Sharing my thoughts and putting my message accross
For us in the communication and media business, the nuts and bolts of success in positions of public exposure are basically the ability to communicate and connect with target audiences. In today’s world of modern communication media, hardly any public office survives the demands of public scrutiny and hunger for information without the ability to communicate programs, intentions and achievements to the target audience. The American President Barack Obama shares this inalienable gift of eloquence with some of his predecessors namely Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
From the very beginning of President Jonathan’s tenure as Acting President, I have been crying out in vain to highlight the President’s abysmal talent in public communication. In one article in December 2011 “The self-created Problems of President Jonathan” I lamented his inability to follow up credible actions with robust rhetoric. Olusegun Obasanjo was not a gifted orator. He was a man who could get out of himself sometimes very ruthlessly and some other times, also in accommodating sophistication. He would run mad if an interviewer dared to ask him the wrong question and throw his audience into endless laughter if the interviewer strikes the right nerve. He was feared for this attribute which made his temperament unpredictable. No one regarded Olusegun Obasanjo as dull, unintelligent or as “Mumu President” in spite of all the anger and hatred that the nation had for him. The bottom line was self-managed communication that may be regarded as a talent.
The pattern of communication shapes an individual and communication alone may make or mar any public venture exposed to the gaze of the masses. In one of his first off-script public comments as President, Goodluck Jonathan declared that he was not a military General and could not go on the rampage in the name of governance. He could not understand the mass clamoring for decisive actions on his part. He declared his awareness of senior public officers coming habitually late to work and added that he could not go round hounding them with a club to whip them in line. It was the very first hint of his incompetence in public communication. He had hardly realized at that time that the implication of this comment was giving these public officers a blank check to keep coming late to work.
I have no doubt that President Jonathan is himself, aware of this personal weakness in public communication even though none of his aides would dare tell it to his face in the typical Nigerian apple-polishing fashion. It is a personal weakness that has contributed very strongly, to the public image that is presently resting on him as an albatross. It has cost him the perceived image of the innocent, calm and calculated intellectual that he radiated before engaging in unscripted public speeches. Yet, the President does not seem to understand how to leave strategic moments that may define his weaknesses to his lieutenants to handle. His recent appearance on CNN with an opening symptom of stage-fright and attendant poor articulation is one example of an assignment that should have been better left to Reuben Abati.
All that aside though, weird and outlandish decisions often end up compounding the already battered image created by the glaring deficit in communication.
I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that President Goodluck Jonathan is running an administration that has its own share of positive achievements. Unfortunately however, there is hardly any achievement that stands out in public consciousness today that compares to the payment of foreign debts, mobile phone revolution or an aggressive EFCC fight against corruption no matter how controversial they may be subjectively perceived. In the power sector, figures available to the President that we have no reason to challenge, indicate sustained progress in the project of providing the nation with steady and uninterrupted power supply. Quite honestly, his acceptance of continuing the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) started by Olusegun Obasanjo and abandoned by Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for no comprehensible reason, was one major step in the right direction that observers applauded. As usual in this cursed sector riddled with saboteurs and vested interests however, the more you look is the less you see. Ordinarily, one would have expected the work left for the present administration to handle in the power sector to span between a few months or a maximum of one year given the immense work already done by the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. But today, work is yet in progress and the target seems ever far away.
In a new public communication drive, the President’s men have made bold to highlight a quantum leap in the power sector. Unfortunately, the masses yearn to know when this giant stride will trickle down to their private homes. Indeed, when facts on the ground do not match the rhetoric, the impact is as bad as inarticulate communication. President Jonathan’s government is suffering from an acute problem of public communication under the management either of unqualified operatives or a leader that is simply resistant to constructive coaching.
In fact, moments requiring swift public explanation are left unused leaving the masses to speculate on skeletons in the closet. Farida Waziri was removed unceremoniously from the EFCC just as she was beginning to get assertive and execute the business she was appointed to do. The public waited to know why. They were only left to draw conclusions on their own with the facts on the ground. High-profile prosecutions that were started by her withered away in thin air. For once, the President decided to be assertive and determined. But it was only against the weakest in society. The vehemence, zeal and determination with which President Jonathan sought to remove fuel subsidy in January 2012 almost made him look like a military General that he said he wasn’t. Farouk Lawan led a legislative committee and came up with mind-boggling revelations of filth and rot in the oil sector. He submitted recommendations. Then he was promptly set up in a conspiracy – oh sorry, sting operation – to appeal to his Nigerian instinct ever-ready for ‘egunje’. Ever since, the central issue has no longer been the revelations made by his committee but the man’s exercise of pure Nigerianism!
