How do you manage the affairs of a chief executive who is the target of vicious criticism, serial litigations challenging his election and is adjudged more on ethnic considerations? No Mass Communications class has such recipe.
For Chike C. Ogeah, managing the media affairs of Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan as his commissioner for information could not have been more daunting. The Delta State governor is has the unprecedented record of undergoing two primaries and two gubernatorial elections within three months – a product of voiding of his election in 2007 just months before 2011 general election.
In the face of a media blitz anchored on just what the governor could not execute and often couched in less than enamouring superlatives, an unwary media manager may have been tempted to enter the fray using the same language. Not Ogeah. He treads the path of candour, preferring to calmly respond to attacks on his principal. In all his interviews, clarifications and press releases, Ogeah who turned 53 on October 23 always eschews the use of foul and negative words in representing the position of the state government and his principal.
“I have never seen being an attack dog as an effective way of countering falsehood or misinformation. For me, sticking to the facts not only lets the people know the truth but lifts one a notch above the moral compass over the protagonist”, the Delta State Commissioner for Information says.
Ogeah who first studied psychology at the University of Lagos before graduating in law says being caustic in responding to statements couched in abusive words and insults only ends up putting the media manager at the same level as his principal’s political opponents. “I believe the effective way to put the day light between traducers and one’s principal is to be statesman-like in response. Where there is falsehood and outright misinformation, respond with the facts and avoid calling the protagonists names. Where you are abused, I hold firmly to the belief that the proper approach is to remind them that nothing of substance has been said and without engaging in brickbats point out that the other person has stepped out of line,” he says.
To him, some media managers end up drawing more flak for their boss through the ill-advised strategy of matching every criticism with the same words. Unlike in more developed climes where the words and actions of not just elected persons but also the opposition are scrutinized by an enlightened electorate, politicians on both sides of the divide get away with statements that would have ruined their political careers and jeopardized their party’s chances in more matured political environments.
In his task of running the Ministry of Information in Delta State, Ogeah who was born the day after the governor seven years later, has won the admiration of the diverse political class in the state. Despite what large sections of the people of the state see as the outstanding achievements of Dr. Uduaghan, the governor has never been short of robust and strident criticism, albeit most using unsavoury words. In responding to such criticisms, Ogeah refrains from matching the words used by the governor’s critics. Rather, his strategy often leaves the critics feeling inadequate afterwards.
He believes the press has a crucial role to play in instituting a more sophisticated political culture in Nigeria and only needs to have their capacity boosted. Thus, he sold the idea of sending journalists practicing in Delta State to the Thompson Reuters Institute in London, general acknowledged as the Harvard of journalism, for intensive specialized training on various facets of reporting. Governor Uduaghan quickly bought the idea and approved the programme. From 2012 when the training began, 31 journalists practicing in the state have benefitted from the project.
The selection of the beneficiaries was not discriminatory as journalists from both private and public print and electronic media houses irrespective of their state of origin were sponsored to Thompson Reuters.
One of the hallmarks of Ogeah’s style is the open door policy he maintains with all journalists. Apart from regularly holding chats with media men, there is no unholy hour for him to be reached. This is in line with his oft repeated admonition to the press to publish whatever is the truth. His only demand is that the government be given a fair hearing and its side taken into account.
“I don’t subscribe to the thinking that journalists should be persuaded not to write stories that are seen to be critical of government. Why shouldn’t government be criticized? Giving government a fair hearing makes the criticism constructive,” he says, adding, “fortunately for me, I have a governor who believes in being accountable to the people. Dr. Uduaghan welcomes every opportunity to connect with the people and interact with them. That makes the job of telling it as it is quite easy for me.”
Believing every commissioner and head of every department or agency should equally be held accountable for their actions, Ogeah organizes mid-year and end-of-year press conferences where appearance is compulsory. Invariably, at least twice every year, commissioners and heads of parastatals and agencies in Delta State are made to face the press and give account of their stewardship in no-holds-barred sessions. He also encourages them to respond directly to enquiries from journalists.
He draws inspiration from his time as managing director of Sahcol, the aviation handling company hitherto owned by the federal Government. Under his watch as chief executive, the company was successfully privatized and sold to for N5.6 billion after an initial valuation of less than a billion naira. He believes that the turnaround in Sahcol’s fortunes is down to the transparent manner the company was run.
Ogeah has been immensely involved in crucial programmes and projects of the Uduaghan administration. During the Second South South Economic Summit in Asaba in April 2012, he ensured saturated coverage of the three-day talks through the invitation of business editors. However, in his relationship with community newspaper publishers, Ogeah opened a new vista of communication between the people and the government. With over 50 different titles serving the various ethnic nationalities in the state, the community newspapers became a veritable platform for the information commissioner to explain government’s action plan to the people.
He designed and branded the Delta Beyond Oil logo which has become the face of Governor Uduaghan’s drive to develop the non-oil sector of the state’s economy.
Ogeah is happily married to Olufunke and they are blessed with three children,
*Mordi wrote from Asaba