Abati: Burden of Public Office By Lekan Otufodunrin

Abati: Burden of public office

I have not been opportune to hold a public office, but I know a number of people who have and whose experience has not been as pleasant as imagined.

There is a lot of assumption about public office that makes many to do anything possible to get political appointments. President Muhammadu Buhari and many state governors who are yet to appoint their commissioners will currently have more than enough curriculum vitae for consideration.

The delay in making appointments by Buhari must be giving many sleepless nights as they had expected by now that they would have been rewarded with appointments for their contributions to the president’s election victory.

While not many easily admit that they want public office to enrich themselves, it is the main attraction for most and not service as claimed.

There are, indeed, legitimate and illegitimate money to be made in government. Beyond the normal salaries, there are numerous allowances and other pecuniary benefits which make political appointments attractive.

However, beyond the financial gains, there are a lot of other hassles associated with government appointments which need to be understood by not only those who crave for appointments but members of the public who subject the appointees to what I regard as unfair criticisms.

This piece is informed by the recent article by a former presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, titled: The phones no longer ring.

“As spokesman to President Goodluck Jonathan, my phones rang endlessly and became more than personal navigators within the social space. They defined my entire life; dusk to dawn, all year-round. The phones buzzed non-stop, my email was permanently active; my twitter account received tons of messages per second.   The worst moments were those days when there was a Boko Haram attack virtually every Sunday.

“The intrusion into my private life was total as my wife complained about her sleep being disrupted by phones that never seemed to stop ringing,” Abati wrote.

Expectedly, his piece attracted some negative comments from those who felt that Abati does not deserve any pity or understanding based on the role he played in the Jonathan’s presidency. Abati was definitely not seeking any pity. All he sought to do as far as I am concerned was to give an insight about the life of a typical top government official occupying some sensitive positions.

Despite his hectic schedule, his greatest crime for which some journalists who should sympathise with him but rather crucify him is that he didn’t pick their calls while he was in office. Yes, he should pick their calls since his job was that of a spokesperson for the government, but the truth is that there is a limit to how many he can, given the various assignments he had to juggle.

I am not aware of any spokesperson, either at federal or state level, who has not been accused of not responding to calls as much as their former colleagues expect them. A former Press Secretary to a former Deputy Governor told me how difficult it was for her to cope with numerous calls because of meetings she had to attend, travels and other assignments.

Much as spokesmen and other public office holders should try to maintain their pre-appointment relationships, they should not be expected to meet every demand that require their attention.

Their stay in government office should not be regarded as an opportunity for them to meet some difficult expectations beyond their capacity. The inner workings of government can be very complicated and unless one is in, it may be difficult to appreciate what it takes to be a government official.