Just In: Speaking to the President in a Language He Understands

Vanessa Obioha writes that Nigerians are painstakingly trying to communicate with President Muhammadu Buhari in a language that he understands

The language of President Muhammadu Buhari is not easily comprehensible, and this is no reference to his fluency in the English Language. But governance has a language that is at once global; however, it has distinct colouration defined by local realities. For instance, the Donald Trump presidency in America introduced the novelty of Mr. Trump communicating directly with the public, even announcing major policy decisions without recourse to his communication team, who were left to carry out damage control caused by this unconventional method.

Right from 2015, when he became the Number One Citizen after three attempts in this democratic dispensation, Buhari’s communication to Nigerians has been marked with ambiguity. A good example is his first presidential speech where the phrase ‘I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody’ became the high-point of his inauguration as President.

Expectedly, that phrase was interpreted in diverse ways. What has become clearer to Nigerians is the implication of those words on the country’s unity. Indeed, the President’s sense of belonging to Nigerians has been lopsided. From his appointments, to the manner he handles the threat to peaceful coexistence of ethnic groups, the president clearly belongs to ‘somebody’ but certainly not ‘everybody’.

Six years into his administration, Nigerians are still grappling with the language of the president. Better still, they are at a loss on how to communicate to the president effectively.
However, there seems to be only one language that the president approves. This language is not witty and empathetic but laden with threats and high-handedness, typical of a dictator.

For instance, the opening act that led to the climax of the Twitter indefinite suspension in Nigeria was a Tweet from the presidency that warned the youths about inciting violence due to the spate of attacks on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices and police stations in most parts of the South-east region. In the now-deleted Tweet, the president warned that “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War,” and concluded with “we will treat them in the language they understand.”

Perceived by many as a threat directed at the Igbo ethnic group, a campaign for Twitter to consider the Tweet as abusive spiralled into the federal government suspending the platform indefinitely after the Tweet was deleted.

Recently, during his interview on ARISE NEWS Channel to mark his sixth year in office and Democracy Day, the president responding to questions about insecurity in the North-west, said that he had told the military men and police to deal with bandits in a language that they understand.
He always seems to have a language to address the people but is apparently oblivious of the language of his people.

Communication has always been a two-way fare. And the best leaders use this method to rule effectively. They send messages and also receive messages. Nigerians, who are the receivers, in this case, have familiarised themselves to an extent with the ambiguity of President Buhari’s subliminal messages. The problem now lies in the president understanding the language of Nigerians. What language does the president understand when Nigerians speak with him?

Most of the country’s agitations have either fallen on deaf ears or allowed to fester before the president takes action. The snail pace with which he responds to messages from Nigerians has not made many Nigerians his fan.

This was evident in the way he handled the call for him to replace the service chiefs due to the rising insecurity in the country and the overstay of the military chiefs whose tenure should have ended over two years ago. His response came this year with the appointment of General Lucky Irabor as the Chief of Defence Staff, the late Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru as the Chief of Army Staff; Vice Admiral AZ Gambo as Chief of Naval Staff; and Air Marshal Isiaka Amao as Chief of Air Staff.

Again, during the #EndSARS protest last year that led to the loss of lives and destruction of state buildings, Nigerians expected the president to address the situation, particularly after the alleged shooting of protesters in Lekki Tollgate in Lagos but the president took his precious time before finally speaking to Nigerians 48 hours after the incident.

But this slow responsiveness is not limited to national issues, even within his party, All Progressives Congress (APC), the president, who by his office is the leader of the party has not been proactive in addressing issues fragmenting the party’s unity.

For instance, when the former National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was removed, resulting in many court cases, not a few expected the president to swiftly wade in and resolve warring parties. By the time, he responded, his approach received more criticisms than acclaim.
Many frowned at his venue of choice to convey the meeting, the Presidential Villa, which is an abode to handle issues about Nigeria and not the secretariat of the party.

Could it be that the president is yet to acclimatise with the democratic rule? His actions sometimes speak of a military General than a democratic leader who is supposed to be for the people.
Having ruled during the military regime where the leaders assume autocratic disposition, it would have been enlightening to see the president in a different light as a democratic leader.

Any leader of a country is expected to be proactive and very thoughtful without dwelling too long on making critical decisions. More importantly, he must be receptive and understand the language of the people. President Buhari is yet to acquire this trait. Perhaps, he does but has not employed it effectively. One thing is certain though, Nigerians need a president who understands their language and belongs to everybody in words and deeds.