The Real Amotekun is Yet Ahead

By Bunmi Makinwa

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The sound of “Amotekun” has drowned out all other issues in the Nigerian public space for many days, and there is a great likelihood that the Yoruba word will have meanings and connotations beyond the original meaning of leopard. Soon enough Wikipedia will include Amotekun. Maybe the word will also enter into the Oxford English Dictionary as was recently the case for several words of domestic Nigerian uses.

Listening to and reading about the loud pronouncements that have accompanied the establishment of the Western Nigeria Security Network, also known as Amotekun, one has to be deaf not to conclude that Nigeria is “not at ease” – to borrow a line from the title of the famous book by Chinua Achebe.

From its outing, there were whispers, gasps, exclamations of relief and contentment by many people who found the Amotekun security outfit a very appropriate step taken by five governors of South Western States. At last, the security situation might improve, and life might become normal, many people concluded.

But there were also hisses, jeers, facial contortions, by many other people on how unnecessary Amotekun was. Nothing could be farther from establishing better security than Amotekun because it would be manipulated to foster violence, the others contended.

Whilst the murmurs were still germinating and mounting gradually, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami threw fuel into the low fires and the explosion started. He said that Amotekun was illegal and unconstitutional. Those who support Amotekun or similar policies would have none of Malami’s points. They found that his statement was not only wrong, but it confirmed the status quo. In simple terms, it showed how the Northern ruling class wanted to perpetuate their hold on the rest of the country’s security architecture and other important spheres.

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Abubakar Malami

Who is right and who is wrong? This is the debate that is going on. It is loud and angry.

And the leadership of the country is silent. President Buhari has not made any pronouncement. Nor any of his proxies. Characteristically. The highest Federal Government official who has spoken on the issue remains the Attorney General. From a communication point of view, his statement is the official position of the Federal Government. This is the interpretation of the current silence in communication.

Silence has been used frequently as an instrument of governance by the current government, and it is a strong communication tool. Whether the government has used silence strategically, or merely by accident is less important than what effects the use of it has created.

After a heated political campaign and delicate elections in May 2015, President Buhari emerged as the winner on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party. The manifesto of his party which was used as the preaching instrument across the country by APC had promised to change the country. The new APC government was going to repair the economy, forge a secure nation, and reduce if not eliminate corruption.

More than 15 million voters, constituting 54% of total votes cast, who favoured Buhari waited for the beginning of a new Nigeria to emerge as soon as Buhari came into office.  Silence. There was no team or energetic principals to run the affairs of state. President Buhari took about six months before he broke the long silence to appoint his cabinet.

The president’s frequent travels abroad for medical treatment were usually accompanied also by silence. His health was poor, a situation that was beyond him and anyone for that matter. But the silence, not informing the country, not appointing an acting president often, or not handing over to a designated official publicly, made his silence seriously problematic.

The herdsmen phenomenon generated national furore for a long time. Silence reigned on the matter from the number one political head of the country until it became uncomfortable to be silent.

Silence at critical times when serious issues are at stake seems to have become the norm. You may remember the following:

– The tense relationship between two principal security agencies, namely DSS and EFCC, which at times became public stand-offs.

– Closer to home, the President’s wife and First Lady Aisha Buhari has become a megaphone of how the domestic life in Aso Rock resembles an interesting soap opera of Nollywood. But Aso Rock is not meant to be a Nollywood stage. Silence is being used as an instrument for managing the crisis.

– The agitation by several groups from the South Eastern parts of the country for a re-establishment of Biafra which started as little noises and has become a storm.

– The power-play at the presidency that appeared to place the Vice-President under siege.

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Buhari departs Daura after INEC postponed the February 16 general election (image courtesy State House)

Operation Amotekun will mother many children. The ferocity of future Amotekuns will be determined by competent handling of the babies from birth. Security of people and assets cannot be compromised.

Those who use silence as a strategy for results state that “actions speak louder than words”. There are certainly uses for silence as a veritable instrument of management, leadership and communication. Silence is powerful when silence will bring solutions, healing, unity and contentment. Silence cannot stop disaffection that is obvious. A deep sense of insecurity and distrust permeates the country. Timely interventions and clear statement of positions forestall eruption of latent anger and misinterpretation of situations.

If there were any doubts in anyone’s mind, Amotekun has confirmed that Nigeria’s security situation is broken and needs mending.

In a country where the president is all-powerful and his voice can direct and influence thoughts and conclusions, the perpetual withdrawal and silence of Buhari leaves serious issues unresolved. There is too much dust in the air, and when the dust settles, we shall have yet another crisis swept under a bulging carpet covering the dirt. Silence has become a liability, and it will spawn more Amotekuns.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Buhari and Sowore – The Road to Change

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Image via Daily News Gh

One is lean, slow, deliberate and often distant as he stares into space. The other is compact, quick, agitated and often preoccupied with his mobile phones. I am describing, respectively, my impressions of President Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Omoyele Sowore from watching them both up close physically.

