"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that was embarrassing!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that was embarrassing!

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan shouldn’t have come to America. OK, I take that back. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan shouldn’t have come to America without preparation. His speeches and press interviews have sadly inflicted enormous reputational violence on his person—and on Nigeria. They were, to use the weakest expression I can summon to capture my deep disappointment, a pain to watch.

I had never heard Jonathan speak before. I’d just assumed that being a Ph.D. and a former lecturer, articulateness in speech would be the least of his problems. How wrong I had been. His performance at the (American) Council on Foreign Relations was a disaster of epic proportions. Let’s not even talk about his CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour. That was a dismal fizzle! No Nigerian who wants to retain his national self-esteem should watch it. What the eyes do not see, they say, the heart does not grieve over.

On Wednesday, I visited the NigeriaVillageSquare.com, like I always do, and saw a video of Goodluck Jonathan’s Q & A session at the Council on Foreign Relations posted on the site’s front page. I left everything aside and decided to watch it. I’d just finished arguing with a group of Nigerians who thought Jonathan wasn’t presidential in his carriage.

They said he looked intimidated and unsure of himself before Obama. But I thought otherwise. The pictures of him I saw looked to me dignified, presidential, and admirably self-assured. I managed to convince some of my online interlocutors that they were mistaken in their assessment of the acting president’s composure and mien throughout his U.S. visit.

So, when I saw the video, I looked forward to watching it with a lot of enthusiasm. I had an expectation that I would listen to a clear-headed, intelligent, confident exposition on Nigeria from Jonathan. But less than five minutes into the video I felt so embarrassed for the man—and for Nigeria—that my teeth itched. Just then a colleague of mine strolled into my office. I instinctively and furtively stopped the video and minimized the window with the anxiety, alacrity, guilt, and embarrassment that a self-respecting family man caught watching dirty porn would evince.

And that was precisely what my colleague thought I was doing. So she apologized and left immediately, half-embarrassed too. I was so thoroughly mortified by Jonathan’s performance that I didn’t want anybody else, not least a non-Nigerian, to watch it.

What did he say in the Q & A session that was so atrocious? Well, you will have to watch the video—or read the transcript— yourself. No second-hand recapitulation will do justice to the abysmal emptiness it betrays. But a few things stood out in bold relief from watching that video. First, this man is clearly thoroughly provincial. He does not know the ways of the world and is not emotionally and socially prepared for the job of a president—yet.

After former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria Mr. Howard Jeter introduced him to the audience with lavishly laudatory prefatory remarks, he didn’t even acknowledge the remarks. He didn’t say a word about the introduction. Jeter described him as “a man of uncommon loyalty, impeccable integrity, and an immense commitment to Nigeria and to the welfare of the Nigerian people.”

 That’s some pretty strong praise. But that’s not the reason why he should have acknowledged Jeter’s remarks. Protocol requires that he does so even if the praise weren’t this flattering. That he didn’t say “thank you Ambassador Jeter for that warm introduction” or something to that effect was just socially awkward.

But I forgave him that gaucherie. I chalked it up to the fact that he was probably too intimidated to have the presence of mind to observe commonplace conversational niceties. Who wouldn’t be? America can intimidate the hell out of even the most self-assured person, especially from the Third World.

Then came his speech. It was unbelievably dull, colorless, and uninspiring. Whoever wrote that speech for him needs some basic training in speech writing. Although he could have enlivened the drab, rhetorically impoverished, error-laden, cliché-ridden speech with an artful delivery, I didn’t blame him for it. I held out hope that he would prove his intellectual verve in the Q & A session.

How wrong was I again! His performance in the Q & A session was worse than the speech he’d read. He couldn’t articulate a coherent thought, hardly made a complete sentence, went off on inconsequential and puerile tangents, murdered basic grammar with reckless abandon, repeated trifles ad nauseam, was embarrassingly stilted, and generally looked and talked like a timid high school student struggling to remember his memorized lines in a school debate. It was obvious that even Ambassador Jeter was embarrassed.

The point at which I stopped watching the video was when he started answering a question about Nigeria’s foreign policy. This man had no clue what Nigeria’s foreign policy is! I felt deep pity for the acting president and for Nigeria. But why didn’t his assistants prepare him to answer a question as basic as Nigeria’s foreign policy? How could he accept an invitation to speak at the Council on FOREIGN Relations and not give a thought to Nigeria’s foreign policy?

