RHETORICS: We know this…
‘ And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country’ — J.F. Kennedy, inauguration speech, January 20, 1961
I am sure you have either heard or seen the citation quoted above in speeches or opinion editorials by public office holders, journalists, motivational speakers and every other person in Nigeria. While it was originally a clarion call by President John F. Kennedy at his inauguration ceremony in 1961, in a bid to reunite the people as well as forge a common front to tackle the economic, political and social challenges that beset the United States of America after the end of the Second World War in that political era. This speech has been misconstrued by the Nigerian political class and a certain group of public speakers to mean — we (citizens) should not depend or even expect government to provide even the most basic amenities that taxes are deducted for and are promised by different administrations during electoral campaigns.
Personally, I believe most Nigerians already have zero faith in the political leadership and this is exemplified in how we carry out our daily businesses. For security, people who lived in gated neighborhoods (estates)rely on private security personnel, while those who do not live in such rely on local vigilante groups — OPC or OLODE-kinda fellows. People also construct their own drainage system (sorry to all those who suffered property losses in the recent floods), sand-fill the roads to allow for vehicular movement, buy supposedly STRONG CARS to navigate the potholes on the roads, patronize private medical experts & trado-medical practitioners (elewe omo and Opa eyin dealers) and the best of all — we generate our own power supply via I-beta-Pass-My-Neighbour-Mikano-Solar-Inverter-esque mechanisms. So, asking us to not rely on government is like preaching to the choir — excuse me, we already know!!!
For a while, I have been tinkering with the idea of having a small company that will provide speech writing, policy formulation & research and public relations services to corporate bodies as well as public office holders. This idea was borne out of the non-intelligent, sleep-inducing and illogical speeches/commentaries that Nigerian public office holders usually spew out at state events and press briefings. For every time I had to seat through such, I am convinced the more, that many public office holders are deficient — in the understanding of history, law, politics, economics and philosophy — and require assistance that is not provided for by their aides/media teams or they simple disregard the assistance altogether. I usually cringe and my skin feels itchy each time I watch members of the legislature stand up to make contributions and it is all incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo or some talk/jest that is not worth anything even in a motor park gathering. Such fellows are supposed to be knowledgeable as lawmakers and their laws can cement or derail the future of the nation.
There are just a handful of philosophical and thought-provoking quotes that can be attributed to the presidents that have ruled this nation and even a microscopic few (apologies to Honourable Patrick Obiahiagbon) from all those that have at one time served in a public office. You might want to ask — What of I belong to nobody and I belong to everybody? Sorry to break it to you, fact checking has shown that the line did not originate from the current president; it is originally credited to a political thinker of old, but was remodelled by this administration. Funnily, this nation has produced great intellectuals in different disciplines — some Nigerian Judges have served as Chief justices and even contributed to the legal/political system in some African countries after their independence. So, why is it so hard to assemble a team that will produce quality speeches and formulate/implement great policies?
Everyone who has been elected as American president either served in military or in a lower political position and usually they have background in law, history and philosophy; with the exception of Donald Trump, who is a Grande departure from the American ideal. There is no need to mention that Trump is yet to have a significant contribution to political thoughts/philosophy except all the verbal ejaculations and half-truths that have come to be associated with his administration. All the other presidents had significant contributions — from Washington to Lincoln and more recently Obama (who happens to be a great orator/writer).
Back to Nigeria, the fact that an individual is journalist or has experience in the communications sector does not translate to he/she being a good speech writer. It takes more than that; it involves great research and in-depth knowledge of the issues surrounding the polity. The office of the American president has speech writers and policy research teams that are constantly reporting to the Press secretary in order to present a united front in government. In Nigeria, it is not uncommon to see three individuals serving as media aides to a public official granting press interviews and presenting three conflicting information about the same issue — you could read up the duo Garba/Adeshina or Okupe/Abati for more information.
Let’s also consider the flawed process of selecting media aides; almost at all times you have to be a broom/umbrella-welding individual in their political party or related to any of the several political godfathers that need to be appeased through appointments into political offices; and even if you happen to be independent you will sooner or later have to conform to their system of anyhow-ness. Thus, it is not uncommon to see someone who has zero knowledge about policy formulation, governance and empathy towards the welfare of the people in the team of the office holder. For example, about a month ago, a certain media aide of the Speaker, House of Representatives used the Speaker’s personal/official twitter handle to tweet messages of hate about the Igbos. After the initial backlash those set of tweets received from Nigerian social media users, the tweets were deleted, but the fellow still went ahead to use his own personal twitter to continue propagating the distasteful message and guess what? He was not sanctioned by his principal, nor was an apology tendered by the fellow. This should give you an idea of the caliber of persons lurking around the corridors of power and the quality advice such fellows give to their bosses, who happen to be responsible for the welfare of the citizenry. Terrible!!!
Another tragedy is the issue of plagiarism. In the academia, as well as in intellectual circles, it is the deadliest sin anyone can commit. It is not uncommon in this part, to read original transcripts of speeches and see mindless lifting from the works of popular political theorists, philosophers and popular personalities without proper citations or the original author mentioned in the whole document. A popular example is the controversy that surrounded a speech by the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari at a state event was discovered to have been a plagiarized version of a speech by a former American president. In this case, a phantom civil servant and director in the media office was allegedly suspended on account of this. However, no additional information (name of the ghost culprit) was given, despite the fact that some sources in the presidency claimed the error emanated from a cousin of the president who has hijacked the whole process of speech writing/information dissemination. The fellow is not an appointee of the president, but has been acting unofficially in the position of a gatekeeper and information coordinator. You may choose to believe or disbelieve this story, but it is not unimaginable because the said fellow is always with the president in the villa.
In all, you can see, some of the problems highlighted stem from flawed political process that throws up the most incompetent fellows and also the warped mentality of many of the persons in leadership roles and their acolytes. While many corporate bodies are faring better and have found better ways to address this problem through the employment public relations experts as well as choosing the easy way out — social media campaigners — to help drive offline and online communication, public office holders have not. So, I see a potential market, although not quite large and it could be disastrous because government patronage tend to kill business growth models, but it could also be worth the try — people like Chude and Debola of Statecraft Inc. are already making waves in a similar area, with their business activities even spread outside of Nigeria.