They are two different people, as different as two people can be, including in their age and life experience. Yet, they are two very similar persons. In so many ways that this article will explain, their trajectories have been different, but their ways have been very similar.

In taking a stand against the establishment, Sowore has lived a life of protests. He was a relentless advocate for civil and political rights as a student union leader at the University of Lagos. Later on, he founded Sahara Reporters, one of the early online alternative media that champions agitation against all governments of Nigeria since 2006.

Buhari as a professional military officer might be perceived as conformist and obedient to military tradition. A closer look, however, reveals something different. His most visible form of protest has been that within and outside his military career, he has demonstrated a non-conformist mien. He has been described as austere, withdrawn and often aloof. In his political roles in military uniform, he has not been given to the physical and social excesses that characterized several of his contemporaries who assumed political roles.

Just as Buhari has held several political appointments and worked within the political structures, Sowore has been around and within politics, including engaging institutions of government to criticize them, and sometimes to collaborate with them as sources of his investigations. Buhari and Sowore came to the same conclusion. Neither was happy with the government and the regular politicians.

Both men sooner than later, in their typical day, are apt to show their angry demeanours in social and political discourse. President Buhari and Omoyele Sowore in many ways have led lives that reflected their dissatisfaction, even anger, about Nigeria’s political leadership and parties.

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Buhari as a military officer has been one of the leaders of several coups d’etat against military and civilian governments. For example, in December 1983, he was one of the military leaders that overthrew President Shehu Shagari. Buhari and his deputy Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon ruled Nigeria for some two years, a regime that was characterized by their “War Against Indiscipline”. They jailed many people,
punished many others and made draconian laws. Buhari has not led a quiet life of conforming to the established order.

Similarly, Sowore has never been short of negative words to describe what goes on in Nigeria. His lifelong pursuit of activism against the government has been loud. He has been intolerant of corruption, misrule, abuse of office and exploitative social norms.

President Buhari, after his military career, found his voice within a new political party, the All Nigeria People’s Party, and later in the Congress for Progressive Change. He ran three times unsuccessfully to become president. He won only at his fourth election campaign using the All Progressives Congress party platform. He has fulfilled his desire to rule Nigeria.

Sowore, who had established a powerful, successful media platform, Sahara Reporters, to destabilize the political space, also found a political party, the African Action Congress, in 2018. The party lost resoundingly at Sowore’s first attempt to use the electoral system to become president.

When President Buhari lost his earlier elections, he did not keep quiet. He spat fire. His frustration with the electoral process was heard loudly. For example, Buhari claimed that the 2011 elections were rigged. He angrily stated that “if what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood”.

Sowore after his electoral loss did not keep quiet. Moreover, he concluded that open agitation to upend the system was perhaps more effective. He spoke angrily too.
In their characteristic ways, neither of the two men accepted their losses nor did they settle down to parley with the winners. They did not go quietly into the night.
Sowore, reacting against the electoral process of 2015, called out other instruments of persuasion. He brandished a new slogan of “Revolution Now” and led street campaigns.

Unfortunately, for seeking new avenues to change the political discourse, he became the enemy that must be stopped by the forces of law and order.

It is written and said by many people that Sowore was the nemesis of President Jonathan’s government and that Sahara Reporters was a most potent media that charted the way for the end of Jonathan’s government and the entry of President Buhari into office in 2015.

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Sowore, especially through Sahara Reporters, has campaigned in the public arena consistently against the ills of every government from 2006 to date. Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan were not spared, nor were their ministers, appointees and other political associates.

Some of these leaders have had their wives painted in undignified portraits in the online media, especially for corrupt activities.

How did Sowore who acted in support of, advocated for Buhari, and his political party’s “change” agenda, become the “enemy” of Buhari and his government?

Buhari was fed up with poor governance, he campaigned in support of a new order and fought hard to get into power. Both Buhari and Sowore swear that Nigeria must change.

Sowore’s impatience with slow or lack of change leads him to seek possible pressure points to accelerate change. What differentiates the two in the new sphere is that whilst Buhari is bound by the fences of government house and its dictates, Sowore chooses to try the paths not taken, using mostly words.

