Tell us about Reno Omokri?
Reno Omokri is a husband to a beautiful woman and father of three kids. Prior to my appointment by President Goodluck Jonathan I was Vice President Africa at a U.S. political consulting firm and prior to that I worked in the Obasanjo Villa under the Special Duties office of the then Vice President. My boss then was Chris Mammah one of the most decent men I have ever been favored to come across. That is me in a nutshell.
Do you think young Nigerians online are really “Children of anger”? as described by Reuben Abati?
Young Nigerians gave Nigeria Nollywood which is now the third largest movie industry in the world. They built it up from the scratch. Young Nigerians made it possible for President Jonathan to win the 2011 Presidential elections. Young Nigerians are sustaining the economy of this nation and causing it to grow at over 6% per annum. Young Nigerians just made us champions of Africa at the just concluded AFCoN. Young Nigerians are outperforming youths from other parts of the world at college campuses all over the West and of late in the Far East. I don’t think they are children of anger. I think they are an asset. What would Nigeria’s online community be without a Chude Jideonwu, an Eggheader, an Abubakar S. Usman, a Tolu Ogunlesi, a Feyi Fawehinmi and a R.M Ajayi? Sometimes they get carried away but their mistakes if they make any at all are mistakes of the heart and not of the head.
So in direct response to your question I don’t think they are children of anger.
In fact many people are now familiar with the term ‘breath of fresh air’ and associate it with the good work the President is doing. However it may or may not surprise you to know that that term was actually first used by Tolu Ogunlesi in June of 2010 to describe the President. How can I celebrate Tolu for saying that and still believe he is a child of anger? No. He and others like him are Children of Promise!
You were based in the United States before now, why did you return?
I returned to Nigeria to serve Nigeria by working for the President to implement his Transformation Agenda.
Why do you think young Nigerians online are always critical of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration?
It is a fallacy to say that Nigerians online are always critical of President Jonathan. Perhaps you deal in hearsays but I deal with facts. I challenge you to do a scientific analysis of the comments on the President’s facebook page when next he puts up an update. For instance, one of his last few updates had about twenty thousand comments! Yes, you heard me right, twenty thousand. It is still there. Go and check it out.
Now of those twenty thousand comments, the vast majority were positive. Many of them are messages of support. A lot are prayers. There were and will always be the nay Sayers. So even though a hostile media will go and select some of the more negative comments for publication, which in some cases are planted, those cannot drown out the overwhelmingly positive comments.
So I challenge you Mercy Abang to go and analyze the comments on facebook. Now for Twitter, you need to understand that Twitter is a medium for instant communication. Now for such a media when you have many competing voices you have to do something different, may be something shocking, in order to stand out. As such people are losing all sense of proportion in order to get instant notoriety on Twitter. This is a phenomenon that started in the U.S. and mind you, my then boss, Joe Trippi, wrote the bible for New Media engagement titled ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’.
On Twitter, if given the choice, people choose to say what will get noticed over what represents their minds. In many cases, the object is not to communicate, it is to be popular. And if you ever went to High School or College in the States you know that the personality of the popular kids is a facade which quickly falls apart when they graduate from High School or College and move on to the real world.
But guess what Mercy? It is the real world that counts and when you consider the results of the last election in Nigeria, by this I mean the FCT council elections, you will notice that opposition parties and personalities are famous on Twitter, but that fame does not translate to the real world. In contrast, President Jonathan and his party are both loved and hated on Social Media but their performance in terms of increasing the GDP of Nigeria, revamping the rail ways and making it possible to travel from Lagos to Kano in 30 hours for 1500 Naira, ensuring a modest and continuing increase in electricity generation, has earned them popularity in the real world.
You would notice that even the most virulent critics of the President could not successfully sell the argument that the FCT elections were rigged because those elections were well monitored almost to the point of over monitoring. You, Mercy Abang, monitored that election. It was free, fair and credible. So what was the excuse of these opposition parties for their dismal performance especially when you consider that the FCT is a mini Nigeria and elections there tend to reflect the mood of the nation?
How is your relationship with Mallam Nasir Elrufai, tell us about that?
Mallam Nasir El-rufai was introduced to me sometime in 2008 by Pat Utomi who was then a client of the political consulting firm I worked for as a Vice President. He and I struck up a personal friendship and I found in him one of the most intelligent human beings I have ever met and I have met a lot of people all over the world. Malam Elrufai introduced me to Malam Nuhu Ribadu who visited California, played with my kids and inspired me by his love for Nigeria. I also found Malam Ribadu to be extremely intelligent.
In any case, after my introduction to El-rufai, I believed he was being unjustly treated by the late President Yar’adua and so I began to organize politically and with the media in his defense. This was completely free of charge. I never asked him for a dime. I worked at a major U.S. political consulting firm and I had resources that he knew of.
