Communication, security and sustainable development – Part 2
Continued from yesterday
The very serious trust deficit between the leadership and the people they lead today, the widespread perception of injustice and inequity in the distribution of opportunities and benefits as well as in the application of sanctions and penalties in the Nigerian polity – and especially the widespread perception of nepotism and sectional bias, to whatever extent it is true, or if such impressions are not satisfactorily addressed, the situation will often generate resentment, bitterness, and political tension, and this will ultimately culminate in the breakdown of law and order, which now and again require crisis management and the intervention of security agents towards restoring some measure of order.
The Place of Traditional and Religious Leaders
With regards to culture, my understanding is that what the framers of my part of today’s topic mean is “the role of traditional institutions and religious bodies in addressing the challenge of strategic communication for governance, security, and sustainable development.” Traditional and religious institutions are naturally supposed to be custodians and stabilizers of the fundamental values that nurture and sustain human societies. Traditional and religious institutions ordinarily hold the key to the realization of good conduct (among leaders and followers alike), and the promotion of social cohesion, harmonious interaction, peaceful co-existence, and wholesome development in the polity, as they help to formulate and disseminate such core values as truth and justice, equity and fairness, as well as the common good imperative in the society.
Since the onset of colonialism up to this day, however, our traditional institutions have been progressively polluted and increasingly bastardized by successive governments, which unjustly appropriated to themselves the right to enthrone and dethrone traditional rulers at will, and the right to determine their salaries and allowances. Is it surprising therefore that the loyalty of many of these traditional rulers have often shifted from their people and what the legitimate demands of their people may be, to the will of the one who pays the piper?
Is it surprising that ever since colonial days, traditional rulers have often conspired with foreign and local conquerors to subjugate their own people? Is this not why many of these rulers have often lost the trust of their people, as they are now and again seen to be dancing to the tune of whoever is in power at any particular time? And to what extent can an institution that has been destroyed to such a level contribute meaningfully to promoting the higher values that make human societies thrive? To what extent can such a thoroughly bastardized institution play the role of custodians of truth and agents of social cohesion? And to what extent can such an institution (which itself is needing to be salvaged from the forces of degeneration); to what extent can it engage in any reasonable measure of effective communication for security and sustainable development?
Religious organizations too and their leaders have not been spared this onslaught of decay and triumph of mediocrity in our society, as successive political actors have often sought to manipulate the religious sentiments of the people for their partisan designs. Some religious leaders have now and again been recruited by unscrupulous politicians to promote their nefarious agendas, sometimes even using the pulpit to disseminate sectional, partisan, parochial and divisive messages, and thereby heating up the polity, and worsening the already dangerous security situation.
Instead of using their platforms for critical, constructive and objective analysis of societal issues and strategic communication engagement between the people and their leaders, a number of religious leaders have sometimes allowed their institutions to be reduced to platforms that simply project the positions of the government of the day – positions that have sometimes been found not to be on the side of the common good of the people.
Rather than insist on our sacred mandate as custodians of lasting values and purveyors of truth, many of us religious leaders have often vacillated and equivocated, when now and again the hard, direct, uncomfortable truth needed to be told to power. True, when in the last few decades, traditional and religious leaders started to dance to the tune of whoever was in power at any particular time, Nigeria as a nation truly began to lose its soul.
Rising to the Challenge of Communication for Justice, Good Governance and Peace
Under our present circumstances, what can traditional institutions and religious organisations do to foster strategic communication in governance for security and sustainable development? The challenge is for those of us who are leaders in these institutions to get back to the drawing board and rediscover our identity and mission in society as custodians of lasting values (including governance values), purveyors of inviolable truth, defenders of the common good and promoters of justice and fairness. Religious leaders (in particular) have a transcendental reference point. This means that we have a divine mandate that should never be compromised or undermined if we are to be true to our calling. In a country like Nigeria that is today in dire need of moral leadership, we religious leaders must find our proper place as truth bearers, as prophets and as sentries, and work hard to earn credibility and trust in the eyes of the generality of the people.
We must constantly assert our independence and neutrality in partisan political matters and insist on our sacred mandate to defend the common good of all, to function as the voice of the voiceless, to speak truth to power, and to advocate for justice, equity and fairness, even when now and again such advocacy will rattle the people in power or make them uncomfortable. We religious leaders must see it as part of our duty to interrogate the persistence of feudalist orientations in our democratic governance.
As teachers of good conduct and chastisers of those who oppress and exploit the people of God, we must be constantly addressing the staggering degree of corruption that thrives not only in the conduct of governance at all levels but also in the leadership recruitment processes themselves. Yes, we religious leaders must clean up our acts, take our rightful place, and address courageously the crisis of legitimacy, the trust deficit and the widespread alienation and disengagement of the population that presently bedevil our political system.
Rev. Fr. Ehusani, executive director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation delivered this presentation (titled: Strategic Communication In Governance, Security And Sustainable Development: The Role Of Traditional And Religious Institutions) at the Crisis Management Seminar of the National Institute for Security Studies Abuja on October 18, 2021.