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Nigeria: Between the President and the Presidency

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Nigerians have been worried about the seeming silence of President Muhammadu Buhari over the ugly state of affairs in the country. While he keeps mum, his lieutenants are busy speaking on behalf of the Presidency. Apparently, the current administration speaks from different sides of the mouth. It is not clear what style of political communication the government of the day is employing. This is where the question “Is it the presidency that makes the president or the president which makes the presidency?”

We may not need to look far to find a similar perplexing question. The reader would recall that a onetime Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal asked the question “Who is the Presidency?” following his suspension as the SGF Wednesday April 19, 2017. He was fired six months later on October 30, 2017, after being investigated for diversion of funds which were meant for crisis relief in the northeast. The rest is history.

In an exclusive interview with Channels Television’s Hard Copy, Mr. Lawal said, “I asked that question because the president has a specific routine. If you are going to be removed from office, the president insists that you be told personally, first of all, so that your people don’t hear it on the television. It’s your duty to notify them that I’m going to be removed from office or I’ve been removed from office – so you’re not watching TV and they see the news.” He added that “The president doesn’t like it. So that was the context in which I was asking this question.”

Although Mr. Lawal was accused of being arrogant, there are feelers that those who speak for the president are also arrogant. For example, “in a strongly worded statement signaling an apparent rift within the president’s inner circle” the First Lady, Aisha Buhari took to her Twitter handle to accuse the Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu of being disloyal. Is this indicative of arrogance? Also, in an article titled, “Femi Adesina: Enough of the Arrogance, We’re Your Employer” Chris Idoko cited various instances of what he termed arrogance by Femi Adesina.

“‘That was just a child’s play and irritation by young Nigerians, not a protest’ (Femi 6/08/2020).  ‘I just want to encourage Mr Ibikunle not to continue to sound like a broken record. If you see yourself as used tissue paper I can’t help.’ Mr. Adesina replies callers (Nigeria Info FM, Premium Times 5/5/2020). ‘Giving your ancestral land for ranching better than death” said Femi (Vanguard 4/7/2018)…'” Idoko wrote.

In February, the Minister of Defense, Major Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd) said it is the responsibility of every citizen to be at alert amidst security challenges in the country. “It is the responsibility of everybody to keep alert and to find safety when necessary. But we shouldn’t be cowards” he had said.  This did not go down well with Nigerians because, citizens pay taxes and the constitution does not allow anyone to use arms. As such, the remark sounded reckless and needless.

Also, although the former chief of army staff, Tukur Buratai had claimed that the army has invented its own indigenous vehicles to change the Boko Haram narrative, he however, emphasized that “The situation is that of asymmetric warfare. It is a complex operation. It is something that started more than 30, 40 years ago. They have penetrated communities both in Nigeria, Chad, Niger.” The question that readily comes to mind is, why didn’t the former army chief raise the alarm before he left office? Why was government investing money in procurement of arms if the military knew the nation was fighting an impossible war?

It is clear that in Nigeria, those who speak for government have a penchant for speaking down on their fellow citizens. Apparently, they forget that their big salaries and allowances come from the national budget as well as tax payers. Therefore, rather than displaying arrogance of power, those who speak for government should know that they are there because of the people. Where they feel obliged to their “paymasters” rather than the citizenry, good governance suffers.

As a recipe for good leadership, political communication creates a healthy relationship between government and the governed, leaders and the led. Not only does it facilitate effective and efficient feedback, but it also creates a leeway for information-flow. It is crucial to note that while lieutenants can speak for their bosses, there are times that only the voice of the Master should he heard. When a father abdicates his role to his wife in the face of adversity, it leaves much to be desired.

We cannot pretend that we are not living in perilous times. This is because activities of killer-herdsmen, armed robbers, commercial kidnappers, Boko Haram insurgents and other criminal elements are on the increase. As a way out, Nigerians need their President to address the nation. Doing so would demonstrate true statesmanship, servant-leadership and emphatic-governance. Due to the prevailing situation, not even a Harvard-crafted script by a million speechwriters can make up for a heart-heart interaction between a president and his fellow country men and women.

Nigerians have a say about how their country is run. In other developed climes, citizens can pass a vote of no-confidence on their leaders. It is in that light that government has to deliberately engage members of the public through town hall meetings and other parliamentary engagements. It is hoped that either the President or Presidency would do the needful by interfacing with Nigerians to address the lingering challenges that stare us in the face. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.

 

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