GUEST COLUMNIST BY OKEY ANUEYIAGU
After hearing the United States of America’s President, Joseph Biden’s State of the Union Address delivered to his people a few weeks ago, I began to reflect and think of our country Nigeria, and our State of the Union.
Firstly, I began to wonder if any of our Presidents, past or present, would have had the good sense to convey with conviction and acuity, the messages about our country in the way and fashion that Biden did. To be clear, I am not talking about the eloquence of speech, or the lack of it, but about the ability to address and tackle the biggest and most aggregious issues facing our country, and convey them to our people with proper inspiration and hope.
President Biden began by pointing out all the achievements recorded by his administration in the areas of the economy; job creation, healthcare and in the rule of law in a democracy. In a dramatic fashion, he marshalled his points based on verifiable data and evidence, and reminded his people in the process, that there was more that needed to be done. His address was energetic, as he urged Americans to join hands with him to build a better nation. The lack of unity between Biden’s party and the opposition notwithstanding, and the intermittent neglect of decorum and acrimony displayed by some members of the Republican Party, President Biden was still able to passionately address the issue of division in the American political landscape. Hear him: “Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict gets us nowhere.”
What I find in Biden’s address is some form of bipartisan appeal for empathy for ordinary Americans, and an admonition to the divisiveness in the system, calling on his people who remain distressed, anxious and insecure to trust him and his administration to make them whole and prosperous. Biden used the biggest stage of his presidency to tout and sell his agenda in such an elegant and effective manner. At this stage, I began to search deep to see how effectively our presidents have used the many opportunities they have had to address us, to unite us, to console us, to encourage us, and to give us hope. I am still searching.
The major question agitating our minds today is: when can our Presidents’ addresses to our own State of the Union reflect the political, social and economic realities of our country? When can we listen to a President who has compassion in his voice, truthfulness in his heart, and can feel the pains that we all feel, in his innermost soul? When?
Biden cleverly outlined progressive priorities of his Democratic party that are anathema to the opposing Republican party. Unlike our political leaders here in Nigeria, Biden had a lot of reasonably good things to tell his people. For instance, he hailed the resilience and strength of the U.S. economy, with unemployment dropping to a nearly 54 – year low in January of 2023. In this milestone address, he talked about things that have eluded our Nigerian politicians: the importance and imperativeness of unifying his country, about the programme of massive infrastructural development, and the need to entrench the ethos of democracy.
Most successful countries in the world are formed and shaped by a complex blend of ideals, ideas, and interests from the contingency of personalities with grand strategies that are dutifully formulated and presented to the citizens. In other words, statecraft and grand strategy are a great combination required by good leaders when they communicate with their citizens. We must ask ourselves if our leaders are bereft of these qualities in their dealings with us. It appears that we have been rather unlucky to be bethrothed with leaders with no talent to tell us in a convincing manner what they mean and plan for us.
What underlay this overlooked narrative has been the skewed absence of an inspiring leadership which has proved almost impervious to change. In any political system, uninspiring leadership is dangerous. A leader that is detached from brilliant ideas and reality can act irrationally, implementing policies that are unwise, unpopular and strange to the citizens. Worse still, a leader that lacks communicative skills, even if he or she means well, will be unsuccessful in convincingly conveying the government’s programme to the citizens. Predictably, our country has had its share of leaders that lack the requisite tools to clearly and genuinely construct and implement a secure and prosperous country. Consequently, incompetent leadership, ignorance, or sheer uninspiring leaders have made the State of our Union weak, sick and dying.
What I drew from Biden’s address apart from the core strong message to his people, is the sharp disgraceful contrast that our own leaders have for decades presented to us. The story of our country has been that of a friable and lugubrious chariness. A country lacking in everything, and obfuscating and stupefying the simplest thinking mind. Yes, a lot of things have gone wrong with our country and darkness has befallen us, but the fact that we lack leaders, even by serendipity, with the capacity to tell us with some level of plolixity what our fate has become, and enliven us with hope is bewildering and confounding.
The other day, President Buhari was on the television asking his citizens to forgive his government for their many calamitous blight, and their ruination of the country. During this abstruse address, Buhari appeared equable, soporific and piqued. I didn’t see any evidence of someone who was actually seeking for forgiveness. All I saw was a synecdoche kind of speech from a President who was sick and tired of an assignment he sought for several times. I didn’t see a Biden trying to steer and inspire his people with passion, with a spirit of hope and courage to look up to the future despite all our falls, our bruised and battered lives.
During a campaign event, President Buhari asked us to; “… please in the name of God, be patient with us and forgive us. Tell your friends, brothers, sisters and children to continue to vote for APC, Tinubu will continue from where we stop …” Buhari at this event appeared remorseful when he mentioned the pains we have collectively suffered in the hands of terrorist and criminals, promising that his government, even at its twilight, will rout and defeat the killers. It appeared that the president was compelled by the exigencies of his position to say those things even as they appear not to sway anyone or move the needle of public opinion in any favorable ways for the President and his political party, the APC.