Nigeria is ripe for change. The road to change is already littered with promises not kept, accidents caused deliberately by agents of the status quo, and obstacles that hinder progress for the largest segment of the population. Sooner than later it may become a stark reality to decide which path can truly lead to change – within the existing order, or its overturn to give way to drastic shifts. Patience may have an expiration date.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Presidential Election Gives Nigerians No Choice

By Bunmi Makinwa

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President M. Buhari (Getty Images/P. Ekpei)

If President Muhammadu Buhari figuratively rode on a horseback to assume office in 2015, as at today, he barely rides a three-legged donkey. A wobbling government has frittered away the goodwill of the expectant millions who brought him to office.

However, his main opponent, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, does not have a donkey to ride on. His questionable past and close embrace of proven and perceived corrupt political actors and ruinous leaders do not make him attractive. Despite the weakness of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party, Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party or PDP is not the shining star.

Yet one of the two is most likely to emerge as president come the election of February 16, in a few days.

The PDP governed Nigeria from 1999 to 2015. Its three successive presidents, and with control over most of the states, reinforced a faulty political system where massive looting of government coffers became the norm. Provision of services and improvement of peoples’ well-being receded and disappeared in most of the 36 states and at the federal government level.  Politics was the quickest gateway to wealth, riches and power.

Under PDP rule, when political leaders have taken their large share of the official budget, the little that was left could not maintain Nigeria’s elaborate political and administrative systems. Infrastructures became dilapidated. Salaries remained little and unpaid in many states. Social tension heightened.

Nigeria’s political system is problematic too. The “investment” needed to win votes or buy oneself an elected position has kept rising. The demand presses elected persons, in turn, to hustle to recover their wealth, equip themselves and their acolytes for future political positions. Many elected officials aggressively privatize official funds to their pockets for use as future powerful political kingmakers.

Amongst the citizenry, high and low, a culture of primitive self-preservation and material aggrandizement developed. Reliance on system and order gave way to brazen self-reliance, hopelessness in hard work, and spiritual solutions to routine life issues.

People scramble for “money by all means”, especially through political favours, in a situation where material well-being is a primary determinant of people’s self-worth. Absent the government, all basic needs are met by each person according to whatever access is possible to any resources, state or privately-owned.

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Nigeria Votes (guardian.ng)

On February 16, 2019, Nigeria will pick either Atiku or Buhari to rule the country for another four years. It is not because there are no qualified, capable and exemplary candidates among the more than 40 other presidential aspirants. It is mainly because the political system is cast in stone, and only the candidates of a few major political parties can have the resources and means to meet the demands stipulated by the constitution, political tradition, and corrupt processes that produce candidates for political offices.

Several of the other aspirants have qualifications, experience and drive that will make any country proud of its possible leaders.

The political system is dominated by political parties that can afford enormous resources to set up structures, reach out to a sprawling, federated country of 36 states and one federal territory, use mass and social media that communicate with some 180 million population, and provide reliable security for themselves and supporters.

Candidates for elections must dole out monies to members of their own parties and voters who have given up on what elected leaders do when they are in office. Rather, party officials and voters want immediate gratification – whatever materials, food and money that they can get from candidates during the election campaign. Elections are costly, not only for the official organizers but also for candidates who must deploy huge amounts of money for every step of the election process, from seeking the nomination of political parties to seeking votes of the electorate.

For the coming election, Nigeria faces yet again the sad choice of having to choose between two leading politicians neither of whom can take the country to its level of development and realization of its potentials.

The gargantuan victory of President Buhari in 2015 over then-incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan gave Buhari a powerful entry. But his three-pronged campaign on corruption, a stronger economy, and security with special focus on ending Boko Haram insurgency are nowhere near being successfully prosecuted.

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Atiku (image via News24; File, AFP)

At the same time, Atiku will only be Atiku – focusing on further enriching himself, his cronies and beloved others.

Those who strongly support Atiku claim that he is different from Buhari and will perform better given the weaknesses of the current government. They say that Atiku will make the expected noise to discourage the rampage by herdsmen and organised attacks on certain people and religious groups. He will choose his lieutenants from various parts of the country. He will enable the South-eastern part of the country mainly the Igbo ethnic group to contest strongly for the presidency. He will make public money spread around through his customary largesse. He will unite the country that appears to be fragmenting. Yet, the claimants have only weak arguments to explain how the expectations will be met.

The strongest criticism of Atiku is that the popular demand to combat and at least reduce corruption will suffer greatly if he becomes president. But his supporters maintain that if corruption is the price to pay to have a more united country, a stronger economy and less structured federalism, it is time to let corruption continue under Atiku’s rule. It is a sad bargain to accept.

Whether 76-year old Buhari or 72-year old Atiku wins in the soon to be held election for the next president, Nigeria loses because neither of the two persons has the disposition, experience, appropriate mindset, nor determination to make Nigeria a better place for its people. The current political system presents only the rich and mighty, not the best that the country can offer.

