THE NEED TO CHANGE THE COMMUNICATION STYLE OF PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI AND THE APC
n order to ensure the success of his administration, President Muhammadu Buhari, his advisers and members of the All Progressive Congress need to change the manner in which they communicate to Nigerians and the world. The reason is that they are too declarative, authoritative, definitive, predictive and closed-ended in the way they disseminate information to the public. The tactics might create a problem for them if their statements are not backed by concrete facts or actions or deeds. Moreover, the tactics could backfire if circumstances change, thereby, counteracting the declarative, definitive, predictive and closed-ended statements.
Thus, in critically examining the pattern of communication, it appears that both the president and the APC are still caught in a political campaign mood, even though Maj. Gen. Buhari is now the president and the APC is the ruling political party that is responsible for operating the government of Nigeria. As a result, they continue to make statements as if they are still running a political campaign and need to convince the Nigerian electorate to vote for them. Consequently, their communication style is leading to the view that they are propagandistic, bombastic, messianic and authoritarian. There is a growing concern that the democratic system is tactically being decimated by a militaristic proclivity.
Declarative, Definitive, Predictive and Closed-ended Statements
Indeed, during political campaigns, in order to persuade voters to vote in favor of a candidate or a political party, it is tolerable to make declarative, definitive, predictive and closed-ended statements that offer promises which sometimes might seem outlandish. The hope is that by taking these kinds of measures, voters would be convinced of the credibility of the candidate and or the political party. It is also intended to reinforce the view that the candidate and or the political party is equipped with the requisite skills to run a government ably, effectively and efficiently, if elected.
However, after winning election and being in political power, it is no longer appropriate to use the same communication tactics that were used to persuade voters to vote in a certain way during an election campaign. In other words, it is strategically disadvantageous to President Buhari and the APC to communicate to citizens and the world by making declarative, definitive, predictive and closed-end statements because neither the president nor the APC is in full control of all the circumstances or variables that exist in society. This means that the situation or circumstance can change drastically to offset whatever the president and the party intended. Moreover, if the declarative, definitive and predictive statements are not fulfilled, the citizens might increasingly assume that the president and the party are lying to them.
It might be necessary to cite some specific examples to buttress the concern that the communication style is gradually eroding the credibility of the administration due to the contradictions between what is said and what is done and the throwing around of unsubstantiated financial figures to create the impression that the war on corruption is being waged.
The president made a declarative, definitive and predictive statement promising that the Boko Haram would be defeated and put to pasture come December 31, 2015. By making such a closed-ended statement and putting a specific date on when the Boko Haram menace would end, the president and the APC boxed themselves in. If Boko Haram continues to cause harm and destruction, the credibility of the president would be negatively impacted. It should be noted that former President George Bush Jr. of the United States made a declarative, definitive and predictive statement indicating that the Iraqi war had ended in May 2003. After making the statement, the war actually began in full speed and the Iraqi war continues to rage on even in 2016.
As if enough communication damage has not been inflicted on the Boko Haram issue, the president then made another declarative statement by saying that Boko Haram has been defeated. The president was seconded by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, in a press statement indicating that Boko Haram "is largely defeated" on December 26, 2015. To soften the impact, the presidential adviser on media then added "technically'.
Anyone who is familiar with unconventional warfare understands quite well that unconventional warriors change tactics quite frequently, more so than conventional warriors. Therefore, it is evident that Boko Haram might change tactics in response to losing territory on the ground. It is more likely to inflict damage on more soft targets as a way to embarrass the president and his administration. Apparently, it was inappropriate to make such a declarative and predictive statement about "largely defeating Boko Haram" because the organization can strike back without a negotiated settlement. The situation in Mali and Somalia should serve as a point of caution for the president.
The Nigerian Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, made a declarative, definitive, predictive and closed-ended statement indicating that the Buhari administration will offer "unfettered health services to 60 million Nigerians. " This was reported on This Day of December 29, 2015. Again, the declarative statement was followed by the estimation of a specific number of Nigerians that would be served. Again, why give a specific number, considering the fact that the Nigerian government is facing financial hardship due to dwindling oil revenue? This kind of declarative, predictive, and closed-ended statement can come back to haunt the administration, if at the end of the administration, it is not able to accomplish the noble goal. It would have been preferable to say "millions of Nigerians would receive unfettered health services," instead of the specific number of 60 million.
