Like when he speaks, when we see the president writes, it is something that jolts us. We the incurable optimists always rush out to the transistor radio or to the TV set, anytime we hear the president is up to speak. We expect something new. It is like when the women ululate, he who has a heavy one at home would expect baby’s cry from his hut. Imagine then, how disappointingly boring it would be when such rush to catch the good news is spoilt by a completely different one. Or, at worse, a more agonizing experience when what is said, a la “You journalists know more than the president”, is unbefitting of the office and person of the president.
Then it occurs, our own President Goodluck Jonathan, has written for the Washington Post. By my own reckoning, this is the first time a serving Nigerian president would write for an international publication, like the Washington Post. If there were any, please do not seek to remind me, in Nigeria we are all afflicted by amnesia. By the way, amnesia is a sweet affliction here, do not pity us. It is a nice way of forgetting our past misfortunes and, at the same time, a fine tool for political leaders who seek to misguide the people and rule over our ignorance.
Isn’t it sexy that our man with many badges of firsts hanging from his chest, has yet recorded another first? (NB: this was the man who brought Facebook to Nigeria, among other many firsts). Before you say Mark Zuckerberg, I dashed to Washington Post to read my president. The paper too must be grateful to President Jonathan for his piece must have generated a lot of traffic to their site. Thousands of Nigerian internet users, who still have some ears left for the president, as well as those looking for any misstep of the president to criticize, all dashed off to read that historic oped.
Trust our man. He has this unpretentious way of not disappointing even his staunchest foes. The outing was anything but a success. First, the piece reads, at best, like a school composition. It is like a student answering the question: You are the president of your school’s Poultry Club and over 250 chicks have been abducted from the farmhouse, without any trace. Write an essay suitable publication in your school magazine, explaining away your failure and why you have been lethargic about taking action to rescue the chicks. Just as you would expect from a student’s composition, there was neither profound explanation about the situation of the abducted girls and the rescue efforts, no was there a nuanced extrapolation of the larger issue as would be expected of someone who is a president, and a PhD holder to boot.
Recall that for over two weeks after the mass kidnap, the president refused to believe it was not a prank or some mischief by the usual suspect – the opposition. Therefore, for nearly 80 days that the Chibok schoolgirls have been taken away, Oga Jonah could not tell the world what his government has done so far. What one would expect, especially for such an international outing, was for the president to come up with specifics: what have been done, what are the challenges, at least before begging for “new international cooperation”. Okay, to be fair to the President, he had actually mentioned some initiatives whose genuineness is as vague as they sound. For example, no one will point to any cogent activity undertaken under the name of safe school initiative, nor can the government identify what it has done in the name of the high-sounding “presidential economic recovery program for northeastern Nigeria”, aside a N2 billion handout the government announced in December.
In effect, what the president, or whoever wrote the piece for him did, was to regurgitate the same line of argument that Nigerians have heard so much of. Terrorism is a global phenomenon. It is momentary and it will fizzle out. The government is not sleeping on duty. But, as usual, the piece is mute on what the government is doing similar to what governments confronted with similar menace do. More recently, we have seen what Uhuru Kenyatta did in Kenya. But our president now tells the world that he has remained silent “to avoid compromising the details of our investigation”. But I doubt is there is any parent of the kidnapped girls who want the president to come up every day with a speech. Their demand is to have their children back. That is the demand of the country. Action, not disclosure of details. And a common truism says action is louder than words. If people see results, no one would care about the president’s words.
In sum, because of the feeble crutches the Washington Post piece is hinged on, the President, to our collective embarrassment, ended up like the proverbial he-goat who went on a tryst and returned pregnant. We have seen how disdainfully the world received that piece as exemplified by that scathing editorial of the New York Post of June 27.
I still don’t want to comment on the $1.2 million whitewashing contract awarded to US-based PR firm, Levick because the government itself is still too shocked as to fathom why this one got leaked again. Oga Jonah may still be pondering about the discomforting lack of secrecy of the Western corporations and businesses. Here, our companies chop with the left and have a serviette in the right hand; eating and cleaning up.
The other time, a stupid Israeli company went to town celebrating the “lucrative” $40 billion surveillance contract it got from Nigeria. Oyibos don’t know how to it quietly! But Levick is a very good PR firm, we must admit. If within days these guys would have an Abati draft an op-ed, get it edited and have it in Washington Post, what right do we have to complain. Our dollars are working.
Abdulaziz Abdulaziz is on Twitter: @AbdulFagge