Metropole Magazine

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07 Feb Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

The Anatomy of a Presidential Speech

The days preceding Nigeria’s independence anniversary celebration are particularly fertile for critics of the government (most Nigerians that is). To be clear, there has never been a shortage of public indignation over the state of the nation. The siting of projects is questioned, contracts are said to be inflated, public officers are assumed thieves. Nigeria is ours to plough, to plunder, and to pull down.

Only the jolly mood accompanying the independence celebration is an occasion to remind of all that is or has been wrong with the country: Boko Haram, bullet proof cars scandal, ASUU strike, Apo killings, fuel subsidy scam, the 53 gold-plated iphones, electoral fraud, and other real and imagined ailments.

It would then be asked, what is the occasion? What are we celebrating? With foreign aid, it is argued that Nigeria is not truly independent and that the festivity is a ruse, an attempt by corrupt government officials to get on anniversary celebration committees and award themselves contracts.

The ambition of the critic is to douse the celebratory mood, all with a deep sense of commitment to country. They call for sober reflection, a period of mourning for lost opportunities to make Nigeria Utopia. Until we get there, there should be an embargo on collective jubilation. And the older the country gets, the more sacrilegious the attempt of starting a carnival.

The presidential speech writer is in a strait. He can neither deny the unflattering facts nor admit to them. He needs to generate sufficient ideas to address the catalogue of public grouses. A presidential speech is an attempt to tally the triumphs against the failings. It is the president trying to convince the nation, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that there is course for rejoicing.

‘If we look back over the years, we can say confidently that there is every reason to celebrate.’ This quote from President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2013 Independence Day address is a prologue to justifying the occasion. And he would go on to support his assertion with soggy evidence.

As activities for the grand finale of the Nigeria centenary celebration come together this month, the speech writer would once more be in need of bright new ideas. Though the occasion has peculiar slurs hurled at it―the questioning of Nigeria’s unity for instance, which frames the centenary celebration as an illusion― the presidential speech writer, except he is fatigued, is advised to dust up old independence speeches and adapt it to current realities.

He should acknowledge the situations but deny complicity in engendering it. Corruption is not uncommon in other parts of the world. Nigeria does not even make top ten on Transparency International’s 2013 corruption perception index. Take solace in the universality of unrest. Terrorism is a worldwide challenge and a natural disaster about which nothing can be done; well, except prayers.

Use the phrase ‘Fellow Nigerians’ randomly. It is assuring. It imbues with patriotism the marginalised (most Nigerians) who have begun to doubt their nationality, and are wondering if they are not Nigerians, seeing as they are yet to get a portion of the national cake.

Take a cue from President Obama; whip up empathy with mention of the dreams and labours of our founding fathers, as he does about service men.

Count our blessings: our perseverance, our vast natural resources, our enterprise, our teeming youth population, etc.

Admit that Nigeria is a work in progress, that we are not there yet, but we are not where we used to be. Buttress this claim with examples of the administration’s achievements: the economy has improved, we have created over five million new jobs, power supply has significantly improved across the country, and so on. Give credit to Nigerians (teachers, artisans, market women, farmers, civil servants).

Insist that Nigeria’s ‘unity’ is the greatest thing that could ever happen to any group of diverse people. Because we are forty, we are at the fools age, still living, because it is our diamond jubilee, because it is the eve of our centenary, it is our centenary, it is post centenary and we are still together despite the problems bedevilling us...

Make promises. Reiterate previous promises. Reiterate the administration’s commitment to fulfilling these promises.