From the very beginning of
President Jonathan’s tenure as Acting President, I have been crying
out in vain to highlight the President’s abysmal talent in public
communication. In one article in December 2011 “The self-created
Problems of President Jonathan” I lamented his inability to follow
up credible actions with robust rhetoric. Olusegun Obasanjo was not a
gifted orator. He was a man who could get out of himself sometimes
very ruthlessly and some other times, also in accommodating
sophistication. He would run mad if an interviewer dared to ask him
the wrong question and throw his audience into endless laughter if the
interviewer strikes the right nerve. He was feared for this attribute
which made his temperament unpredictable. No one regarded Olusegun
Obasanjo as dull, unintelligent or as “Mumu President” in spite of all
the anger and hatred that the nation had for him. The bottom line was
self-managed communication that may be regarded as a talent.
The pattern of
communication shapes an individual and communication alone may make or
mar any public venture exposed to the gaze of the masses. In one of
his first off-script public comments as President, Goodluck Jonathan
declared that he was not a military General and could not go on the
rampage in the name of governance. He could not understand the mass
clamoring for decisive actions on his part. He declared his awareness
of senior public officers coming habitually late to work and added
that he could not go round hounding them with a club to whip them in
line. It was the very first hint of his incompetence in public
communication. He had hardly realized at that time that the
implication of this comment was giving these public officers a blank
check to keep coming late to work.
I have no doubt that
President Jonathan is himself, aware of this personal weakness in
public communication even though none of his aides would dare tell it
to his face in the typical Nigerian apple-polishing fashion. It is a
personal weakness that has contributed very strongly, to the public
image that is presently resting on him as an albatross. It has cost
him the perceived image of the innocent, calm and calculated
intellectual that he radiated before engaging in unscripted public
speeches. Yet, the President does not seem to understand how to leave
strategic moments that may define his weaknesses to his lieutenants to
handle. His recent appearance on CNN with an opening symptom of
stage-fright and attendant poor articulation is one example of an
assignment that should have been better left to Reuben Abati.
All that aside though,
weird and outlandish decisions often end up compounding the already
battered image created by the glaring deficit in communication.
I have no doubt in my mind
whatsoever that President Goodluck Jonathan is running an
administration that has its own share of positive achievements.
Unfortunately however, there is hardly any achievement that stands out
in public consciousness today that compares to the payment of foreign
debts, mobile phone revolution or an aggressive EFCC fight against
corruption no matter how controversial they may be subjectively
perceived. In the power sector, figures available to the President
that we have no reason to challenge, indicate sustained progression in
the project of providing the nation with steady and uninterrupted
power supply. Quite honestly, his acceptance of continuing the
National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) started by Olusegun Obasanjo
and abandoned by Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for no comprehensible reason, was
one major step in the right direction that observers applauded. As
usual in this cursed sector riddled with saboteurs and vested
interests however, the more you look is the less you see. Ordinarily,
one would have expected the work left for the present administration
to handle in the power sector to span between a few months or a
maximum of one year given the immense work already done by the
Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. But today, work is yet in progress
and the target seems ever far away.
In a new public
communication drive, the President’s men have made bold to highlight a
quantum leap in the power sector. Unfortunately, the masses yearn to
know when this giant stride will trickle down to their private homes.
Indeed, when facts on the ground do not match the rhetoric, the impact
is as bad as inarticulate communication. President Jonathan’s
government is suffering from an acute problem of public communication
under the management either of unqualified operatives or a leader that
is simply resistant to constructive coaching.
In fact, moments requiring
swift public explanation are left unused leaving the masses to
speculate on skeletons in the closet. Farida Waziri was removed
unceremoniously from the EFCC just as she was beginning to get
assertive and execute the business she was appointed to do. The public
waited to know why. They were only left to draw conclusions on their
own with the facts on the ground. High-profile prosecutions that were
started by her withered away in thin air. For once, the President
decided to be assertive and determined. But it was only against the
weakest in society. The vehemence, zeal and determination with which
President Jonathan sought to remove fuel subsidy in January 2012
almost made him look like a military General that he said he wasn’t.
Farouk Lawan led a legislative committee and came up with
mind-boggling revelations of filth and rot in the oil sector. He
submitted recommendations. Then he was promptly set up in a conspiracy
– oh sorry, sting operation – to appeal to his Nigerian instinct
ever-ready for ‘egunje’. Ever since, the central issue
has no longer been the revelations made by his committee but the man’s
exercise of pure Nigerianism!
