The intrusion into my private life was total as my wife complained about her sleep being disrupted by phones that never seemed to stop ringing. Besides, whenever I was not checking or responding to the phones, I was busy online trying to find out if the APC had said something contrarian or some other fellow was up to any mischief. A media manager in the 21st century is a slave of the Breaking News, a slave particularly of the 24-hour news cycle, and a potential nervous breakdown case. Debo Adesina, my colleague at The Guardian once said I was running a “one week, one trouble schedule”.
There were actually moments when trouble knocked on the door every hour, and duty required my team and I to respond to as many issues that came up.
Top of the task list was the management of phone calls related to the principal. In my first week on the job, for example, one of my phones ran out of battery and I had taken the liberty to charge it. While it was still in the off mode, the “Control Room”: the all-powerful communications centre at the State House tried to reach me. They had only just that phone number, so I couldn’t be reached. When eventually they did, the fellow at the other end was livid.
“SA Media, where are you? We have been trying to reach you. Mr President wants to speak with you”
“Sorry, I was charging my phone. The phone was off.”
“Sir, you can’t switch off your phone now. Mr President must be able to reach you at any time. You must always be available.” I was like: “really? Which kin job be dis?”
The Control Room eventually collected all my phone numbers. If I did not pick up a call on time, they called my wife. Sometimes the calls came directly from the Residence, as we referred to the President’s official quarters.
“Abati, Oga dey call you!”
If I still could not be reached, every phone that was ever connected to me would ring non-stop. Busy bodies who had just picked up the information that Abati was needed also often took it upon themselves to track me down. My wife soon got used to her being asked to produce me, or a car showing up to take me straight to the Residence. I eventually got used to it, and learnt to remain on duty round-the-clock. In due course, President Jonathan himself would call directly. My wife used to joke that each time there was a call from him, even if I was sleeping, I would spring to my feet and without listening to what he had to say, I would start with a barrage of “Yes sirs”! Other calls that could not be joked with were calls from my own office. Something could come up that would require coverage, or there could be a breaking story, or it could be something as harmless as office gossip, except that in the corridors of power, nothing is ever harmless. Looking back now, I still can’t figure out how I survived that onslaught of the terror of the telephone.