Asked about February 16 election for the president, someone retorted: “Some people will vote for Atiku. Some will vote for Buhari. One of the two will win despite a large number of frustrated people who will spread their votes among the numerous other candidates. The status quo will remain because Atiku and Buhari are from PDP and APC which are two sides of the same coin.”

To buttress his point, the person explained that Atiku was in PDP before he joined APC, and then returned to PDP a few months ago to buy the political platform to aim for the presidency. The leadership of both parties boasts of the same persons who have led Nigeria’s politics for the past 30 plus inglorious years.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

CJN Case – Buhari a Dove or a Hawk?

By Bunmi Makinwa

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President Buhari and former CJN Onnoghen (image via pulse.ng)

In his initial actions on assuming office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari was painstakingly slow. The list is long. He took six months to appoint a cabinet. Many important organizations and parastatals continued to be led by nominees of the previous government. Management boards of key governmental organizations and ambassadors for important foreign offices were not appointed or confirmed.

For a considerable time after becoming president, Buhari was not known to have articulated any clear policy statements on the three key areas of his campaign- security, economy, and corruption. 

As time went on, he accepted the label of “Baba go slow” and explained that it would not stop him from reaching his goal on retrieving stolen monies. Perhaps the slow posture helped to demonstrate his change of image from that of a past military dictator to that of a democratic president.  Maybe his ill-health explained the slow pace too, but the disappointment was real.

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‘Go slow’ in Lagos, Nigeria (image via cmgsite.com)

Meanwhile, the high profile cases of corruption that his government made loud noises about went nowhere or stalled due to court processes, also known as legal technicalities. Yet, many cases went to court, and large amounts of monies and assets were confiscated. But extremely few of the major allegedly corrupt persons got convicted.

Very quickly, the more than 15 million voters who brought Buhari into office settled into the new reality. The new leader and his government appeared to succeed reasonably in limiting the effectiveness of Boko Haram, which was a good thing. But the government would not be able to find an effective way to reduce corruption. Not in court, not in the mobilization of people, not in policy clarity. At best it would scare some corrupt politicians within its ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and in the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) party.

The system, thoroughly soaked in corrupt ways from top to bottom, has won. Despite his experience as former head of state, holder of several political offices, and his hunger to rule Nigeria, the new Buhari was a dove who would play the political game and not hurt. After all, the dove is a symbol of peace.

Many people were disappointed because they wanted a hawk – an aggressive and war-like leader who would find ways to correct the ills. But the political realities emasculated the government.

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Acting CJN Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed (image via BBC)

Like a thunderbolt, the allegation against the Chief Justice emerged. Buhari acted rapidly. His unusually quick and decisive step caused a massive uproar. The opposition and other critics found a rallying point.

It is probably the most controversial decision of Buhari’s government – the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and appointment of acting Chief Justice Tanko Mohammed to replace him. The CJN was allegedly found to have misrepresented his financial standing in the sworn declaration of assets.

The whirlwind of opinions, protests, and statements on the decision continues within and outside Nigeria. Legal analysts and professionals voiced strong but opposing views on the situation There can only be finality when courts pronounce.

Buhari’s APC and the main opposition PDP hold diametrically opposing positions on the CJN issue. For APC, it is right that a CJN who “forgot” to state in his official papers that he had millions of dollars in bank accounts was guilty of misconduct. But the PDP differs.

Public opinion is an aggregate of the views and thoughts of the general public. The coming elections will reflect where supporters of APC and PDP and other parties stand on several issues, and perhaps, more importantly, the decision on the CJN, taking three weeks before the crucial election.

Many people and organizations have spoken and demonstrated against the decision. And as many have spoken and manifested their support for it. The supporters find the decision bold, correct and necessary.  Can it be the kind of decision that many people expected when they voted massively in 2015 to support APC and made sure that Buhari clinched the presidency?

USA’s president Donald Trump during his campaign did several things that were unorthodox. The more he showed Americans and the world that he was not a typical politician, the stronger his support base became. The more Trump angered mainstream America the more his followers cheered.

A large number of Americans were fed up with the political system. They were seeking a president unlike their politicians in the Senate, House of Representatives and Washington D.C., the political capital. The forgotten Americans wanted to turn the tables against politics as it was being played. They wanted a non-political leader.

In the USA, the media, opinionists, commentators, and experts did not get the message of the disgruntled, voiceless people in open and hidden corners of America.  Trump got the message. He acted the part and played ball with the coalition of immigrant haters, faith fundamentalists, blue-collar workers, and such-like others. He fitted the bill and he won.

