By Zainab Suleiman Okino
The tongue has the potential to put you in trouble… except you are a Nigerian politician who belongs to the right political party and moves with powerful people in the highest echelon of government. But this prerequisite is an addition to the invocation of other inanities such as ethnic background, religion, region, marginalized group or neglected cash-cow (as the case with the current president), etc.
If you pass the above hurdles and happen to be Nigeria’s president, no amount of communication inadequacies, political blunders, gaffes and mistakes can possibly cost you your job. In any case, the electorate/voters count for nothing in the political engineering, fireworks and intrigues that produce leaders in Nigeria.
This long winding preamble is a reference to President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent outbursts at home and abroad. The first is about the expose in the Lagos Police College rot. The second is his last interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, where he once again proved his un-presidential communication skills. The president is not a good extempore speaker as has been proved times without number, though not everyone has such a rare gift. Unfortunately, he is also not a good listener as was evident in the CNN interview.
We do know for a fact that what the president says or does not say at home or abroad cannot harm or detract from his political capital or diminish him in the eyes of his supporters, or to extend the argument, make it impossible for him to win elections at home. Nonetheless, should the president or his minders not worry about his international image, his place in history and thus prepare him well ahead of encounters like the CNN interview or do a damage control in the case of the police college faux pas? Recall the president’s anger with Channels Television for beaming the searchlight on the rot in the police college.
Okay, we know the president is a politician. So he reads political meanings into the Channels’s revelations of the decrepit nature of the Police College. He probably thought that since Lagos state is controlled by the opposition ACN, the television station was on a mission to embarrass his government. His outbursts almost marred the good gesture in his promptness to visit the college.
But how does that concern the CNN people who also did a pure professional job. Yet, the president was uncomfortable and became unnecessarily hedgy. Why did he have to give political interpretation to the interview in question or so it seemed? It is appropriate to ask these questions, because the president in that interview behaved as if he was at war with the interviewer or was arguing with the representative of opposition political parties. That is why he talked about “insinuations by interest groups,” “a local terror group,” “playing politics with Boko Haram,” “some people” etc all of which are a reflection of his mindset, when in actual fact he should speak as a statesman in the nation’s interest. Perhaps he still sees himself as the president of some groups instead of behaving and acting like the president of Nigeria that he is.
It does appear that for the president, all his problems are caused by those who did not want him in power and still don’t wish him well, the oppositions, enemies and critics of his government, without as much effort to look inwards, and do self-examination. This is why he never gets to solve any problems really. The snippet from the interview is a revelation in how not a president should answer questions or speak to any news agency—local or international. Excerpts:
Amanpour: “Is Nigeria prepared in case there’s a terrorist attack like in Algeria?
Jonathan: “… what happened in Algeria is quite unfortunate.”
Amanpour: Others believe Boko Haram is about resisting misrule and corruption.”
Jonathan: “No! No! No! Boko Haram is not as a result of misrule. Sometimes people feel it’s as a result of poverty, definitely not. We should not play politics with Boko Haram”.
Amanpour: On security forces driving people to the hands of Boko Haram as testified by even an NGO:
Jonathan: (Interjected). How!? How!?That is not correct. That is not correct. I have said it severally; those are insinuations by some interest groups”.
Amanpour: “One of those interest groups is the State Department of the United States”
Jonathan: “No! No! No! People get wrong information to the State Department of United States. They have the means of knowing the truth; they should try and filter the truth. They should not just listen to people who have access to them.”
On electricity supply: “I would have loved that you asked an ordinary Nigerian in the streets of Lagos and Abuja or another city this question about power. That is one area that Nigerians are quite pleased with government, that our commitment to improve power is working. So if you are saying something different, I’m really surprised. That is one area that even civil society members agree that government has kept faith with its promise.
“We have not got to where we should be, the power infrastructure is one investment that must complete the chain before the bulb can light.I promise you (Amanpour or Nigerians) that before the end of the year, power would be reasonably stable.”
On corruption, stealing and bleeding of the country: “This stolen crude is being bought by refineries abroad and they know the oil was stolen. The world must condemn what is wrong. The stolen crude is refined abroad; it’s not refined in Nigeria”.
Besides his poor grammar at that interview, the import of the context and content is disturbing. Instead of addressing the issues as much as he could, the president perceived the interview as an extension of opposition politics back home and Amanpour as one of his political foes that should be crushed. Hence, the haste and anger to ‘fire back’. He was impatient, evasive, incoherent, and confrontational. In doing that he muddled up issues and did not give appropriate responses to questions asked. The president’s belligerence and combative posture must have embarrassed his interviewer, but the bigger shame and embarrassment are for Nigerians at home and abroad who hooked up to it and got disappointed.
But does it really matter? The president does not give a damn about what the perception of him and his government is globally, as long as 2015 remains in focus. After all, it is Nigerians that will vote(?) and not the international community.
Zainab is an editor/columnist with Abuja-based BluePrint Newspapers.
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