Mrs. Funmi Wakama is the Senior Special Assistant on Media to Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun. Her appointment in 2011 made her the first female Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to a governor in the state since it was created on February 3, 1976.
The soft-spoken woman of style who had carved a niche for herself through hard-work spoke on her challenges and sundry issues…
How has it been working as CPS to Governor Ibikunle Amosun?
Working with him is not a walk in the park, I must confess. It requires a lot of hard work and energy. You must be dedicated and share his passion. A governor who would not want to stay away from his duty post because of his passion to serve the people.
We even have a joke around here that he rushes back from his trips outside the state in order to ensure that the beautiful bridges he constructed will not disappear and in return, he would say he is governor of Ogun State and not of Abuja or elsewhere. These are senior jokes, so we all keep straight faces and do not laugh.
I must confess that it has been very challenging but most important, it’s been about service to the good people of Ogun State. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I was able to make it this far, because you are the CPS to such a hardworking governor who effortlessly walks several kilometres without showing any sign of exhaustion or tiredness. And I don’t mean pleasure walks, but real hard walk, which entails inspection of projects far into the night, personally ensuring that things are properly done.
We could attend up to six to seven assignments a day. Now, we don’t own the media houses. I therefore need to sit with my team to decide which event we give prominence above the other. And the press crew has been wonderful, always there when needed. We had to put them on a shift to avoid a situation where they begin to fall sick.
What day would you describe as unforgettable and what happened in your handling of media relations for the state government?
We owe a lot of the successes we have recorded so far to the governor’s political dexterity. Let me put it this way: As part of his determination to rid the state of criminal elements, he has on several occasions, led operations to quash their activities in a commando style.
Two of such readily come to mind. One was when a prominent religious leader was abducted and we went in hot pursuit of the abductors and within a few hours, they had to quickly drop their victim. Another was when he went in chase of an armed robber in the company of some security personnel at the secretariat.
These two incidents are unforgettable. It is heartwarming that one is working for a governor who can best be likened to a good merchandise in the hands of an accomplished advertiser. What happens to such a product? It rules the market. It not only gets its fair share of the market, but eats into other markets and that explains the increase in the rate at which there has been an influx of multinational, multibillion naira range companies to Ogun State.
The single largest American Government investment in the country outside the oil industry berthed here in Agbara, Ogun State. As at the last count, we have close to 60 of such big companies. Imagine the exponential increase in SMEs and job opportunities for our people. Don’t forget that investors would put their money where it is safe. President Goodluck Jonathan, though in a different party from my boss, has commended him openly at public events, times without number.
How will you describe Amosun as a boss?
He is a very hardworking, focused and decent man. All he eats and breathes is about Ogun State and how to modernize it. His dream is to take the state to greater heights by making it a highly industrialized and safe haven for the citizens and investors alike.
This he has been able to do successfully. We have all learnt to key into his vision because his passion is highly infectious. His energy level is indescribable and we have tried to catch up with him. Everything must be Ogun standard, which is the benchmark for minimum irreducible standard for development in the state. I have found him to be very honest and sincere with the people.
He has kept his social pact with them. Even his adversaries have at various times acknowledged his vision and passion. During the campaigns, we traversed the length and breadth of the state. We campaigned in the 236 wards in all the 20 local government areas. We held meetings with interest groups and so many associations.
We consulted with our royal fathers and other leaders of thoughts. They said that they have never witnessed such transformation as under the present administration. The young, old, male, female, are always swarming around him; wanting to see, touch and just behold the face of the master builder of our time. They do not get tired of seeing him. We have been able to deliver largely on the five-point agenda which are affordable qualitative education; efficient healthcare delivery; increased agricultural production/industrialisation; affordable housing and urban renewal and rural and infrastructural development /employment generation.
What has been your most memorable experience as spokesperson to the governor?