In so-called democratic Nigeria today, the average person has no right at any place or institution. It is a well-known fact that who-you-are and what-you-have are the sole determinants of what you get. Yet, the elites and dominant office holders are quick to claim the rule of law as the answer to resolve the disagreement.

More than some of the controversial issues of Buhari’s presidency – the cattle herders’ rampage, the allegedly Northern-bias in the appointment of key federal officers, and general un-hurried attention to crucial national issues – the public perception on the CJN issue may be the decisive factor of Buhari’s re-election.

The president has shown he could find a way within the rotten political and legal system to take a vital blow on seeming corrupt behavior. The action may turn out to be the most populist decision by his government. Or it may be the most foolhardy. The decision of President Buhari will be validated or rejected by the result of the elections of February 16 when he squares up with his main rival, former Vice-President and candidate of the PDP, Abubakar Atiku.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. 

 

More Fake News Here.

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Can one avoid fake news? It is highly unlikely.

Anyone who uses social media, also called social networking services, will receive fake news. The more frequently one uses social media, the more fake news one receives. The challenge is to identify and ultimately avoid spreading fake news as the personal and social impact can be damaging. In fact, it may also have legal implications.

The growth of technology, media technology in particular, in combination with the ease of creating one’s information through cheap mobile telephony, has democratised “news” both for good and bad uses.

An active user of social media receives information many times each day from friends, families, casual acquaintances, and unknown people. It has become easier than ever to generate and spread information. It can be about anything. In several formats, including text, video, photo and voice, anyone can use just a smart telephone to express views, ideas, wishes and news that can reach numerous people across the world in rapid time.

Such shared information may be fake news which contains misinformation and inaccuracies. The information may be designed purposefully to deceive or mislead the receiver. Or it may be used to inform, or promote a viewpoint, sale, generate interest in an issue, or perhaps to entertain. Most people re-post information quickly and hardly spend time to verify its authenticity.

Fake news varies in appearances and implications. As Nigeria’s 2019 elections for president, governors and other offices draw nearer, fake news will increase in frequency and sophistication.

The relevance of newspapers, radio and television notwithstanding, social network services are very effective means of communication. Their impact on political discourse and communication is significant in Nigeria.

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(image via pulse.ng)

According to available statistics, Nigeria’s active users of social media increased from only 52 million in 2013 to about 90 million users in 2017. With a huge population of young people, the country will most likely surpass its hitherto growth rate of about three percent for active users. Especially if the costs of mobile telephony decreases and the economy picks up in the near future, more young people will use the Internet with social media as primary means of communication. The mobile telephony subscription in the country rose from 1.6 million in 2002, to 87.4 million in 2010, and it is now at about 154 million.

Some fake news can be sighted from a mile off. Especially by astute communication and media professionals. A casual observation will show if the name of the purported media organization is wrongly portrayed, or if there are wrong spellings, unusual language or style of presentation. In some cases the hyperlink used as source of the news or information does not exist. Or the statements made are simply doubtful.

Yet, fake news can be cleverly done. It is possible to use modern innovations to modify photos, voices, images and scenes, and combine them to look credible. In such cases, it is difficult to spot the manipulations. More advanced analysis or technology is required.

Recently, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka spoke of a fake website that had his identity all over it. He succeeded to trace the originator but the person has not taken the website down.

Many wealthy people, celebrities, well-known persons, leading brands and organisations have fake information about them and attributed to them on the social media. Facebook, Twitters, websites and blogs, WhatsApp and Instagram are popular in Nigeria, and they contain a lot of fake news despite deliberate efforts by the platforms to identify and eliminate fake news and their creators.

Whilst there is general agreement that fake news should be discouraged and stopped, there is little common position on how it can be done. Current libel laws may be already adequate. Others ask for special policies and laws to counter fake news, whilst some countries place special taxes on use of social media. There have been several instances where national authorities closed down access to the Internet.

Just as one does in daily lives, one must apply common sense to determine what is fair, right or wrong. There are no better ways than to question claims and appearances.

For ease of doing things, you may want to consider the following ten points for social media messaging (text, voice, video, cartoon, photo and other materials). I call them my intuitive 10 laws of social media scams. They are particularly relevant in Nigeria as the political space heats up with ongoing campaigns.

