In an open democracy, the president granting televised interviews is nothing to gloat over. In Nigeria, however, a nation deprived of constant engagements by its leaders, last week offered something of a respite. To quell the rising agitations in the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari should go a step further to embrace dialogue.
For the better of his six years in office, President Buhari retained his long-running style as a former military general and dictator. Without a place for communication, he clutched onto his brute and divisive approach. Interviews was merely a fantasy. In an era of social discussions, this has not quite gone well with the populace.
Usually reticent and absent, he scarcely grants presidential media chats. Instead, he developed a penchant for speaking to foreign press about Nigeria. On rare occasions when he engaged the nation, he did so through third-parties, spokespersons and press statements.
To make matters worse, official communication from his team is often as defensive and condescending as that of their boss. Led by Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina, his team have appeared more like politicians representing some political interests. More often than not, their engagements are insensitive and controversial.
The president’s reaction to secessionists in the South-East attest. After keeping mute and relatively aloof of the occurrences, he showed up very late, when too much damage had occurred, threatening to “treat them in a language they understand”. Such a high-handed and tough stand showed a leader out of touch with and tone-deaf to an increasingly important youth demographic. This shouldn’t be.
Nigeria is in the middle of crises. Not only is there a recession that is causing a real threat to the average citizens’ livelihood, a foreign exchange crisis largely of the government’s making, and threats to the country’s internal security with bandits, Boko Haram and increased secession agitations, we also face huge gaps in infrastructure, education and healthcare that loom large and threaten the country’s future.
The president’s recent twin media chats less than 24 hours apart, however, offers hope. After speaking to Arise TV on June 10, he went on to grant another interview with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA). Buhari made it a treble in three days by addressing Nigerians on June 12. The interviews offered more insights than the barrage of statements from his spokespersons.
As Reuben Abati said, whoever advised President Buhari to tow this path did him well. Being the head of a representative democracy that requires regular engagement with the electorate, the leader is reasonably expected to talk to, talk with, and generally keep in touch with the people through the many channels available in this 21st century.
Regular and clear communication between a leader and the led is a sine qua non for both effective administration and successful leadership. For if, as a leadership-training expert John Maxwell says, leadership is influence, the potent means of a leader to influence people is effective communication. It is the oil in the machinery to influence.
Although some Nigerians may disagree with some of his claims, many of the myths constructed around him have been exploded. The president quashed conspiracy theories that alleged he was either dead or his government was being run by cabals. It also completely cleared all doubts and as Abati put it, “Buhari is effectively in charge”. But it shouldn’t just end there.
Nigerians expect a periodic report on how well he is getting on with the job. No spokesperson can articulate this better than the man at the helms of affair. And, the means to do this include formal media chat, response to the pressmen questions at occasions, televised address on issues of national urgency such as banditry, the state of the economy, and the roaring call for a truly federal system of government.
On top of that, Buhari must imbibe dialogue. Together with inclusiveness, it is said to be part of the essence of the culture of democracy. They are qualities that need to be nurtured and demonstrated in everyday life.
Rather than threaten to deal with agitators, Buhari should embrace dialogue as suggested by many Nigerians. Although it may signal weakness, especially being an ex-general, it may ultimately be a watershed.