I have personal emails where Mallam El-rufai thanked me for my friendship and my generosity to him. The bible says the left hand should not know what the right hand has done in love so I will not mention what I did for him in detail but he knows. He wrote me and he acknowledged them.
El-rufai was quite touched by what I had done for him that he called my late father, Justice Jean Omokri, in 2010. He spoke to my father and according to him he thanked my father for what I had done for him. The reason why I say according to him is that my father died after speaking with El-rufai. El-rufai was the last person to talk to my father.
Sometime after I began to organize for him El-rufai contacted me that he wanted to reimburse me. I never asked him for it and I did not solicit for it. But he insisted and ended up mailing checks to me in California.
When I was first offered a political appointment the very first person I consulted was Mallam El-rufai. He advised me to take it. However I refused to take it and preferred to remain in California to watch events in Nigeria.
In October of 2010 El-rufai called me livid with anger. He was upset at me for the way I responded to Muhammadu Buhari who he was having a spat with (at that time I was writing lot of his releases and media interviews). He complained that I was too measured in my response and that I should have completely taken Buhari to the cleaners. I warned him that he was popular in the South and unpopular in the North and as such it was unwise of him to antagonize Buhari who was popular in the core North where he was trying to penetrate. He would not listen to me and the conversation ended.
Around the later part of 2010 based on confidential information that was exchanged amongst El-rufai, a confidante of his named Mohammed Salihu and myself, I was led to believe that El-rufai was going to contest in the 2010 election. We exchanged emails amongst ourselves on that basis and I was prepared to return to Nigeria. However, soon after those emails were exchanged I read in Leadership Newspaper that El-rufai had declared support for Buhari who he had had me attack only a few weeks earlier.
I called him and confronted him with the news and for the first time since I had known him Elrufai was at a loss for words. He told me after he gathered himself that the news was planted by Nuhu Ribadu as revenge for his not supporting him. I believed him.
Imagine my surprise when after this I saw Mallam El-rufai campaigning for Buhari. Put yourself in my shoes. How would you feel? I felt betrayed! This was a man who was angry at me because I would not unleash an attack on Buhari and now he was within weeks campaigning for this same man.
There and then my spirit departed from him.
I returned to Nigeria soon after and I still maintained contact with El-rufai. When he began his back page column on Thisday Newspapers, I had cause to disagree with him and I wrote rejoinders based on principle. As is typical with El-rufai, he overreacted. He commissioned people to leak selected emails we shared.
Let me say to him that he knows the types of emails we shared. If I was like him and I release the more confidential ones how would he feel? But I was not brought up that way and I leave him to God to judge. But let me still say that he is still one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. His main issue is that his emotional intelligence never peaked at the same level as his Intelligence Quotient. This is the main difference between him and Mallam Ribadu who remains a bosom and dear friend. I may be wrong, but from interaction with the two, I found that El-rufai’s intelligence is governed by ego while Ribadu’s is governed by conscience.
Will you recommend for the regulation of social media in Nigeria?
On the regulation of Social Media, I believe that it is enough to enlighten people of the dangers in Social Media. The case of Cynthia who was lured to Lagos and killed is a pointer to this. Beyond that I think Social Media should be left alone. It only helps to expose people to the young elite who have access to the Internet. Some people actually think they are getting more popular because of the type of things they say on Social Media. In actual fact they are only getting more notorious and famous. A lot of the time politicians and activists don’t realize that they do not need more fame. What they need is more credibility. And while their compartment on Social Media will continue to add to their fame they pay the price for that by way of loss of credibility. I am fortunate to have learnt such lessons in the States, so I don’t let myself get bothered by such people. By the time they realize what they have done to their image it will be too late.
Do you consider yourself an elite member of the Nigerian TwitterSphere in other words what is called the twitter Cabal?
I don’t consider myself to be an elite member of the Twitter cabal for the simple reason that I am a member of a different class. My first love is the gospel and I am irrevocably attached to that both in public and private. Secondly, I work for President Goodluck Jonathan. As such I have to be careful in that my words and associations can be inferred as endorsements when they were not intended as such. My philosophy is that you can’t misquote silence and you can’t misinterprete solitude.
You have been a panelist at the United States Institute of Peace, do you think your twitter presence, vis-a-vis the many controversy speaks of you as a man of peace?
What you have to understand is that on Social Media I speak as the President’s Special Assistant on New Media. There is nobody who speaks for a sovereign that does not become controversial.
