The new federal Cabinet: How well does Umaru Musa Yar'Adua speak?

The new federal Cabinet: How well does Umaru Musa Yar'Adua speak?

Sonala Olumhense

I did read his inaugural address, and in this column on June 3rd, I praised what I thought was a thoughtful, promising speech.  As I have observed on numerous occasions, however, multiple speech-makers rarely write their own speeches.  That is the province of people who are paid to make the one who delivers it sound coherent and intelligent and wise.  

That means that a scripted speech, as a public relations tool, is constructed not to reflect the speaker, but better than he is.  By putting clever words and ideas into the mouth of the speaker, the writer provides character, personality and context for him. 

How do we know that public image is not necessarily the real person?  The first clue is simply those occasions when the person is compelled to speak without a script - as in an interview, for instance.  If that interview is a public one, and is not itself scripted, then the footage or transcript instantly reveals the person in startling detail.  Separated from penned statements, we have all seen or heard people we thought much higher of sound like a bumbling, insensitive chimpanzee.    

{mosgoogle}The more important indication of who a public figure really is, of course, his work.  We all know that words are simply words.  Anyone can say them.  Over time, however, it becomes easy to see the relationship between a man and his words, whether they have meat in them, or holes.   They tend to stand up, like a figure or a statue, to be reviled or embraced. 

I confess that I am fascinated by speeches.  Public speeches, I know now, are actually quite autobiographical, and if you do not throw them away simply because the speaker has moved on to other speeches, they will comment on his actions.  Put another way, his actions will comment on his speeches. 

What this means is that the true eloquence of a man is in his actions, not his tongue, or even the cleverness of his writer.  The man said it best who observed that "Actions speak louder than words." The challenge, for President Yar'Adua, is to demonstrate that he and his words are one, the way his courageous declaration of assets spoke loudly for him last week.

So far, he has said several correct things.  But then, so does every politician.  Regrettably, theirs is a trade where people try to say the right thing, particularly in public.  The problem is that a politician is also a man, and that often, when the man is examined, he is not found to be whom he claims to be.  In law, they would call that an impostor, which is a felony, a crime.  The same is not necessarily true of politics, and this is hilarious because it is politicians who make the law. 

While President Yar'Adua has said his good things, therefore, the chance now opens for him to show how well he means them.  That opportunity the people he chooses to work with him in his Cabinet. 

In his inaugural address, the President observed: "Over the past eight years Nigerians have reached a national consensus in at least four areas: to deepen democracy and the rule of law; build an economy driven primarily by the private sector, not government; display zero tolerance for corruption in all its forms, and, finally, restructure and staff our government to ensure efficiency and good governance."

He has since then been laboring to structure a government that reflects the nature of his election and, I presume, his personal vision.  Given the traditional arrogance of his party, that is not a bad thing, and it certainly speaks well of him to work with the other major parties.  All he has to do is ensure that this information does not travel so far south as to reach Otta; there is one old man there who is going to be profoundly offended about the ÔÇśdilution' of the PDP family.  As a result of Yar'Adua's decision, however, Nigerians can look forward to faces in the cabinet that are not branded with the cosmetics of the PDP.

But here is where the President's eloquence will really begin to emerge: while the political party source of his ministers is of interest to him, it is the quality of those men and women that is of interest to us.  It is the caliber of men and women that he puts in office that will tell Nigerians whether he actually wants to make a difference. 

The omens are disturbing: among the people appearing in published speculations are expired politicians; career party men who have always preferred the impotence of the dark to the vitality of day; sundry former governors who ought to be fleeing from anyone dressed in police colours, and empty Big Men who know nothing about service and everything about being served.  Unless, under his baban riga, Yar'Adua is actually Professor Peller the magician, it is impossible to see how he intends to fashion a new Nigeria by awarding his Cabinet to such people.

The paradox of Nigeria is that it has an abundance of good men and women for the President to draw on, even within the PDP.   If the President wanted to form his Cabinet using the federal character principle, he could form it ten times over with excellent people of character and commitment. 

What would speak louder than thunder is for him to foist the same tired, expired or compromised people on Nigeria.  That would be a declaration of war on the people.   

At his inauguration, he was eloquent about a generational shift of power to the independent generation.  One glance back at the despised Obasanjo administration would advise him that the few decent spells in that period were accounted for by the independence generation: educated, experienced, and tired of Nigeria failing to honour its 1960 promise.  If anything moved while Obasanjo played his games, it was because they moved it.  If anything looked like it was improving, it was because they knew what they were doing and chose to persevere even when he was standing in their way.

At his inauguration, he invited Nigerians to join him "into the age of restoration," and to "choose to succeed."  Hopefully, Yar'Adua will be true, and not emerge as another leader who is sincere only when he is reading someone else's words.   Hopefully, he understands he cannot restore with the wrong weapons, or without courage.  He cannot cleanse the kitchen with the same mop that made it filthy in the first place.  Nor can he be superior to that mop if it is his weapon of choice.

One final quote from his inauguration: The time is now.