By Folabi Ogunleye
THE first thing I said to myself on reading about it was, “no way”.
Even kids know better. A friend’s 9-year old son is an example. He will never mention or refer to a previous ill-advised event or
exchange that may later get him into trouble. And if you ask him about such event or exchange, he’d feign complete ignorance of the event. Now some may call that lying, okay. But it is also satisfying to know that the child is not a knucklehead, as the retired American basketball player Charles Barkley would say.
Remember, this is just a little child. How much more then, an adult – and not just any adult, but a supposedly well-educated adult with a doctorate in whatever waterside specialty that one may find?
Goodluck Jonathan, at a recent dedication of a church building in his village in Otuoke, Bayelsa State, told the gathered faithful how the idea of a new church building came about, no doubt proud of the role he played in facilitating the project.
According to the president, he had bemoaned to the hearing of the managing director of the Italian construction firm, Gitto Construzioni Generali Nigeria Limited, the unbefitting state of the only major church building in Otuoke. The president went on to say that the latter thereafter offered not only to renovate the old church building, but to build Otuoke a new one, fitting for a president to worship. [Can we safely assume here that this offer came as a complete surprise to the president? No?].
In any case, the president’s narrative probably came across as some heavenly testimony in the ear of the Anglican faithful who heard him speak [à la “God works in miraculous ways!”]. Or what might one call the strong pushback coming from the highest hierarchies of the Anglican Communion against the president’s more vocal critics, both in the mainstream media and in the political opposition? Case in point concerns the Primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, Reverend Nicholas Okoh, who on Friday, April 6, described as “satanic” the call by opposition Action Congress of Nigeria for impeachment proceedings to be initiated against the president.
It is possible that nobody would have heard a peep of all this without President Jonathan coming out to tell his own story. But in giving a testiphony, the president has given everybody and his oga their talking points, while Mr. Jonathan and his supporters continue pointing at everybody else for the latest “distraction,” even if these same people know that the president blew the lid on his own ill-advised choices.
“Man, sometimes I wonder if he has any clue!” said a friend and a neighbor of mine the other day. It is not the first time that Mr. Jonathan will show such naiveté in expressing himself. There are many other such instances, which include his January 22 remarks to local and international journalists, after one of the many bloody terrorist attacks under his watch, in Kano, where about 200 hundred people were murdered in one fell swoop by blood-thirsty terrorists belonging to the group popularly known as Boko Haram.
“Unfortunately the whole world is passing through terror attacks - a very ugly stage of our history. We know that we will get over it,” the president and commander-in-chief of the federal republic consoled, in a manner that grated on the ears. It takes something of of a blank mind to make that kind of remark, so soon after the brutal annihilation of that many innocent citizens, and at a location so close to the scene of the deadly attacks.
Jonathan is the president that Nigeria gets when Nigeria lets her emotions guide her choices rather than let her intellect take charge. Nigeria, hypocritically religious as ever, looked not for Goodluck Jonathan’s record in the service of his homeland, but was mesmerized by the divine-like manner of his ascension: his boss in Bayelsa fell and Jonathan emerged as governor. Again his boss as vice-president died, and again he rose as president, against every machination of those who opposed the idea of a ‘President Jonathan’. By the time the narrative of a shoeless Jonathan hit the pressers, every Adisa, Tompolo and Haruna was going around town saying “I am Goodluck Jonathan.”
Nigeria is now led by a man not only deficient in charisma but one who is also lacking in the kind of exposure that any serious country of Nigeria’s stature and influence requires in its leader. President Jonathan is a timid leader without guile or wile – attributes that even the purest among mongers of morality possess to navigate a treacherous world. Persons like Jonathan can only rise to the top in a Nigerian society already overrun by raw opportunism; opportunism armed with the naked aggression of filthy lucre.
In the wake of the latest revelation, those who have enough esteem to feel affront, and those who pretend to same, have come out to lambast the Goodluck Jonathan government, daring Nigeria’s caricature of a National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against the president. To hope that any such thing as a legislative investigation will happen is to believe that all the herds of cows in Nigeria will be inspired to an Orwellian revolution that will make herds of their previous herdsmen.
The presidency has of course reacted in the way it is best-equipped to react. In a rambling statement that read like a high school rebuttal to a not-so-inaccurate rumor, signed by presidential adviser Dr. Reuben Abati, intelligent Nigerians were labeled by the president for their supposed lack of discernment. The presidency resorted to juvenile lambaste unbefitting of a presidential press release. The statement written in the name of the President of Nigeria was full of barely concealed hysteria, irritable damnation and a misguided – if not flat-out false – sense of affront over a situation initiated, highlighted and exacerbated by the President himself.
To be precise, the statement was a disgrace in presidential communication.
Yet it won’t be the first time that such statements will come out of Aso Rock in response to valid questions and deserving hard-knocks from both an enlightened citizenry and a vocal [if not self-serving] opposition. Indeed, heavens forbid that day when the people of Nigeria will not find the esteem and the confidence and the common-sense to lash-out and, if necessary, ridicule bone-headed leadership when they see one.
If the recent statements coming out of the Aso Rock Villa are the best that the Jonathan Administration can do for press releases, why bother making any statements at all? It is even more distressing considering the fact that the president’s office is headed by persons like Dr. Abati, who is supposed to be well-heeled in communications. The questions torment: What happened to class? What happened to finesse in language and carriage? Do these people learn from others out there – do they learn anything from the societies that pioneered and perfected the art of communication as we know it today?
It is doubtful that they learned anything from those who know better – a sad testament for a country full of brainy, exposed and distinguished sophisticates. It is one thing for a man of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s age to be rough at the edges or uncaring about the finer tenets of classy, diplomatic politispeak; but it is another thing for a much younger President Goodluck Jonathan and his aides in Aso Rock to carry such deficiency in the mores of public communication befitting of presidential press releases. Nigeria must begin to work at doing better in what she showcases for leadership going forward. And that work starts not in 2015; the work starts now.