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The stuff that speeches are made

By Mohammed Adamu

Prologue

 VIRTUALLY all who have issues with Buhari’s recent State broadcast after his last return from medical vacation, say that it either lacked ‘depth’ or ‘length’ -or both. Both of them may have hoped that if only Buhari had spoken a little ‘deeper’ or a little ‘longer’, he might have said that one ‘thing’ –whatever it was- that they always wanted to hear. For those who wanted him to resign, it would not have mattered if Buhari had given a one-sentence, ten-word, five seconds speech. You bet that would not have been too ‘short’ a speech -provided it contained his resignation. In fact, they would have been connoisseurs of great speeches in history and would have praised its pristine brevity.

And for those who had looked forward to an exposé of the gory details concerning Buhari’s health –for reasons we all know- it would not have mattered if he had read a book -for speech. Nothing would have been too ‘lengthy’ –provided every word of it had dripped with the tragic tale of a malignant condition meriting his removal or impeachment. Truth is Buhari’s offence was not that he gave a ‘short’ or ‘shallow’ speech. It was that he refused to make it a resignation speech, or he refused to raise in that speech, his personal affliction above the affliction of the State.

 ‘Sense’, ‘Sentence’ and ‘Speech’

Concerning what is an acceptable ‘length’ to a ‘good sentence’, an author of a book of grammar I cannot now recall, said that when Abraham Lincoln was asked ‘how long he thought a man’s legs should be, he said “long enough to reach the floor”-inferring that a ‘sentence’ should be long enough only to make a ‘sense’. Or that a ‘sentence’ is only as ‘long’ or as ‘short’ as the ‘sense’ that it makes. Just as a ‘speech’ too, should be only ‘long’ enough to convey the message intended by its maker. The ‘size’ of a speech is not necessarily responsible for what it contains or what it does not contain. The shortest speech is not necessarily the shallowest.

The shortest message was a ‘question mark’ (?) sent by an author to his publishers; who –because they understood it to mean: ‘how is the book doing?’, ‘are we doing well?’, ‘will we smile soon to the bank?’- replied in like manner with an ‘exclamation mark’ (!), to say ‘yes, we are doing great!’, ‘we’ll definitely smile to the bank, soon.’

Speech as ‘Night gown’

And although a humorist had said that a speech should be like a woman’s night gown: long enough to cover ‘everywhere’ but transparent enough to reveal ‘everything’, it is still the prerogative of the maker of it to decide what to ‘cover’ or what to ‘reveal’. The object of a speech is not to be ‘long’ or ‘short’. It is to effectively communicate the intended message of its maker.

Just as the secret of ‘success’, would be different concerning different situations. To a personified ‘calendar’, ‘the secret of success’ will be to ‘keep up to date’; and to a personified ‘refrigerator’ it will be to ‘keep cool’; or to the ‘hammer’, to ‘drive hard’; or to the ‘knife’ to ‘be sharp’ or to the ‘glue’ simply to ‘stick to it’! And to a ‘speech’ will be ‘to communicate’.

It is said that any material will be unnecessarily ‘long’ if it is written ‘from a desert of ideas and a flood of vocabulary’. But that it should rather be written ‘from a plenitude of ideas and an economy of words’. Said H.G. Bohn, author of ‘Handbook of Proverbs’: “Deliver not your words by number, but by weight.” Which is not necessarily an indictment of lengthy speeches. A speech should be lengthy if it has to be. And it is the reason lexicographers say that writers must not be contented with meager dictionaries. For as they ask, rhetorically, “why starve when we have the lord’s plenty?”

Brevity is the soul of wit

Nonetheless, comparatively-speaking short speeches are preferable always to long ones. Said former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Be sincere, be brief”; or as the French writer and poet Jean de la Fontaine said “the shortest works are always the best”; or the Spanish writer Baltasar Gracian, that “Good things, when short are twice as good”; or the U.S. born British writer and critic Henry James, that “In art economy is always beauty”; or the mightiest of them all, Shakespeare who said “Brevity is the soul of wit”.

Besides, those who are in the business of writing -whether as professional speech writers, or as speech makers who write their own speeches- know that it is easier to write long speeches than to script short ones. Good, short speeches although they are not made by many words, they are made by many man hours. To have to say so much in so short a time, or to have to cram so much in so small a space, will require a certain amount of ‘inspiration’ and ‘perspiration’. It was in answer to an invitation to make a speech, that Woodrow  Wilson said “It is easier to talk for longer period than to talk briefly. If you want me to talk for ten minutes I’ll come next week. If you want me to talk for an hour I’ll come tonight”.

World’s Greats

Someone said that “Language is the armory of the human mind, and at once contains the trophies of its past and the weapons of its future conquests”. That famous Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy”, (referring to the day the Japanese attacked America’s Pearl Harbor), was contained in a 517-word, two minutes speech to Congress as America prepared her entry into the Second World War. Should Roosevelt have used a wartime speech-making occasion to discuss his own personal affliction?

Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s similar address to the British Parliament a year earlier on the same subject, was a 15-paragraph, 626-word, three-minute speech in which he was to say to a war-nervous nation, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat”. Churchill who had described the German threat as “a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime”, could not have used a wartime speech-making occasion to discuss his own personal affliction.

