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Presidential Communication: Ngelale as soft target for mischief makers

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By Richard Elesho

I do not envy Ajuri Ngelale, the young and urbane Special Adviser on Media to President Bola Tinubu. Nigeria is a country where many people without requisite training, character, and cognate experience lay claim to be information managers. The advent of social media and the ubiquitous embrace of citizen journalism have further whittled down the sphere of professionalism in the industry. Thus, in the conscientious, altruistic discharge of his professional duties Ngelale is the focus of public scrutiny. Not a few self-styled experts are in a hurry to assess his performance, the way a cane-wielding headmaster beats an erring pupil to line. And they are all too wrong and jumpy in the vain attempt to undermine his enterprise.

Ngelale for instance has recently come under flak over the reportage of the president. Certain misinformed entities are accusing him of lies and propaganda as he attempts to publicise the activities of his principal. His critics are chewing at the purported $600 million seaport infrastructure deal between Nigeria and Danish shipping giant, Maersk, among many others in a needless, energy-dissipating plot. To be sure, Ngelale is most probably the wrong person in whose direction fingers should be pointed.

Ngelale, had in a statement last Sunday, 27 April, 2024 disclosed that the Chairman of A.P Moller-Maersk, Robert Maersk Uggla, reaffirmed the company’s decision at a meeting with President Tinubu on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As a fallout of that encounter Uggla was quoted Uggla as saying, “We believe in Nigeria, and we will invest $600m in existing facilities and make the ports accommodating for bigger ships.” The deal is expected to be a major boost to the nation’s newly conceived blue sea economy. The investment will serve as good augmentation to the one billion dollars the Tinubu administration plans to pump into port construction in parts of the country.

What passed for an innocuous update and his enthusiasm to report the best efforts of the president to woo foreign investors towards injecting life into Nigeria’s ailing economy, however, was spun into an antithetical controversy days later. The Public Relations unit of the investor was said to have disowned the deal. *Lloyds List,* a global data and analytics website with maritime bias, published the twist quoting a source at Maersk: “No such agreement is in place, and no deals have been signed,” a terse statement was quoted. It acknowledged that “Maersk has been present in Nigeria for 35 years and, as a global provider of logistics services, we remain committed to develop opportunities for growth to people, the port sector and businesses locally.” To this extent, it is natural to have an ongoing dialogue with the administration. “However, we are not able to comment on any investment talks,” the company said. The so-called denial is all that Tinubu’s adversaries require to call for Ngelale’s head. Onrushing traducers of the president’s media team have accused them of incompetence and deliberate falsehood to mislead and hoodwink Nigerians about the performance of the government.

The presidency has responded with facts and unassailable video evidence to prove its convictions and liberate members of the public from the earlier misrepresentation. A trending video captioned “caught on tape…” shows that Maersk Terminals Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Keith Svendsen had earlier in February conveyed this intention to Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment, Doris Uzoka-Anite, at a meeting about the multi-million dollar investment. Svendsen, reiterated Maersk’s commitment to investing more in Nigeria, and had outlined plans to allocate an initial $100 million, with an additional “half-billion dollars” ($500m) earmarked for port investment in Lagos. The *Riyadh* narrative was an affirmation of that commitment. Nothing more, and it can not be anything less.

The company may have become circumspect because it is in the process of rendering its first quarter financial report to its stakeholders. Since no documents have been signed to back it up, it would have been inappropriate to brag about the dream mega portfolio. Lloyd’s List alluded to this in its report that the “management is in a regulatory quiet period, limiting what they can say publicly about the company’s activities.” One must situate the so-called denial in that light. While reacting to several media reports that Maersk denied such a million-dollar investment in Nigeria, Tinubu’s Special Assistant on Social Media, Dada Olusegun, said the company hasn’t denied the FG’s statements. Olusegun, with the username @DOlusegun on X.com, wrote, “The media’s headline choice sparked controversy, not Maersk’s. Maersk hasn’t contradicted or denied the Federal Government of Nigeria’s statements.”

For the president’s media handlers, Maersk’s controversy has its positives. It is a lesson on how not to report executive affairs. Yes, a public communicator needs to be prompt, but he must also avoid the ever-present temptation of hasty judgement in whatever form it may appear. The Tinubu government will be one year old this month. The administration is very well-intentioned in its attempt to restore hope and replace the despondency it inherited. It is very natural to want to reassure the citizenry that the regime is sleepless in its attempt to lift the national mood.

At 37, Ngelale is among the youngest minds in the president’s team. He is a cerebral, level-headed, zealous and committed professional. You cannot but feel his sense of patriotism. President Tinubu his employer who has been a media entrepreneur himself must have identified specific strengths in the young man before entrusting him with his present assignment. In a way indeed, Ngelale represents the youth demography and a renewed hope of the “not too young to run” mantra. He cut his media dentition in reputable broadcast establishments and has not done badly in his previous public sector outings. He is poised to excel in his current brief, against the backdrop of his sterling professional exertions in the past. It is too early to throw him under the bus.

Elesho, an experienced journalist, was media director to the Kogi State government.

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