By Bala Ibrahim
If a referendum or a general vote is to be conducted today asking the electorate a single question on the performance of the Buhari administration, the result would be disappointing.
This is not because the government has not performed well, but because the government is not informing the public well. For some unknown reasons, the Buhari administration seems to have little regards to the importance of giving information to the public.
Perhaps because PMB is rated very high in morality, he assumes the public must live in accordance with his own moral principles. Much as the regime is out to make some corrections, towards the attainment of social sanity, it is wrong to be treating political matters with moral tools only.
Amongst the cases giving the Buhari administration a bad name is the issue of the repeated renewal of tenure, or the relentless retention of the service chiefs in office without reason. Time without number, pundits and political scientists, as well as experts on security have called on Buhari to relieve the service chiefs, whose tenure had long expired, in order to pave the way for new hands and new ideas that would address the rising insecurity in the country. But the President has refused, and has not done anything to carry the public along, on his reason for retaining them.
Yesterday (Tuesday), the Senate adopted a resolution, calling on the Service Chiefs to resign or be sacked due to the multi-pronged security challenges in the country.
In what may be the beginning of a rift between the Executive and the Legislature, the Presidency fired back, saying it notes the resolution and reiterates that appointment or sack of Service Chiefs is a Presidential prerogative, and President Muhammadu Buhari, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, will do what is in the best interest of the country at all times.
The 9th Senate, which has long assured that, contrary to the intransigent and confrontational attitude of the 8th Assembly to the Executive, it’s going to work differently, by maintaining a harmonious relationship with the Presidency, seems to be set to reverse itself now. It has hinted that the Presidency lacks simple understanding of situations and only responds to issues on impulse. This is undoubtedly due to poor information management on the side of the President.
As a former military governor, former military minister, former military Head of State, former head of the Petroleum Trust Fund, and now five years on the throne as elected President, Buhari can conveniently boast of being the most experienced public servant in the history of Nigeria.
But it may interest the President to know that the bulk of that experience was acquired in yester-years, under a military setting, where the public was not given the right to know how they are governed, and through the type writer analogue technology. Today, the world is run digitally through the computers.
In military settings, the country is governed through decrees that prohibit the sharing of information, and mostly under a suspended constitution. Democracy came with a revered mission that gives the public the right to ask to be served right, and makes the freedom and sharing of information a MUST.
Modern-day politics go hand-in-hand with marketing, and both are dependent on good public relations. Just as businesses aspire to have their products on the front pages of the major publications, or being flashed by the big television networks, politicians holding offices, or those who entered into contracts with the public, should make it a duty to keep the public informed on how far they are going, in fulfilling their terms of engagement. This is why in party politics, manifestos are made, and the public is enjoined to monitor their implementation after election.
Putting a strategy in place that would build such awareness and stimulate public interest through the provision of adequate information is the most important duty of public relations. Public relations can only create breakthrough moments in marketing or politics, if information is not hoarded, or those in charge are not economic with the truth.
The mistake made by many, including the Presidency, I think, is to keep mute on sensitive issues, expecting the public to trust completely what is being done, because the pilots are moralists. They also narrow down the work of public relations only to handling general communication activities, such as issuing press releases and responding to questions from media houses.
Unfortunately, and in reality, particularly in a multi party politics, public relations offers much more powerful solutions to the complicated problems of governance. With good Public Relations, the personality of the President and the policies of the Government, get marketed to the public not only better, but bigger and brighter.
Politics has its own values, which may not necessarily tally with the moral values of leaders. These values require the following of certain courses of actions or procedures, which would influence attitudes and behavior of the public or the electorates, the least of which has to do with the release of essential information.
Those with privileged information know that Buhari and the government have good plans for Nigeria. Also, those close to the regime know that it is doing very well to change the “business as usual” way of doing things. But the uninformed think differently, in fact they continue to see the Government as a failure, because it is economic with information.
In sacred settings, which embody the doctrines of religions, leaders can afford to be silent on some issues, because the subjects would have faith in God. But in political settings, where people are eager to see the fruits of their labor through democratic dividends, leading in silence is akin to political suicide, because the opposition would poison the minds of the public against the leader and his party. Precisely that is what the public opinion about PMB and his Government today is, at a poisoned mind.
No Government has reduced the relevance of the National Orientation Agency of Nigeria, NOA, as this one. The NOA is the body tasked with communicating government policy, staying abreast of public opinion, and promoting patriotism, national unity, and development of the Nigerian society. The motto on its website states: “Do the right thing: transform Nigeria.”
Either they are not given the right to do the right thing, because the Government feels the public is not important enough to know, or someone somewhere, believes there is merit in the hoarding of information. And this is democratically WRONG.
Mr Ibrahim writes from Abuja.