An open letter to Barrister Felix Morka: The messenger speaks louder than the message
I write to congratulate you on your assumption of office as the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and to remind you of an often ignored truth, ‘ the messenger speaks louder than the message.’
If you don’t believe the messenger speaks louder than the message, consider these two statements:
First, “Haint we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”
And, “A majority can never replace the man… Just as a hundred fools do not make one wise man, a heroic decision is not likely to come from a hundred cowards.”
The first statement says it with rustic humour while the second statement says it in a loftier tone. But both make the same point: the majority is not always right.
Read them again, this time remembering who uttered them. The first statement is from Mark Twain. The second is from Adolf Hitler. How does the knowledge of the sources alter the message you receive? The odium attached to the name Adolf Hitler cancels any sense in anything he ever said, and no amount of eloquence will lend it respectability. This is by far the greatest undoing of everyone who has handled the media and publicity of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) post merger. As rudimentary as this lesson is; if you want to communicate in a positive way, you must cultivate a positive image as a person, very few spokespersons learned it well and fast enough especially in Nigeria’s budding polity.
The way people perceive you will depend on the way you interact with them. With the benefits of hindsight, let me highlight three fickle ways your predecessors interacted without name calling:
Firstly, the boss-underling interaction – Charles Dickens described it in his story of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchett. Harvard ivy demeanor, superior knowledge, and invaluable civil society experience and exposure in politics will win you respect, but only if you display the proper regard for the self worth of others. Some of your predecessors missed the mark on this count but you can carve a niche for yourself.
Secondly, don’t be a social snob. It was manifest in some previous spokespersons disguised as noblesse oblige. Webster’s defines this as “the obligation of honorable, generous and responsible behavior that is concomitant of high rank or birth.” The expression “I no send” is a defiantly Nigerian expression. If your good deeds are done from the perspective of a superior bestowing favours on inferiors, they will go unappreciated. On this turf of journalism, most will regard you as condescending and patronizing, and will resent you. Social snobbery often manifests itself in journalism as a class distinction between editors and reporters of my ilk which explains the rusty media machinery of the government in power, it’s manned by two former czar editors who refuse to regard the ideas of the ‘inferior’ as worthy of consideration. Being an experienced civil society player should immunize far from this disease.
Thirdly and worst off is what Nido Qubein called pecking order interaction, where executives establish an aura of superiority by imposing offices guarded by a retinue of aides. You must avoid the temptation of intimidating news breakers unwittingly through barriers of aides. Rather, encourage a flow of communication among the three main genres of journalists: prints, electronic (TV and radio) and online media.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter taught us that 21st leadership must observe the four F’s, by being focused, flexible, fast and friendly. Very little will be done unless information through you flow fast and freely.
Need I say that you can’t draw focus on the efforts of the party if your office is criss-crossed with walls that impede the flow of communication. You can’t be flexible if you have a rigid closed information loop with only privileged news outlets accessing you. You can’t be fast if information has to sleep slowly through only the traditional gatekeepers and you can’t be friendly if majority of journalists can’t get to you in real time. In the old days, everyone had to “go through channels” but today you must leverage on all the genres by optimizing the prints, electronics and online media platforms.
Finally, let me reiterate my opinion more graphically. In the 21st century, the mass audience is shattering into a myriad of small audiences. There was a time when all Nigerians are condemned to watch or listen to a few television and radio stations. We all run to the news stand every morning to read a few classics in unison. Those days are gone. We no longer have a choice of a handful of TV, radio and print media catering to a large, undiversified audience. Instead, we have a smorgasbord of offerings from prints, electronics and online digital media. This diversity makes the scattergun approach expensive and ineffective. But it makes it easier for you to pick your target. You can re-write the narrative of your party on the Twitter street, engage with your party members and reach Nigerians in farthest regions.
Again, I wish you all the best as you steer the media and publicity machinery of your party leading to the forthcoming general elections.
• ‘Seun Ibukun-Oni writes for Daily Courier, he is an accredited journalist covering the APC national headquarters with over a decade experience covering politics and foreign affairs.