Too often, President Muhammadu Buhari has appeared – to citizens, commentators, and even his supporters – as too silent on burning national issues. The perception is not misplaced, going by his relative lack of reaction to multifarious incidents, including rabid insecurity plaguing the country, charges of ethnic cleansing and domination, as well as the recent #EndSARS protest. The president has tended to keep mute and relatively aloof of the occurrences, until very late, when too much damage has occurred.
Being the head of a representative democracy that requires regular engagement with the electorate, the leader is reasonably expected to talk to, talk with, and generally keep in touch with the people through the many channels available in this 21st century. In these times, Buhari’s silence is not at all golden.
Regular and clear communication between a leader and the led is a sine qua non for both effective administration and successful leadership. For if, as a leadership-training expert John Maxwell says, leadership is influence, the potent means of a leader to influence people is effective communication. It is the oil in the machinery to influence. Whereas there are two sides to the meaning of silence, a leader who aims to achieve great things for his people through them must communicate with them; he cannot, should not, remain silent too often, too long. The silence of a ruler gives room in the polity for rumours, speculations and possibly undesirable repercussion. And these happen quickly in the technologically-wired global village that the world has become.
Granted that there is a time, a season, and a place for everything, there is indeed a time to speak up and speak out; there is too, a time to remain silent. In the latter case, silence is, in popular parlance, said to be golden. Silence can be a form of thoughtful restraint from speaking for the reason that it is at that time, a better or wiser cause of action. Golden silence is an act of wisdom. On the one hand, the silence of a man, and even more potently, of a leader can be a strategic weapon. Wisely applied, it keeps the other side guessing and even confused, to the calculated advantage of the silent.
On the other hand, the silence of a leader can indicate contempt or disdain for the led; an I -can’t- be- bothered -what -they – think –say- or do attitude. This wooden silence is certainly not wisdom, for a ruler, or anyone else. Indeed, as an implicitly provocative act, it is also a risky strategy. Persistent, protracted silence of a leader tends to show him as clueless, as one who is overwhelmed by the job and who simply knows not what to think, say or do about the demands of his office. As his government muddles, wobbles, and fumbles, so will the fortune and fate of the people and of their country. This can be tragic not only for himself, but for the country he heads.
Hydra-headed criminality has virtually taken over this country. In recent times, there is not a day that precious human blood is not shed somewhere on the soil of Nigeria. North and south, east and west, citizens are kidnapped, raped, murdered; homes are burnt and farms are destroyed. With a regularity that is somewhat nauseating, Nigerian leaders elected to assure the security and welfare of the people content themselves with expressing their regret, commiserate with the victims, and promise firm action against the criminals. And then fall asleep, so to speak, in the comfort of their official homes and offices maintained at public expense. But that is when they speak up at all.
Banditry is lately, the buzzword for large groups of murderous herdsmen on the rampage with the confidence of who can stop us. They are well armed with AK-47 guns, grenade launchers, and vehicle-mounted guns and well supplied with ammunition. This is happening in a country where all arms are supposed to be licensed by the Police; where indeed, the authorities had long ago ordered that such arms be surrendered.
If leadership is a trust, if the primary purpose of government is to guarantee the security and welfare of the governed, if the very first virtuous purpose of leadership is service, then the failure of Nigerian leaders in these respects is too palpable. The evidence is all over: from the debt- burdened, under-productive economy, through the chicanery of unrepentantly parasitic politicians, to the dysfunctional state of the Nigerian society. Only those who still benefit from the current sorry situation (and there is quite a number spanning the various elite groups) will have the nerve to assert that all is well with the country. It is sufficient to say that Nigeria is not on course to the greatness it deserves. And the blame falls on its leadership.
At the highest level of constituted authority, the silence to the dangerous drift of Nigeria into anarchy is deafening, notwithstanding the sporadic statements of media aides speaking for the Presidency. Presidential spokespersons do have a role to play in the polity, but Nigerians did not elect media aides as political leaders. No. The electorate invested Mr. Muhammadu Buhari with full authority and powers to manage the country’s affairs in the best interest of all. They expect periodic report to the people on how well he is getting on with the job. No spokesperson can articulate this better than the man on the job. And, the means to do this include formal media chat, response to the pressmen questions at occasions, televised address on issues of national urgency such as herdsmen banditry, the state of the economy, and the roaring call for a truly federal system of government. The alignment – or mismatch between the verbal and nonverbal communications can speak volumes about the integrity of a leader.
Nigerians are not necessarily looking out for oratory eloquence; but they care for substance of what their president says. A leader who has nothing to hide about his performance will confidently defend his actions and omissions. Nigerians know that Buhari is human, not a saint. Elected into the presidency after three rejections, he is expected to speak to Nigerians with the conviction of a leader doing his honest-to-God best to serve the greatest good of the greatest number. Wooden silence has no room in genuine leadership. Middlemen as spokespersons and script technicians will also not replace the direct communication between the president and the citizenry.
A leader that does not communicate limits his leadership potential while one that communicates maximizes his leadership. At a time that tries the soul of Nigerians, silence is not a virtue in governance. If President Buhari desires to influence Nigerians in a meaningful, result-oriented way, he must communicate much more with them. There are no two ways about it.