Opinion: Deconstructing Buhari’s Hausa Sallah message

As the day goes by, honest Nigerians must own up to the fact that our leaders are some of the luckiest in the world. I do not know of many other countries where leaders get away with so much careless disregard for the people and the essence of nationhood like our dear Nigeria. But we are pathologically unquestioning and sold to beclouding sentiments, which inspire the defence of many nonsensical steps taken by the government we think we love or its agents.

If not, how does anyone who loves this country and desires accountable governance justify President Muhammadu Buhari’s Eid-el-Fitr audio message to Nigeria, which he delivered in Hausa? There of course could be one or two reasons why handlers of the President imagined that the release of the audio recording on the British Broadcasting Corporation was noble, but had there been a little bit more of critical thinking, proponents of the strategy would have seen the pitfalls way ahead of time.

The most plausible reason for the release or even compelling the President to record the audio in the first place, would be a need to debunk suggestions in some quarters that the President had suffered some speech impairment. They therefore, very likely, meant it to be a public relations move to communicate the alternative position to Nigerians. But do the President’s handlers even understand the fundamental essence of public relations?

Borrowing the Chattered Institute of Public Relations’ definition, Public Relations “is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.” And here, organisation could be a government, its agency, a company or even an individual. What is important is that this entity is concerned about its reputation enough to desire to gain the understanding of those stakeholders with whom it has dealings. The CIPR further suggests that the reputation of such an entity is the total result of what it does, what it says and what others say about it.

If those who advise the President cared about communicating with all the publics that he serves, they would have thought better than allow him speak in a language that  a majority of Nigerians do not understand. One is of course aware that some patently mischievous analysts suggest that 75 per cent of Nigerians speak Hausa, but that position does not lend itself to common sense. It must come from the conclusions that northern Nigeria has the largest population in the country but then, quite a number of those who are from the 19 northern states do not even speak the language.

But even if we agree to assume that a majority of Nigerians speak Hausa, the fact that a percentage, no matter how miniscule, neither speaks nor understands the language defeats the ultimate purpose of the PR to wit maintaining goodwill and mutual understanding between the President and his publics. Alienating any small group is equal to a little steer that is able to cause a public relations stampede and disaster.

This is more so at a moment like this when the country is soaked in the tension created by mutual suspicions amongst its major ethnic groups. This president’s message has only thickened the country’s fault lines.

To say it as it is, whoever sold the idea of the Hausa language goodwill message to President Buhari did incalculable damage to the reputation of the President and diminished his already weakened Pan-Nigerian  credential, thereby questioning his qualification to govern a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society of Nigeria’s stature at this time.

Not only did the address in Hausa suggest that the President is unwittingly passing a message of his preference for this group of people to other Nigerians, it clearly demonstrates an arrogance of power, and a culture of ethnic superiority that has the tendency to perforate the fragile silk of national unity.

But beyond its insensitivity to national growth, this ridiculous show of naked carelessness has the unintended consequences of permanently conferring an ethnic stain on the otherwise amiable Buhari and terminally snatching any opportunity for perceptual redemption.

That said about the failure of this gesture to impress as a communication strategy, there is the graver issue of undermining the authority of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo by stunts like the one we saw last weekend.

The question to ask is, how is a goodwill message in any language to Nigerians from a medically vacationing President necessary at this point in time? This self-serving gesture from those who manage the President is another addition to the constant exhibition of presidential immaturity and constitutional infractions in the act of governance and practice of presidential system that we have seen in this country.

Without any fear of contradiction, one can vouch that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which we operate, does not anticipate the duplication of presidential powers. The moment President Buhari wrote to the National Assembly informing of his intention to proceed on medical leave by virtue of Section 145 of the constitution, his direct powers over the affairs of the country momentarily cease until a letter conveying contrary information is sent to the people’s assembly.

Those who drag President Buhari out of his sick bed to present cameo appearances aimed at impressing Nigerians about his state of health are therefore doing us no good. He has delegated authority to a man whose confidence he seems to have and his handlers should respect the people enough to allow the Acting President carry out his duties without these random theatrics.

But the people also have a role to play.

Resulting from our conservative medieval-like social relations and impenitent ignorance of the theory and practice of presidential powers, we have tolerated several apostasies that must stop if we are to develop as a country and have other countries of the world take us seriously.

Those who love this country must start to distinguish between love for country and the hero-worship of individuals. There is indeed a world of difference between the two and muddling up one for the other will ultimately put national interest in jeopardy.

There is also the issue of the ungodly indignity to which those who spearhead these gimmicks subject the President of the world’s most populous black nation. The intention of this particular audio recording is to convince Nigerians that Buhari still has his faculties contrary to reports but how much does it this mission achieve?

It can indeed be said that the recording would, more than any other thing, convince Nigerians of the severity of the President’s condition. The voice we heard was exhausted, strained, drained of all vigour and almost inaudible. His message only ended up evoking pity and confirming the seriousness of his situation.

This is why those who love the President should allow him his deserved rest and convalescence. The administration led by him will soon be called to account for how well it has executed the revolutionary mandate that Nigeria handed over to him in 2015 when they rejected an incumbent for it. Now, there is no doubt that Buhari is not immediately in a position to direct national affairs in any progressive way but he has a deputy who is displaying competence. Working to impede or sabotage the Acting President can only harm the record of the Buhari administration and those who distort the normal order should take cognisance of this.

They should also be reminded that corruption is not only an act of converting national resources to personal use. Those who subsume processes, corrupt values, denigrate the office of the President and hold Nigerians in contempt are as guilty of corruption as can be. And Nigeria really does deserve better. Punch

–Twitter: @niranadedokun

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