By Dahir Haladu Zariya
The Nigerian media often wrongly measure the capacity and potential roles and contributions of emerging players on national political and social scenes by their flamboyance in dress, manner of speech and sometimes, where they come from.
In this way, they miss the substance, the essence and the potential positive impact of the new entrants into national reckoning simply because they are less flamboyant in dressing, manner of speaking and general style.
Given the power of the media in perception engineering, there is no doubt that the image created in the media for some Nigerian personalities are only corrected or modified, after having close encounters with such individuals.
A case study here is Dame Patience Faka Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the wife of the President of Nigeria. Although I have not had any close encounter with her in any of her public functions, I can now testify by reasons of facts that her substance and essence, as a very strong political communicator and mobiliser, were missed by the media. Those qualities have been manifesting continuously since her emergence as the First Lady.
In most of the years her husband has been President, for which reason she is Nigeria’s First Lady, her media image was erroneously solely based on her propensity to speak in plain language, that is, simple English, devoid of jargons and false accent. Speaking plain language is a virtue taught by all communication experts and held dear by thorough-bred journalists.
For instance, in the United Kingdom, which is the initial home of the English Language, the authorities insist that all public communications in all the sectors of the British society must be in plain English; this is to avoid ambiguity which can lead to deception. That is why that paragon of journalism, the British Broadcasting Corporation, indeed all other media outlets in the United Kingdom and businesses, communicate in plain English.
Dwelling on her plain language in speeches by the media resulted in the failure on the part of the media to appreciate her capacity and astuteness for spotting potential goodwill and harnessing same for the political advantage of her husband. Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan has demonstrated an undeniable ability to accurately gauge the political pulse of the nation and decisively act to derive maximum political benefit and capital from it, thus contributing strategically to the pool of efforts to keep her spouse in the top job after future elections.
The misestimated former school teacher was able to realize the importance of women in the election process and launched a programme designed to effectively mobilise them to campaign and vote for her husband in 2011. That distinct women movement she championed has served its intent and purpose by contributing to her husband’s success at the polling booths in 2011: she was assiduous enough to follow that up by reportedly contributing in persuading the President to consider and appoint more women into the Federal Executive Council in unprecedented numbers.
Over time, it became obvious to all discerning readers of the system that, because of the role she plays as champion for women, the Jonathan Presidency has heralded a good time for women empowerment as more of them are now heading key, and highly sensitive, national institutions, thus daily making important contributions that advance our collective wellbeing.
The Vice-President, Architect Muhammad Namadi Sambo emphasised this fact on August 15, 2013, at the Nigerian Women Rally for Peace and Empowerment in which Mrs. Patience Goodluck Jonathan was a key player: “We have supported women’s active participation in politics, established a Women Political Trust Fund as well as witnessed increased women representation in government.”
The Vice President justified the event as a celebration of a paradigm shift in terms of meeting the need to carry women along in the power equation: “We are aware of the need to carry the women along and celebrate Nigerian women for their roles in the promotion of peace and economic development and have accordingly identified with their plight in our desire to promote a gender-sensitive and gender-responsive policy for national development.”
The Vice President said that further evidence of such shifts is the enrolment of the first female cadets into the elite Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna: “We will have women Generals that will lead the military service in this country.”
Other women empowering projects the administration is proud of include the training of 9, 000 women in various life skills and evolving micro credit schemes to support women entrepreneurs by the National Centre for Women Development. He said that under the Sure-P Programme, 5, 000 women would be economically empowered annually.
On her part, the Chief Mobiliser of Women for Empowerment in Nigeria, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan, said the Jonathan/Sambo Administration has made it possible for women to be heard and seen occupying key portfolios in government. She praised Nigerian women for promoting peace and urged them to excel in nation-building.
The astute political communicator and mobiliser said this as an apt testimony of her prowess in striking the correct chord with women: “Nigerian women have come a long way and we must remain focused and work together to add value to ourselves as well as use our huge number (numerical strength) to our advantage.”
Another very relevant, and for me highly practical message she delivered at the occasion on August 15, 2013 at the Eagle Square runs thus: “We must appreciate that Nigeria belongs to all of us and we must protect her.”
The “us” in that sentence is an acknowledgment of the heterogeneity of the Nigerian polity: She shared the platform with the veil-wearing wife of the Vice President , Hajiya Amina Namadi Sambo. This is a proof that both women have a good chemistry and an ability to work harmoniously. It is part of her political intelligence.
Zariya is a Public Affairs Analyst