BITs: Communicating Nation Building: Lessons From Nehemiah



Effective communication strategy is a factor for success in any entity. Throughout the book of Nehemiah, we see a clear framework for communication as evidenced by the scripture above. Nehemiah and the people of Israel appreciated the extent of the work and identified communication as a tool for collapsing barriers. They understood that a lot might go wrong due to the distance between the central governing system, the various units and the people. Hence they agreed on a communication mode.


Nigeria is a nation with a vast land mass (923, 768 kilo metres square) and a huge population (170million+).  In some states in northern Nigeria, Bauchi for instance, there can be as much as a three-hour distance by road between one local government and the other. There are well over two hundred and fifty ethnic groups and diverse languages even within these groups. Add the strong religious differences to these and you have an internationally recognised recipe for disaster.


Our history attests to the fact that many conflicts that became crises in the country were either mainly ethnically motivated or with strong ethnic underpins. The civil war of 1967-70, whose ugly head keeps trying to raise itself, almost half a century after, is one of these. To make matters worse, a reckless political elite has ensured that the people remain myopically tied to their ethnic sentiments rather than look at issues from broader perspectives.


In the Genesis 11 account of the failed first global project – the building of the tower of Babel, the people had one language and speech. Even God attested to the fact that nothing they had proposed to do would be impossible. When the Almighty decided that their vision was inimical to his purpose for creation, it took an attack on their communication framework to confuse the lot, create conflicts and force them to be scattered across the earth.

“Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.

Nehemiah 4:19-20

The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is currently failing the communication test. The government has been unable to properly carry the people along in its dealings. Major national announcements have been made from abroad or at meetings with foreign partners, making Nigerians secondary recipients of information that is their primary business. Little has been done in terms of deliberate and regular communication with the people. The government has held all of one national media chat in its seventeen months is power. Communication opportunities are being wasted.


The recent colossal goof of Mr Buhari, commenting that his wife belongs in his ‘kitchen, living room and the other room’, while standing on a platform enabled by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and a global leader, who is female, is an evidence of the failings. The government showed a poor appreciation of the fundamental global issue of gender parity and Nigeria’s interpretation of this. Also, it failed to prepare for the nuances of visiting Merkel’s Berlin in a 21st Century world eager to witness the emergence of yet another female President in Hilary Clinton of the United States of America.


The best attempts at strategic communication I have seen in Nigeria have come during campaigns for elections. A selfish political class spares no costs to ensure the people know what to do to keep them in power. The Ebola scourge episode is another moment in the country’s history where communication was quite effectively used. It is however important to underscore the fact that these two examples, as fair as they look, were seriously compromised by the absence of a national strategy for communication.


In the presence of daunting multiplicities, Nigeria requires a unifying vision and a drive enabled by strategic, functional, and well-nuanced communication framework to help it achieve its goals. The country’s diversity makes this task as urgent as it is crucial.


By Motunrayo Famuyiwa-Alaka


Note: The opinion expressed in this article is of the writer and not necessarily of the publisher.


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