By Bright Okuta
My attention was recently drawn to a piece written by one Olawale Olaleye, titled “Laolu Akande: The Infamy of Presidential Loudmouth”, which was published on April 18 edition of ThisDay. Surprisingly, the writer is an assistant editor with the publication.
It is also quite surprising and unprofessional for a reputable media organization as ThisDay to publish such an article that contrary to the claim, actually discredits and dishonours the ethics and value as a reputable national brand.
As Olaleye’s writeup claimed, it was mainly because the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity and spokesperson to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, Mr. Laolu Akande, “went ahead to not only dispute the(ir) story; he discredited it and dishonoured the publishing medium – THISDAY.”
Let’s start from the beginning. The original controversial story “Osinbajo to Announce Presidential Bid after APC Convention” was written by one Adedayo Akinwale and published by ThisDay on February 26, 2022. According to that ThisDay report, the Vice President had “concluded plans to announce his presidential ambition immediately after the All Progressives Congress (APC) national convention, slated for Saturday, February 26.”
After repeated postponements, the said APC Convention eventually held on March 26, 2022. Osinbajo officially announced his presidential ambition on April 11, almost three weeks after the APC Convention. Aside from incontrovertible facts and evidence, it is not unusual for journalists to infer and deduce from events to project a report’s findings, but even if the dates are changed to reflect when the convention finally held, the ThisDay report speculated by a long mile. It was simply a guess work. In any case, nothing Akande said stated that the VP wasn’t going to run or not run, the man merely shot down a rather lazy sensational report based entirely on speculation.
Now, to the tweet by Akande on his official verified Twitter handle. He wrote: “I have seen “news” that VP ‘ll announce presidential bid after APC’s convention. Anyone reading the story ‘ll know it’s all false & speculative material. Any information on activities & actions of the VP will come directly from his office & not sponsored speculations in the press.”
Mind you, the predicted date for Osinbajo’s official announcement of his presidential ambition has been talk of the town for many months before ThisDay’s speculative publication. Even in some key political and media circles and reportage, there were already insinuations that the VP may likely declare his intention in 2023. But it was downright speculative to claim exclusivity of the supposed date when no official announcement had been given, by any reliable source nor especially by the spokesperson, in this case, Akande.
Going by this, it is fair for anyone, not just Akande in the referenced tweet to describe the ThisDay February 26 publication as speculative. The VP’s spokesperson was well within his rights to brand the article as ‘false and speculative material’, because it mostly was. If the VP was indeed going to run, it would be announced someday!
Evidently, it is clear from the writeup that the editor were pissed (forgive my French) by Laolu Akande’s rebuttal on his official Twitter handle of their speculative piece on the presidential ambition of Vice President Osinbajo, and then instructed an abusive feature article on Akande for that reason.
The personal grouse against Akande couldn’t be hidden in the article. Imagine a professional describing another distinguished professional as one “with poor strategy and zero critical thinking… irredeemable and helpless… and nothing but a glorified misfit, boasting slapdash testimonials.” What sort of unprofessional bile is this!
That is what supposed public interest journalism has been reduced to!
The writer also referred to “the tawdry sense of importance that Akande tried to paint…” Wow. If not for childish tantrum-throwing, how do you describe a professional who has paid his dues in such unsavoury terms?
The ThisDay article failed on every aspect of professional objectivity, fairness and truth, rather it showed the personal bile of one editor in using a national media platform for a personal hatchet job, for whatever reasons best known to them, against Akande. Simply put, the editor took it personally, unlike their claim. To say the least, it was a slanderous and libellous publication in many parts.
A summary of Mr. Laolu Akande’s impressive professional profile shows that he started his journalist career 33 years ago (in 1989) and counting. Not only is he a thoroughbred journalist, editor, scholar, he also lectured for over a decade as a professor in the United States.
Prior to being named as Spokesperson to the Vice President in 2015, Akande founded and reported for Empowered Newswire, a US-based news agency and was also a former North America Bureau Chief for The Guardian (Nigeria) in New York, United States.
Akande was a founding member of The News magazine team in 1993 as Senior Writer, and also Tempo publication, when the military government of the day banned The News for its staunch pro-democracy stance and reportage. In 1995, he joined the Nigerian Tribune as a Special Projects Editor and later became the editor of the Tribune on Saturday title of the oldest newspaper in Nigeria, making him the youngest newspaper editor at the time.
While in the United States, Akande worked with Newsday (of New York) as an assistant editor. He wrote regular columns for several prominent online platforms at the time, including the then 7th biggest US newspaper- Philadephia Inquirer. He also freelanced for Philadelphia Daily News and The News Journal of Delaware.
Akande is regarded as the only Nigerian journalist to have interviewed a sitting American president in the White House when he interviewed former US President George W. Bush, at a White House African Reporters Roundtable. He has also interviewed prominent personalities, including Billionaire Bill Gates in New York on different occasions; immediate past US President Donald Trump; former US Secretary of States, Colin Powell; and Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka. It was his interview with Soyinka that preceded the literaryicon’s eventual exile after Nigeria’s military rulers then in power declared him wanted for his pro-democracy views.
In 2002, he also worked as a Press Officer at the United Nations Headquarter, New York, where he was responsible for writing press releases on the proceedings of UN main bodies including the General Assembly, and covered press briefings at the UN, as well as other assignments for the UN’s Department of Public Information. He also worked as a media consultant for the enunciation and implementation of a Communications and Advocacy Campaign strategy for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, NEPAD.
On his relationship with his current principal, Akande is also very close to his direct boss, the Vice President, both on a professional and personal level. As his spokesperson, he also has the ears of the Vice President. In fact, the VP regularly consults with him on a daily basis to seek his opinion on major issues of national and international interests. Prof. Osinbajo trusts his judgement and invaluable experience as a thoroughbred professional. You cannot work directly with a Professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria if you don’t possess the requisite character, skills, expertise and gravitas for the job.
From Day One, Akande has consistently showed excellence, competence, character and capacity in the discharge of his professional duties, of which he has received many accolades. The presence of a competent media team for the Office of the Vice President is Akande’s brainchild. He personally set up and oversees all aspects of the media and publicity for the VP. It takes a lot of personal leadership, intelligence, competence and strategic thinking to do that, which Akande shows on a daily basis.
Also, the VP’s 360 degrees media team has been lauded by many commentators at home and abroad for being excellent, competent, world-class, and professional in every respect. This is not by chance or happenstance. It is the product and efforts of hands-on leadership and intelligence. When it comes to managing the reputation, media and publicity of the Vice President of Africa’s most populous country, Akande, as VP’s spokesman, takes a chunk of the credit, not just because of his position as VP’s spokesperson, but because of the immense value he brings to the table, because of his intelligence, pedigree, professionalism, values and character.
It is not because, as the ThisDay article falsely claimed, he is “only a member of the same religious denomination would hand him such a serious appointment on a platter.” Even the comments on that article showed they got it wrong! ThisDay and its editors owe Laolu Akande an apology for such inglorious publication.
Okuta is a public affairs commentary, and writes from Abuja