Even as an art, communication is effected through a vehicle wherein lies the science. As a primeval act, it was carried out through the science of clay. This was before Sumerians were said to have invented cuneiform writing sometime between 3500 and 3000 BCE. The science of communication evolved over time presenting the world with vehicles like papyrus, parchment, and paper which all emerged from the field of Botany.
Then, Johannes Gutenberg invented what is still regarded as the most important creation of the second millennium-the printing press. Progressively thereafter, the world moved towards the electronic form of mass communication emerging in the television, radio, telephone and computers, all mostly aided by assorted fields of science.
The science of communication could be extended to the effect that every mode of communication employs its peculiar governing structure. Take the example of a press statement. Unless you observe the specific framework of the inverted pyramid, you may not produce an effective document. This restrictive framework is essentially the science of the press release.
But communications is also an art. Only that it almost effortlessly marries the science and the art essence for utmost effectiveness.
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia says: “Art is a diverse range of human activities… expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.” The beauty and effectiveness of every act of communication is therefore in how well the communicator understands and employs the framework governing the mode of communication he adopts. That is the art and it is determined by the dexterity of the practitioner.
In its impact, communication leaves you with one of two likely impressions. When a communicator is adept at the deployment of the science and art of communication, he is effective in his mission, winning the hearts of his listeners and earning their trust. The opposite is the case when those who attempt to communicate are skill-deficient. It is trite that for communication to be effective, it must be two-way, but in forestated instance, they communicate to no one, alienate their listeners, even irritate them, thereby creating a wide gorge of distrust, which is sometimes irredeemable.
Unfortunately, such people very often just speak and go away with the assumption that they communicate. This illusion that communication has taken places is what Irish playwright and polemicist, George Bernard Shaw, describes as the single biggest problem of communication.
That is the reality of Nigerians with the people governing them. Over the years, neither those elected into offices in Nigeria, nor those hired by them, do justice to the all-important task of communication.
Nigerian leaders and those who serve at their pleasure do not understand that leadership and communication are inextricable and that it is impossible to galvanise, inspire or guide the citizenry without consistently communicating with them in clear, credible and authentic ways. They do not realise that their failure at this is the source of the inability of Nigerians to trust their leaders. Added to this lack of capacity is an apparent contemptuous disregard for the feeling of the people.
In the current administration for instance, we have had President Buhari leave tongues wagging over serious national issues for as long as it pleases him. The President is talented at taciturnity and he could ignore the grumbling of Nigerians until the end of times. Bad as that is, Buhari fares better than his two aides, Messers Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu who if they should know better, are in the habit of dismissing the concerns of Nigerians, sometimes querying their right to ask, contrary to all ethic of communication and requirement of public office.
Effective communication as Aristotle suggests in Rhetoric, is that which considers the critical elements of ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos goes to the credibility of the communicator, the credentials that buy him believability. This is usually achieved by the demonstration of technical expertise and the display of strong levels of integrity and character, which convince that the communicator is not going to lie even though he could get away with it. Pathos is ability to establish an emotional connection with the listener.
This is essentially how much empathy and understanding the communicator displays. Therewith, he wins confidence and enhances faith in his communication. Finally, logos is the mode of appeal to listeners’ sense of logic. How well a communicator employs strategic thinking, problem solving and analytical skills to compellingly push ideas that influence outcomes. Effective communication is thus, the result of a combination of the persuasive and dialectic.
Whether resulting from lack of respect or sheer ignorance about the critical nature of communication, our leaders generally assume that the skillset of those who speak for them ends with a distinguished career in journalism culminating in the opportunity to maintain an influential weekly column. They do not understand that media relations is only a subset of the public relations function. Government communication is to a wide variety of publics and savvy spokespersons must note that each of these publics reacts to actions differently and consequently devise the most appropriate methods to reach each group. When communicators miss this reality, they flounder!
While it is possible to acquire the requisite skills and attitude, most important of which is a citizen-centric disposition on the job, the itinerant nature of the political leader’s spokesman in Nigeria, understandably makes the tendency for self-development almost none-existent. So when poor capacity bonds with the enormous opportunities that these offices bestow, the occupants become conceited and demean other citizens. Uninhibited exuberance is the offspring of power without skill.
There is also the problem of genuflection, which makes it impossible for political appointees in Nigeria to speak to power. Tradition teaches most of us to defer to age and authority, so even in positions of authority; we are mostly “yes men and women.” In addition, public office is also a meal ticket in Nigeria; conscientiousness goes without much reward in Nigeria and public office usually presents a buffering ship from which no one wishes to jump out, so we absorb it all. And of course, the corollaries that power brokers relegate the communication function and its personnel to the backroom.
But any government desirous of effectiveness must embed communication in its strategy. Communication cannot be after the fact or an ancillary process in public office. The communicator in government must also be an insider such that we can avoid situations in which, like Adesina told the nation a couple of weeks back, the President’s chief spokesperson would not be in touch with him “daily” by proxy! To imagine that second rate information received from any third party is good enough to feed the nation with is the greatest disserve that you do to the people who elected whoever the principal in the circumstance is. It is the same with those serialised phone calls that those who should be on speed dial with the President now celebrate on social media.
Since they say the Presidency is one, I must point out that Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President, Dr Laolu Akande, dispenses fresh air but for last week when he momentarily caught the bug of adversarial reactions from his colleagues in the upper office.
In my opinion, Akande should have stayed within the confines of disputing Prof Charles Soludo’s suggestion that the Buhari administration made the Nigerian economy worse without impugning Soludo’s patriotic badges. This is more so because the man in question gave obvious albeit tacit support to the emergence of the current administration.
These gentlemen must learn that Nigeria belongs to all of us and that in defending the government, they do not have to attack Nigerians. A government needs more friends than enemies and unless people engage in outright illegal activities, no Nigerian deserves those abusive responses from government spokespersons.
Rather than engage in verbal brickbats, government spokespersons should work to improve their capacity and attain more respect and frontline positions in the confidence of their principals. This government could make use of much more effective communication, aimed at not just persuading and imparting knowledge but also turning Nigerians in the way government is thinking!