Demarketing Nigeria: Between truth and diplomacy
For clarity, President Muhammadu Buhari had announced to the whole world during his recent Indian trip that Nigeria is broke and as such could not afford the luxury of paying 42 ministers. This statement and many similar ones by the President in the past portraying Nigerians to be very corrupt people operating a corrupt system drew the irk of the PDP.
In a statement, Olisa Metuh, the party’s spokesperson admonished the President to refrain from painting the country in a negative light before domestic and international community and investors as this would be tantamount to ‘demarketing’ the same country for which he is traversing the length and breadth of the globe to woe investors. Did the APC take this admonition kindly? The answer is ‘No’.
Femi Adesina, the special adviser to the President on publicity jumped into the foray to defend his principal. According to him: “President Buhari will not in the name of “marketing” or “attracting” investors, follow in the footsteps of the ousted PDP Administration and its discredited officials who shamelessly lied to Nigerians and the world about the buoyancy and vibrancy of an economy they had bled dry for personal gain, when it was very obvious to the discerning, that the Nigerian economy was headed for serious trouble.” Here lies the quagmire. Between the PDP and APC who is right? Of a truth, there is wisdom in the position taken by both parties. The problem is with differentiating between truth and diplomacy.
Although diplomacy has been viewed over time as not telling the truth, the truth is that the concept is more concerned with how the truth is being told and not that it encourages spread of falsehood. It is about telling the truth (which always hurts) in a more soothing way. A very simplistic definition of diplomacy is ‘the ability not to tell a lie and yet avoid telling the bitter truth’. The governed deserve to know the truth from their leaders at all times and if this is what PMB is preaching, it is commendable. Yet, there are so many ways to cushion the truth without necessarily adulterating it.
On February 8, some years back, I was privileged to attend one of the annual lecture series organised by the Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) founded by Prof. Pat Utomi at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). During his speech, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the erstwhile secretary general of the Commonwealth gave a scintillating interpretation of what diplomacy and fact reportage should be for governments and their spokespersons. In his usual sonorous voice, he said: “Rather than say ‘the glass is half empty’, you can present it as ‘the glass is half full.” For me, this is diplomacy summarised.
The two statements are literally the same, yet, both cannot have the same impact. While the phrase ‘half empty’ transmits a negative signal, ‘have full’ transmits a positive one. Both reports do not contain any iota of falsehood, yet they convey divergent signals. This is where I think PMB and his spokespersons got it wrong. You don’t tell a patient with a terminal disease that he must die even though you owe him the truth about his prognosis. Hope must be kept alive even in the face of obscurity and hopelessness no matter the condition and circumstance. This is what the medical profession teaches and can be applied to politics and governance.
Nigeria does not rank highest in the world corruption index nor is it among the poorest of the poor nations. One hardly hears the leaders of any of the worst countries lamenting and ruin the corruption or insolvency of their countries to any ear that cares to listen. No other leader anywhere in the world (except that of Nigeria), is going about denigrating their successors at every opportune time after electioneering campaigns, not even in Greece officially declared insolvent.
The bitter truth from the PDP is that you don’t call your daughters bad names before prospective suitors and still expect serious and genuine suitors to come knocking on your door no matter how beautiful or rich your daughters are. This message from the PDP must be taken by the APC in all humility even if they don’t like the messenger. Rather than see it as unnecessary distraction to the President, the entire message as contained in the statement must be taken with open heart to enrich the most respected learning of the APC who rattled the electorate with sound (though often exaggerated) arguments during the campaigns.
Unfortunately and before the elections, the then opposition APC on its way to victory told the electorate how corruption stinks under the PDP rule and promised Nigerians that with the aid of their symbolic broom, they would sweep out corruption if they came to power. They told the electorate that the PDP has run the economy aground for 16 years with a promise to revamp it once they clinched the federal position. Nine months after getting the nod of the electorate, the same old story is still being told by the ruling APC to the detriment of real governance and fulfillment of campaign promises. It so seems that the problem of the country right now is not actually national fiscal bankruptcy but a bankruptcy of ideas on the part of the ruling party. It is crystal clear now that PMB may not have all it takes to drive the economy going by the near comatose state of affairs in the past six months.
The failure of PMB’s solo governance, until a few weeks ago, opened up another vista of hope being reposed on the just inaugurated ministers. The coming of ministers appears to be last hope of the APC to salvage its tottering image and prove to Nigerians that it is truly ready for governance. The question is, would they have the ideas to salvage this country as most of them demonstrated during the ministerial screening exercise? PMB must be commended for his ability to assemble the crop of personalities he picked as ministers.
He may have failed in giving Nigerians the much-touted saints and Angels, but the quality displayed by some of them appears to be quite sterling. Again, will they not be treated as “noise makers” whose ideas will only amount to nothing? In them, Nigerians are reposing the last repository of hope. We hope they would not toe the line of their master by spending ample time digging out the rot in their new estates (ministries) at the expense of formulating policies that will help bring Nigeria out of the doldrums. We want the truth in ‘half full’ rather than the candour of telling us ‘half empty’. If the APC has suddenly found out the virtue in the sanctity of truth as against outlandish propaganda, that is most welcome, but they must not stampede Nigerians to death before the real death beckons.
• Ohiri is a public affairs analyst resident in Lagos.
chuksohiri@ yahoo.com 08060321965