From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja The decision to retain health maintenance organisations (HMOs) as part of the country’s health insurance programme caused a major disagreement between the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services and the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Yusuf Usman. Usman, at the just concluded two-day investigative hearing…
When Samuel Beckett, an absurd dramatist, wrote his seminal play, WAITING FOR GODOT, he certainly did not have Nigeria in mind. His locale was the entire universe. But Beckett did not write for the sake of it. He was influenced by the social condition of his era. He lived in an age when radical philosophers and thinkers upset the traditional modes of seeing and knowing. It was an age when Albert Camus, an existentialist, used the word ‘absurd’ to describe the human condition. It was against this background that Beckett became a major exponent of the theatre of the absurd, a dramatic form that is lacking in both meaning and form.
In drama, absurd connotes meaninglessness, nihilism and nothingness. It is expressive of man’s alienation in the universe. But because man, by his very nature, will always strive to connect to his world, he engages in an interminable process of trying to make meaning out of his existence. In the world view of Beckett, such quest by man always ends up in futility. That explains why his works usually present us with tramps in a state of metaphysical anguish. In the bid to make meaning out of their checkered existence, they wait endlessly for a Godot that never comes. But to go through this boring and meaningless process, they have to cling to hope. It is hope that buoys them on. They are well aware of the fact that hopelessness is anticipated defeat. They do not, ordinarily, want to be defeated. But defeat, necessarily, stares them in the face.
As we noted earlier, the exponents of the theatre of the absurd did not have Nigeria in mind. But because their thought was a universal one, Nigeria has come to a stage in its national life when the goings-on in the land approximate to all the absurdities and meaninglessness that the absurd theatre is known for.
Whereas the Beckettian characters wait endlessly and futilely for Godot, the people of Nigeria have found themselves in an unpalatable situation of having to wait endlessly for their president. The president who left the shores of the country on 19th of January with a promise to return to work on 6th of February is still not back. He has had to shift his return date more than once. Now, no new date is available. Nigerians, like the Beckettian characters, are being made to wait endlessly. They have to wait because there is hope in waiting. They have to wait because they are seeking to find meaning amid the confusion and meaninglessness that are trailing the absence of their president.
To underline the absurdity of what is going on in Nigeria, communicating the message of the president’s absence has become a huge drama, which Nigerians are trying to comprehend. Communication of the subject matter has been a collection of fragmentary impulses held together by certain habits of mind that lead to outworn patterns of thought. If the endless wait for President Buhari has tasked the mental and emotional strength of Nigerians, the language and mode of communication of the situation are no less exerting. There is no dialogue. There is no conversation of any sort. The information managers either talk or listen to themselves. This hardly makes meaning to the people. And because man cannot endure for too long the absence of meaning, impatience and anxiety have set in. Nigerians are on edge. They want to find meaning in this seemingly endless wait for their president.
In fact, there has been a lot of reservation in the language employed and deployed by the president’s or government’s information managers. Their language is not discursive. It is not explicit. What we have are brisk exchanges. This has not helped anybody to make meaning out of the absurd situation.
Let us, for instance, consider three latest scenarios from the three information managers of the government. Lai Mohammed, who has distinguished himself in the art of terminological inexactitude, said of Buhari: The president is well, hale and hearty. There is no question about that. That is the Minister of Information. He has emphasised that there is no question about the sound health of the president. Yet Nigerians are asking questions and no one is responding. If there is no question about the president’s health, why are Nigerians in the dark as to what is keeping him away from the country, which he was elected to govern? His unexplained absence presents us with a huge puzzle. Somebody needs to let us into this mystery. Grandstanding or combative deployment of words is not the way to go.
Only last week, I raised questions as to why our president has refused to speak to Nigerians but prefers to talk to a Donald Trump in far away United States. I smelt disdain in that disposition and needed someone to throw light on the situation. I am certainly not alone in this matter. That was why the newsmen, who, a few days ago, encountered Garuba Shehu, another information manager of the government, prodded him on this issue. They wanted to know why the president had not spoken to Nigerians on his absence. Garuba’s response was nebulous. He told the newsmen that based on their inquiry, they (the president’s men) will put it across to him that Nigerians want to hear from him. That sounded elementary; a bit childish. An information manager does not need to go to his principal before he finds an answer to a question. He should, based on practical circumstances, determine which answer or approach that suits a situation. If the newsmen wanted to know why the president had been silent, it is the information manager’s duty to address the issue. Postponing the issue until the president is consulted smacks of infantilism. An information manager need not be spoon-fed.
Then the Femi Adesina response. He told State House correspondents two days ago that he did not speak for himself; that he speaks for somebody. We know that very well. But he added a surprising and strange aspect: That he can only say what he is asked to say. This is clearly off the mark. As spokesman of a public official or government or institution, no one tells you what to say. You do not wait to be told what to say. If you wait to be told what to say, you make yourself a mere conduit, a robot without a soul or mind of its own. A spokesman manages information. He dissects situations and knows how best to put information across. It is a professional engagement. It is expected that the spokesman will know better than those he manages information on their behalf. Therefore, he cannot wait for them to tell him what to say. To do so will make the spokesman vulnerable. He cannot withstand scrutiny. When you allow others to think for you, you lose the grit and bite to confront and deal with situations. It is this dependency syndrome that is stoking doubt in the minds of Nigerians. Interestingly, Femi has told us to believe our leaders. We are willing to do so. But the snag here is that the right atmosphere has to be created for Nigerians to suspend disbelief.
The foregoing are part of the staccato that has dogged the management of the information on the president’s absence. The miscellaneous vibes have remained confusing. I have suggested time and time again that every information manager of the government does not have to speak on this subject matter. That suggestion bears repeating here. Let the message on the president’s absence be coordinated. That way, Nigerians will be saved from this theatre of the absurd that is being enacted by government’s spokesmen.