Consider this; my mentor in life is Jesus Christ. He spoke for His Father. In fact John Chapter one calls Him the Word of God. People who opposed Jesus opposed Him because they were controlled by forces in opposition to His Father. Those forces are in opposition to His Father because they want to take His Father’s place. Jesus being a perfect Son will not stand idle while His Father’s enemies speak ill of His Father. And in defending His Father Jesus was considered controversial.
What happened while Jesus was on earth is still happening and will continue to happen until the end of this age because in any geo political space there can only be one sovereign however there are many pretenders to the throne. You don’t expect those who despise the sovereign to speak good about him and his messengers.
What is your response to Pius Adesanmi’s constant criticism of you.
Pius Adesanmi has written so much about me yet I have never written about him so I must conclude that it is the job of one of us to make the news while it is the job of the other to tell it. My destiny is to focus on the future so I can achieve great things through God working in me. Perhaps it is the destiny of my critics to focus on me and write about the great things God will achieve through me.
Kathleen Ndongmo, amongst other young Nigerians criticized Government’s policy on fuel subsidy, why did you single her out to rebuke?
On Kathleen, it is unfortunate that she did not understand why I did what I did. During the Fuel Subsidy issue she was on Twitter mobilizing people to gather at Surulere in Lagos against the government. Several people did that. Why did I single her out? She is a Cameroonian citizen and I felt that it was wrong for her to mobilize against the government of the nation that has welcomed her as a resident and I said in quote “Kathleen, you are a Cameroonian and you are welcome in Nigeria, but please allow Nigerians to react to their government’s policy”. Please go back and confirm if I have lied in the quote I just gave you. Now do you think Cameroonians will tolerate a Nigerian resident of Cameroon mobilizing Cameroonian citizens against an economic policy put in place by the Cameroonian government? If a U.S. Permanent Resident who is not a citizen tried that in America that is enough grounds for the U.S. government to withdraw such a person’s Green Card.
Now I ask you, what is rude or uncouth in what I just said? In response the young woman used some choice words on me for which I did not respond. The next day I got a call from a respected Nigerian journalist saying that Kathleen had called her saying that she received an anonymous call from the SSS and some people were saying that they would hold me responsible if anything happened to her. I am a strong believer in God. I prayed about that incident. I am reasonably certain that such an incident never occurred but let me give her the benefit of the doubt. However, I am completely certain that I never instigated anything like that. And I know God enough to know that when I pray over a thing I have NEVER failed to get justice from my Maker.
This is a kind of self-assessment, describe today’s Nigeria led by President Goodluck Jonathan.
In describing Nigeria under President Jonathan let me quote the words of Prime Minister David Cameron at his speech at the Conservative Party annual Conference on October 12th 2012. He said “We’ve been hearing about China and India for years but it’s hard to believe what’s happening in Brazil, in Indonesia, in Nigeria”. Nobody ever said that about Nigeria in the past. Now it is those who we once looked up to that are looking up to us. That is saying a lot about Nigeria and President Jonathan in my opinion.
Before President Jonathan assumed power Nigerians had only two choices if they wanted to travel between North and South. They could either go by road or by air. Today they have a third alternative. They can go by road for the price of 1500.
You as a journalist you now know how much is spent on feeding the hundreds of soldiers and other security agents in the villa because the president signed into law the Freedom of Information Bill into law. Prior to this act such types of information was not available to you. Only a man who has nothing to hide would do that.
Before President Jonathan Nigeria had 11 million children known as Almajiri outside the formal education system. But today, while there are still Almajiri on the streets of Nigeria, the President has intervened by providing 400 schools situated in all the 19 Northern states exclusively to cater for these itinerant scholars.
Before President Jonathan, the oil majors were sourcing all of their heavy equipment from outside our shores. But as a result of the signing into law of the Local Content Bill into law Shell was compelled to award a contract worth $50 Million to SCC, a Nigerian company, for the production of deep pressure underground pipes. Ditto for NigerDock which was awarded contracts to build platforms by the oil majors.
Thousands of young Nigerians have benefited from training and grants from between 2 to 10 million Naira in the Youth Enterprise with Innovation (YouWIN) scheme.
All these are proof positive that we have a leader who has vision and who will not lose focus in implementing the Transformation Agenda he promised Nigerians.
You are the pastor of the church, Mind of Christ Christian Center, tell us about your Pastoral calling by God.
I am passionately in love with the living God of The Bible. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Only True God and Jesus whom He has sent. That is my first identity. All others flow from that. God has been very kind to me and I never planned to go into the ministry. It is not something I chose for myself. But God who knows better than I led me into the ministry and I have found my passion in fulfilling The Great Commission Jesus gave to His believers in Matthew 28;18-20. I have hit my harmonic C in these instructions “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Abang Mercy-Asu is a Journalist, a Public Relations Personnel and can be reached for interviews at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on twitter @abangmercy