  1. All freebies on social media are scam. If the freebies are actually free, everyone and too many people have already taken whatever was available before I get to know.
  2. If it sounds like fantastic news, a truly phenomenal happening, I hesitate. If it sounds untrue, it most probably is untrue.
  3. Who said it? The same liar. He/she lied about things in the past. Forget it.
  4. Oh, this story is credited to a well-known person, a public figure etc. If it is really true then I should find it on websites of the relevant major media, including newspapers, radio and TV. Is it there?
  5. This does not sound like the same person I knew as a public figure. He or she would never do it, or say such a thing.
  6. Does this quoted person have the qualification or experience to speak with authority on the issue? Can I find his background information or depth of knowledge through a regular Internet search?
  7. Alright, this item quotes a reputable major news organization. Let us check it on the website or in the information area of the news media.
  8. The fact that it is written does not make it true. Anybody can write anything about anybody at any place at any time for any reasons. Where else can I check the truth of it? Who should know?
  9. Allegations of corruption and abuse of office stated about every top politician is likely to be true. But proof is hard to come by. Choose which ones to accept and act upon. Avoid the ones that may lead to a libel case.
  10. Buhari does not hate Atiku. And Atiku does not hate Buhari. They are friends, and will remain friends after the elections. Please, do not send me these hate stories.

Bunmi Makinwa is the Chief Executive Officer of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Towards 2019, Which Way Nigeria?

By Bunmi Makinwa

There are many voices in Nigeria that express regret for having chosen then candidate Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 presidential elections. In understanding the present, the past must be made clear.

Muhammadu Buhari raises fist after registering to vote on Saturday in Gidan Niyam Sakin Yara. Pic: The Telegraph.

In the choice between All Progressives Congress (APC) party’s candidate Buhari and Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, Buhari was the right decision. The Jonathan government had outlived its relative usefulness. It was hardly breathing under the weight of corruption, insecurity especially Boko Haram’s numerous willful attacks, false economic growth, inept leadership and rampant official unresponsiveness to peoples’ needs.

President Buhari is in office today because most Nigerians decided that they had enough of bad leadership of former President Jonathan. Yes, there were some very commendable achievements under Jonathan, but the decay was more.

At the time, Buhari and his coalition of “progressives” offered a possible alternative. Their three-pronged campaign themes of economic development, security especially arresting the growing territorial expansion of Boko Haram, and stopping or reducing corruption resonated well with electorates. It was the appropriate time for the country to climb out of a known sinkhole, and to firmer ground, though it was not to a solid rock.

A New York Times article that I quoted in my write up of March 2 2015 titled its strongly worded editorial, “Nigeria’s Miserable Choices”. Buhari did not come with a pedigree that could rescue Nigeria from its abyss of under-development. But compared to where Jonathan had led the country, “anything but the same” was acceptable.

Two and half years later, as the debate escalates on what is the next road to take for Nigeria, it is appropriate to consider whether the country has made strides under Buhari. And whether the successes are sufficient to justify a continuation of the same government come the 2019 presidential selection.

In a democracy, elections present the opportunity for reflection, reconsideration and action. It is a time for people to exercise their democratic rights by voting for political leaders. Nigeria has the opportunity once every four years to confirm a sitting president or welcome a replacement, according to the constitution.

It must be said that Buhari’s government tackled Boko haram convincingly, and heralded confidence in the nation’s military machine. It revealed many facts about massive stealing and corruption in the previous administration. It exposed humongous monies and wealth that were stolen and often hidden by so-called leaders and their surrogates.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari presents Lance Corporal Kenneth Kulugh with the Purple Heart medal for gallantry. Pic: BBC.

Unlike the Jonathan government, it reined in unbridled and reckless spending and began to save for possible difficult times ahead, despite major fall of petroleum price. And Buhari talked tough a few times about how to make the country gain traction in reducing imports.

Notwithstanding, the enthusiasm and positive “moment of actions” that accompanied Buhari into office was wasted by the new government. Rather than send out unequivocal actions to build on the high level of credibility that was shown by voters towards him, Buhari went literally into exile. Strangely, appointment of his own cabinet proved difficult and took six months, and other important offices were left unoccupied for a long time.

Many cheerleaders of Buhari, including my humble self, wondered if he was the same person who had aspired to rule the country numerous times.

Perhaps Buhari’s illness accounts for the slowness in many spheres where urgent actions were needed. Yet, it is not justification to absolve the leadership from its accountability to the people. It is correct to assert that, in many aspects which are explained daily in public discourse, Buhari has not done as well as expected.

Albeit, there is a greater problem.

Beyond the lack of performance of the government according to public expectations, there is a major concern that Buhari is leading the country progressively into territories of no-return. The actions and decisions of his government undermine the country’s nationhood. The country is tottering.

A few critical issues will serve to illustrate the point.

The commendable actions of the government on Boko Haram and engagement, though less successful, with the Delta area insurgents gave the impression that former military general Buhari understood security and could protect the country.