This was a painful piece to write. Our acting president came across as someone who is barely literate. His grammar was awful. He doesn’t seem to be aware that there is something called subject-verb agreement, as evidenced in statements like, “I wish to thank the esteemed members of the Council on Foreign Relations for its continued interest in Nigerian affairs,” “issues of corruption bothers us,” etc. And “Muslim faithfuls”? Well, there is no word like “faithfuls” in the English language, Mr. Acting President. And by “sectoral crisis between Muslims” did he mean “sectarian crisis between Muslims”? Hmm.

 He also came across as thoroughly insular and unsophisticated. How else could he promise an American audience that he would make “50, 60, 70 percent” progress on his promises? Those are failing grades in America, Mr. Acting President! Doesn’t he have advisers who went to school in America? In America, 50 percent is “F,” 60 percent is “D,” and 70 percent is “C” minus.

Finally, he came across as unfathomably clueless. Just look at this statement as an example: “Muslims and Christians are not at war and they will never be at war as far as my own circumstances.” Seriously? Enough said.

15 comments:

biodun said...

Well written recap!
Even though his name has had this recurrent refrain, I have never had an opportunity to hear him out until I watched the same video.....In simple words, he typifies mediocrity as practiced in Nigeria to its utmost! And a PhD???? I am at a loss for Nigeria!

Farooq A. Kperogi said...

Thank you, my brother. We are in trouble in Nigeria. That guy has no business being a president.

Morounfiyinfoluwa said...

Why dont you do a similar analysis on Umaru Yar'Adua who is even more inscrutable than Goodluck when it comes to the English language?

Seriously who are you comparing this guy against?
People who speak very good English in Nigeria are outliers.....you should take a walk on the streets and see how many people speak good english or even care to do so.

I will go as far as saying that English is now a problem as the govt is simply not communicating with the people at all.

I mean did you even bother to listen to the substance of anything he said?

I am not a fan of the man and I am as disgusted at the next man along at the state of things in Nigeria.

But if poor English by our leaders is the only problem we are facing in Nigeria today, I'd take that.

Seriously get off your high horse.

Farooq A. Kperogi said...

Morunfiyinfoluwa, I did a similar analysis on Yar'adua a long time ago. Read it here: http://farooqkperogi.blogspot.com/2008/12/what-yaradua-is-learning-and-not.html

It isn't too much to expect people who rule us to have a clue and to be proficient in any language they choose to communicate in. If saying that is being on the high horse, I have no apologies. The fact that most Nigerians don't speak good English is no excuse to tolerate Jonathan's embarrassing outing. In any case, not many people can be president. So you can't use "many people's" standards to judge the most important man in the country. It should take a special quality to be president.

Plus, the man didn't say anything of substance in all his interviews. If you have any evidence to the contrary, share it with me and my readers.

Miss FlyHigh said...

Wow after reading this article which I must say was very good write up...I am not embarrassed but I actually fee very sorry for Mr President if what your saying is true.

What kind of team does he have? Even if he knew nothing initially with a great team (if he has one) supporting him he should know a lot by now. This is such a shame. I shall watch the video now.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have d priviledge of listening to d acting president's interviews.i also do not measure the substance in persons by how impeccable their spoken english is. the important thing as far i'm concerned is the quality of the message passed across.i agree with the 2nd commentary on this issue. i would understand your bias towards the use of good grammar to be, perhaps as a result of your professional calling. however, this does not excuse mediocrity in the highest office in the land as you rightly pointed out.we would continue to face national embarassment until we start getting things right by ensuring that the most capable amongst us represent us in our dealings as a nation!

Miss FlyHigh said...

I watched it and I personally think he tried.

Anonymous said...

Based on the author's title I also decided to listen to the Ag President speech and I really commend his articulation and his ability to answer questions. I think we tend to expect more that we really are. Our educational system is not very developed that even our graduates cant even speak proper english and we expect more. The Ag President had the Nigerian speak, the way he spoke is how we as Nigerians speak, so do not compare him to how Americans speak who I believe dont even speak properly. If he had made that speech in Nigeria, no one would notice the diference. Please let us make accurate judgement and not raise unecessary issues.

As Nigerians we have a long way to go but this is a good start. I pray that he is able to do even 50% of what his goals and objectives are

Mr Kperogi, I only took a quick look at your site and notice you are offering English classes here, if this was not a problem in Nigeria, you would not do so. I feel you sit on your loafty chair in Atlanta and make condescending statements about Nigerians. We speak differently and ofcourse we could do better generally but we have a long way to go. That is why people struggle to come overseas so that they can provide a better future for their children

handsubi said...

