INTERVIEW: How journalism experience has helped my work as commissioner –Egbemode (II)

INTERVIEW: How journalism experience has helped my work as commissioner –Egbemode (II)
Funke Egbemode

Mrs. Funke Egbemode is a household name in the media in Nigeria.  A great columnist who rose to the post of the Managing Editor of a national newspaper, she was also the president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. About two years ago, she took up appointment as Osun State Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation under Adegboyega Oyetola’s government.  In this interview by SAKIBU OLOKOJOBI, she speaks on her experience as a government’s spokesperson, the challenges and how her experiences as a journalist had at different times helped her. She also speaks on the achievements that make her principal eligible for re-election, among other things.  Excerpts:

Has your experience as a journalist ever come handy to help you out of any challenge in the discharge of your work as a commissioner?

All the time. My experience as a journalist comes in handy daily. I enjoy the goodwill of my constituency – the media.  I enjoy the support of the media.  They are willing and ready to offer space, advice and all. The experiences I have gathered over three decades help me to figure out what to do at different times. I can tell what a politician is going to do next. You know sometimes there is just this sense of déjà vu.  You have an idea what this person is going to do and then you know what to do because you had also been on the other side. You can pre-empt, so, you are prepared. You can almost wake up and write a press statement waiting for when you will issue it. One’s experience as a journalist comes handy all the time.

It is believed that one major achievement of Oyetola’s administration as far as many civil servants in Osun State are concerned is the end to non-payment of or payment of half salaries as was the case with the Rauf Aregbesola’s government. How did Oyetola’s government do this despite the supposed lack of fund?

One thing that made me take up the job was because I saw a man who wanted to leave his footprint on the sand of time; a man who wanted to do what is right; a man who is not desperate.  He is a man who will want to prioritise.  That is what I would say that Governor Adegboyega Oyetola has done. He has prioritised. He decides on a daily basis. You can’t hold or push him to do what to do and how to do it. He has also surrounded himself with those who know the finance in government. As far as Governor Oyetola is concerned, you cannot tell people to come to work everyday and refuse to pay them. He has found ways of blocking leakages. It is just about sacrifice. He is not printing money. We all ask him where he is getting money but you see all those holes where money used to drift out, he has blocked them.  He says all the time that those who work must get paid and he will not employ anyone until he has money to pay them. The ones that are already in employment will get paid. We get paid before the 31st or 30th of every month. He ensures that the money for whatever we are doing or whatever project is mapped out for execution, is set aside before he commences it.

My experience as a journalist comes in handy daily. I enjoy the goodwill of my constituency – the media.  I enjoy the support of the media.  They are willing and ready to offer space, advice and all.

He’s also doing well in the area of payment of pensions and gratuities…

It is just about not spending money on frivolities.  He has been able to set aside money that ordinarily he would have expended on other things.  So, for him, it’s just about living true to the oath that he took.  He promised that he would pay salaries, he would clear backlog of the pension.  His word is his bond. He is an honourable leader.  What he is doing is tough but he said that he promised it and he would deliver it.

Although Oyetola is rated high in performance by many in terms of achievement, there is the fear that like many governors, he may after all be doing all those things in order to get a second term ticket, when he would then relax. What do you have to say about this thinking?

Those who have that fear are not the owners of tomorrow.  None of us can predict tomorrow. For me, what a man did yesterday and what he is doing now gives me an idea and confidence of what he will do tomorrow. He has proved that his word is his bond. He has shown that he will not betray his people, and like I said earlier he is not a desperate man.  He is just one to do his bit and then leave shoes that will not be difficult to occupy by his successor when he has done his eight years. If he takes a second oath of office and he promises that he is going to construct 500 kilometres of road, the people can take it to the bank. He has already proved himself to be trustworthy. There is no reason to start wondering about tomorrow because this is a leader that has shown that the people come first. I think we can all go to bed and sleep with our two eyes closed knowing that there is a man in Abere who is keeping an eye on our affairs.

There are talks about a second term already. What would you say, in terms of achievements, qualify him for a second term?

In one sentence, he has delivered on everything that he promised. That’s what qualifies him. If a woman is being toasted by a man and the man says I am going to buy you a car, I am going to love you with my life, I am going to devote time to you and then the girl needs blood transfusion; because he is in match he gives blood, he buys her a car on her birthday, he gives her time even when he is busy, of course there is no reason for the girl not to marry him.  This governor has lived up to his billing. There is no reason why we should change the winning team because we know this man now. He understands us, we understand him, we know where we are coming from in Osun and we know where we are. Certainly, as they say in the bible, we don’t want to go back to Egypt; we want to go to Canaan; we want to go to the promise land. That is where this leader is prioritising our affairs.

