FEMI ADESINA | A Critical Discourse Reading Of The President’s Telephone Chat

Much has been said about the telephone encounter between President Muhammadu Buhari and his Senior Special Adviser on Media, Mr Femi Adesina. while some commentators, like Dr.  Reuben Abati and Femi Fani-Kayode have given some critical assessments of the telephone exchange as an ego trip, there are yet some hidden pieces of valuable information decipherable or that can be disentangled using some linguistic resource.  The interest in this piece, therefore, is not to over-flog the telephone conversation but to provide a linguistic insight into its affordances as a discourse resource that potentially yields a rich clue into the mind of the presidential aide and to reveal certain ideological undercurrents that may not be immediately obvious to the cursory reader or the none linguist. Please note that from an academic point, the transcript may not be considered to qualify as an authentic text because we have no way of knowing what aspects have been editorialised. However, we can still relate to it as it is.
I should start by providing a theoretical explanation about the rich ideological potential of language that defines its speakers even beyond what they can consciously contemplate. From the perspective of Critical Discourse Analysis, an orientation in Linguistics which harnesses insights from the social sciences, it is understood that language is an ideological, non-neutral resource through which we gain access into the mind, the inner recesses of the users of language.  By implication, the language that people use is a measure of their thoughts and ideological orientation, some of which are indeed unconsciously encoded in language. In addition, this language approach relies on the benefit that contextual resources offer towards the interpretation of texts. In this respect, we can talk of the cultural and social contexts of language. Therefore, if we want to gain access to a person’s real thoughts, the best place to look to is the language. It is therefore, a worthwhile endeavour, even if for an academic end,  to attempt to critically analyse the telephone exchange between the president and his media aide, Mr Femi Adesina for the insight it could yield into the office of the latter and how it operates, especially since the former’s departure on the 19th of January 2017 from Nigeria to England on an extended medical vacation.
Taking an excursion into the not-so-remote social context of the telephone exchange may help us to properly situate it as reported by Mr Adesina. At different media interviews, Mr Adesina had claimed that the president was hale and hearty and that there was ‘no cause for worry’, much like others in the president’s media team had spoken to douse the raging cynicism in the country about the veil of secrecy covering the president’s latest trip. Below is the reportage of the conversation, embellished with some comments by Adesina himself:
“At exactly 2.43 p.m today, Saturday, February 25, 2017, my phone rang. Who was at the other end? Tunde Sabiu, personal assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Hold on for Mr President,” Tunde said.
And in a matter of seconds, the very familiar voice came: “Femi, how are you?” (He calls me Adesina most times, but today, he opted for Femi) I screamed :”Mr President, I have missed you. How are you sir?”
He first laughed. That familiar laugh. Then he said: “I am still resting. Thank you for holding out against mischief makers.”
I said it was my duty, the very least I could do, adding how happy I was to speak with him.
“How is your family?”
I said we were fine, and he asked me to extend his greetings to them.
“I hope to call you again, ” Mr President said, and I bade him farewell, adding: “Best wishes, sir.”
It was a defining moment for me. For more than a month, I had always spoken with aides who are with the President in London. Not once did I ask them to take the phone to him, deliberately so, because I didn’t need to speak with him to validate the fact that he was alive. And since he was on vacation, he had a right to his privacy.
Of his own volition, President Buhari spoke with me. It made my day. Even if he hadn’t done so, he would have remained my President, my leader, and my man. Any day.”
Extracting aspects of the conversation for analysis will reveal Adesina as an alien in the epicentre of Aso Rock power game, if not prior to the president’s medical vacation, at least since then. The first indicator of the gap between Adesina and his principal is the latter’s switch of his normal address form for the former;  “Femi, how are you?” (He calls me Adesina most times, but today, he opted for Femi). Name is a mark of familiarity or distance between speakers. Given that the use of the first name shows familiarity, the consistency of the president in using Adesina as his form of address to his media aide prior to his journey and his sudden shift in the context of this interaction correspondingly shows a shift in the president’s ideological perception of the relationship between the two. Ideologically, things have changed.
I screamed :”Mr President, I have missed you. How are you sir?”. This aspect of the exchange between the president and Adesina seems to conclusively show distance. Contrary to his posturing in previous interviews where Adesina had said that he needn’t contact the president directly in order to obtain information on the president’s true health status was a craving in him to do so. If Adesina had missed the president so much, it was indicative of both a physical and emotional gap between the two. This is understandable within the context of about three weeks (as of the time of the phone call) separation between the two men. If Adesina had missed the president so much, as his media aide, one would ask, why couldn’t he have reached out to his principal? The answer to this poser is the power play that had drawn a wedge between the president and his media man such that the latter couldn’t reach the former thus, making the latter to miss the former in such a manner.

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