Presidential chatter - The Nation

By The Citizen
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•Time is now to revamp the Presidential media chat if it must continue

The last Presidential media chat held Monday evening was everything but that elevated platform it was designed to be. The idea of the forum is for a panel of senior and seasoned journalists to take on the number one citizen in a live question-and-answer chat that would challenge the president and elicit vital information on current national issues. This live intervention programme which has become popular all over the world has become a tool by presidents and government leaders everywhere to make major pronouncements, correct misconceptions, address major national issues and even fly kites to their populace.

Indeed, savvy leaders have deployed it to project themselves and even change the course of the history of countries. Such is the power and importance of a live presidential media chat.

But in the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, the entire idea seems to have come a cropper. Jonathan no doubt, is not a television animal, he is not a gifted speaker and he is not quick with it. But practice ought to count for something even if it does not make some things perfect. Last Monday during the chat, not much seems to have changed with President Jonathan - well he may have grown a bit more comfortable and confident before the cameras, and that seems to be about all. Answers still lacked the depth, insight and perspectives that would be expected from one who bestrides the polity.

The president's voice all through the session rang flat and monotonous like a weak machine; lacking in the vigour and conviction that are imbued by power, authority and superior information. Further, his handlers did him no favours by assembling a weak panel that never challenged him. None of such tricky questions that would make an interviewee agitated and shift in his seat. The questions came across too rehearsed and scripted to be impromptu. Follow-ups were rare.

Did Nigerians get better informed and more enlightened in the face of a whirl of contentious issues in the public space today begging for some elucidation? Not quite. Two examples will suffice. One, on the Sanusi Lamido Sanusi suspension, here is what the president said: 'Forget it, whether you like Jonathan or not, … the president has absolute power to suspend the CBN governor or anybody. Sanusi is still the governor of the CBN; he can come back tomorrow to continue his work…

'If somebody says the CBN is a different country, it is not true. Can the CBN wake up today and change the colour of the naira without consulting the president?' But the point here is that the suspension is coming at a time when Sanusi is presumed to be a whistle-blower in an alleged financial indiscretion against the government. Why are the other government officials in the vortex of his allegations not suspended?

The other example concerns his response to the Boko Haram insurgency in the north east state of Borno and the comment by the exasperated Governor Kashim Shettima to the effect that the terrorists were better equipped than the Nigerian Armed Forces. The president responded thus: 'I don't expect a governor to make that kind of statement. If the governor of Borno State felt that the Nigerian Armed Forces are not useful, we can pull them out of the state for one month and see whether he will stay in that his Government House …' Surely this answer is starkly un-presidential to say the least, and comes lower than the offending comment in question.

Yes, Governor Shettima may have spoken out of extreme frustration in the face of the unbridled mayhem being wreaked in his state, the president needed to have shown better understanding. Besides, the governor's comment ought to move the president to take a closer look at the military operation in the north east; there is so much amiss, if he must be told.

We urge that the presidential chat be vastly improved upon so that it would serve its purpose and not lapse into a mere chatter.