Both during the presidential campaign and after the election, specific declarative, definitive and predictive statements were made about finding the Chibok girls as soon as Maj. Gen. Buhari becomes the president. Well, after seven months, Nigerians have not seen or heard about the Chibok girls. The president and the APC would have to work hard to locate the girls or the credibility of both the president and the party would be tarnished if the Chibok girls are not found. Merely promising to negotiate with the Boko Haram, as the president indicated during a press chat, would not be enough since he had made a declarative statement promising to free the girls. Moreover, it is ironic to claim in one hand that the Boko Haram has been defeated and to turn around to say of the possibility of negotiating with the Boko Haram to free the girls.
In responding to the blowing up of oil and gas pipelines in Delta State of the Niger Delta by some militants, the president made a predictive statement that "defeating them won't be tough." Here again, the impression is that he is going to rely most probably on the military to solve the problem of the oil region. However, it should be noted that the situation in the Niger Delta is quite different from the situation in the Northeast of Nigeria, therefore, using the supposed "defeat" of the Boko Haram to generalize about defeating the militants in the Niger Delta could create problems if the situation spirals out of control.
No Cross Checking of Information to Ensure Accuracy
A careful observation of the administration's communication style tends to show that there is no coordination in the management of information. As a result, the president and members of the APC tend to make public statements without first verifying the facts. There are many instances but a few examples will do here:
On taking over political power, the president informed Nigerians that he met an empty treasury. This meant that the Goodluck Jonathan administration did not leave any money behind when it left. Thereafter, it turned out that the previous administration had left some funds. It appeared that the facts were not verified before the statement was made.
To show that corruption and mismanagement by the Jonathan administration had resulted in Nigeria almost going broke, the president promised to be frugal in the management of the government. This contributed to his desire to reduce the number of ministries, as well as integrate some government agencies. Having done so and Nigerians believed the story, the 2016 budget indicates that the administration will actually spend N1.7 billion in 2016 for the management of the presidential villa (Aso Rock). This amount is said to be higher than the allocations that various PDP administrations allocated for the presidential villa. This means that the promise of being frugal and the action taken on the proposed 2016 budget are not compatible.
The 2016 budget was rushed to the Senate without a careful examination of the implications of the financial projections. The Senate realized that some parts of the budget were either missing or the numbers didn't add up. After wrangling for about two weeks, the presidency decided to send an alternative budget. There are some Nigerians who believe that even the altered budget is still filled with loopholes that can encourage pilfering of public funds. The president and his cabinet would have met to review the budget comprehensively before sending it to the National Assembly. Thus, the "frugality" promised during the presidential campaign is no longer believable as the 2016 budget shows.
Sometimes, the president, his officials and the APC seem to speak from different perspectives on the same issues. This often confuses Nigerians. For instance, during the campaign, a news release titled "My Covenant with the Nigerian People" was distributed to the public, as part of the president's effort to win the March 28, 2015 presidential election. After the election, there was a disclaimer that the president did not make such a covenant. The rejection of the claim of ownership made Nigerians to wonder why the president remained quiet while the covenant was distributed to the public prior to the presidential election.
The information concerning the probing of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, is very confusing. While an arms buying scandal involving the misappropriation of $2.1 billion is floated around, the actual amount seems much less than the figure being distributed to the media. Moreover, it appears that the amount was not allocated directly for arms purchase to fight Boko Haram but was actually the budgetary allocation for the security vote of the National Security Service. There are Nigerians who believe that Col. Dasuki is being punished for other political reasons and not for the arms scandal. This is why he is not being charged for the $2.1 bn. figure but on a much smaller amount.
