There has been a disturbing trend in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. The premise is simple:
The presidency is constantly talking but the president never speaks.
Pick up any newspaper or visit any news website, search for “Buhari” and note that it is almost always a spokesperson or member of government doing the actual speaking. The confusion is compounded by our news media who often splash the president’s picture from ancient file photos straight onto their pages, giving the citizenry the misleading impression that the president made an appearance and spoke when, in fact, he did no such thing.
Someone else showed up and spoke and, while it would be churlish to ask that every speaker show the president’s signature on the written speech, I suspect we need to exercise a bit more caution, especially considering it wasn’t so long ago that the president’s own wife claimed that the presidency had been hijacked by shadowy figures.
Talk is Cheap
Now, I am certain there will be a school of thought which will insist that the words of the spokesmen are the thoughts of Mr Buhari. I understand that completely, and I’m of the opinion that a spokesperson should know the mind of his/her principal intimately, otherwise you’re not doing your job. I would caution, however, to be wary of casting the president in such a light, particularly when you see an interview like this where the president’s spokesman, Mr Femi Adesina, attempts to defend the inexplicable arrest of a former presidential candidate but comes off as not having a clue what’s going on within the presidency, much less in the president’s mind. Recall also that this is the same spokesperson who, when the president was missing and presumed by some to be dead, insisted for months on end that the president was alive and well, only to later admit that he had not heard a peep from his principal the entire time. He’s clearly been hired to defend and so defend he must, no matter how little sense he makes. I have half a mind to feel sorry for him, being wheeled out to take the flak with little help from decision makers. But I didn’t make him sign the contract.
Another argument may be that the president is a busy man and simply does not have the time to engage in frivolous discussions when he could be solving problems with that time. That argument is rubbish on so many levels I don’t even know how to begin to explain it. First of all, Mr Buhari is not that busy. That much is obvious from the half-baked plans and poorly thought out antics of his administration. When it comes to hours on the job, this presidency feels distinctly lazy in its thoughts and actions. Indeed, this point simply supports my premise; Mr Buhari’s plans have often faced torrential backlashes which could arguably have been avoided if he had come out to clearly articulate to the citizens what exactly he’s trying to do.
Secondly, and this applies to the point that follows as well, if your president believes that speaking to you, explaining his actions, motives and whatnot is a waste of time, then he likely does not perceive you to be of value, much less a peer. Think about it; we talk to our pets even while busy working at home, we also talk to animals we raise for food. Heck, I bet Fulani herdsmen know and call their cattle by name. But if you claim to work for someone yet do not deem them important enough that you must explain what you’re doing and how, then I think you and they have serious communication problems.
Still another argument is why it is even important for the president to speak directly to the people. I will not dwell on this for the simple reason that I see the president as hired to work for the people, while those who do not perceive any benefit in consistent honest feedback from a president probably view him as lord of us all, something I simply will not do.
Does it Even Matter?
And so we must ask ourselves, why does the president not deem it fit to speak to the nation that he claims loves him and votes for him every time he puts his name on the ballot? I suppose there are a couple of possible reasons:
One: Maybe he’s too sick to speak. But that doesn’t make sense because we see politicians visiting him all the time and pictures of him attending security meetings so he must be able to communicate coherently, even if for just a few hours, which is more than it would take to give a speech on national television.
Maybe he simply does not give a damn about the people he leads. After all, the president regularly meets with other politicians, mostly from his own party, of course. So he is clearly able to meet and discuss. The leaked comments of his returning cabinet seem to bear this out. Recall that he was recorded joking about the president’s insensitivity to the plight of a petty trader.
It is disheartening that oftentimes the most honest interaction we get from our president is when he speaks publicly outside of our shores. Think of his words in Germany the other year. We got a clearer sense of where his mind was, but of course we cannot expect the foreign media to ask the homegrown questions many of us want answers to.
Despite his flaws (of which there were many) former President Jonathan always made a point of holding live Presidential Media Chats which sometimes included people calling in with questions. How much of that was actually scripted is up to anyone to argue, but the efforts must be applauded, especially in light of our current absentee president.
I will leave you with a quote from the preface of the 260-page book (PDF, 1.2MB) “President Explains”, containing transcripts of all the president’s media chats from 2010 until then, published in 2014 by the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy. The preface was written by Mr Jonathan and in it he says of the media chat:
“It is an opportunity for accountability…and part of the responsibilities of democratic leadership is to render account of stewardship from time to time. This programme offers me that platform.”
Until next time.