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Ashiru and State House briefing
AMBASSADOR Olugbenga Ashiru impressed a lot when he joined the Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, to brief the State House Press Corps after the first ever Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of this administration. President Goodluck Jonathan recently named him the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which suggests that he is someone of some weight in the diplomatic arena to have earned the coveted post.
But not many ministers, who came before the State House Corps, a barrage of still and video cameras and about 100 reporters, in the briefing room, were able to retain their composure and make sense of their utterances, whenever they were required to expatiate on government policies and programmes related to their sectors as had been deliberated upon earlier in the council.
Why Ashiru’s own was significant is that he was meeting the Press Corps there for the first time and, even though he confessed to that fact before he spoke on the new foreign policy direction of government, he was a master in calmly marshalling out his points in a way that confirmed his credentials as a suave diplomat.
Briefing of the press is a routine after each FEC meeting in the State House. The procedure has been that ministers who presented memos that were deliberated upon and approved for implementation in the meeting joins the Minister of Information to explain to the media the contents and motivation of their memos and their expected benefits for the people of the country. However, there were ministers in Jonathan’s last cabinet who deliberately shunned such briefings, even though their offices were central to the conception and implementation of the policies and programmes requiring explanation. In fact, one or two of them openly resisted attempts to be dragged into the briefing room, as they did not want to be confronted by journalists. Some others who came in, rather than clarify issues, just made them more complicated, either because they lacked proper grasp of the matters or have lost their bearings in front of the media as a result of stage fright.
However, it was not so with this new Foreign Minister. Ashiru was in control of his first outing where he made his presentation with consummate brevity. His arguments on the new foreign policy focus were clear and unambiguous, as he highlighted the reasons and benefits of the increase in diplomatic activities in the country in recent weeks, especially the visits of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister, David Cameron. He explained that the heightening of diplomatic activities was an affirmation of the legitimacy given to Jonathan by the April 16, 2011 free and fair election, which he observed encouraged world leaders to seek renewed bilateral relations with Nigeria. This culminated in the polio and malaria grant of £50millon pounds to Nigeria by the British Prime Minister and a promise of further assistance in different areas to the Nigerian government during his one day visit.
On the new policy direction of government, the minister essentially confirmed that Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust has ceased to have Africa as its centrepiece, as government had resolved to explore bilateral relationships directly beneficial to Nigerians through the promotion of foreign investments in the country. Nigerian diplomatic missions in America, Europe and selected Asian countries, he noted, have already been directed to focus on this investment promotion initiative.
On his part, Labaran too has obviously settled in his role as the substantive Information Minister after a better forgotten first appearance before the Corps when he took over from Professor Dora Akunyili. He has grown beyond the long and winding style of delivery where his message was lost to a crisp and well articulated presentation. His is an unenviable job because it would always pose a huge challenge for anyone, no matter how brilliant, to successfully coordinate ideas of ministries, department and agencies that are not under his charge and successfully confronts sceptical journalists with them, especially when that coordination has to be done within a few hours.
It is left to be seen how well many of the new ministers that Labaran will be bringing with him to the weekly briefings in the weeks and months to come will acquit themselves.