I am a sucker for words masterfully put together. I believe that words used the right way can move mountains. They can make men fight like hell in war. The right words can bring peace where strife had reigned. The architecture of change is words. The building is action.
I am sure that if Barack Obama did not have the talent for assembling words the unique way he has done, he probably would have at best been a tourist that once in a while gets a chance to peep at the White House from the barricades on Pennsylvania Avenue. For eight good years, Obama was the occupant of the historic estate.
Just imagine how many people have been moved by the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jnr in his ‘I have a dream’ speech. What of the unforgettable ‘Ask not what your country can do for you’ speech of John F. Kennedy? Without ‘Yes we can’ would Obama, the young man of Kenyan ancestry, have become President of the most powerful nation on earth?
This lanky black boy and his wife have been received with full military honours by the King of Saudi Arabia. Not too long ago, the regal Queen Elizabeth of England and her ninety-something year old husband had to go out to the helipad to personally receive Barack Obama and his wife. Imagine!
As a Nigerian, I keep scratching my head in search of the memorable or inspirational words of our leaders. Of course, I ask myself whether the lack of appreciation of the use of words by those who purport to lead us, to paint their picture of tomorrow and to inspire us to dream big dreams, has something to do with the level of our underdevelopment.
When Reuben Abati, a man of words, joined the team of President Jonathan, I began to nurse the hope that the President’s speeches would from then show the understanding that words and the way they are used matter. I waited and waited.
I am sure everyone remembers that during his first inauguration, President Buhari said these words: ‘I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody’. The words practically caught fire. They were repeated over and over across the country. Those nine words conveyed deep meanings of which a major book could be written. I had hoped thereafter to hear from our President such deep words that can exalt Nigerians and elevate the desire of Nigerians, man and woman, to do the work necessary to uplift our nation.
Why is it important? No general fights a war alone. He must inspire his commanders and foot soldiers to feel what he feels, take on the enemy with gusto and lay down their lives if it becomes necessary. A good army is like an orchestra. All the instruments are in tune and every instrumentalist follows the slightest gesture of the conductor. My gut feeling is that Nigeria is at war but the foot soldiers necessary to win the war are not engaged. The war has not been properly articulated. So, everyone is waiting for President Buhari to fight the war and win it all by himself. I do not know how that is going to happen. I know not where it has happened before. No conductor plays a symphony all alone.
Words and the way they are used matter at every level of leadership; at home, at work, in religion, in politics, everywhere. The greatest salesmen are those who know how to use words. The greatest preachers are those who know how to use words and definitely, the greatest leaders.
Words wrongly used can also set off a fire like they did in Rwanda. ‘I am not a magician’ once credited to Dr Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, the Honorable Minister of State for Petroleum caught fire across the country. I am not sure that it caught the kind of fire Dr Kachikwu would have wished. How many remember the words credited to the late Umaru Dikko: ‘Nigerians are not picking food from the dustbin’ or ‘telephone is not for the poor’ allegedly said by the former Senate President, David Mark? Such regrettable words hit the people below the belt at their most vulnerable. By the way, I once watched Dr Kachikwu take on some very difficult questions on CNN after a failed OPEC meeting. I was proud. It is my humble opinion that he handled himself very well.
As I watched Barrack Obama on TV speak with uplifting panache at the 2004 convention of the Democratic party in Boston Massachusetts at which John Kerry was nominated candidate for the US presidency, I had no doubt that I was watching history unfold. Obama has since then been elected a US Senator. He has twice been elected President of the United States. John Kerry at whose Presidential convention the magic of Obama became clear to those who appreciate such things, served Obama as Secretary of State. Kerry never became President. The power of words!
As I write about the power of words, I am very much persuaded that if the Buhari presidency will do for Nigerians that which every good Nigerian wants, the quality of communication needs to be lifted. Otherwise, somebody at Aso Rock may just be winking at a beautiful girl in the dark!
See you next week.