The no-nonsense Nuhu Ribadu was appointed to head a committee to feign seriousness on the part of his nominators in the quest to get to the root of the filth in the oil sector. In the end, two subordinate members of his committee were appointed into the same corporation at the center of the investigation. Ribadu ended up being rubbished, disparaged and denigrated and today, no one speaks a word anymore, of the findings and recommendations that he made. They were dead on arrival.
The cumulative impact of all these events that can hardly go down as mere coincidences coupled with inarticulate communication exemplified by a President with poor oratory abilities and the elevation of an achievement that hardly matches facts on the ground paints the picture of a very messy state of affairs under President Goodluck Jonathan.
The only public communication that the presidency seems to master very well these days is the art of lashing out at opponents and critics. The appointment of Doyin Okupe into the President’s communication team has given a face to the bad boy of wanton mismanagement.
In all fairness to this administration, it is at least handling this aspect with a touch of real professionalism. Oby Ezekwesili is the latest to have a taste of these stinging lyrics of the Abuja gangnam style.
Like many aggrieved Nigerians who could seemingly take it no more, she had expressed anger at the depletion of the nation’s foreign reserves and Excess Crude Account by the governments of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. Like many other Nigerians, I had no problem sharing Mrs. Ezekwesili’s pains and frustrations. The president’s men however wasted no time going on the attack. They lashed out at this highly respected critical asset of international repute accusing her of also depleting funds under her watch in her short-lived days as Minister of Education under President Obasanjo. They shifted the focus from depletion to the accuracy of figures tangling $42 billion against the alleged $45 billion and citing central bank figures to buttress their point. It worked.
For a nation that has largely grown a DNA of detesting Olusegun Obasanjo, any revelation that is likely to place Obasanjo and anything that he represents in good light has a huge rebound potential and may boomerang. It thus came as it would. A section of Nigerians (most likely minority) turned the heat on Oby Ezekwesili with wild, acrimonious and sometimes despicable accusations. For the teeming majority of Nigerians though, the accuracy of the figures matter very little. The fact of unexplainable depletion is after all undisputable and was loudly criticized during the days of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and less criticized under Goodluck Jonathan most likely out of resignation. In fact, given the impunity of theft in the oil sector and the weird reluctance of the Presidency to confront this crime, it is easy for any discerning mind to embrace any charge of impropriety against this government. Moreover, Oby Ezekwesili was not saying something new. It is a fact that everyone has long known that was simply being re-echoed by a competent authority.
The obstinate refusal to provide refineries for the local refinement of crude oil and kill the regime of importation has been a contentious issue hanging on the government’s neck. The deliberate attempt to avoid angering oil marketers who are at the center of corruption accusations is not lost on anyone. This hangs out against the backdrop of the rumored bankrolling of the President’s 2011 campaign by precisely these same oil marketers. It will therefore not require much proof for cries of corruption to stick on the President even if they had no credible basis at all.
Else, there is no law proclaiming Madam Oby Ezekwesili an infallible or unblemished saint. The fact is that people just do not care anymore if she also has a case to answer or not. After the conspiracy – my God, I mean sting operation on Farouk Lawan that showed him also as corrupt as the oil marketers, and the sting operation – no, this time conspiracy – to rubbish Nuhu Ribadu and show that he was after all, not as intelligent and smart as he thinks, people are simply fed up seeing the weaknesses of others exposed always and always only after they have or come too close to exposing the President’s “yansh”. Gradually, the President’s only surviving credible expertise of tongue-lashing and neutralizing opponents and critics may soon become an albatross around his neck if this cheap and transparent trend continues.
Else, I would have loved to know why the respected Oby Ezekwesili chose this time and none other to raise the alarm on foreign reserves when it was gradually beginning to soar again. I would have loved to know, the one compelling catalyzer that sparked off this alarm at this point in time and all that occurs to me – I’m afraid – is nothing else but strategic positioning for 2015 giving the President a small taste of the rough dance awaiting him on the stage, on which he plans to repeat his treacherous dance against all wisdom. But please psst! Do not say I told you because I don’t have the proof. It’s a messy, messy stage.
Watch out for my new book “Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment” – Author House, England! Out soon!