Friday, 17 March 2017

PMB, the ‘Silencer’: The Paradox and Corollary of Buhari’s Silence - By SMB Johnson

What does not exist in the media does not exist in public mind. Politics is based on a socialized communication and on the capacity to influence people’s minds.  In other words, politics amidst its cacophonous matrix, permutation and combinations is calculatedly stage for the media. The workings of the political system are staged for the media so as to obtain the support, or at least the lesser hostility of citizens who become the consumers in the political market. On the one hand, the media acts as bridge between government and public. On the other hand, political communication is the connection between politics and citizens and the interaction modes that connect these groups to each other. Calculatedly, political communication is often manipulative in intent vis-à-vis what should be communicated and what should be withheld, with the aim of taking into account and influencing public opinion, and creating strategic alliances and an enabling information infrastructure and public acceptability templates for both domestic and foreign policies of the government.

Following the rumour spree of the purported death of president Buhari; a censorious analysis of the political communication strategy of Buhari’s government vis-à-vis it’s Machiavellian, iconic, ritualistic, laudatory and dramatist mode shows intrigues, nuances, injudiciousness, discordant cognition and complexities. In another shade, critical look on Buhari government shows that nonverbal communication including body language, silent reactions, the use of pictures and music in political communication, etc. is used more extensively than direct verbal communication to convey political messages in the mass media. 

President Buhari has kept silent about the state of his health, though; his aides and cohorts such as Femi Adesina, Saraki, Garba, etc have been speaking on his behalf. But why is the president not speaking for himself? Is the purported sickness affecting his vocal cavity? No, that’s far from the truth. After all, the president has been speaking to his Acting President (I mean his VP) and others. At least the president spoke with the most powerful president in the world (Trump). Hence, if PMB has been speaking to some individuals, then, his silence or refusal to speak to Nigerians must be a political communication strategy. Evidently, Silence considered as an absence of speech or noise – has been generally ignored as a form of communication in political domain because it represents inaction or non-behaviour. Silence is neither not necessarily inaction nor is silence, as many believe, a failure to communicate. Traditionally, silence is a powerful form of communication. Sometimes it could mean someone is still cogitating a response to a hard nut question. It could mean a sign of fret, agreement, dissent, frustration or anger.

There’s a popular parlance that says that ‘silence is the best answer for a fool’, hence, silent insults. Some opine that Nigerians do not have any business to do with Buhari’s health. They claim it’s the president private matter. But can we say Buhari as the president still largely has a private life except the issues of national security or can we also claim that Nigerians got no constitutional rights to know the health status of their president. Can we conclude that PMB does not hold Nigerians in high regards? After all he’s speaking to those he holds in high regards. Is PMB considering the masses of Nigeria as fools, since silence is the best answer for a fool? No doubt, Buhari’s silence is insulting the mass of the people that voted for him.

If indeed we must buy in into the developing theory by a school of thought in Nigeria propounding that Buhari’s vacation particularly his refusal to speak to Nigerians (silence) is a political strategy, what are the deductions we can make from this? Should we accept the claim that Buhari left the scene for him and the nation to have time out to cool off tensions? Should we accept the verdict that Buhari got no remedy for Nigeria’s problem, hence, the need to go off field of politics (just as basket ball players use to do) waiting for an opportune time to stage a comeback? Is it true that his face is not adding ‘human face’ to government policies thereby attracting frustration, reactions, counter reactions, militancy, insurgency, secession attempts, etc? In this direction some have claimed that Osinbajo carries a face that is acceptable across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. Can we accept all these assertions?

Paradoxically, some Nigerians claim that Buhari’s absence and silence are golden, hence beneficiary to Nigeria. They further claim that since he left the scene, it’s been good for the nation but not for the people yet. After all, Osinbajo’s visits to Niger Delta had muted vandalization of oil pipelines thereby resulting to increase in the barrels of oil being exploited daily in the country. Also, there have been dramatic decline in herdsmen attack in the country. In addition, Naira is picking up against the Dollar.
It is pertinent to say at this juncture that silence is sometimes golden especially if opening your mouth can cost you your reputation, job and good will; or if speaking could be injurious to the common good of the generality of the society. Can’t we begin to see the benign and hidden benefits in Buhari’s silence and absence? Can’t we see it as an opportunity for the president to launch a better and stronger comeback in order to serve the nation more effectively? Remember, failing to pay close attention to the silent fraction of a tête-à-tête can result in missing a crucial part of communication. So, I suggest that Nigerians should pay full attention to Buhari’s silence towards the masses.
What are the lessons the masses can pick from this? Let the public assume not to have the consciousness of the fact that he had chosen only to speak to the political elites who he assumed put him in power. Astute and active listeners watch for silence vis-à-vis gaps, pauses, and hesitations. Deliberately, they carry out diagnosis and prognosis of silence particularly within political milieu. They treat silence as a corollary and a paradox as well as analogous to a beeping yellow traffic light at a crossroads (orita). Surely they pay rapt and apt attention to what comes next after silence. Hence, I modestly submit here that Nigerians should think ahead about what come next after this impermanent silence of Buhari and they should also prepare for what come next. Because, this could be a case of ‘agbo to tadi moyin, agbara lo lo mu wa’ (a ram that take a reverse or withdrew from a battle line, will surely return with profound firepower). This silence could be a time of recess, reset, reassessment and restart for a better Nigeria. The return of the president to governance and talking mode could provoke an opportunity for the so-called enemies of progress in Nigeria to be silent by the ‘silencer’ himself.

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