Oyetola is the captain of this ship; he is holding on to God; he is doing what is right; he is keeping his promises. God is the one that we all know is the covenant keeper. But we also have a human being here on earth who is saying it and doing it. I don’t see any reason why the people would want to try what they don’t know. If you drink coffee you know the taste of coffee. If somebody comes and he says this is better than coffee, you would be reluctant to want to subject your digestive system to what you don’t know. Oyetola is a man that the people know and love. I am sure they are waiting for him to declare that he wants to run for a second term and it will be a done deal.

Come election period, there would be adversaries even from the All Progressives Congress’ fold to stand in Oyetola’s way. How prepared is he for this?

He would handle the situation the same way he rises to occasions; he is level-headed about everything. He would handle it the same way he is calm about everything. Oyetola is a man who is not going to make noise. He allows everybody to make noise. I think if my principal plays poker he would be a Fox billionaire because he can continue to look at the space and you don’t know what is going on in his head or in his mind.  So, let nobody take him for granted.  Anyway, it is good the way everybody has underrated him; it is working for us; let them continue to underrate him but let them bring it on, they know that they have a General leading this army. Right now and even as I speak, I’m excited to see what they would bring in because he is always ready to take anybody on without saying a word. He fires all his shots from a gun that has a silencer.  So, he is ready; we are ready. Let nobody mistake Adegboyega Oyetola for a coward.

How do you see the uneasy calm between Oyetola and Aregbesola’s camps affecting your principal’s chance?

The mantra, Ileri Oluwa, means something that came from God. I do not speak for the party. I speak for my principal; I speak for a calm spirit that does only what is right. I think the way he has handled this uneasy calm you are talking about is the best way to handle it and I believe that they are from the same political family. They will figure it out at some point.  Why I feel sorry for those who are putting themselves out there and causing trouble between them is that they will not be there when the issues are settled, when the two actors are reconciled.  The sun will shine the morning after; the wind will blow the morning after. On this side, we have no fears. We are sure that the promise of God, the covenant that God made with Adegboyega Oyetola, this ship and everything is about the owner of tomorrow. No single person owns tomorrow.

Back to you, Hon. commissioner.  Having tasted politics, where would you say your pendulum would swing In future? Politics or a return to the newsroom?

If you have lived in a particular city for 32 years and you are taken to another city to live for three to four years or eight years, you can enjoy it and decide you want to stay for that period.  But you must, likely at some point return to your first love. The media is my first love. I will serve my state. When I am done serving three, four, eight years, my first love will always be the media. That is my comfort zone.

This governor has lived up to his billing. There is no reason why we should change the winning team because we know this man now. He understands us, we understand him, we know where we are coming from in Osun and we know where we are.

What’s your view about the campaign by the media against the media Bill in the National Assembly which is believed to be an attempt by the government to gag the press and bring about information blackout in the society?

My responses from the beginning are my answers now. I’m not speaking as the Commissioner for Information, but as somebody who has been part of the media when we had to publish from hiding. I am talking as somebody who was one who wrote a column in The Punch and was told to stay away for my safety under the military for some time until the dust over something I wrote about one of the military leaders died down. I’m talking as a two time president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors; I’m talking as a mother, I’m talking as a professional; I’m talking as a patriotic Nigerian. I think gagging the media in any way is an ill-wind that will blow no good in the direction of anybody because it will deregulate rumours; it would deregulate blackmail, deregulate violence. And violence comes in different forms. Yes, the media needs to be regulated. The practitioners are adults. You cannot say that somebody like Aremo Olusegun Osoba does not know what is right. You cannot say that Prince Nduka Obaegbena doesn’t know what is right. We have elders in the business, we have Uncle Sam Amuka, we have professors who are part of the industry. All we are saying is let us regulate ourselves; we deal with what is right and wrong on a daily basis. Let’s do it. You know, as a president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, people came and asked me questions about what the social media or the new media was doing to the print.  I said that the traditional media knew what it was doing. We have been around long enough, we know what our problems are. Everybody said technology had taken over, new media would do this or that, new media would kill traditional media. And now, we are dealing with the new media and it is the effect of the new media that is making everybody uncomfortable, including most of us in the traditional media. So, those who do not know our terrain should not attempt to regulate the terrain they do not understand. It is going to just complicate matters. Let us work together in the industry.  Let it not be we versus them. Let it not be the media houses are working against the government.  The media industry cannot survive without peace in the country. It is the media houses, especially the print media, that suffered most for insurgency in the North. I know what the return on my title as editor was from Borno, Kaduna and Kano. Newspapers stopped going there, revenue went down.  So, the media industry has suffered more for every bad thing that has happened to the nation.  Let’s sit, let’s talk, let’s not see or forget that we are partners. No enemies here.  We are all stakeholders because nobody is going to make me Commissioner for Information or president of the Guild of Editors in Canada.  So, this country has to work so that my children can also rise. Like I said, this is not about the spokesperson of Governor Oyetola.  This is about a passionate Nigerian.  We cannot afford, for the government and media not to work together. There will be trouble when those two go their separate ways.

*Concluded. Part I published on Wednesday.