By Tonnie Iredia
What remains evergreen in each person’s memory depends largely on the unique experiences he garners while growing-up. For me, what I recollect so vividly is my routine task as a youth of talking with my uncle-Ajayi-who had a habit of saying something quite different all the time from the subject at hand.
If I ask him for money to buy a copy of Nigerian Tribune which he must read daily, his response would dwell entirely on different topics like the sweetness of beans and dodo or the great goals scored in a recently-played football match.
Many hours after the virtually meaningless chat which always exhausted my patience, Uncle Ajayi would seriously castigate me for not for money earlier to buy his newspaper.It was much later I got to know that my uncle was hard of hearing and that all along I was involved in something like the communication of the deaf. In retrospect however, I need to appreciate Uncle Ajayi because my transactions with him greatly illuminated my study and practice of Mass Communication in later years.
Yes, in Mass Communication, there is the ‘Dissonance theory’ which suggests that every human being has a selective perception, exposure and retention with respect to information dissemination.
The perception of a person often determines the information he gets or wishes to get as well as which of them he decides to retain. Put differently, many people are victims of selective hearing as they hear only those things they want to hear no matter how many things they are told. Most of the time, people hear only those things which validate their predisposition.
This is a point that those engaged in Public Enlightenment must always bear in mind. They need to note that we are all differently endowed. While some people hardly understand an issue, others get to understand it much later whereas; there are those who appear to understand the issue before it is fully explained.
Accordingly, Public Enlightenment has to be comprehensive and continuous. It should never be treated as an ad hoc or ‘touch-and-go’ affair. The more an issue is explained, the more the number of people that get to understand it. Against this backdrop, we appreciate the invitation of a seasoned foreign technocrat a few days back to talk to us all about Nigeria as part of this year’s independence anniversary.
The lecture, entitled, “Nigeria in Transformation”, was delivered by Mr. Richard Dowden – an expert on African development issues and Executive Director of Royal African Society, London.
He identified our leaders, point blank, as the highest paid salary earners in the world and begged them, to, among other things, reduce the wide gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria.
Interestingly, many of the great points he made so passionately have been said before but they have never really flowed intelligently because many Nigerian leaders are like Uncle Ajayi.
But bearing in mind that the ‘Dissonance theory’ recommends continuous dissemination of public information so that those who did not hear before can hear, the independence anniversary lecture makes sense.
Thus, no one should be angry about the harshness of Mr. Dowden’s lecture or be upset that the lecture was essentially made up of notorious facts which, according to lawyers, do not require any proof. Rather, we should use it to better understand what fellow Nigerians of dissenting opinions have had to say about our nation.
One critic whose message should now be better understood is renowned law Professor, Itse Sagay, who raised an alarm in July 2010 that Nigerian lawmakers were the highest paid on the globe. Sagay found that a Nigerian Senator earns N240 million ($1.7 million) in salaries and allowances while his counterpart in the House of Representatives earns about N204 million ($1.45 million) per annum. Realizing that an American senator earns $174, 000 while a UK parliamentarian earns about $64,000 per annum, Sagay condemned the Nigerian situation as “a breach of public trust”.
No one in authority took on the legal guru to reveal his source or defend his allegation. At about the same time, an organisation-Global Coordinators Champions for Nigerian Organisations- published all the allowances of a Nigerian legislator inclusive of ‘recess allowance’ which explains why our legislators are always on recess.
Public outcry over the subject lingered for another three months until our celebrated Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido, publicly ignited the fire the more with his assertion that 25 per cent of our budget was being consumed by the National Assembly. Lamido, who spoke on ‘Growth Prospects for the Nigerian Economy’ at the convocation of Igbinedion University, Okada, frowned at the exploitation of the wealth of the nation by a few people and called on Nigerians “to stop complaining about these people and do something about them”. But nothing was done.
If the home critics were mere alarmists, why did Mr. Dowden arrive at the same findings more than a year later? Although some of us had put the issue of profligacy in our legislature behind us, it is instructive that Dowden who resurrected it did so at the instance of government.
Knowing how government works, we believe that it was in a position to anticipate the viewpoint of the lecturer before it approved of him. In other words, government consciously decided to expose itself to his message and hopefully to retain it in line with the Mass Communication theory of selectivity.
What remains now is for the nation to organize the best strategies for understanding the message of Richard Dowden. That is a task to be guided by the fact that communication has four crucial elements- Sender, Message, Channel and Receiver. Channel and Message which are likely to pose immense challenges would naturally deserve more attention.
To start with, it is common place for people to disseminate information without assessing the efficacy of their chosen channel. I remember the story of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which some years ago commissioned the daily transmission on national television of a melodious jingle on pipeline vandalization.
The advertisement for which the corporation invested huge sums made little impact because a wrong channel was utilized- are pipeline vandals likely to watch television? The message component in communications is a different ball game. The challenge here is that some people who have messages to disseminate tend to sing discordant tunes occasionally making it hard for people to comprehend their messages.
Only last week, our universities established once again and beyond reasonable doubt too that people in government lack honour as they often reneged in the agreements with universities. Meanwhile, the rest of society has not been able to assimilate the message because it is also common knowledge that the so-called dishonourable men in government are usually the same people that universities honour during their convocations.
The situation thus leaves the ordinary man confused the way I used to be in those days when I had to engage in the communication of the deaf with Uncle Ajayi. And, you think that the problems cannot be resolved.