Since the initiation of the war on corruption, so many confusing financial figures have been released to the public to the point that Nigerians do not know what figures to believe any more. No week goes by without an individual who acts like a government spokesperson releasing a financial figure that boggles the mind. The recent figure being released by the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, is that "$9 billion or N1.35 trillion" was stolen from the economy by 55 individuals, including former governors and cabinet ministers between 2006 and 2013. It would have been preferable for the government to tabulate all the alleged figures of stolen money and publish them, may be once every one or three months. This would allow government officials to cross-check the figures to make sure that the figures are factual. The current method of releasing financial figures of embezzlement haphazardly is not reliable since it is almost impossible for anyone to determine their factuality, apart from the government official making the statement. For instance, Chief Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) was alleged to have been involved in a N13 billion scandal while serving as a contractor to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NMASA). All of a sudden, the figure has been raised to N34 billion without any official explanation. This creates the impression that figures are being thrown around as a political tactic to arrest and detain political opponents.
Timing of Information
Nigerians are increasingly concerned about the timing and the manner in which information is released to the public.
It seems that the president tends to announce his public policy intentions known to Nigerians and the world while he is on a foreign trip, rather than while he is in Nigeria. For instance, he announced that he would select his ministers (cabinet) while he was on a trip to the United States.
The president announced while outside the country of the possibility of negotiating with the Boko Haram insurgents. Of course, the president and the APC had blamed former president Jonathan for wanting to negotiate with the Boko Haram to end the crisis in Northeastern Nigeria. All of a sudden, he reversed course and now considered the possibility of doing exactly what former President Jonathan wanted to do but was heavily criticized by the current president and the APC
In addition to making public policy pronouncements while on a foreign trip, the president often used the occasions to say something negative about Nigerians, thereby, contributing to the tarnishing of the image of the country. Nigerians wonder why the president tends to make negative comments about his country while in a foreign country. Some Nigerians believe that he tarnishes the image of the country, instead of helping to boost it. They strongly believe that the leader of a country should put the best face of the country forward whenever he or she is outside the country. Some of the negative comments the president has made about Nigeria while in a foreign country included the following:
While in Iran, President Buhari spoke about corrupt Nigerian officials and revealed that some of them have secretly returned embezzled funds. He added that his administration would prosecute after thoroughly investigating the corruption cases. Nigerians were miffed that he spoke about corruption while he was in a foreign country.
He also announced while he was outside the country that Nigeria was broke and will not be able to pay its ministers. Many Nigerians were not happy about this comment because they believed that it could frighten foreign investors. The PDP did not waste time in criticizing the president for "demarketing Nigeria and scaring foreign investors away."
Talking Too Much
Perhaps, still being influenced by the political campaign mood, the president, his staff and members of the APC seem to talk quite frequently, forgetting that they are now in charge. By speaking quite often, they expose the contradictions in their statements and create doubt about their credibility.
During his media chat, the president made so many declarative, definitive and predictive statements. He boldly told the world that "none of my ministers is corrupt" and challenged anyone to refute the statement by producing a contrary evidence. That was a risky statement since the president cannot be totally sure that there is no skeleton whatsoever in one or two of the cupboards of his ministers. After all, a considerable number of Nigerians are convinced that his presidential campaign was sponsored by public officials and public figures who acquired their enormous financial wealth through the public purse. He would have been advised not to make such a statement, even if he is completely sure that none of his ministers is corrupt.
He also said declaratively why Col. Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser and Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) could not be released. Again, the situation can change drastically to warrant an about turn. It should not be forgotten that the president had castigated former president Jonathan for seeking support from neighboring African countries to fight Boko Haram. Then, as soon as he took over the presidency, he immediately sought the assistance of the same neighboring countries to fight Boko Haram.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo States started speaking frequently as soon as the APC became the majority party and Maj. Gen. Buhari became the president. He regularly criticizes former President Jonathan and his public officials for engaging in massive corruption. Many Nigerians support him for speaking frankly about corruption. However, what has been missing in his communication is that he limits the criticism to only the Jonathan administration and members of the Peoples' Democratic Party. His unwillingness to say anything about corruption on the APC side indicates that he is merely playing partisan politics and is not really serious about the war against corruption. The reason is that it is not possible to separate the APC from the PDP since some of the top leaders of the APC were former members of the PDP, at a time in which corruption was rampant. Moreover, the financiers of the APC political campaign machine seemed to have accumulated their wealth in ways that some Nigerians might say amounted to the pilfering of public funds. Yet, the governor does not seem to see any corruption on the APC side of the political spectrum while seeing so much of it on the PDP side.