The no-nonsense Nuhu Ribadu
was appointed to head a committee to feign seriousness on the part of
his nominators in the quest to get to the root of the filth in the oil
sector. In the end, two subordinate members of his committee were
appointed into the same corporation at the center of the
investigation. Ribadu ended up being rubbished, disparaged and
denigrated and today, no one speaks a word anymore, of the findings
and recommendations that he made. They were dead on arrival.
The cumulative impact of
all these events that can hardly go down as mere coincidences coupled
with inarticulate communication exemplified by a President with poor
oratory abilities and the elevation of an achievement that hardly
matches facts on the ground paints the picture of a very messy state
of affairs under President Goodluck Jonathan.
The only public
communication that the presidency seems to master very well these days
is the art of lashing out at opponents and critics. The appointment of
Doyin Okupe into the President’s communication team has given a face
to the bad boy of wanton mismanagement.
In all fairness to this
administration, it is at least handling this aspect with a touch of
real professionalism. Oby Ezekwesili is the latest to have a taste of
these stinging lyrics of the Abuja gangnam style.
Like many aggrieved
Nigerians who could seemingly take it no more, she had expressed anger
at the depletion of the nation’s foreign reserves and Excess Crude
Account by the governments of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck
Jonathan. Like many other Nigerians, I had no problem sharing Mrs.
Ezekwesili’s pains and frustrations. The president’s men however
wasted no time going on the attack. They lashed out at this highly
respected critical asset of international repute accusing her of also
depleting funds under her watch in her short-lived days as Minister of
Education under President Obasanjo. They shifted the focus from
depletion to the accuracy of figures tangling $42 billion against the
alleged $45 billion and citing central bank figures to buttress their
point. It worked.
For a nation that has
largely grown a DNA of detesting Olusegun Obasanjo, any revelation
that is likely to place Obasanjo and anything that he represents in
good light has a huge rebound potential and may boomerang. It thus
came as it would. A section of Nigerians (most likely minority) turned
the heat on Oby Ezekwesili with wild, acrimonious and sometimes
despicable accusations. For the teeming majority of Nigerians though,
the accuracy of the figures matter very little. The fact of
unexplainable depletion is after all undisputable and was loudly
criticized during the days of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and less criticized
under Goodluck Jonathan most likely out of resignation. In fact, given
the impunity of theft in the oil sector and the weird reluctance of
the Presidency to confront this crime, it is easy for any discerning
mind to embrace any charge of impropriety against this government.
Moreover, Oby Ezekwesili was not saying something new. It is a fact
that everyone has long known that was simply being re-echoed by a
The obstinate refusal to
provide refineries for the local refinement of crude oil and kill the
regime of importation has been a contentious issue hanging on the
government’s neck. The deliberate attempt to avoid angering oil
marketers who are at the center of corruption accusations is not lost
on anyone. This hangs out against the backdrop of the rumored
bankrolling of the President’s 2011 campaign by precisely these same
oil marketers. It will therefore not require much proof for cries of
corruption to stick on the President even if they had no credible
basis at all.
Else, there is no law
proclaiming Madam Oby Ezekwesili an infallible or unblemished saint.
The fact is that people just do not care anymore if she also has a
case to answer or not. After the conspiracy – my God, I mean sting
operation on Farouk Lawan that showed him also as corrupt as the oil
marketers, and the sting operation – no, this time conspiracy – to
rubbish Nuhu Ribadu and show that he was after all, not as intelligent
and smart as he thinks, people are simply fed up seeing the weaknesses
of others exposed always and always only after they have or come too
close to exposing the President’s “yansh”. Gradually,
the President’s only surviving credible expertise of tongue-lashing
and neutralizing opponents and critics may soon become an albatross
around his neck if this cheap and transparent trend continues.
Else, I would have loved to
know why the respected Oby Ezekwesili chose this time and none other
to raise the alarm on foreign reserves when it was gradually beginning
to soar again. I would have loved to know, the one compelling
catalyzer that sparked off this alarm at this point in time and all
that occurs to me – I’m afraid – is nothing else but strategic
positioning for 2015 giving the President a small taste of the rough
dance awaiting him on the stage, on which he plans to repeat his
treacherous dance against all wisdom. But please psst! Do not say I
told you because I don’t have the proof. It’s a messy, messy stage.
Follow me on Twitter @FriskyLarrimore, Watch out for my new book
“Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment”
Frisky Larr is author of the book “Nigeria’s Journalistic
Militantism” probing into the poor role of Journalism in Nigeria!