By Ochereome Nnanna
It has become the norm now for people to grumble after listening to President Goodluck Jonathan. Whether he is talking to Nigerians through his few and far between Presidential Media Chats or reading a prepared text in nationwide broadcasts on important days, many who flock to their radio and television sets often come out feeling they’ve wasted their precious time listening to the President precisely because he gives them few things to go home with.
The Independence Day broadcast of October 1, 2012 was not different. Personally, I listened to hear more about the Federal Government’s intentions towards the reclamation of Bakassi Peninsula. He said nothing on the issue or on foreign affairs altogether, except: “I am confident that Nigeria will continue to be a source of pride to its citizens; to Africa and the Black race and to humanity, a land that is known for progress, freedom, peace and the promotion of human dignity”. That was a sure signal that, for him, the Bakassi issue is dead.
I am not even sure he painted a realistic picture of the country. If Nigeria were known for progress, freedom, peace and the promotion of human dignity, there would be no bitter ethnic rivalries ending in sectional coups, counter-coups, a secession attempt, civil war, religious violence, sectional domination, selective justice, marginalisation, ethnic militancy and Jihadist terrorism. I would understand it better if he had promised to strive towards enthroning these values in a bid to build a new nation. It is the nature of our rulers to paint a picture that is totally at variance with the colour of reality, such as “We, the People…” in our Constitution which was merely decreed to Nigerians by a self-serving military junta.
Why do people abandon everything they are doing to listen to the President speak to the nation? The answer is simple. They are listening for information that will inspire and raise their hope not only in their country but more immediately, in the regime itself. President Jonathan’s broadcasts are usually rated empty because they contain very little useful information about the activities his administration is pushing to meet the expectations and aspirations of the people. He just drops lines without substantiating facts and figures that transform those lines into useful information.
An example can be located in paragraph 15, where he languidly mentioned that power supply is “improving gradually” and government is successfully implementing a “well-integrated power sector reform”.
That power supply is improving is all too evident. Why not tell us exactly what you have done to bring this about; what you met, where we are now and what we can expect in the near and distant future with the integrated power sector reform? The improving power supply and a bit of salesmanship on the power reform will sow the seeds of expectation and hope in the listener. He will go away, somewhat reassured that the improved power supply may not be a fluke that will disappear when the dry season comes. It will give Nigerians something to talk about.
The President gave us nothing to talk about the power reform, the “millions of job opportunities for our youth” he said government programmes are creating and how government programmes in the oil sector will impact on the people. He merely mentioned how they will impact on the government through higher revenue. We are living witnesses to the fact that higher government revenue does not translate to better living standards for the ordinary Nigerian. Rather, it is the fuel that stokes corruption and squandermania in governing circles and the ruling elite.
Again, what is the import of 7,000 new companies registered in Nigeria during the second quarter of 2012 without a corresponding concrete number of new jobs? Is it not an irony that while the President is extolling his government’s effort to upgrade health in Nigeria over the past two years, our beloved First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, is away on medical vacation in Germany? We pray fervently for her full recovery, and hope under the watch of this administration the health sector will be so highly upgraded that Nigeria will become the new destination for health tourism in the world, with our thousands of medical experts excelling around the world coming back to form the backbone of our indigenous medical force.
We have seen presidents come and go, with their respective styles of addressing the nation. Former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, liked to pretend to intellectualism. His broadcasts were like lectures, and it was obvious they were written by his many hired professors. Perhaps, President Jonathan’s style is to keep his speeches short, sharp and direct. It is possible to achieve this without sacrificing the provision of useful information or passing up the opportunity to communicate the activities of government to the listening public in a worthwhile manner.
A day after the October 1, 2012 broadcast, the President’s Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Dr Doyin Okupe, was on Africa Independent Television, AIT, substantiating the speech. This simply justified the claim that his boss’s speech was empty. The only presidential speech that needs substantiating is the budget presentation. The Minister of Finance is required to spell out in greater detail the policies of government for the year and strategies for attaining them.
Other speeches should be pretty self-sufficient. They must have all the relevant (but not boring) information, and the language used to communicate them must be people-friendly. If the President has the additional gift of oratorical delivery as the Barack Obama’s of this world do, it takes the message further afield.
We do not need presidential aides coming to tell us what the President told us! Most people want to listen to the President, not presidential aides.