Queen Elizabeth’s 1588 famous speech which inspired a timid English army to defeat the “invincible Armada” of King Philip II of Spain, was a one-paragraph, 331-word, one minute affair. It was the speech in which the spinster Queen whose rejection of the marital overtures of the Spanish King resulted into a threat of war, said “I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king.” And as she affirmed her faith in a “famous victory”, saying “Let tyrants fear” because “I myself will take up arms; I myself will be your general”, the occasion was inauspicious for the Queen to resort to discussing her own personal affliction.

A bout a thousand five hundred years ago, a three-paragraph, 182-word, one-minute speech delivered extempore by the Roman Empress Theodora, saved the life and throne of her husband, -a timorous Emperor Justinian- who was ready to flee to avoid massacre in an impending rebellion. A stubborn Theodora would say “Those whose interests are threatened by extreme danger should think only of the wisest course of action…  Flight is not the right course, even if it should bring us to safety. It is impossible for a person…not to die; but for one who has reigned, it is intolerable to be a fugitive. If you wish to save yourself My Lord, there is no difficulty… (but) reflect for a moment whether, when you have once escaped to a place of security, you would not gladly exchange such safety for death.” As martyrdom was the occasion for this speech, Theodora would not have bothered her audience with any other personal afflictions than that which toucheth all.

 

Postscript

As the speech defines the occasion, and as the occasion defines the speech, great moments of decision making like that by Shakespeare’s Hamlet when he said “To be or not to be”, or King Henry’s when he opted for “A crown or else a glorious tomb”, are not attended with the distractions of unmerited anecdotes. Buhari had occasion to address matters touching on the survival of the State itself. He would have done great disservice to the occasion if he bored the nation with the details of his health condition. Such inanity, –at that material time- would have availeth neither him nor the tribulated State. Nor would Buhari have made the desired impact if he had delivered his words that day by ‘number’ and not by ‘weight’ -like he did.

That historic 1863 speech of Abraham Lincoln in which the Union’s commitment to the Principle of freedom was re-dedicated at Gettysburg, was a two-paragraph, 266-word, two minutes affair widely recognised till today as ‘one of the best short speeches since the Sermon on the Mount’. The renowned orator, Edward Everett who also spoke at the occasion, wrote Lincoln a day after to commend  the speech’s all-encompassing succinctness and to say that even he could not have come “as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.” And to which Lincoln replied saying “In our respective parts yesterday, you could not have been excused to make a short address, nor I a long one.”

 

Re: Gawa ta qi rami

+2348130946938:- “Adamu, fear not, God will continue to (bless) you. Buhari will return home very soon to finish his work on looters with speedy trials for them and send them to jail. They must return what they stole. I am praying five times daily for him, for God to add more years to his life. Anybody can be sick. Who is not sick can only be God”. –Pst. Amos Idemudia, Germany.

+2348063441170:- “Mohammed, thank you for that down-to-earth write up, ‘The corpse that defies internment’.”

2348052805257:– “Sir, your piece today made an interesting reading. God bless you. My two brothers mentioned (Fayose/Fani) are fake in all ramifications. One of them is having a wife that is a ‘prophet’ while the other will always quote copiously from the holy book to hide his deep rooted hatred for the President as a person and for Hausa/Fulani as an ethnic group.” –Richard Ade Adegoke, Command Secondary School, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.

+2348053316799:- “Oga Adamu, you are intelligent; other endowments besides. I have read your ‘Gawa ta qi rami’. I have also read your article where you devoured Jonathan. Please we need your attention now on other issues. Someone cannot be loved by everybody, and that includes Buhari.” –Mr. Omoweh 5B Diamond, Calabar.

Online:– “You shall soar above all heights. The sky is just a step to the many boundaries you shall soon conquer, in sha Allah”. –Aso Salisu.

Online:– “Great piece”. –Baba Naruwa.

Online:– “May God increase you in knowledge.” –Adam Musawa.

 Online:– “A lot to say, yet I am speechless. mellifluous as always. Baba is the definition of ‘nan gani nan bari’. You have perfectly painted Baba. May you grow older than he is now, in good health, strength and in servitude to God.” –Awwal Ibrahim Ndako.

Online:– “That is intelligent and fantastic.” –Nasir Rabiu.

Online:– “Thank you, for this re-post! Thank you for its second timeliness! Thank you for the miracle of your professional precision! Thank you for the tradition of instinctive patriotism; for uncompromising commitment to the Fatherland, for God and the common good. Long live PMB! Long live corrupt-free Nigeria.” –Muhammad Sulaiman

RE-IS THE MAJORITY ALWAYS RIGHT?

+2348134783344:- “Sir Mohammed ‘The Pen’ Adamu, your Vanguard of August 24th made my day as it correlated with my musings and thoughts on our democracy stands on and for. Going historical elicits the poignance of your deep reflections on our national democratic evolution. Please ride on. Your pen shall never dry.”  -Oluwole Fagbolu

 

 

 

 

 

 


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