indulgence on his naivety and inexperience, but only if he had not worked under President Muhammadu Buhari and Late Abba Kyari, two public officeholders in Nigeria who are hardly moved by public pressure.
Almost immediately the fake news industry manufactured the trinket against the minister, he took to the field of defense with the resources only of oneself. In Nigeria, we have a bully industry, which works with the purveyors of fake news and Pantami, who is not supposed to be unaware of its existence and workings, fell for their machinations. The bully brigade is very effective, but only insofar as one pays attention or reacts to their gyrations. Ultimately, they try to dictate your next steps, until you become your own undoing. The way to deal with them I think are two, and the paths are both very difficult to take for those who are afraid to lose, or, prefer to perfect their stardom for an even greater shine in the future. The first is to ignore the subject completely until it dies out, as, in Nigeria, it definitely will. This is important, for, it provides one the opportunity to study the situation beyond what is on the surface, the interest groups promoting it and the veiled objectives of the entire campaign. With these resources handy, many times one will understand that it is useless to waste any time reacting to them.
The second and most potent, is to admit it, where you are guilty, as did Sen. Bukar Abba Ibrahim when a video of his affairs with his “friends” was leaked. When he was asked by journalists, his response was simple: “Yes, it was me. Please do you know how to delete it?” That ended the matter. And where you are not guilty, you acknowledge it.
“Sir, you are under US watchlist for alleged ties with Boko Haram…”
“Okay,” would have almost certainly sealed the matter.
If, as many do, we believe that the media persecution he is now suffering is orchestrated by those who are against what he is spearheading, national identity number registration, then by his response on Twitter, he had only helped to play himself into their hands, and of other detractors-in-wait, lurking in the bully industry for a kill.
Pantami had no reason to react to the fake news. Already, many highly respected personalities in the media have taken to his defense pro bono, in the case of which he is only expected to sit back in his office and enjoy the theatrics. His response became the biggest setback to the mounting crusade in his defense. Enamored by his social media profile, he went overboard to, by his own self, submit to the rigors of Nigeria’s media trial.
This bully bandwagon are not driven by any clear purpose, meaning or understanding, except for their numbers and spontaneity. Social media has since given preeminence to numbers rather than meaning or quality, and hence replaced public intellectualism with influencerism, unfortunately not a standard English vocab, but a necessary one-off colloquialism to mean a brand of activism driven by one’s number of social media followers rather than quality of thoughts. Otherwise, most of them are a horde of frustrated young people, consumed by bigotry, hate and other invisible diseases, reeling it out on the internet. It is sometimes just simply a meme culture, intended only for fun. Since it lacks quality or any purpose, they are ready to drag it on for as long as it lasts–and drag they will so long as you give them a reason to. To them, Pantami is just a toy, and the entire hullabaloo a fun! As much as they have now forced him to renounce some of his past pronouncements, they are not likely to stop. And by their characteristics, they will not stop even if he “renounces” his entire self and declare it was not him!