Still several security threats have ensconced themselves. The problem is not only that they should have been contained before they assumed serious importance, but that they were allowed to fester and grow. Kidnap, inter-religious fighting, open ethnic rivalry, insurgency by local militias, horrendous actions of herdsmen have all become serious threats to national cohesion. The government has been careless and ineffectual, to say the least. To date, there is no clear sense of urgency and actions to reclaim the girls, women and people abducted by Boko Haram or explain the lack of serious progress.

In appointments, assignments, and placements of senior officials, the government has been as partisan as it has been in sleeping on official reports, decisions on investigations. Management and containment of crisis within the presidency, executive arm and ruling political party leaves much to be desired.

The economy is one of the foremost areas of strength of Buhari’s government. Unlike many other sectors, there is a blueprint and direction. There are promises of results and often a timeframe is defined. However, the results are far too few and lightweight to deal with the problems on the ground. It does not matter that the previous government caused enormous damage to the nation’s economy. The solutions must come from the current government. Despite overwhelming control of states by APC, the sad non-payment of civil servants’ salaries on time or at all persists.

Unemployment, high food prices, high costs of fuel and transportation, high costs of education and health care, among others, are common and becoming normal.

Characteristically, religion – arising in part from the general insecurity, economic deprivation, poor governance, loss of confidence in government’s capability to be fair, firm and honest, – has become the only straw to which many people hang their hopes and trust. In the absence of official decisive actions and communication, people revert to religion or faith to explain many issues. As a result, a much polarized nation has become even more divided by religious differences.

Nigerian Naira notes. Pic: Daily Times Nigeria.

This government shows poor understanding of the dynamics of the country. It deliberately or inadvertently allows ethnic arguments to thrive; accusations of partiality in government appointments appear germane; and government often waits for inter-ethnic attacks to germinate and take roots, before it shows its feeble hands.

On corruption, Buhari’s government shows a consistent desire to act. It demonstrates commitment to tackle it. But the actions are too little, too limited, too weak, too narrow, very incomprehensible and more laden with failures than successes. The greatest fear is that Buhari’s government may leave so much disillusion due to its poor showing on corruption that apathy may set in – if Mr. anti-corruption, straight-as-a-rod Buhari cannot succeed in fighting corruption, maybe nobody can. Then, as many pro-corruption advocates argue, “corruption is a Nigerian, and let us live together”. It is a wrong thesis and corruption should and can be fought successfully. This government’s anti-corruption approach lacks honesty, strategy, direction and it is devoid of mobilization of people. It cannot succeed.

What is next towards 2019?

There should be an admission that Buhari’s government did succeed in changing some things for the better. Though far below what is expected. Much more can and should be done. There are four possible new directions to take.

One is to have the current government change its tempo and change from not being “in a hurry to do anything”, as Buhari himself admitted recently. The problems are known and by re-organising to have the right people around him to think and implement decisions in the best interest of the country, much more can be achieved.

The second possible way is for Buhari to be a statesman and accept that due to his health and factors beyond him, he cannot lead the country. His party, APC, may be able to find a capable replacement.

The third one is for Buhari to step aside and also opt out of APC. His illness and political party have made it difficult for him, he says, and he becomes a most respected statesman by such a wise step. He can provide a rallying point for an alternative force to the big political parties.

The fourth possible route is to re-invent the political fundamentals of the country. It should be possible for independent candidates and candidates of smaller political parties to run for presidential and other offices. Time and test have shown that APC and PDP are two sides of the same coin.

Buhari came into power to arrest the drift under Jonathan. It has done some of it. As things stand, the government cannot do better. It can most probably get worse. PDP does not have known leaders of the quality needed to handle Nigeria’s current and future challenges. It means that in 2019, as in 2015, presidential election may be a repeat of “miserable choices’.

Given the numerous proven corrupt people who may present themselves for the coming elections, strong are the chances that Buhari will have a second term in such a situation. It will be unfortunate.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Where “change” begins in Nigeria

By Bunmi Makinwa

change-begins-with-me

President Buhari hands over ‘Change Begin With Me’ flag to Alhaji Mohammed (thenewsnigeria.com.ng)

The “change begins with me” campaign of the federal government of Nigeria is running into obstacles. One of the latest undesirable hitches is plagiarism of President Obama’s speech in the text of President Buhari’s statement delivered at the recent launch. News, opinions, reports, commentaries and jokes in print, electronic and online media are full of subtle and scathing attacks on the campaign.

A major argument of some critics is that change begins with the leadership that had promised change but is backpedaling on its responsibility for it, and turning it over to the populace. Another line of criticisms is that the targeted change is undefined, nebulous and opaque. The nuts and bolts of “change begins with me”, it is argued, are as unclear as many policy issues that the President Buhari administration pursues. Put together, the contextual issues around change do not align with the new campaign.

