By Ebuka Obi Uchendu
Now, at the risk of sounding like ‘one of them’, let me remind our leaders that as they send out these great messages meant to inspire and motivate Nigerians to do better, they need to ask themselves one simple question; “What have I really done to actually do as I say?”
It’s Easter again and it means one thing in Nigeria. Yeah, we know the bit about Jesus Christ resurrecting, and the fact that many churches will be filled to the brim today with my countrymen and women loudly proclaiming their love for the Son of God, and trying to outdo each other with their colorful clothes and dance steps while taking their offerings in thanksgiving to the altar (thereby, funding their Pastors’ love for mansions and private jets). But that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.
Of course, I haven’t seen any newspaper today but I can assure you that before you get to the fourth page of any national daily, you would have seen headlines like; “Easter message: President Jonathan calls for peace.” Or; “David Mark urges religious tolerance at Easter.” Or; “Tambuwal, Fashola, Chime preach peace at Easter.” The variations are pretty much endless but the message is always the same.
Don’t misunderstand me here; there’s nothing wrong with sending messages like these to encourage Nigerians to live better together and hopefully build a better Nigeria. My only problem is with the sad predictable, repetitive and ineffective nature of all these. What really is the point?
Truth be told, this tradition did not start with the current administration. Our leaders, both ‘spiritual and temporal’ (Yeah, that’s another clichéd Nigerian term I’ve always wanted to use even though most Nigerians don’t really know what it means), have never hesitated to drop boring and irrelevant press releases at every opportunity just to come across as caring and sensitive. The Sultan sends a message to Christians at Christmas, the Cardinal wishes Muslims well at Sallah, and the list goes on. It has always happened. And this government has refused to be left behind.
Since President Jonathan assumed office, he hasn’t tried to slow down in his bid to give predictable press releases at will. There’s no doubt that his task hasn’t been helped by Nigeria’s many security problems. But then again, the security problems also amplify the ‘predictable press release’ issue, which has only succeeded in showing off Mr. President as more of a talker than a walker.
In the past year or so, the statements by President Jonathan’s Media Officer Dr. Reuben Abati, usually contain certain keywords, with Mr. President being “saddened by the loss of lives” following the “tragic events” that occurred. He also always sends his “condolences to the families of victims”; and then ends with a “promise to bring the culprits to book”. Then sadly about a week later, the cycle basically repeats itself. Is it great that the President sounds like he cares? Yes. But at what point do these words become annoying even to the talker? At what point does he stop promising to bring culprits to book and actually brings the culprits to book? When do we see action?
Sometimes, I start to wonder if the government takes the saying that ‘words have power’ a little too seriously. Like, someone in Abuja believes that continuously repeating something would make it automatically act out itself. You would expect that by now, someone would have pointed out the clear difference between the government’s mode of operation and that of the terrorists in our midst. The government keeps talking while the terrorists do all the acting. In saner societies, the reverse is usually the case. Post 9/11 for example, we were left with a world where Al Qaeda spent most of their time releasing videos and audio recordings promising hell to America, while America on the other hand slowly eliminated it’s leadership before ultimately killing Osama Bin Laden. That, is how governments work.
As things stand today, any Nigerian who has ever read a newspaper in this country, could do Dr. Abati’s job. When members of the political opposition criticize government, simply release a statement calling them “detractors” or “disgruntled elements who lost elections and are paid to destabilize government.” When international organizations rank us low in health or developmental indices, dismiss them for “not being in touch with current efforts at reform by the government.” When Nigerians complain that government isn’t doing anything to improve the economic situation, let them understand that “results take time” and that “government will continue to work in the interest of the people.”
Now, at the risk of sounding like ‘one of them’, let me remind our leaders that as they send out these great messages meant to inspire and motivate Nigerians to do better, they need to ask themselves one simple question: “What have I really done to actually do as I say?”