We asked for a speech. We got the speech. And now, we are speechless. This pun serves some humour but it succinctly and suitably captures how most of us feel about the President’s speech of October 22, 2020. It’s actually a silent speech. Silent on the most salient issues besetting the people and unsettling the polity. Mr President, again, you failed to use judiciously an opportunity to speak like a father to the youth. You missed the point again. You failed to address the most pertinent concerns. A leader should monitor the pulse of their subjects and attune communication accordingly. Your speech did not evince this. Mr President, you broke your silence without giving impact. A communication deficit.
I didn’t watch your broadcast live but I have read your 27-paragraph address and seen the video recording. With all due respect Mr President, the speech was preponderantly a mishmash of your economic initiatives. Almost the entire speech centred around interventions like the 75-billion-naira National Youth Investment Fund, Tradermoni, Marketmoni, Farmermoni, N-Agro, MSMEs Survival Fund and the like. This piece is not devoted to critiquing how you may have fared in delivering these supposed economic empowerment projects, ’cause they’re unmistakably riddled with plenty defects. You also dwelt lengthily on how the protests have been hijacked by unscrupulous elements but failed to recognise that it’s all caused by government’s lack of strategic response to the protests early enough. This piece is poised to pick holes in your address, to play up how you missed it again.
Mr President, as a communication consultant who also specialises in crafting messages meant for public consumption, I can distill from your speech that you don’t feel you’ve done anything wrong. While reading it, I got your mood- ‘I am right, I haven’t done anything wrong’. In paragraph 14, you stressed that no government in the past has ‘methodically and seriously approached poverty alleviation’ like you have done. I guess you’re right. It’s just that we don’t feel the impact of this ‘methodical and serious approach’. Nigerians bellyache every day about how things have consistently snowballed from bad to worse. It’s a bleak and baleful picture.
So, you haven’t wronged us- in your own assessment anyway. A leader who doesn’t acknowledge that they’ve fallen short of their subjects’ expectations and lost their faith, will hardly remediate their misdeeds and inactions. Your silence, before now, was an oddity, especially when everyone has been ‘sorosokeing’. We begged you to speak, thinking that will make much difference. But you have once again shocked and nonplussed us with vapid rhetoric. Perhaps, it’s not you, but your message handlers. Even if so, you’re in sync with the messaging. You must have loved it to have voiced it.
Mr President, you emphatically mentioned that you have scrapped SARS. However, what we have seen so far is an announced dissolution of the unit and an enunciation of a new one, SWAT which is just same wine in a different bottle. We still see videos of trigger-happy SARS officials on a killing spree. We have witnessed these horrendous episodes. You also stated in your speech that you have set some measures in motion to address the yearnings of the protesting Nigerians. What are these measures? It would have done a great deal of good if you had unambiguously pinpointed the measures just the way you reeled out your socio-economic plans. Hence, it’s one of two things: either these measures are nonexistent and a propagandistic figment or your information handlers haven’t done a good job of communicating them. A deficiency in information management.
Mr President, we noticed you deliberately avoided talking about the incident of 20-10-20, which has historically gone down as the Lekki Massacre. I wouldn’t know why you circumvented this all-important, globally trending issue. An issue that has made international personas and bodies lend their voices to the ENDSARS campaign. And our President found a way not to talk about it in his address? An incident that took the lives of a good number of Nigerian youths. An incident triggered off by government’s tardy and harum-scarum response to the peaceful protest to end police brutality. I did a piece few days back entitled ‘#ENDSARS: Mr President, Our Blood is in Your Hands’. That’s the truth. And you had the opportunity of addressing that issue in your speech, but you didn’t. Perhaps, only you and your communication team can rationalise that decision. To many, it’s an illogic.
People have condemned the technical calibre of the broadcast. Some say it’s poorly edited, using the pedestrian descriptive ‘cut and join’. I’m more concerned about the messaging and not the technicality of it. In the digital space, celebrities and other personages have been expressing their disappointment at the content of your speech. They say it lacked substance. I say it didn’t speak to the raging concerns bogging the citizens. Mr President, in political rhetoricism, every speech is seen as a medium to inspire public confidence or reinforce it and ward off any scruples on the subjects’ minds.
This address provided you the fortune to empathise with the youth. To tell them how you decry the Lekki Massacre and clearly outline pragmatic steps you’re taking to address their demands. But you didn’t do this. Your subjects now believe it’s all talk and no work and that doesn’t make you an excellent leader. Mr President, kindly work the talk. The situation of this country leaves much to be desired. Enough of government’s spectacular mediocrity. We have practically lost faith in your administration. It will take more than simple public relations to change that. You need quick actions which will produce transforming results. We expend too much time on Kafkaesque cycles of panel after panel. PR, on the other hand, should be complementary and not propaganda-driven.
Mr President, every speech provides an opportunity to rewrite your name in history when you really act your rhetorics. Don’t wait for all and sundry to beg you repeatedly before you speak to us. Speaking to us gives us some soupcon of assurance. And talking about issues that matter and of the moment shows that you care and are in touch with the pulse of your subjects. Mr President, it’s about time you started to sorosoke with impact.
Stanley Olisa is a Media and Communications Consultant who wrote from Lagos.