Of Off-Cue Presidential Broadcasts

covid 2019 nigeria
Image by Hank Williams from Pixabay (modified)

Many of the people who clamored for President Buhari to address Nigerians on the Covid 19 pandemic did so apparently because of what the US President was doing. President Trump and indeed many responsible world leaders opted to fight the Covid 19 pandemic leading from the front.  They personally took the gauntlet, addressing press conferences, make broadcasts and entertained questions from an eager populace seeking to assuage frayed nerves and sensibilities caused by the pandemic. And if Nigerians also wanted to have their president leading the war against the invisible enemy from the front, that in itself is evidence that Nigerians are of age politically and should not be taken for granted.

But when he eventually did take a lead with a broadcast, Nigerians were utterly disappointed and dismayed at Mr. President’s seeming inability to properly identify the enemy. Instead of calling the pandemic, Covid 19, he inadvertently said it was Covikk 1 – 9. I read some of the jokes and watched many of the videos that his traducers made of him and I didn’t find anyone of them funny, interesting and serious minded. Even some of the most intellectually disposed among us joined the rabble to make the president a butt of insipid jokes and very insulting videos.

Mr. President had no need to refer to Covid 19 as Covikk 1-9. Calling or referring to it as Covikk 1-9 was inadvertent as far as I am concerned. Across Nigeria, and indeed with many of the major tribes like the Ibo, Akaw-Ibomites, Deltans, Yoruba and Hausa, collective aphasia (linguistic challenges) persists.  As a matter of fact, linguistic defects linked to these tribes ordinarily helps with identification of most Nigerians informally and formally. And so it is not too different with Mr. President who comes from a tribe of peoples with linguistic difficulties associated with certain consonantal sounds – most will say ‘pipity’ for fifty, ‘feofle’ for people and so on, not diminishing the semantic implications of those words. However though, what this translates to once again is that Nigerians take no prisoners with their expectations of their leaders. They hold you to the strictest measures of governance, and will attack you mercilessly if in their sometimes highfalutin pose you don’t measure up. In his second broadcast through, it is to the credit of Mr.  President and his handlers that he eventually referred to the pandemic to the best of his ability.

Therefore, a President has no need to properly pronounce words. All he needs to do is inspire and fire people with words. Any president who cannot talk, who cannot face the stare of his people’s gaze and who cannot fire people with words to motivate, to empathise and to lead is not ready.  Love or hate him, IBB had a way with words. He linguistically maneuvered Nigerians – he would say ‘step aside’, when he actually wanted to tell you he was voting with his feet. He would say, ‘Nigerians need encouragement and not rage’, and so on. Another one of those leaders whose words built fire in you and made you want to love your country to bananas was the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. For those of us who were not born when he was Prime Minister, I’d advise you look up videos of his visits to the US, replete with examples of his eloquence and rhetorical clear-sightedness.

There were other Nigerians whose words moved people – Nnamdi Azikiwe, KO Mbadiwe, Chief Anthony Enahoro and Donald Duke. My father once told me the late Nnamdi Azikiwe when boxed in a corner in an NCNC debate used a word alien to the English lexicon – omiomio omiomiority – (to mean sweet and plenty) – to bamboozle and rabble rouse and eventually won the debate because of his omiomio omiomiority.  

With the incumbent though, things are damn dry.  We all listened to his recent broadcast, and believe me it was the flattest I’ve ever listened to. Yes, he said all the right words, the right things but how many Nigerians can actually say they truly believed in and bought into his message? What happened to his famous body language? Is this a reflection of his age, his health and his now proposed shyness? It may be so because as a young boy when I listened to Muhammadu Buhari, his voice was firm in defending an obnoxious decree 4, the crating of Umaru Dikko and the firing squads for drug dealers.

Part of the failures connected to these ‘presidential broadcasts is in their outlook and rendition. Presidential broadcasts cast the president as a dictator or an emperor reading a speech like the Queen, to some loyal subjects. There is no interaction of the president with his people. He looks aloof and distant like one of Okoroacha’s statues, and if it is true what Rotimi Amaechi said of the alleged shyness of the president then we are in real trouble my fellow countryman. Nobody does anything or achieves tangibles with a reclusive and shy president.  Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the lame American president then led his troops against the Japanese from his wheelchair. He even attempted to get up from his wheelchair and to do something when told there was something that couldn’t be done. But what did he use to galvanize and lead his troops to war – his words. He put so much infectious conviction in them, to the extent that an unbelievable fervor arose in his fellow countrymen.  Need we mention Winston Churchill and his war rhetoric, which injected hope and courage in the face of imminent annihilation from the blitz of September 7, 1940 to May 1941?

And another thing – who says a presidential broadcast (if we must have one) must be in English for Christ sakes? President Buhari has been heard speaking impeccable Hausa and Kanuri to his people on BBC. Why can’t a president speak pidgin, or get a translator translate his message in pidgin. How many local people actually understood all the Engrish or Ninglish he has said? Pidgin connects us all more than football, unites more than stealing public monies. Part of the failure of President Jonathan was his inability to connect with the North, a region which saw him as a minority, an infidel and who should not lead them. I often imagined a President Jonathan who had spent some time   mastering basic Hausa and be fluent with it. Believe me the outcome of the 2015 elections would have been different.

Let Mr. President come out and interact with his people. He is said to PRESIDE over the DENT. He, and indeed all Nigerian leaders, should think outside and come out of the box, do things that can connect with Nigerians rather than these flat, dour and insipid presidential broadcasts.

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Image by Hank Williams from Pixabay (modified)

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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