Hurst was repugnant on Friday

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The Chief of Staff’s performance at Friday morning’s Cabinet press conference was, in all honesty, totally repugnant. I cannot understand for the life of me why the Cabinet, and more so the Prime Minister, continue to put someone out in front who is so reckless and rhetorical with his speech.

And despite the many times that Mr Hurst has underperformed in the past, Friday’s outing was truly a historic one when it comes to the level of flippancy and callousness meted out by him rather casually.

Mr Hurst was apparently standing in for Minister Nicholas. I must tell you the only difference between them is that Minister Nicholas has the capacity to speak without the same level of callousness and with far less rhetoric.

However, they are equal in their ability to be unremarkable at satisfying the public’s need for information. What’s worse is that Mr Hurst specifically seems to strike his own tone regardless of what tone is set by the minister. Does the government not see this man as a PR liability?

Every word out of his mouth is deflection, spin, attack, exaggeration, history denial and rhetoric. He was on full crank on Friday as the first barrage of questions from the media were all about the deplorable scandal of the West Africans, some of whom died at sea trying to get to the US. There are a few things I must rehash.

Firstly, Mr Hurst was asked whether the government was categorically ruling out ever calling an inquiry into the entire saga of Antigua Airways, the reported copycat flights. He had the pronounced lack of shame to attack the opposition for holding a vigil for the 16 or so persons who are dead after the boat tragedy.

In the midst of his response, he noted that it was primarily the main opposition party that had called for an inquiry and then bashed the vigil it held for the dead West Africans, accusing them of “celebrating their deaths”.

How can a government official say that? People have died, and a man who represents the Prime Minister and the executive arm has so little concern for the seriousness of the situation that he accuses those who attended a vigil, albeit organised by a political party, of “celebrating their deaths”? That’s a sick thing to say.

In so many other democracies, that alone would have been a career-ending muck-up. He would have been fired and statements of apology would be flying left, right, and centre. Someone would be out after him doing damage control and distancing the rest of the government from his views. But here, it’s just another week in pappyshow land. This kind of thing now rolls off of us like nothing.

And is it not an embarrassment that it was the opposition which was first to organise some form of public showing of grief, mourning, or sadness after the 16 deaths at sea? It’s been nearly three weeks. Where was the government to announce a day of mourning? A church service? A face-to-face media tour to meet and express sorrow to other Cameroonians? A massive loss of life and absolutely nothing but a dry press statement by the Prime Minister.

Secondly, Mr Hurst was at some point asked whether the government had considered that the Nigerian investor who partnered with the state was unscrupulous from the get-go. In response, he launched a defence of the investor and their company Marvelous Mike Press Ltd.

He was adamant that they had done nothing wrong, but were the victim of other unscrupulous characters who exploited their charters unbeknownst to them in order to book travellers who were really seeking to migrate. But he stopped short of admitting that no authority had actually been tasked to specifically investigate that question. So how has he concluded that the investor was above board?

Why is he even defending the investor at all? This entire tragedy has been so politically caustic for the government that common political sense and common decency would dictate that the government wash its hands of any obligation to speak for the integrity of other parties involved. Is the government not chest deep in enough sewage?

And what’s with the conflicting messages? The Prime Minister tells us boldly that Antigua Airways is defunct, so as if to say the venture has been abandoned, but Mr Hurst seems to suggest that the investor is standing by to attempt Antigua Airways 2.0? These people are coming off as confused, nonchalant, and idiotic.

Thirdly, Hurst then got into it with journalist Nikki Phoenix. Nikki accused him of “insulting our [the reporters’] intelligence” with his answers in defence of the investor. Hurst rebuffed her. But he went on to accuse her of “playing a game” adding “You’ll lose because we know how to play better than you”. He actually said that. “We know how to play better than you.”

Is everything a political game to this man? There are 16 dead people who paid exorbitant sums, and were probably lied to, only to be stranded in Antigua via flights backed by the government, and which the government failed to halt for weeks despite obvious signs of trouble. This, after partnering with a random printing company in Lagos to get the project off the ground in the first place.

As outrageous as his statements are, his insane nonsense talk has become so routine that I cannot now lie and claim that I was in any way surprised while listening to it in the car on my way to work. His statement actually encapsulates the current approach to governance, political communication and accountability – It’s just a game.

The questions they seem to be asking themselves are: How much can we confuse the narrative? How much can we spin the issue? How much can we deflect? How much can we play the victim? Where can we score points? How can we blame the opposition? Where can we blame the media?

How can we blame the public? As if politics were not about governance, development, and bettering lives, but simply about winning day-to-day political tugs of war. The concept that they have acted wrongly and need to show humility and forthrightness is not only foreign to them, but it’s totally outside of their conceptual frame of reference.

It’s just a game. A joke. It never stops being a game. They go home from a press conference where they gave zero answers, satisfied very little of our thirst for information, set right nothing that went wrong, offended many with their callousness and denial, and think, “Yes, we won that one”.

Fourthly, Mr Hurst began down the road of blaming the opposition for the deaths of the migrants inferring that it was a “hostile” attitude toward the migrants that helped influence the Cameroonians’ risky decision to head to sea. Again, he is blaming and attacking everyone else.

Fifth, he began down the road about prejudice toward Black African people. He has done this before, suggesting that anyone who had any issues with the resettlement of the migrants here was simply racially or colour prejudiced. Again, he is blaming and attacking everyone else.

Their responses are just ad hoc and carry you in circles. And then they bleat about how they are so transparent because they host a press conference weekly. It’s frustratingly dumb and loathsomely imbecilic. And it is constant and unending.

Sixth, I remind the readers that the MINISTER OF IMMIGRATION STEADROY CUTIE BENJAMIN HAS YET TO MAKE A SINGLE PUBLIC STATEMENT OR PUBLIC APPEARANCE since the tragedy. How is that possible? Is he even still a minister? What is going on?

The government is supposed to be in crisis response mode, but it’s as if nothing has changed. They have not lifted a finger to do anything outside of the bare minimum, and they seem to want praise for the bare minimum. Bringing the UNHCR and IOM here are hailed as major achievements in transparency.

Someone ought to have asked why we needed to wait for the UNHCR and the IOM to tell us how many people were interested in resettlement, or what their circumstances are. The announcement that flights were halted came at the end of January. It’s been two and a half months. What the hell has immigration been doing, if not tracking down and interviewing these people? Twiddling their thumbs?

Has the government passed any legislation, amendments, or set up any named programmes to specially process these individuals and assist them? What number do they call for help if they need it? Who in the government is their designated point of contact? Week after week Melford sits there and announces all sorts of things. I’m so tired of it.

Jonathan Willard

Thoughts and views expressed in guest opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Observer Newsco, its management or staff.

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