I am worried by our government’s perception in the eyes of our people and of the world. As one of our prolific writers Chido Nwangwu pointed out; “… incompetence of the Buhari presidency – a presidency of small things, of petty malice, and ancient grudges, of crass nepotism and clannishness, of moral corruption and assorted inequities, of impunity and incapacity …”
The overriding evidence that our State of the Union is sick and dying can be found in every corner of our lives. The disturbing nexus between the challenges posed by Nigeria’s political instability and the dark clouds hovering on our economic horizon is well established. The widening gap and lapses in the management of the economy and the ever prevalent unconducive investment environment are clear evidences to the frightening economic downturn, that signals disaster ahead. Without the political will embedded in our democratic process, these non-conducive practices plaguing our country; from Boko Haram deadly incursions, IPOB issues, Fulani criminal elements, corruption, irresponsible political activities, kidnapping, banditry and many other distortions, domestic and international economic growth will flounder.
For any country to survive, it must first and foremost, through its political processes that are steeped deeply in strong and unfettered democratic institutions; the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, secure the peace and stability of its commonwealth. But it appears that these institutions have failed us in a bilious scale that scares the daylight out of any good citizen. However, my hope is still anchored on the belief (though fading) that there is anecdotal evidence, that a stable democratic system will bring about a strong government and a progressive country.
To be sure, the idea of our Presidents giving us constant and endearing keynote addresses for our transactional country, seems to be a very decent proposition. The argument that sometimes the style, the medium and presentation can be more important than the message, holds water. The efficacy of a national broadcast speech with modern innovative technologies can be a potent way to organize and communicate information in orderly and enticing forms. This process, without any doubt, can, when done properly, create a charisma milage for the President and a virtue for a more engaged citizenry.
Few are likely to quibble with my position that the citizenry of a country are motivated by their leaders ability to address and present matters of national importance with such gravitas, profundity, or even some breviloquence. Very little about our politics today encourages us, or gives us optimism to the extent that we can do with even the smallest things as a President who can speak to us with such compelling aplomb or poise. I dare the skeptics who would quip: “na sweet talk we go chop”?
Philosophically, a great jumping off point on this subject, is to understand that the greatest thinkers of the world in history, have provided us with speeches, words and even sentences that unlocked a lot of issues for our understanding. Let us not confuse sweet speeches and words with wisdom or candid intentions as they can be words of foolishness. What is important are spoken words that provide important features; that inspire and move people in the right direction to do good for country and for humanity. With an imaginative leap and clarity, I will dare to confirm the role of a good word, an inspiring sentence, and a colourful sweet voice of a country’s leader professed to the citizenry, be it about the good or the bad, but with the best and transparent intent and animus.
I would expect our President to look us straight in the eyes and tell us a story of pain, progress and resilience – a story of how he has failed to protect us from slaughter, how he has borrowed much more than we can ever repay, how our economy is in a free fall, how unemployment and inflation have become our burden, and then, how he plans to curb the killing; the wanton decimation of his people, how he is going to put millions of people back to work, and how he will bring peace and harmony to our land. The President must give us our own version of the State of the Union. He must give us a strong backbone, a strong soul and a redeeming hope to live again.
Drawing inspiration from President Biden’s State of the Union Address to the American people, and from many other world leaders; from Nelson Mandela to Ronald Reagan, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu to Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe to Kwane Nkrumah, Adolf Hitler to Julius Caesar, Barrack Obama to Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X to Fidel Castro, and many others, I began to measure the strong effect that a critically communicative leader whether good or bad can have on their followers. I see a sacred duty imbedded in the ability of a leader to convey in a euphoric and an epigrammatic manner messages concerning the welfare and wellbeing of his or her citizens. Then again, in our case, what good will it do when there is nothing good to convey to us, and what other value can we find if the conveyer of the message is ladened with phlegmatic hubris and an unemotional disposition? Our President should mean what he says, and do what he means.
I am certain that having a President who communicates effectively with the citizens is not one of our most critical needs, or one of our most significant concerns today, but nothing is so firmly believed, as the fact that a leader’s passion in his speech to the citizens, can provide a strong swaying force in matters of importance.
Now, in our season of elections, and the season of lies, we have been inundated ceaselessly with voices and noises by our politicians, mostly of cacophonies of inelegant and logorrheic voices. Imagine that the inspiration we have been receiving from our politicking are weird and bizarre slogans like “it is my turn”, “go and verify”, and “blablabla”.
Then, when our Leader speaks to us about these controversial elections, all we hear are uninspiring speeches that fall flat on its face, leaving us the listeners more confused and bewildered. It is as if the entire country has fallen asleep, and that there isn’t one single person that can wake it up. Not one single living soul can inspire and unite us to realize that words that are well said are wise men’s counters, and that what is important are the features they pick out in us, as they inspire us to make sacrifices to our fellow humans and to our country.
Our State of the Union is sick and is dying, and for decades we have had no one to tell us so, and no one to lift our spirits, our souls and our bodies out of the quagmire.
Dr. Okey Anueyiagu
A Political Economist
Writes Ikoyi Lagos