By Isaac Asabor
If there is any quote that unarguably finds expression in the imbroglio between the spiritual director of Adoration Ministry, Enugu Nigeria (AMEN), Reverend Father Ejike Mbaka and Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, it is unarguably the one authored by Ken Starr that says, “Don’t blame the messenger because the message is unpleasant”. I must confess that the quote formed the basis of the coinage of the headline of this piece.
In fact, the diversionary tactics of blaming the messenger because the message is unpleasant is replicated in a philosophical argument called Ad hominem. It is a logical fallacy that involves a personal attack: an argument based on the perceived failings of an adversary rather than on the merits of the case. In short, it is when someone’s rebuttal to an opponent’s position is an irrelevant attack on the opponent personally rather than the subject at hand, to discredit the position by discrediting its supporter. It literarily translates to “against the man.”
Using an ad hominem fallacy pulls the public’s attention off the real issue and serves only as a distraction. In some contexts it is unethical. It is also called argumentum ad hominem, abusive ad hominem, poisoning the well, ad personam, and mudslinging. The attacks serve as red herrings to try to discredit or blunt the opponent’s argument or make the public ignore it, it is not just a personal attack but one stated as a counterattack to the position.
As not few literate Nigerians that are abreast with current affairs about Nigeria are aware, Mbaka called for the president’s impeachment over his failure to protect Nigerians from killers, armed bandits, terrorists and armed Fulani militia, and by that unarguably provoked Shehu, who in a statement, accused Mbaka of asking Buhari for a contract and saying that the president’s refusal led to such a call.
However, since the tantrums transpired between them, not few Nigerians were of the view that Shehu did not respond in such a way that would have given him the opportunity to tell the world how the president is tackling surging level of insecurity across the country. He no doubt bungled the opportunity. Not few people agreed that that is what he ought to have done as a presidential spokesperson. They were unanimous in their views that he left the message, and resorted to attacking the messenger.
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), a frontline advocacy group in a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and National Media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf accused Shehu of cheapening and rubbishing the dignity of the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by converting it to a centre for political blackmail and religious bigotry.
“The media statement against Reverend Father Ejike Camilus Mbaka has totally eroded the integrity and honour of the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and may need a wide range of political exorcism to restore the lost glory, prestige and dignity of that high office.
“This religious bigot called President Muhammadu Buhari gave all the juicy posts in the ministry of education such as that of JAMB to Moslem Clerics but is quick to divulge private discussions he had with a Christian Pastor because as an Islamic bigot, damaging the Christian brand is another kind of Jihad. The President is using the office of the President of Nigeria to launch a Jihad against Fr. Mbaka and by extension the Christian faith”.
Mr. Carl Umegboro, a public analyst, who wrote in a National Daily few days ago said, “President Muhammadu Buhari’s government retorted recklessly to the Spiritual Director of Adoration Ministry, Rev Fr. Ejike Mbaka, through a press statement issued by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity) a moment ago. Such a rejoinder when the nation is under a siege with bloods of innocent citizens being wasted on daily basis across the states, and sadly with impunity leaves much to be desired of a government.
He added, “Mbaka, a hitherto supporter of Buhari right from campaign for the first term, but recently embittered over the state of the nation, openly expressed his disappointment and demanded for his resignation or impeachment by the National Assembly. Unfortunately, the Presidency went out of control linking his disappointment to contracts deals he solicited unsuccessfully as a reward for his support. Honestly, the stinker from the hallowed office of the President against a clarion call for the government to sit up and face its responsibilities diligently is, to say the least, unfortunate. The presidency goofed.
Against the backdrop of his view, he queried, “By the way, what is wrong if the clergy introduced contractors to the government for patronage which is the pattern, not only in the country but beyond the shores of the country. Did the clergy ask the presidency to move public funds to his account? It would have been a different ballgame if the clergy demanded for money for his supports and prayers. But it is not the case but introduction of some persons known to him for patronages. The duty to direct them to the appropriate quarters accordingly for laid down procedures lies with the presidency”.
Mr. Yushau A. Shuaib, a Public Relations practitioner no less agreed in a widely publicized features titled, “PR Wise: The Presidency, Pantami and Mbaka” that the president’s spokesperson bungled the opportunity that is inherent in Mbaka’s criticism to explain how far the government is fighting insecurity.
He wrote, “I was not only alarmed but I have been deeply concerned about some recent statements by the Presidency, particularly through its spokespersons, Mr. Femi Adesina and Mallam Garba Shehu, who have both incidentally served as Presidents of the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) in the recent past. Some of their reactive statements to issues could essentially be described as journalistic, for the predilection towards making news headlines, and these have been quite disturbingly below the standards of PR, which tend towards demonstrating empathy, employing diplomacy and forestalling the attrition of relationships, when responding to issues of deep concern”.
It is expedient to say at this juncture that in as much as it is glaring that Shehu, who is reputed to have been combatively and defensively representing his boss with unflinching loyalty and utmost dedication, and has been doing almost everything humanely possible to defend him and his administration; even if he had to lie, contradicting himself at times, consciences and moral sensitivity demand that he should do his job professionally as his job is not for eternity; it must surely come to an end one day. Simply put, he should remember that there is tomorrow.
To my view, he should respond to the issues raised by Mbaka, and eschew attacking his person. Who cares if he once asked for contract from the presidency?