Words matter. They are the most important medium of communication and passing information from one person, institution or entity to another. Words are spoken by living things, both natural and supernatural. All animals communicate majorly through the instrumentality of words. However, the words are more intelligible within animals of the same species. Monkeys understand monkeys while cocks understand cocks. Human beings understand human beings. Words are so powerful that when they are spoken by powerful human beings, they have spiritual potency. God created us in His own image. God speaks and indeed created the whole world and everything that dwell in it by spoken words. Genesis 1:1-3 declared that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light” and consequent upon that primordial command there was light.
Lord Jesus once told his disciples in John 6:63 “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life”. Certain positions on earth have been clothed with divinity that the words spoken by occupiers of such positions on earth have been elevated to the realm of divinity. Positions like that of the Kings, Presidents, Governors and Judges have been clothed with divinity requiring the occupiers of such offices to be careful with their utterances. God is known to be the only giver of life but by the words of these category of officers a man can be legally executed and hanged to death. There was the story of King Herod who was so impressed by his daughter’s dance steps during a feast that he promised to give her whatever she asked. On the counsel of her mother the Queen, the daughter asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. John had to be executed to fulfil the words of King Herod. Wars are declared and fought by their words. Their words make history and change the course of history. Nigeria is where it is today because of the utterances of our leaders.
The vessel through which words proceed, therefore, is probably the most important consideration and context in interpreting and ascribing meaning to words. The time-worn assertion that we should concentrate on the message and ignore the messenger has always proved ineffective in realising the potency of words. President Olusegun Obasanjo has practically criticised and is still criticising every regime in Nigeria. But none of his criticisms made as much impact as ordinary words he uttered when he was the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At the inception of his regime, before he was sworn in, when a certain man of God prophesied that he will be killed before being sworn in, he simply said “I dey kampe”. Today, those words have assumed an idiomatic expression meaning I am insurmountable. During the course of his presidency, when the members of the National Assembly were uncomfortable with some of his actions and desired some changes, including a subtle threat of his removal if he didn’t make amends. Obasanjo came out with the words “this is a joke taken too far”. Those words irked the members that they came out openly with impeachment plans that compelled Obasanjo to show some contrition. Ordinarily, those words would have been ignored if they were uttered by ordinary persons but coming from the President portrayed the Law Makers as clowns. At the twilight of his regime, while campaigning for his predecessor, Umaru Yar Adua, Obasanjo described the quest for his victory as a “do or die affair”. Till date those words have become part of our political lexicon to reflect how politics should not be done. It should be a game not a do or die affair. But everyone has been using the words “do or die” without consequences until it was used by a sitting President and the narrative changed.
President Muhammadu Buhari is known to be a sincere man. When he was confronted with the statement of his wife as he was in a function abroad, he said that his wife’s place is in his kitchen, living room and “the other room”. Today, “the other room” has become a national and international slogan, not because the words are novel, but because they were made by a sitting President. This is a President with a large heart of justice, who contested for the post of President four times and chose his Vice Presidential Candidates four times, two each from the two majority tribes in the South. So far, he has done for the South East what his predecessors had not been able to do. The second Niger bridge, reconstruction of our impassable roads, internationalisation of Enugu Airport etc. However, the opposition has consistently latched on the comment he made immediately he won the election of the President that he will patronise people who gave him 97 percent votes as opposed to those who gave him five percent to paint him as a President who favours a section of the population to the other. I guarantee you that if he hadn’t made that statement, the opposition would have nothing against him as regards to his infrastructural development of the South East.
The words of a leader matter. If the words of President Obasanjo that the National Law Makers were jokers rattled them that far, you can imagine how the words of our leaders affect the ordinary person in the street. Of particular importance in today’s Nigeria is how the unguarded words of our leaders exacerbate our already precarious security situation. There’s no doubt that we have an invasion of our country by terrorists who are populated by mainly foreigners with their local collaborators descending from our northern borders. It is also common knowledge that these terrorists deal ruthlessly with all Nigerians without regards to their ethnicity, religion or profession. Indeed, their wickedness is more pre-eminent within their own ethnicity and religion because they can easily mix up with the locals and interact easily, making their identification and isolation difficult.
One wonders why the Governor of Bauchi, Bala Mohammed, fired the salvo that all Fulani in the world are Nigerians and Nigeria should accommodate all of them in any plan to resettle the Fulani into the modern day pastoral system. Hear him, “The Fulani do not have borders. There’s a lot of mistrust and misconception with regards to the Fulani man. The Fulani man is a global or an African person. He moves from the Gambia, Senegal and his nationality is just a Fulani man”. In line with his submission, he asserted that what should be done is to engage in a plan that can accommodate the whole Fulani worldwide in the RUGA plan. Isn’t it absurd that Nigeria, with its lean resources, which cannot even resettle the Fulani in Nigeria comfortably, under a Fulani President, is being advised by a Governor in Nigeria to resettle the whole Fulani in the world. The Governor was to contradict himself later in the interview with Channels TV when he said, “In most cases, the crises are precipitated by those outside Nigeria. When there is a reprisal it is not the Fulani man within Nigeria that causes it. It is that culture of getting revenge which is embedded in the tradition of the Fulani man that attracts the presence from all over the place.” If the attacks against Nigeria is from the Fulani outside Nigeria, not the Fulani inside Nigeria, then how can he classify all of them as the same?
I disagree with him also that the Nigerian Fulani has the culture of revenge because Yar Adua, a Fulani man, as President, refused to take revenge on the militants of the Niger Delta, but chose rather to forgive them. After Nzeogwu killed the Fulani political leaders in 1966, the Northern Fulani Emirs instructed the military officers from Northern extraction not to kill Aguiyi Ironsi in a coup in the North. This is the statement that breeds contempt against the Nigerian Fulani by other ethnic groups and make it appear as if the Fulani in Nigeria prefer the Non-Nigerian Fulani to the Nigerians of other tribes. Having mixed with the Fulani of Nigeria, I can say unequivocally that this is not true. The Nigerian Fulani is as Nigerian as any other Nigerian and certainly prefer Nigerians to Non-Nigerians irrespective of their ethnicity or religion. As if this was not enough, he advised the bandits to defend themselves with AK 47s against other Nigerians. Possessing AK 47 is illegal and advising anyone to carry AK 47 by any guise is making a criminal out of the person and for a Governor, who is mandated to execute the law, to advise people to break the law is beyond comprehension. President Buhari, a Fulani man, in order to curb possession and proliferation of illegal firearms, outlawed and even cancelled existing licences of owners of firearms. So whose interest is the Governor of Bauchi serving? In a bid to impress the Fulani, he has become the greatest de-marketer of the Fulani ethnic group.
We have to rise against unguarded utterances in Nigeria, particularly from our leaders. We can all see how unguarded utterances from President Trump nearly destroyed America. Trump made more than 30,000 unguarded words in four years which misled the ordinary Americans to engage in insurrection against the American government that resulted in the deaths of their citizens and officers of the law. But for strong institutions, Trump’s unguarded comments and words would have irreparably damaged democracy in America. Everyone involved in the insurrection is being investigated, including the former President, with a view to bringing them to justice. Trump was impeached twice for his careless words. Nigeria should do the same. Any leader who makes unguarded utterance that results in deaths or fuelling of the already precarious security situation should be investigated and prosecuted as a deterrent to others. If he is enjoying immunity, he should be impeached and removed from office. Our leaders must learn to be diplomatic in their utterances because a soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. God admonished us to let our speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that we may know how we ought to answer every man.