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Abdullahi, back on the beat, By Julius Ogunro

By News Express on 15/12/2016

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Last week, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi was elected the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at a mini-congress of the party which held in Abuja. That position had been vacant for about a year since Lai Mohammed, the former spokesperson and face of the party, had gone to accept a well-deserved cabinet position in the government. The party’s search for a suitable replacement apparently ended with the former minister; the first time that someone who has held a cabinet level position would be occupying that office.

I received the news of his nomination, not with delight but with mixed feelings. The reason is that I do not know whether to consider this current assignment worthy of Abdullahi’s intellectual depth and abilities; as a step-up or even a demotion. I worked with the former minister for about three years in the Ministry of Youth Development and later Sports, and I am a witness to his capacity for hard work, his ability to think through complex problems, his strength of character and humility.

The question on my mind was: couldn't the All Progressives Congress (APC) have found better uses for this brain and experience than the task of a spokesperson? Do not get me wrong. The position of the publicity secretary of the ruling party is a very important one. In terms of party hierarchy, it is a high ranking position. A spokesperson is what mostly comes to mind when you think of any organisation. To play that role for a ruling party is, therefore, huge. However, with the myriad of problems afflicting the country at the moment, Abdullahi, if you asked me, would have been more usefully deployed to a strategic area of our national life, for example, education or sports. Or, somewhere he can use the experience he has gained in more than a decade of public life to fix real problems. To put this in context, just imagine the acclaimed former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, being offered, not the job of fixing power, housing and infrastructure but as the organising secretary of the APC! I understand, however, that to a politician, party positions are almost sacrosanct, it cannot be turned down.

That said, I have no doubt that Abdullahi has the right mix of experience and contacts to be very successful in his current beat. A former journalist and editor with THISDAY Newspaper, Abdullahi graduated from the University of Lagos, and the University of Sussex in the UK. And since 2003, when he left the newsroom to work with Kwara State Government, he has handled varied responsibilities in government, rising from the humble position of special assistant to a cabinet minister in the last government.

My confidence in his abilities is drawn from working closely with him, as his special assistant for about three years. On meeting him for the first time, he comes across as a very gentle and easy-going person, one that cannot hurt a fly. No one should be deceived by that affable mien. Abdullahi is tough, and could be hard as a nail. The exterior is a façade that often fools people, until they get close to him and become familiar with the complexities of his character and strength.

As one-time Minister of Youth Development, Abdullahi worked night and day with various stakeholders to design the Youth Employment Programme (YEP), the flagship programme of the ministry. It was a strategic intervention with the goal of filling critical gaps in the youth employment landscape in Nigeria, by empowering  between 250,000 and1 million Nigerian youths with the skills, experience, and business development support that they require to gain meaningful employment,or start successful businesses. It was an ambitious plan; but I have no doubt that Abdullahi would have accomplished it, if he had enough time and was not redeployed from the Youth ministry. Like the YEP, his plans to reform the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was not followed through. That plan involved refocusing the scheme to be service-oriented, whereby corps members will serve in thematic areas, such as education, agriculture, rural health and infrastructure. The idea was to make the compulsory one-year service memorable for corps members who would be posted to service areas, where the country really needed to be served.

But it was in sports that Abdullahi’s deft managerial skill became most obvious. The Minister of Sports, unlike his cabinet colleagues, actually lacked executive power. He could not just give directives and expect everything to fall into place. It requires great tact and power of suasion, because the federations are not beholden to the minister, except when they require funds. They actually tend to believe that their primary loyalty lies with the global federation that they were affiliated with. 

Despite this challenge, however, Abdullahi recorded significant achievements. One of his accomplishments was the stability he brought to the football family during his tenure. In June 2012, when he was appointed the Supervising Minister of Sports, he met a football sector in disarray, as a result of the numerous conflicts within and outside the federation. There were many court cases instituted by several aggrieved parties over issues relating to the previous election into the board of the FA, and even whether the FA should be an ‘Association’ (NFA) or a ‘Federation’ (NFF). One of the consequences of the conflicts was that Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea/Gabon. Abdullahi settled the almost fratricidal war in the Nigerian Football Federation, by making all the parties in the crisis agree to a comprehensive peace deal. The stability in the sector was the foundation on which the subsequent achievements were built.

Perhaps, his most enduring success in sports is the reform of the Nigerian professional football league. Under Abdullahi’s leadership, the domestic football league was repositioned in line with the global best practices. The League Management Company (LMC) restored credibility and transparency to the management of the Nigerian Premier League and, now, the LMC has consistently secured a title sponsor for the league and attracted significant broadcast sponsorship. Today, stadiums are packed full with delighted fans, because the reputation of the league has increased considerably. Abdullahi also left his imprint on grassroots sports, with the introduction of the National Youth Game and the launch of Rhythm 'N Play, designed to bring 2 million children into sports. He also set the framework for the practice of high performance sports, among so many others. Not surprisingly, when he left the cabinet in March 2014, he was universally hailed as the best sports minister in recent time.

Now that he has become the publicity secretary of the APC, the party deserves congratulations for attracting such a good hand. If the party was looking for a talkaholic, or a spin doctor, they have made the wrong choice. Even though Abdullahi talks well, he prefers to let other people do the talking most of the time. And he is not a propagandist. However, if the party was looking for someone who could help the party to build an efficient communications system and bring respectability to the party, they would not have made a better choice.

It is almost unprecedented that a party would have as its national publicity secretary, someone who understands the inner workings of government at the highest level; a professional journalist who understands the media establishment and a senior member of the policy directorate of its campaign who, therefore, understands the philosophy of the party. His close relationship with Senate President, Bukola Saraki, would also be a distinct asset as the party tries to forge stronger relationship between its members in the executive and legislative arms of government. In fact, I wonder if it is sheer coincidence that the party leadership is meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly for the first time, just after Abdullahi was appointed. This is, indeed, a distinct sign of things to come.

I say a big congratulations to my boss and friend! And, I pray God to grant him clarity as he takes on yet another assignment.

•Julius Ogunro, MD of Peach Communications, sent this piece from Abuja. Photo shows Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi.

Source News Express

Posted 15/12/2016 4:33:43 PM

 

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