In communication theories, change is a well-trodden area. Human communication is replete with uses of communication to effect change of knowledge, attitudes, practice and behavior. Change communication underlies the intellectual discourse of behavior and social modifications as a critical step towards change. The “change begins with me” campaign, whether stated or not, is premised on the thesis that change of behavior by Nigerians can and should result in change of the Nigerian society. The behavior change of citizens will, over time, aggregate to social change of the Nigerian nation. It is, theoretically, a solid basis to build an action programme. This must have been what Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had in mind.

It is widely accepted that change of behavior, and ultimately change of society, is complex. It is hardly linear. It requires collaboration of communication with sociology, psychology, anthropology and related fields of human interactions. Extensive studies in change communication show that “good intentions” are far from adequate. In other words, no matter, how well intentioned a change idea is, it does not by fiat materialize into acceptance by the community or society where the change is advantageous or sensible.

In development communication, examples of good intentions leading to bad outcomes are soberly common. Whether it is smoking, driving while intoxicated or use of seat belts, change of habits and behavior is arduous. For example, health promotion campaigns that focused on negative health impacts of smoking achieved little for decades. Facts on the nefarious health effects did not discourage reasonable, knowledgeable smokers. The breakthrough came in many countries by making smoking appear so “un-cool”, unfashionable, repulsive, anti-social to “right –thinking” persons. And it was combined with treatment medications, psychosocial approaches, alongside policies and legislation that made cigarettes expensive; smoking was barred from public spaces; and smokers were restricted to corner spaces of undesirability.

Campaigns against driving whilst intoxicated are witnessing increasing successes in countries that combine special attention to what should be done when one drinks – designate a driver who does not drink alcohol at that occasion, have colleagues monitor each other’s alcohol consumption levels, have bar tenders take charge and restrict drunk drivers, use taxis to return home – with stringent checks by police officers as people leave parties and drinking places. Tough legislations penalize drunk driving, including heavy fines, temporary or permanent ban from driving.

Advertisers and marketers, to mention a few, use change communication extensively to create acceptance of new products, or to effect change from existing services to newly available ones. It works.

Success in change of behavior and society is grounded in theoretical understanding of people and society, and adaptation of knowledge from empirical studies. Behaviour modification and change does not happen quickly. There are short, medium and long term phases, and some successes can be recorded, even in the short term phase when norms begin to be questioned and re-ordered.

Without enough understanding of the work – theories, studies, processes – that inform Nigeria’s “change begins with me” campaign, it is difficult to say much about it. However, given the official actions and criticisms of it, some points are well in order.

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A poster of leading opposition All Progressive Congress presidential candidate Mohammadu Buhari and deputy Yemi Osinbajo (www.news24.com.ng)

President Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party was voted in on the platform of “change”. The massive voters’ support confirmed that change was awaited and would be supported. How will change occur? The first positive signal is that the leadership should demonstrate change.

Whilst the government, during its 16-month tenure, succeeded convincingly in dealing decisively with Boko Haram, it is yet to show that it can deal with security in its many ratifications. See how long it took to have any serious official pronouncement on herdsmen who ravage farms and villages, kill and maim people.

Also, whilst government struggles to rein in the spreading kidnap menace, the Niger Delta insurgents appear to thrive under various names. And the initial official commitment to locate the abducted Chibok Girls has fallen by the wayside. Rather, the Police harass peaceful protesters who serve as a constant beacon of the historic tragedy bleeding the nation.

Corruption, another pillar of the campaign manifesto of the government, has seen some positive efforts at curbing it. But even the consternation and anger of people as revelations of massive looting were revealed is now being dulled by time and inconclusive lengthy processes that drag on. It is apparent that some officials, especially civil servants and law enforcement agents, are falling back willfully into old ways of public bribe-taking and oppression of the people for the slightest reasons. Not only national budgets are “padded” under the nose of the change leadership, contracts are being padded heavily again. The fight against corruption is being cast as “Buhari’s thing”. His immediate entourage, collaborators and, especially, state governments are not even remotely part of any obvious anti-corruption efforts.

The dark cloud that covers the nation right now is economic and financial difficulty. It hangs like a giant elephant tusk on the neck of the masses and so-called middle class. It drags people down, into anger, intolerance and hopelessness. The people want to hear more on how and when it will change.

Candidly, everything seems right about the wording and need for “change begins with me”. But political communication of contradictory verbal and non-verbal exchange is problematic. The entirety of change should be manifested in many more areas and should be read, heard, seen, and interpreted – without doubt. The government, with its main pillars of change agenda in doubtful suspense, cannot expect its subjects to trust that it can lead or sustain change.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership and former Africa head of United Nations Population Fund