Too often, President Muhammadu Buhari has appeared – to citizens, commentators, and even his supporters – as too silent on burning national issues. The perception is not misplaced, going by his relative lack of reaction to multifarious incidents, including rabid insecurity plaguing the country, charges of ethnic cleansing and domination, as well as the recent #EndSARS protest. The president has tended to keep mute and relatively aloof of the occurrences, until very late, when too much damage has occurred.
Being the head of a representative democracy that requires regular engagement with the electorate, the leader is reasonably expected to talk to, talk with, and generally keep in touch with the people through the many channels available in this 21st century. In these times, Buhari’s silence is not at all golden.
Regular and clear communication between a leader and the led is a sine qua non for both effective administration and successful leadership. For if, as a leadership-training expert John Maxwell says, leadership is influence, the potent means of a leader to influence people is effective communication. It is the oil in the machinery to influence. Whereas there are two sides to the meaning of silence, a leader who aims to achieve great things for his people through them must communicate with them; he cannot, should not, remain silent too often, too long. The silence of a ruler gives room in the polity for rumours, speculations and possibly undesirable repercussion. And these happen quickly in the technologically-wired global village that the world has become.
Granted that there is a time, a season, and a place for everything, there is indeed a time to speak up and speak out; there is too, a time to remain silent. In the latter case, silence is, in popular parlance, said to be golden. Silence can be a form of thoughtful restraint from speaking for the reason that it is at that time, a better or wiser cause of action. Golden silence is an act of wisdom. On the one hand, the silence of a man, and even more potently, of a leader can be a strategic weapon. Wisely applied, it keeps the other side guessing and even confused, to the calculated advantage of the silent.
On the other hand, the silence of a leader can indicate contempt or disdain for the led; an I -can’t- be- bothered -what -they – think –say- or do attitude. This wooden silence is certainly not wisdom, for a ruler, or anyone else. Indeed, as an implicitly provocative act, it is also a risky strategy. Persistent, protracted silence of a leader tends to show him as clueless, as one who is overwhelmed by the job and who simply knows not what to think, say or do about the demands of his office. As his government muddles, wobbles, and fumbles, so will the fortune and fate of the people and of their country. This can be tragic not only for himself, but for the country he heads.
Hydra-headed criminality has virtually taken over this country. In recent times, there is not a day that precious human blood is not shed somewhere on the soil of Nigeria. North and south, east and west, citizens are kidnapped, raped, murdered;…