Nigerian politicians and political office holders are reputed for glaring deficiencies in several basic indices that affect performance, efficiency and emotional intelligence. Whereas some deficiencies can be easily forgiven and remedied, one area of competency (or incompetency) stands out sorely—most politicians lack manners, the ability to know what to say, and how to say it without taking Nigerians for granted.
When former President Jonathan made the infamous remark that “I don’t give a damn about [public asset declaration]”, his insensitivity triggered protesting excoriations by Nigerians. In his zeal to state a fact, that publicizing one’s assets is not compulsory, he failed to note the thin line separating boldness and cockiness. In this public failure, he simply followed the trend of past leaders who spoke as they wished to Nigeria’s “unimportant” citizens. Let me leave the dusty files of past leaders and look at contemporary manifestations of insensitivity.
In President Buhari’s latest interview with Al Jazeera’s Martine Dennis, when asked about the concerns of some Nigerian Christians about Nigeria’s joining of the Saudi-led terrorism coalition, he emphatically asked those complaining “bigots” to go and fight Boko Haram themselves. In the same interview, when asked about the inability of some Nigerians to access foreign currencies for education, and the military’s high-handed approach to pro-Biafra protesters, his responses showed something akin to callousness. Last year, in an interview with the UK’s Guardian, he made statements that were construed to mean that Nigerians are criminals. With his disdain for sensitivity, he has motivated some subordinates to follow his stellar example.
In less than two weeks, three public gaffes dominated the airwaves and internet servers. Spokesman Femi Adesina, as a true mentee, asked Nigerians foolish enough to complain about epileptic electricity supply to go and fight those vandalizing gas pipelines. The Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, topped up by admonishing longsuffering Nigerians to suffer some more because he didn’t train as a magician. While Nigerians tried to process these statements, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Buhari’s SSA on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, added hers as part of gender balancing. Why let the men do all the mis-talking? In response to a tweet asking why Nigerians in diaspora should return home considering infrastructural deficiency, she tweeted, “But who is asking you to come?”. Such is the crass display of insensitivity by Nigerian politicians.
In fairness to Kachikwu and Abike, both have apologized. The petroleum technocrat explained that his statement had a jocular bearing and wasn’t intended to rile Nigerians. On her part, she apologized, saying her tweet was taken wrongly. Whether the apologies were sincere or not, at least, both persons recognized the insensitivity of their words. However, Messrs. Femi and Buhari have not seen anything wrong in their own statements. Both are incorrigibly immune to public sensitivities.
The gaffes described here are just examples of the thought patterns of many adherents of the political trade. Apparently, Nigerians are unimportant except they are part of the political ruling class. Many times, one wonders if these politicians bother to screen their words themselves, or get trusted non-sycophants to serve as filters. If they do, then the filters must be very dirty, torn or designed in an era of narcissistic emperors. The lack of emotional intelligence in appalling in this 21st century of political correctness.
Emotional intelligence is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. By this definition, Nigeria’s political artisans, no matter their level of “normal” intelligence, are grossly deficient in knowing how to talk. The basic Public Speaking 101 course continues to daze them. Going from 00F to 50C surely doesn’t require spiritual intervention. Our politicians should learn not to be insensitive failures.
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