Ponder this: how often do Nigerian politicians speak in a clear and direct manner? How many coherent and easily understandable speeches have you heard given by politicians on radio or the ten o’clock news? All things considered, it is undeniably clear that political communication in Nigeria is flawed.
A crucial part of voter-politician transparency in any democracy is the voter’s ability to understand the policies and intentions of the politicians and parties they are voting for. Political communication is crucial not only to the electoral process but also the prospect of transparency throughout any elected leader’s time in office.
As elite members of society, politicians are of course expected to be highly educated specialists in their body of work. However, when their academic manner of speaking makes it difficult for their audience to understand them, they fail at the simplest task given to them by democracy. How does one work for the people when they fail to communicate with them on the most basic level?
Poor political communication in Nigeria also contributes to low voter turnout and political disaffection. When all politicians use the most complicated forms of English, it feeds the perception that they are all the same. It also creates the impression that the politician has something to hide, and does so by purposefully communicating in a coded way that is nearly impossible to understand. Citizens then refuse to vote as they see politics as a cartel that keeps the masses out and the overeducated elites in.
The issue is worsened by alarmingly low rates of literacy in Nigeria. According to IndexMundi, sixty-nine point four percent of males over the age of fifteen in Nigeria can read and write. The figures are even more dismal for females, whose literacy rate is estimated at around forty-nine point seven percent. These figures indicate that a strong sector of the population finds it entirely impossible to understand the language they are confronted with in the mass media and on television.
The media has become more sensitive to this issue, as several radio stations, websites, and newspapers try to cater for all Nigerians by delivering the news in Pidgin or other native dialects. Politicians themselves, however, have failed to do the same, as they continue to befuddle the public with complicated linguistic conventions and “big-big grammar”.
When there is a gap in essential communication, Nigerians struggle to trust the politicians they are left to vote for. Furthermore, the politicians themselves fail to communicate with anyone but the already too-powerful elite ruling class. The plight of political communication in Nigeria is one that is too often overlooked and too readily underestimated. Thus, our flawed political system cannot be corrected until we first and foremost address and eradicate the spectre of too much grammar.
May God Bless the people of our beloved Country, Nigeria.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A is a Political and International Affairs Analyst, based in Somerset, England, United Kingdom.