By Adepoju Paul Olusegun
According to Microsoft Encarta, speech is a learned system of communication requiring the coordinated use of voice, articulation, and language skills. Although many animals are physiologically able to use the voice for communicating a wide range of simple messages to others of their species, only humans are able to produce true speech (as opposed to the skills in speech mimicry of such birds as parrots and mynae). In a broad sense, speech is synonymous with language.
When delivering a speech, a speaker endeavours to pass his or her thoughts and opinions across; and at the same time, he or she ensures that the listeners really understand what the speech is all about. The success or failure at speech delivery is often pivotal to the achievement of set goals in almost every area of life. For instance, a sales representative must be very eloquent and convincing in order to secure his job and climb the professional ladder, a lawyer must be good at delivering speeches before he can get the judge to nod in the favour of his client. And politicians all over the world are always in search of the right words to use, that would convey their plans to the electorates.
According to Bob Lehrman, leading Democratic strategist and speechwriter, the secret to good political speeches is simple, a politician must get to the point – quick, make his speech simple, be filled with humours, get the people to his side, and drive home his points.
Respected politicians who are also eloquent public speakers often follow this rule. They say, “Here’s a problem, here’s why things are terrible,” and in the second part, “Here’s what we can do to make things better.” In the problem section, they are strong — to alarm people, and to show they understand it’s a real problem, as they do, and so their solution will make sense to the people. President Barack Hussein Obama is one of the numerous previously less known politicians who rose to the top as a result of his prowess and mastery of the art of public speaking.
Speeches like Martin Luther King’s (Jnr.) “I Have A Dream”, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “We Shall Overcome”, Ronald Wilson Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing”, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address are some of the timeless speeches with words that remain relevant even today. To those who heard the speeches first hand, the speeches were inspiring, insightful, thoughtful and motivational. No wonder they are regularly consulted archived materials, unlike those of Nigerian politicians.
Since the end of the Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa and Nnamdi Azikwe era, the polity in Nigeria has fall short of inspiring words that motivate Nigerians to resolve to do all within their power to serve their fatherland to the best of their abilities. The rationale behind this generational anomaly cannot be unconnected with the poor crop of leaders that the nation has had – people who seek authority, not to serve, but to access common wealth. Hence the words proceeding from their mouths often necessitate the need for Nigerians to look elsewhere – often to religious leaders, when in search of good leaders that would take the nation to higher horizons.
Literate illiteracy and the suboptimal educational attainments of most Nigerian leaders are additional reasons that are often given as being responsible for the inability of Nigerian leaders to utter inspiring words from time to time. And over a long period of time, Nigerian politicians have become notorious with their boring presentations that only journalists listen to. Lots of prominent Nigerians cannot greet well without reading from the script (somebody like Patience), and when they attempt to talk “from the heart”, grammatical blunders that initiate IBB (Independence Bomb Blast) reminiscence, indenting statements that fail to indemnify the well battered ego of the citizens, and divisive utterances that pitch one camp against another become the order of the day.
The best moment to assess Nigerian leaders is when they are not reading prepared speeches with croaky voices. It is worthy to note that the most unforgettable statements by current Nigerian leaders were uttered when they weren’t reading! One of such is Obasanjo’s credited declaration that the widely condemned 2007 elections would be a do-or-die affair, especially in Lagos. He also gave us “I dey laugh” slang at one of such uncensored sessions.
In both instances, his purported lousy comments proved to be extensively ostensible as Tinubu and Governor Fashola had to go all the way to ensure victory in Lagos; and Atiku was ridiculously defeated at PDP presidential primaries; all according to Obasanjo’s comments.
Unlike the developed world where party members are usually unaware of the strategies that their party executives and hired political mercenaries are planning to unleash at the polls to catch the opposition unawares, every Nigerian has well informed details on what and how Nigerian political parties intend to clinch victory, thanks to the frequent “high moments” when Nigerian leaders become lousy with their unbridled tongues. President Goodluck Jonathan is the most recent Nigerian leader who lost the key to his speaking faculty in the ancient city of Ibadan.
According to PUNCH Newspaper’s headline story of Wednesday, February 9, 2011, Mr President, surrounded by three ousted governors, made the following utterances that only synergistic effects of alcohol intoxication and sheer brutishness, tinged with several shots of paraga could force out of the mouth of a true president of a nation with vision for the future.
