Not everyone who is under as much pressure as Isa Ali Pantami is now can devise a level-headed communication strategy to comprehensively and coherently respond to the torrents of allegations brought up against him. In fact, this is one of the major aims of the overwhelming pressure, to prevent you from attaining self-composure and self-articulation, especially so for someone like Pantami who is obviously too emotional. I came under the greatest pressure of my life playing football, or as I can remember. And our unlettered, but undoubtedly adequately streetwise coach, devised one of the best pressure management models for us, seemingly pedestrian but has also really proven useful for me in the few crisis communication projects I found myself in. When we come under so much pressure from opponents, the coach, a very criminally-minded man I must add, would signal to any one of our teammates to just lie down on the pitch and pretend to be injured or sick for a minute or two, so that the referee would have no option but to force the match to go for a break.
The ruse serves as a very effective therapy for our players to refocus, rest and reboot. It helps us to respond to the mounting pressure in better ways, and mostly also destabilizes the opponent’s plan of aggression, with the dare many times fleeing them for all of the remainder of the match.
More than responding to the allegations, it seems what Pantami needs is to focus on restoring his sense of composure, articulation and fair judgment first! Because this has fled him, almost every step he took in defense, by himself or by delegation, turns out to be an even bigger blunder. Or, how else would you describe his delegation of Kabiru Kabo–and then Kabiru Kabo’s own officious acceptance of a task, we now believe in hindsight, too herculean for him–to speak to Channels TV on his behalf? I am even very happy for Pantami because of Garba Shehu’s reaction, which is in quality almost useless but in function very useful. It is useful for Pantami only because it is useless in form. For the meantime, at least before the next blunder, as it seems helpless, attention will shift to analyzing or reacting to Mr. Shehu’s, what, many condemn as tasteless statement, affording him some respite. That could even be intentional for I know Shehu’s experience in this business is enough to know how to use its resources deliberately wrongly for a reason.
I think at a time when everything you say can be used against you, if you must really talk, supposing your talkativess has reached a state of helplessness, then you should not respond to questions from journalists, else you will feed into the agenda of your “traducers”. From this incident and his last year’s public raw with Abike Daberi on Twitter, Pantami and Kabo his shield-man have both proven to be inexperienced about media relations or unlucky to ever perform st their best. Almost every question by a journalist is a booby-trap, baiting you to fall, and it is even more so in a case such as of Pantami now. For example, when conducting interviews, whenever I suspect someone may not want to tell me his age or date of birth, I would not even bring the subject, but come from behind to set a trap.
*Question 1: Why is it that during your days, most people enrol to school almost in their adulthood? Did you do the same, because most of your peers who I had interviewed did so?
Answer: Not so for me. I entered school at six.
Question: Oh, very rare. But you must have trekked several miles to school every morning, I guess, because it seems there were fewer schools then.
Answer: Well, there was XYZ Primary School not very far from us, for me. It is not far from us.
Question 3: “Oh, you are lucky, luckier than our former president, Jonathan. But which year was that, whose regime?”
Answer: 1970. Gowon was the president.*
The man, estimatedly, is born 1964!
Having been delegated by the minister to be his spokesman–another of his malpractices arbitrary and self-indulgent deployments–you would think Kabo is a better speaker, more eloquent and more savvy with the media, but: 😪–if emojis are allowed; he is just his friend! Kabo’s flop only made the case worse for Pantami. In situations like this, there is no any fixed prescriptions. But looking back at some of the interviews I have done, few tricks work, on the basis of which we can have a guide, probably it may be useful to someone one day.
First, whether guilty or not, in such controversial cases, never resort to defense during interviews or debates. Apply a little bit of aggression, by returning questions with questions, even if bland. That has many benefits. It upsets the interviewer’s gameplan and agenda-setting scheme. It also wastes a little of the journalist’s time, which is his or her greatest resource, especially for live TV broadcasts. That is why, TV or not, it is very important to define a time for every interview you will grant, so that you can know how much to waste in the event you do not want to be trapped.
Question: Did you kill him?
Answer: First of all, who told you I killed him or is it the person who is already dead who told you I killed him? How do you determine a murder case?
Question: How will you react to the allegations that you are a fanatic?
Answer: Are you talking about allegations or facts? And tell me what makes one a fanatic.
These responses may seem silly and irrelevant, even irresponsible sometimes, but very effective in ruining the journalist’s gameplan, which in crisis situations, is mostly “mischievous”!
The second thing is to use disproportionate comparisons, removing oneself from the conversation. In the case of Pantami, I think it is one of the very few ways to win the argument now, to try as much as possible to make something else the object of the discussion. For a fact, it means nothing to those who want to hang you when you further blame your folly on yourself, be it your age or ignorance. For instance, today’s western, many times pretentious, culture of civility and tolerance, super intended by the U.S–the country whose enlistment of Pantami in a terror watchlist appear to matter so much to some of our people, is only a heir to a brutish culture of slave trade, violent racism and forceful colonization. That culture, which almost everyone has now chosen to believe without question, has now evolved, with more knowledge and advancements in many aspects of human endeavor. Rather than playing the innocence card to blame your “follies” on age and ignorance, use comparisons such as this to give an implied sense of your case. Ask them: are you going to ask Britain to account for Slave Trade? Since it is not the conversation planned for, many will get lost in it.
The third thing in every crisis situation is to have your narrative. And to form your narrative, it is important to consult, if it is useless to contract, people in the business of journalism and public relations. However, since most people think their knowledge and experience is enough, with PhDs in Ivy League schools, they will not understand the importance of this. For example, how to communicate fire incident in your organisation may look easy; it is as simple as stating the time, the cause and the casualties, if any. However, a fire incident may mean bad maintenance culture in the organization. It may mean indiscipline or as simple as the organization not having fire extinguishers, suggesting inability of the management to foresee danger and plan for them. So when wrongly communicated, it may be interpreted in any of these or in ways much worse.
When your narrative is finally formed, you must stick to it throughout the course of the engagement. Your interviewer only thinks about his script, not you; and you must in the same light also worry only about your own narrative. Do not bother about satisfying him or her, be concerned about presenting your narrative. The simple trick is to never allow the interview to be guided solely by the pattern of his or her questions. Don’t! Those who have watched the documentary, the Occupation of the American Mind, an account of how the government of Israel subdued the mind of the American man and conditioned it against Palestine, will understand this point better.
Many say that the work of public relations is simply the art of managing a lie. Besides the fact that the business of determining a lie is resident in the courts, I think it is more about managing information against the backdrop of a given circumstance. That is why, as a rule, you don’t even meddle with whether it is true or not, for that is for the lawyers. It is simply about communicating better, building better perceptions, managing crisis and protecting reputations, among other things.