Backlash:Now That Body Language Has Failed!
LINGUISTS contend languages could die if they fail to expand to accommodate new notations. This was what happened to Latin, which at some point in the history of western education was the language of scholarship. The English language, which has grown to conquer the world was, more or less, vernacular and interjection of Latin in scholarly presentations in England and elsewhere was seen as a mark of erudition.
As a young man, I did not know what had happened to Latin. I thought it was still alive and kicking and I had wished for it to replace French in my first year in the University when the latter was a compulsory elective course for Theatre Arts students. It was my first classroom contact with the French language where everything is either masculine – le or feminine – la, and the learner does not have a clear guide as to who or what is a man or a woman. When I told my French lecturer one day that I would prefer Latin to French, she laughed and replied in French: “ Latin est mort!”
Permit the long digression. I was only trying to establish that language, including body language can die if not properly nourished. Everybody was happy when the Buhari Body Language was introduced into the curriculum of the political economy on May 29, 2015. It was linguistically efficient and people understood it without interpretation. Importers of fuel understood it and began immediately to conduct the business of fuel importation and distribution to sales outlets in the new language. It was understood, for instance, that fuel could flow ceaselessly at N87 per litre with or without payment of subsidy. The long queues at filling stations vanished overnight and there was jubilation in the land and in the camp of the APC, which promptly appropriated the turn-around as part the change it promised Nigerians.
In fact, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who until recently was publicity secretary of the APC said nothing was more evident of the change than this strange situation when the president could get things done without expending effort and scarce resources. He named the new approach that ensured performance without corresponding investment, Body Language. He said it was working far better than anything previously known.
The recruitment of Dr. l Ibe Kachikwu was intended to strengthen the body language in the petroleum sector. He even entered with a good deal of vocal language to complement what was on ground. He speaks the English as if he was part of the group that invented it. He had been offshore for the better part of his adult life doing business with white people in the big oil multinationals. And so, instead of pidgin or at least something with a good local content, which everybody could connect with, he spoke like the chief spokesman of the Queen of England.
Overnight, and I really mean overnight, Dr, Kachukwu induced a culture of excellent performance at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), where he was the new Group Managing Director (GMD). Suddenly, the four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna, which had refused to be turned around for decades came around and started working, and some rumoured, to installed capacity! His language made everything easy. Each time he made public speech like when he addressed editors in Lagos and when he faced the Senate screening for ministerial posting, his hearers admired him more as they listened to him.
In fact, the collection of his speeches since he berthed at the public wing of the petroleum sector can be aptly titled: The Management Of Nigeria’s Hydro-carbon Resources Made Easy. He knows too much to be questioned unnecessarily. We can even add that whatever Dr. Kachukwu does not understand about the management of oil and gas is not worth bothering about. He gave specific timelines in the transformation (not the Goodluck Jonathan kind of transformation) of the sector and said exactly when (I think it is as early as sometime next year) the NNPC would move from a corrupt behemoth to a profitable national oil companies that would do business in other countries the same way Chevron and other IOCs do big business in Nigeria.
The body and vocal languages of the former GMD, now a notch higher as junior minister in the petroleum ministry, were sharp in the beginning. But as earlier noted, languages that survive do a lot of etymological adaptation. Close to 50 per cent of the English vocabulary are adaptations outside the Anglo-Saxon origin of the language. The Kachichwu body and vocal languages refused to adapt for survival and they have died like Latin. The refineries stopped running with the same suddeness with which they began. Continued supply of petroleum products for local consumption has become a challenge and In trying to pick a new language for his job, the big man has stepped down from the NNPC Towers onto the streets. He is now speaking the language of the street, which everybody, including oil marketers, understands.
Specifically, Kachukwu is threatening to abandon his duty post as junior minister to President Buhari in the petroleum ministry and take up job as a pump attendant at filling stations across the country. It is the new language he has adopted to address the perennial fuel scarcity in the country. After he takes up his new job, as pump attendant that is, he has promised to dispense the stock of fuel marketers who hoard the stuff free of charge to the public. The last time I put fuel in my tank, I paid N200 per litre to a roadside hawker and so I pray to be around to partake in the Kachukwu largesse.
The new Kachukwu language speaks of the frustration of a man who is struggling to be understood or to understand himself in the context of his operating environment. He has persistently maintained that the NNPC has enough products to service domestic consumption for at least 30 days and as such nobody should be seen queuing for hours and sometimes days to buy fuel. If he said exactly this in Texas, USA, the message would be carried and he might not need to become a pump boy to make the same point. But this is Nigeria where everybody is black. In other words, Kachukwu is behaving too much like Oyibo or as if he is no longer an Igbo man from Onicha-Ugbo in Delta State. A vision without strategy is a dream which vanishes at the dawn of reality.
He and his principal have begun payment of hundreds of billions of naira in subsidy to fuel importers as if we are still in the Jonathan presidency. It is a very good move all the same. Maybe Kachikwu and his senior minister should have been told much earlier that these importers also speak body language and that theirs is even more compelling, which is why a whooping N430b is coming from nowhere in these lean times to pay fuel subsidy after the official body language had failed to ensure petroleum products supply.
It is not too late to re-invent the presidential body language for good purpose. Even the so-called dead Latin can be re-invented for use outside the Vatican and the Catholic Church if the Italians are serious. Public administration is not like a setting in Arabian tales where things get established outside scientific logic. Public electricity in Nigeria, for instance, cannot be ordered through a magical lamp called Alladin, stick, flying carpet or even the latest magic called Body Language.
It has to come as it was established by Michael Faraday, who discovered electricity in the 19th century. If it is thermal, there has to be enough gas supply to fire the turbines to produce electricity. If is it is hydro, there has to be enough water to spin the magnetic disc to create electricity. There is no room for body language in all of the options. There is, however, room for systematic investment to build infrastructure, after which the magic of body language can be applied for definite results.