“We (PDP) must take over all the states in the South-West. The zone is too important to be left in the hands of rascals. We shall take over Lagos, Ekiti, Osun and Ondo states. . . South-West is the most important zone where all Nigerians come. It is a mini Nigeria and it is very unique. . . It is true that we have our challenges in the zone, but we are on top of them all. We shall resolve our differences in our way.”
He went on to say that PDP leaders “will not sleep” until power was wrested from the Action Congress of Nigeria in Lagos state. This unforgettable high moment of Mr President is an insight into his perception of Nigeria, democracy, politics and indigenous African tradition of courteous human relations.
It is disheartening to note that decades after adopting the presidential style of government which put an end to regional administration, Mr President still belong to the school of thought which believe that one region is more important than the other. How should people living in the “less important flash point regions” up north respond to this matter-of-fact statement by the president? In a country that is loosely held together by sinews that are weakened daily, the President of all people, ought to know that unity as boldly emblazoned in our coat of arms, should be the theme of his speech, not divide-and-rule.
Is the president trying to say that the Boko Haram crises in the North; perennial burning, maiming and killing in Jos and Benue; bombings near his official residence in Abuja and Bayelsa, kidnapping in Aba and the entire South Eastern region, as well as oil militancy in his hometown are all less important? Like Obasanjo rightly said, President Jonathan is still under tutelage.
The president’s speech also put the nation’s nascent democracy on the same pedestal as wrestling where two contestants try to force each other’s shoulders to the floor, thus scoring a fall and winning the match. GEJ advanced Obasanjo’s wish of having Lagos under PDP’s umbrella. Like a stray bird hunter, Jonathan wants PDP to capture Lagos state. He clearly and eloquently shifted attention from the people, and bestowed power on his party, the ruling party. He enjoined the party faithful to “legally” use every resource within their reach to get Lagos state’s candidate Mr Dosunmu declared as the next governor of Lagos state.
Like his predecessors and political mentors, President Jonathan’s perspective of democracy is a battle between parties, not a political system in which the people rule through any form of government they choose to establish. Instead of addressing issues and presenting better plans for the South West under PDP, the president walked the inglorious path of preaching politics of calumny and bad name calling. Never in the history of modern politics had a seating president referred to anyone in the opposition as rascal, until President Jonathan spoke at the famous Mapo Hill in Ibadan.
What happened to leadership by example? Is it now normal and socially acceptable for politicians to refer to one another as rascals, even if they are? What about mutual reverence, respect and role modelling? Is the president trying to tell us that he has problem on those essential qualities of leadership? His religion, faith, principle and belief are also on the line here. Mr President fraternizes with popular pastors. He took a soul lifting picture that humbled unbelievers with Pastor E. A. Adeboye when he knelt before the clergyman for prayers. Many took him as a good Christian who put God first. But didn’t Mr President remember the Bible verse which goes thus:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” Ephesians 4:29 (KJV)
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan clearly went out-of-line with his utterances. While his camp might do damage control by claiming that he was quoted out of context, had a slip of tongue or used the wrong word to express what he had on his mind; many Nigerians are now watching the president very closely. They are of the opinion that he seems to be showing his true colour after several years of being a deputy. Only God knows what else is hidden under the President’s signatory hat.
In the culture of the people of the South West, utterances are taken serious. Hence for Mr President to have had his tongue unbridled is greatly frowned at by the people of the South West, just like other parts of Nigeria. Hence just like Mallam Nuhu Ribadu rightly said, the president owes people of the region numerous apologies.
When supporters of a PDP governor and supporters of a PDP senate leader engaged in a gun duel in the same Ibadan killing three people, the President did not refer to them as rascals. He was dead silent. When minority PDP state legislators in Ogun, in an historic feat, sacked the majority members of the parliament, the President did not call them rascals.
Even in the President’s home state of Bayelsa, when supporters of the PDP governor attacked supporters of Mr. President’s former adviser, killing six people, the president did not refer to anybody as rascals. On what basis can he now refer to anyone as a rascal? Not being ruled by PDP or losing control over one’s tongue?
Photo credit: NAN