Since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power about six years ago, he has featured in only one presidential chat, which says a lot about his disposition to media dialogue as a means of communicating with the people.
The President seems to prefer speaking through his media aides or other senior officials. While these channels are legitimate, they ought not to be his only means of reaching out to the people. In recent times, we have heard statements from the Presidency that fuelled, rather than doused, tension. Some of these statements were incendiary, to say the least, and actually did more harm to the President’s image.
When Boko Haram terrorists killed some farmers, one of the President’s spokesmen, Mr. Garba Shehu, blamed the farmers for failing to seek clearance from the military before heading to their farms. Also, when Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State gave killer herdsmen an ultimatum to leave the forest reserves in the state over heinous activities, Mr. Shehu questioned the governor’s right to give such orders. His reaction gave the impression that the Presidency was defending the criminal activities of the herdsmen.
Other presidential spokesmen like Femi Adesina and the Minister of information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, have been accused several times of making statements in defence of the President in a manner that showed lack of compassion for the suffering masses. It is all right to defend the President. That’s the job of a presidential spokesman, some might argue. It is not the act of defending the President that’s wrong, but the way and manner it is done.
The choice of words of the Buhari spokesmen has been abrasive, sometimes nasty, and unbecoming of a public officer of such caliber. If you are defending the President for an obvious failure, you’re supposed to do it with decorum, caution and be mindful of the fact that the sensibilities of certain people could be hurt.
That said, the issue here is the taciturn nature of President Buhari. His reticence made his spokesmen to rise up and fill the vacuum he has created in presidential communication. The monthly presidential chat on network television was created to give our Presidents the opportunity to articulate their visions and express their views, while fielding question from a cross-section of journalists representing the media.
President Buhari has done the chat just once and abandoned it. He thus closed the door of communication that’s so vital in times like this, when the nation is swinging back and forth from the precipice. No reason has been given for stopping the presidential chat. One is beginning to have the impression that the President doesn’t like to talk to the press at all.
But talking to the press is one of the ways he could relate with the people who elected him. It was through the media that he canvassed for the people’s vote that got him elected twice. So, the President cannot ignore the media, no matter how much he dislikes it.
In Nigeria today, there’s a lot to talk about. People need to hear from the President directly, at least once in a month. The monthly presidential chat gives any incumbent President the opportunity to engage the media in a relaxed atmosphere and talk about every issue on the table. He needs to step forward and make his case himself. It is no longer enough for his media aides to speak for him on key issues like banditry, herdsmen’s criminality, kidnapping of schoolchildren, petroleum pump price, petroleum subsidy, COVID-19, restructuring, 2023, youth restiveness, etc.
What is the President saying about these issues? Nigerians need to hear from him directly through a channel like the presidential chat. It is in the interest of the President to engage the media personally. People need to read his lips and body language by watching him speak on live television. That’s what is imperative at this auspicious time.
The President’s advisers should impress it upon him that the fastest means to the heart of the people is through the information highway. So, President Buhari has to talk more for himself and his government. If the President likes, he could address a press conference once in a while, with his key ministers in attendance. We have the right to know. We should not be thinking that the government has a hidden agenda by not speaking on certain things.
Democracy is an open system of government. We have to see the President live on the media front without relying on his aides to do the talking for him. After all, he is a general. Every general communicates with his troops at the war front; otherwise, how can the war be won? The present crises facing Nigeria require the support of every Nigerian in order for us to win the peace we so earnestly desire. The President has to be the one mobilising the people for this battle against criminality, forces of division, economic sabotage, COVID-19, etc. Neither he nor his government officials can do it on their own.
Finally, the President has some personal issues to speak on to reassure Nigerians that he is for nobody but for everybody, like he claimed in his first inaugural address in 2015. These issue of his alleged nepotism, promotion of Islamic interest, alleged Fulanisation of Nigeria, alleged persecution of presidential aspirants, using the EFCC under the new chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, and his relationship with the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
Mr. President, please, speak up!
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Ok folks, let’s do it again next week. Keep safe. COVID-19 is real. Stay motivated.
•Ayodeji, author, pastor and speaker, can be reached on 09059243004 (SMS, email & WhatsApp only).