Prof. Itse Sagay, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) puzzled many Nigerians when he was interviewed. As a highly regarded legal scholar, many Nigerians expected him to coordinate the activities of the committee professionally without dabbling into partisan politics. He is expected to do his work diligently without speaking to the press in order to ensure objectivity and fairness, due to the significance of the assignment. Unfortunately, his remarks to the media seemed to show a partisan tilt in favor of the APC and against the PDP. He created the impression that only members of the PDP and Jonathan's administration officials are corrupt while the members of the APC are not corrupt. He also suggested that former President Jonathan should go and confess his sins to President Buhari. This created the feeling that he had investigated, charged the former president for criminal misconduct and found him guilty, hence, expecting the former president to plead guilty and confess. Due to the partisan tilt in Prof. Sagay's commentary, there is no doubt that opponents of President Buhari and the APC might conclude that whatever report that the anti-corruption advisory committee issues would be viewed as being biased because the head of the committee had spoken favorably towards the APC while condemning the PDP and Dr. Jonathan.
Similarly, Prof. Sagay tended to justify the paucity of representation of the South-East political zone in Buhari's administration by blaming the voters of the zone for voting for former President Jonathan and the PDP and not for the APC and President Buhari. By so doing, he undercuts the democratic system in a pluralistic society. Again, he made the hair-raising statement while serving as the head of the anti-corruption advisory committee. Some Nigerians wonder why he is risking his professional reputation by being so closely identified with the APC and President Buhari. What happens if the anti-corruption pendulum swings in the opposite direction and many members of the APC are also fingered for having embezzled massively? Would he then apologize to the Nigerian people for being so one-sided in his perceptions?
Even though the president has made many statements about corruption, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General concretized the closed-ended approach to dealing with issues by saying that there would be "no plea-bargaining for corruption, terrorism convicts." If the president stands by such a declarative and definitive statement, then how does he expects to negotiate with the Boko Haram to locate the Chibok girls? Such a closed-ended statement might send a wrong signal to the Boko Haram leadership to stiffen its demands for negotiating with the president. It might also compel some of the embezzlers to seek damaging records against those in the current administration, in order to embarrass the president. It was not necessary to make such a closed-ended statement since a president in a democratic political system must always find ways to negotiate in order to stabilize a pluralistic society such as Nigeria.
Maj. Gen. Alani G. Okunlola, the commander of operation "Pulo Shield" of the Joint Task Force (JTF), raised concern about the potential violation of human rights and the truncation of the democratic system over a statement attributed to him, indicating that community leaders would be held responsible for any act of sabotage against oil and gas facilities by militants in the Niger Delta. In other words, he expects unarmed civilians to disarm armed militants. Not even in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemeni, Somalia, Mali, Iraq and other conflict zones have civilians been held responsible for the actions of armed elements. In fact, not even in Northeastern Nigeria were community leaders held responsible for the atrocities of the Boko Haram. Likewise, no Fulani community leader has ever been held for the murderous activities of marauding Fulani herdsmen. The statement indicates that Maj. Gen. Okunlola does not believe in the principle of non-combatant immunity. Apparently, the statement is either a very serious communication blunder or someone is trying to start a new theater of war in the Niger Delta.
Actions not matching Words
While campaigning for the presidency, Maj. Gen. Buhari, to allay fears expressed by some Nigerians that he might scuttle the democratic system by acting unilaterally, promised to act democratically by respecting the rule of law and the separation of powers involving the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government. However, since assuming power, he seems to communicate and act in a manner that violate democratic ideals. This is why some Nigerians are now saying that he is militarizing the political system. It might be necessary to cite some examples to demonstrate the point.
There is a tendency by this administration to pronounce guilt based on allegations even before cases are fully investigated and charges are filed against alleged suspects. Quite often, pronouncements are made about who is guilty or not, even though the cases have not been tried in the courts. In particular, when the president made a statement describing the manner in which the former National Security Adviser, Col. Dasuki, distributed money to individuals, it means that he has seen the evidence and has tried the case to find the person already guilty of the offence. Otherwise, the president would not have made any comment and allow the judicial process to take care of the matter. Similarly, as repeated before, when the head of the anticorruption advisory committee indicated that former President Jonathan should go and confess to president Buhari, it means that he has already tried the case and found the former president guilty of the crime of embezzlement.
