by Ikemesit Effiong
So the Nigerian internet’s worst kept secret is out – Tolu Ogunlesi is the President Muhammadu Buhari’s new Special Assistant on Digital/New Media. Ideally, congratulations should be the next course on the menu, if not for the thanklessness of the position his boss’ current responsibility – running the affairs of Africa’s largest economy – is at the moment.
It’s fair to say at the moment that Buhari’s fairytale honeymoon (if your stock in trade is believing the international press) is over. He is buffeted by the peskiness of a tactically retooled Boko Haram militancy which has stubbornly refused to go away; the customary rigmarole of Nigerian politics – with its unique diet of accusations, conspiracy theories and late night ‘secret’ meetings, a war on corruption that is as much PR blitz as it is mired in seemingly endless preliminary legal proceedings and ‘investigations’ and a penchant to outclass predecessor Goodluck Jonathan in the number of overseas trips he’ll embark on. Yet, Buhari’s number one headache has to be an economy that has been slammed by near record low crude oil prices, a bloated, inefficient, unnecessary bureaucracy and a historically wasteful government that will be hard pressed to find competing rivals globally.
It doesn’t help that the official economic policy emanating from Aso Rock (if you think the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank are on top of things, well, have you been thinking lately?) seems to be informed more by blind, infantile patriotism than a cold, hard examination of financial data. Inflation is set to rocket to heights not seen since 2013 and economic growth will be anemic this year at best, the worst since Abdusalam Abubakar handed over one of the world’s most inefficient economies to Olusegun Obasanjo.
Some of this may be down to plain bad luck. Premium Times reports that one of the main nodes in Nigeria’s pipeline architecture needs fixing, preventing us from doing one of the few things we know how to do well – export crude oil. A lot of the blame however, is down to missteps which are as baffling as they are mildly infuriating. From the debacle that was the proposed budget to regulation that makes so little sense investors are voting with their feet – cue in Truworths, which has left Nigeria. MTN which is still here because we are the stubborn cash cow from hell.
No one who isn’t spotting a government ID card and has either a degree in finance or has a basic understanding of economics understands how a President who pledged to get us out of the doldrums and provide jobs and a decent living, expects to do that by draining our already meagre foreign exchange reserves on a lost cause (the naira’s value), banning the importation of essentials, raising taxes arbitrarily and fining the life out of providers of key services. For those worrying about what a devaluation would mean for all of us, listen to the words of Alan Cameron, an economist at Exotix Partners, “The average [Nigerian] consumer is already facing a de facto devaluation, and this has driven up prices.” Buhari just needs to play catch up and make it official so the relatively small slice of our economy that is formal can breathe again.
Where does all of this leave Tolu Ogunlesi?
Osarumen Osamuyi at TechCabal probably summarised much of the feeling on Twitter when he wrote that, “at the moment, I can think of no one better, to curate President Buhari’s image on the internet.” Undoubtedly, it will be a very intriguing image to ‘curate’ in light of the growing disaffection of Nigerians with the President’s job performance. It would be foolhardy to pretend that Mr. Ogunlesi will have any sort of input in crafting official government policy (there is a reason why the word ‘assistant’ closely follows the word ‘special’, which we status hungry Nigerians are wont to focus on).
However, Mr. Ogunlesi has a responsibility to clearly articulate what is going on at Aso Rock to Nigeria’s increasingly rancorous social media horde. Resorting to name calling, score keeping and tired, overrated ‘Twitter fights’ will not cut it in what feels like a significant period in this country’s contemporary history. There must be an effort at creating constructive dialogue (what we like to call ‘carrying the people along’) as an increasingly enlightened, if not sophisticated electorate comes to grips with the country’s economic dilemma.
Will he have those moments when it will be easier and far more satisfying to score cheap political points with a reinvigorated PDP social media arsenal (even though they are clearly losing it offline)? Sure. Will history be kind to him if he joins the underwhelming, undistinguished and insult-laden effort to rationalise the President’s recent actions online? The jury is out on that.
One thing is for sure, social media always keeps track of one’s record. Tolu should know all about that. He’s been on Twitter since March 2009.
P.S. – Let me help Mr. Ogunlesi with his first spin job, Nigeria has benefited from low oil prices in one crucial way – our oil pirates are suffocating and need ‘epp’.