There are several really, but winning the second term election tops it for me. His victory is a vote of confidence and approval of his performance in office by the good people of Ogun State and as his Chief Press Secretary, I must have invariably done my job with some measure of success. My joy knew no bounds when we commissioned the international standard six-lane road at the Ibara/Ita-Eko/Sokori/Totoro Axis in May 2012. By January the following year, we commissioned the first flyover bridge constructed by any government since the creation of the state.
With a sense of joy and happiness, I felt proud that history was being made and I was a part of it. Of course, we have gone ahead to build several others but those are specific days that I will not forget in a hurry. Another memorable occasion was the sweet dance of victory, immediately after the results of the elections were announced. I also felt proud that I was a part of those who made it happen.
Which one is more challenging, your former job or the present one?
This is a new terrain and it is more challenging. Broadcast journalism was my forte and I can do most things literally with my eyes closed. But here, you learn something new virtually on a daily basis. Office politics is also different; it is more challenging here because of the dynamics of the environment.
Things were done a bit differently where I came from, but I have had to adjust to my new environment. Don’t forget that I came from a background filled with glamour and adulation. I was used to extreme admiration and reverence regards, but in a political environment, it’s a different ball game altogether.
What is the relationship between you and your immediate constituency; state house crew, correspondents and the state council of the NUJ?
The relationship between my office and our various media partners has been a pleasant walk in the woods experience for me. The state NUJ and Correspondents’ Chapel members have all been very supportive. I recall in the early days of the administration during my consultative meetings with the various bodies, they noted that a female had never held the post prior to my appointment and pledged their full support to ensure that I succeed and they kept their promise. I remain indebted to them all. In essence, minor incidents that could have degenerated where nipped in the bud. They gave me heads up on events and situations that could be potentially combustible and these I passed on to the appropriate quarters. My job description and schedule goes beyond writing of releases and articles. I believe it includes but not limited to engendering good relationship between my principal and those who assist me in publicizing his good works.
I do not have a medium and do not own the media houses. These are the people who do it for me so, I must respect them and give them the attention they deserve at all times. As a PR practitioner and from experience, you disrespect and ignore the Press at your own peril. As for the Press crew, you can say that I am their mother hen. They love me to bits and I equally accord them their due respect. I remember on two occasions when the governor met with the various media groups and they wouldn’t allow me to speak. They would just burst into songs and applause at the mere mention of my name, such that my boss was taken aback. On the second occasion, he had to ask them, why and they chorused “Wakama se eniyan”, meaning “Wakama is a good person.” So, media management is a complete package.
How would you describe Nigeria’s democratic culture?
Let’s look at democracy as a universal concept. A government that is hinged on service to the people is a government that has the people as its focal point. Nigeria’s democratic culture has been a mixed bag. People’s votes are beginning to count, which has resulted in the incumbent President losing an election to the opposition and conceding defeat.
This, to me, is the laying of a solid foundation upon which other benefits of democracy can be built. The change we are about to experience is going to bring improvement in the quality of life for all Nigerians. It is emerging and we all need to do our bit in ensuring that this culture is entrenched.
What is your advice to future governor spokespersons?
My advice to them is to remain focused and maintain a firm belief in themselves. Such persons must be committed and loyal 110 percent. It pays off if you work with a discerning boss like mine. Irrespective of the usual office politics, if you are loyal and committed, your principal would have absolute trust in you. You must accord media practitioners the respect they deserve. They really can make or mar you. I guess, I learnt a lot, while interacting with the media at the highest level, when I was the Programme Manager, Media and Outreach (Nigeria) at IRI. We conducted a lot of needs assessment for our training programs designed in the run up to the 2011 general elections.
Any regret as CPS to Amosun?
Like most adventures, you win some, you lose some, but the show must go on. Honestly, with hindsight, which is always 20-20, I would have done a lot of things differently. I wouldn’t have trusted so much because, the disappointment is usually huge when otherwise trusted allies fail you.