These actions tend to create the impression that the president and his officials now serve as the prosecutors, jurors and judges. Apparently, when President Buhari insisted that Dasuki and Kanu cannot be released, despite the fact that the courts granted them bail, it means that his government has tried them and found them guilty of the charges. Of course, a president can use his or her powers under the concept of national security to detain any individual. However, it is politically risky to do so after the courts have made decisions to release Dasuki and Kanu on bail.
This further creates the impression that whatever the president says is final, regardless of the separation of powers. Consequently, Col. Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser, Dr. Patrick Z. Akpobolokemi, the former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NMASA) and Mr. Kanu of IPOB must be detained because the president has said so. Surprisingly, the same stringent standard did not apply to Brig. Gen. Jafaru Isa who gained freedom very quickly after being temporarily held. The government justified the immediate release of the general by saying that he had given up N100 million of the funds he got through Dasukigate. Many Nigerians are not convinced of the reason given. Instead, they tend to imply that the general was quickly released because he is a member of the APC and a close associate of the president.
An increasingly disturbing tactics being used by government investigative agencies, particularly the EFCC and the DSS, in this administration, is to arrest and detain alleged suspects with almost total disregard for court rulings. For instance, the former NSA director, Col. Sambo Dasuki has been legally released on bail three times by the courts after each arrest by the SSS or the DSS. However, each time the courts released him on bail, he is immediately rearrested through the filing of new charges against him, thereby, disregarding earlier court decisions about releasing him on bail. The same tactics has been used against Dr. Akpobolokemi by the EFCC and Mr. Kanu. As soon as the courts granted them bail, they were immediately rearrested and detained. The same tactic has been used against Chief Olisa Metuh, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP. These tactics create the impression that these suspects are being punished for other reasons. When President Buhari communicated to the Nigerian people by explaining why he cannot release Mr. Dasuki and Kanu, the message tended to reinforce the view that court decisions are not important and the president does not have to respect judicial decisions.
President Buhari and the APC should realize that their communication style and increasingly authoritarian tactics in dealing with opponents are being carefully monitored by other African leaders. Some of the leaders might use the Nigerian situation to say that they would never voluntarily hand over power to an opposition candidate and or political party, fearful that they might be humiliated, just as former public officials in Jonathan's administration are being humiliated while APC members who allegedly commit the same crimes walk free.
Based on the above discussion, the following suggestions or recommendations are made to address the communication issues raised:
President Buhari, his staff and the APC should realize that their communication style is leading to confusion, thereby, creating doubt about the veracity of their information.
Due to the declarative, definitive and closed-ended manner in which information is being spread, the president and the APC might create a situation which could result in their unpopularity if they are not careful.
The president's media staff should coordinate with the ministers in order to ensure that contradictory statements are not released to the public.
Likewise, there is a need to coordinate the management of information so that the president and his officials do not make closed-ended statements that do not allow them to maneuver in the event that official predictions fail to materialize as projected. It is obvious that many projections that were made during the presidential campaign have fallen through or ignored, thereby, creating the impression that the president and the APC are lying to the Nigerian people.
The presidential staff should also coordinate with the APC leadership to ensure that the presidency and the party are not making bombastic statements and issuing financial figures that cannot be corroborated by facts. It is a fact that since the initiation of the anti-corruption war, so many financial figures have been floated around that cannot be supported by evidence.
The president and the APC should realize that they are now the rulers of the Nigerian state, therefore, need to talk less and act more to accomplish the goals and objectives they promised during the campaign. In this regard, it is necessary to reduce the number of individuals who speak for the administration.
The anticorruption effort is being communicated to Nigerians and the world through the actions of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the State Security Service (SSS) as if it is a witch-hunting and punitive expedition targeted at the opposition party and not intended to reduce corruption in the country. So far, not a single member of the APC has been arrested and paraded as those of the PDP for corruption.
The president should communicate as a democrat rather than as a military general. The holier-than-thou and messianic utterances should be curtailed to allow for a reflective communication style which encourages a genuine sharing of information and public participation. He should not put himself in a box by making closed-ended statements. In other words, he needs to be a little more diplomatic in expressing himself.