I don't think the best way for you to criticize his speech is this way, to say the least your write up on the issue was as despicable as it was interesting; u won my love but attracted my hatred. please be more constructive and free-flowing in your comments, remember that neither Musa Yar'Adua, nor Olusegun Obasanjo could have done as much as what the acting president did during the visit. love plze reduce your temper which was spread all across your piece.

Beauty said...

"He couldn’t articulate a coherent thought" is perhaps a bit harsh. How do we educate our people is the next question. Polishing them up for the camera or an audience is another in our land of opportunities. Goodluck Jonathan was not embarrassing as he was able to make himself understood. Helping him and others take the next step does sound better.

Anonymous said...

I'm ardent reader of your articles in Weekly Trust and Peoples Daily Abuja-based Newspapers. Besides, being an avid visitor of your blog but 'Dr. Jonathan, that was embarrassing' made my weekend lively and enjoyable.
i read and listen to the Jonathan's speech and responses, which were mostly reproduced by Nigerian media especially NTA. I also noticed the unpardonable murder of English language rules committed by our acting president. I can say to you, kudos! And your the entire write up deserves commendation. It is must read because of the enormous lesson mainly to our 'leaders', public speakers and their speech writers.

Anonymous said...

I read your article, Farook. I then read the transcript of Jonathan's speech, and watched most, if not all of the video. With all due respect, I do not agree with your conclusions. Jonathan may not be a Ronald Reagan or Nnamdi Azikiwe in terms of his speech patterns, but his heart and focus are in the right place. And the substance of his remarks are worth paying attention to. I find nothing embarrassing in his demeanor and speech habits. Please let the man be! I rather an authentic leader than a pretender. Babangida and the rest were eloquent, but where did they leave Nigeria??

Anonymous said...

Farooq:

I feel your pain - make that trauma - about our Act. President Jonathan's complete embarrassment of his office, person and Nigeria in the US.

I was beside myself in agony after watching his interview with Amanpour. His unintelligible responses and incomplete sentences were atrocious and speak not so much to his aides' screw-up in not adequately preparing him for this most important outing as his own in not preparing himself. As you rightly argued, a PhD and a former lecturer should be able to wing it or ad lib his way through a question. Jonathan, from what I saw, is a hack and represents a viral ailment afflicting Nigeria - mediocrity. What's more, many Nigerians, including vested sycophants, even the media elite (Guardian, Punch and ThisDay, to mention a few) lauded his performance. What a crock. What a hapless nation.
Thank you for bringing this up.

Ola said...

Farooq:

I feel your pain - make that trauma - about our Act. President Jonathan's complete embarrassment of his office, person and Nigeria in the US.

I was beside myself in agony after watching his interview with Amanpour. His unintelligible responses and incomplete sentences were atrocious and speak not so much to his aides' screw-up in not adequately preparing him for this most important outing as his own in not preparing himself. As you rightly argued, a PhD and a former lecturer should be able to wing it or ad lib his way through a question. Jonathan, from what I saw, is a hack and represents a viral ailment afflicting Nigeria - mediocrity. What's more, many Nigerians, including vested sycophants, even the media elite (Guardian, Punch and ThisDay, to mention a few) lauded his performance. What a crock. What a hapless nation.
Thank you for bringing this up.

Anonymous said...

This piece in its own is mediocre to say the least (just my personal opinion) but I do get the gist of it.

You seem like an individual who has lost touch with Nigeria and know absolutely nothing about governance. If you were not, then you would have known that governance has nothing to do with how well you speak the English language which regardless of how many PHDs you have doesn't change the fact that it isn't your primary language.

However, since his English is very bad and yours apparently isn't, you are fully qualified to lead Nigeria. Nothing else really matters right?

So I hereby ask your avid readers to please rally and get you into Aso rock so that you can wield your superb English skills into action.
Your English will formulate positive policies, rebuild our infrastructure, unite the country and work with other African nations to unify Africa, or at least sub-saharan Africa, economically.

But before you get there, let me just say that Goodluck Jonathan has in his short time in office, represented Nigeria well in the international community by at least SHOWING UP (his interviews by the way had a lot of great content), set a clear and concise short term agenda for the nation (electricity) made shown a strong resolve to clean up our electoral system (Iwu is finally gone).

Well my dear 'friend', GOODLUCK with your blog. I hope to read more of your articles and improve my spoken and written English as well. And please do let your co-worker know you were not watching porn AT WORK. That is so beyond you. You were only just watching any other video while AT WORK.