“Naturally, in the course of my long political activities, I have attracted to myself a sizeable crop of detractors and adversaries…This as it should be…It isn’t life that matters, but the courage you bring to it”
Chief Obafemi Awolowo (11th September, 1963 – Nigerian Supreme Court)
The quote above was adapted from a speech delivered by Pa Awo at the conclusion of his trial for treasonable felony which marked the end of his career as the leader of opposition in the federal parliament in 1963. In classic Awo style, it was uniquely and eloquently delivered; points well marshaled and ideas pointed like two edged swords at the heart of friends and foe alike. I have been reading the trilogy of Awo in the past few days following the train wreck the Third Term Agenda suffered i.e. The Voice of Reason, Voice of Courage and Voice of Wisdom. In each of the books (a compilation of his speeches in active political life) of this trilogy, you can have a peek to the workings of one of the best minds that the Nigerian nation ever produced. But what a contrast?
I speak of contrast with the debates that have been going on in the hollowed chambers of the National Assembly for the past few days in mind: five days to be exact. In those five days, senators were given the opportunity to air their opinion in parliamentary styled debates and allowed to provide an insight into how they will vote on the D-day. By all accounts, and by my own witness these debates were at best pedestrian and at worst a shame! Listening to our legislators almost made me puke. Even a primary school debater will floor many of our distinguished and undistinguished senators and representatives in an arranged session. Many of them lacked coherence, clarity of thought and none of the senators could be described by any margin of my imagination as an orator. Indeed, oratorical power is not a requirement to serve in the legislative body, but of 109 senators plus 360 representatives we could not find a man that can wow an average crowd? I am ashamed.
As a close watcher of the proceedings through the pages of the newspapers I must say that I was at first impressed by the quality of words that supposedly emerged from the mouths of our legislators. But don’t be deceived: it was the media doing wonders. The media purposely made most of the anti-third term legislators’ sound better than they really did on the floor while speaking live. Most of them could not even marshal two sentences without stammering, lacking for proper adjectives and construction to qualify their thoughts no matter how noble. Even the veteran columnist, Reuben Abati mentioned it last week and was attacked by many. But in truth, after I checked out the debates on NTA network news especially the last day proceedings, I could not just but be perplexed? Are these chaps legislators or just pretenders? They sounded like WAEC English failures, not as if I will be surprised if the pass rate for English in the National Assembly is even below national average-which by the way is in the low 20s. I will be waiting for Sowore to do that exposé.
Communication is very important to building a successful human operation: from the beginning of the world, languages formed the plank through which alliances are built and society prospered. The story of the tower of Babel comes to mind. Certainly, in a modern democracy it is not just enough to have good ideas but communicating those ideas effectively can be directly tied to the success of a noble program or its failure. In the absence of proper communication, mistrusts and rumors prosper. I mean, the third term Agenda is a case in point: hatched and concocted in the dark corridors of power, the inability of the President to summon courage as a true soldier and General by addressing the Nigerian people directly about this issue can directly be linked to its eventual death and gladly so. In fact today, President Bush and President Obasanjo have a critical problems of communicating their programs and are in similar quandary of high public disapproval of their job performance regardless of the strides or little baby steps of progress they might have achieved in office.
Undeniably, as a politician occupying an executive post you can easily get by with little or no communication skills: both written and oral. You can hire personal assistants, media consultants, speech therapists, and image washers etc. to do that job for you. There is always a Fani Kayode out there for the asking; men who will insult their mothers for as little as a bowl of garri. But as Senators or Congress men your bread and butter should be speech making, debate and an innate ability to use words colorfully, masterfully, beautifully and wonderfully to keep your friends, win your foes and shame your detractors. Pa Awo was a quintessential debater and spokesperson for the cause of the common man especially during his dint as leader of opposition in the federal parliament. Using a well choreographed approach of listing the strengths of his opponents’ debate and then tearing them down by using the power of logic laced with subtle emotion; he will go down in history as first among equals when it comes to using this parliamentary privilege. Other orators have been born in our country; some were legislators others were not. Indeed, may be no one will ever come close to the Cicero of Esa Oke – Chief Bola Ige, in the use of all languages ranging from flavored Yoruba, to peppered Hausa, and classic Latin, German and French spoken with the dexterity and coolness of a gentleman and an orator whose lineage is often traced back to one of Rome’s best.