Thanks, Buhari, But…


Hometruth By Adeola Akinremi, Email:

The phrase “it will not happen again” ended the global conversation that started here last week.

President Muhammadu Buhari used the phrase in his apology to Nigerians. What he said to President Barack Obama in New York, this week, nobody knows.

The plagiarism of President Barack Obama’s 2008 victory speech by Buhari to launch “change begins with me,” a new national orientation campaign, triggered the conversation. It was first reported on this page.

The New York Times, Reuters, Associated Press, NBC News, New York Post, The Guardian (UK), Yahoo News, and a host of others led the pack of international news organisations that fed on the column.

As always, The Punch sustained the conversation at the national level along with other dailies.

But it was Premium Times that first took the words from my column to make a big headline out of it. We all asked for one thing: accountability.

Really, when the world took words from my column last week, I expected the debate that came out of it.

Naturally, you will expect me to follow the conversation. I did.

From those who warned me to be cautious to those who applauded the work as courage in Journalism, the man who won my heart is President Muhammadu Buhari.

Just before midday last Friday, Buhari has had a good time attending to his guests and planning schedules.

But the mood in Aso Rock changed with my work reaching more hands and homes. It finally got to the man in the story himself. He was no longer at ease.

And in a few hours, Buhari, a man who doesn’t like to have shadows admitted he used words in his speech that was lifted from Obama’s.

His confession changed the headlines. He was no longer accused of plagiarism the morning after; he was presented in the news stories as remorseful and regretful of his action.

“There was a mistake by an overzealous worker and we regret that this has happened. Already, a deputy director in the Presidency has accepted responsibility for the insertion of the contentious paragraph.

“This serious oversight will be investigated thoroughly and appropriate sanction meted. The Presidency wishes to state in the clearest possible terms that it regrets this unfortunate incident and will ensure that this does not happen again,” the president’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said in a statement.

When the president said it will not happen again, the conversation changed.

It changed from blame to accountability. That was the line of the statement. It shows a true leader with a sense of accountability. It shows the president’s support for accountability rather than blame.

Now, many hypocrites who want the president to fail will not point out his error as they go around with the sycophancy of “I am with Buhari,” I am Buharideen”, “I am a Buharist,” and all other names they have now coined for themselves.

They surely remind me of President Goodluck Jonathan years. They called “breath of fresh air” at every criticism, until fresh air began to stink, so much that the odour defied deodorant effect.

These people didn’t see anything wrong in Jonathan’s judgment. How can a man be infallible, when he’s not an angel? Even angels fall.

That army of sycophants has regrouped behind Buhari. They are found everywhere from north to south.

In Buhari’s case, the change choir is singing you’re worthy, worthy, with no tolerance for criticism. It is a recipe for failure.

Going back to what happened in the plagiarism case. There are few important lessons.

Among several people who got back to me following the ripple effect of the column were those I will group as “Buhari’s Army”. Just like David’s Army in the Bible, this group wants to fight for Buhari. They sent warning and threats. They just don’t want to hear anything negative about Sai Baba.

The other set of Nigerians who got back to me I will like to group as “Nigerian Army.” They believe in Buhari’s presidency, but they are honest supporters. “We must have some standards in this country. Nothing excuses tardiness. It is unacceptable in any part of the civilised world. If we want anyone to respect us, we must first of all, respect ourselves. It is beyond an argument about substance rather than form, it is about putting an end to culture of anything goes…,” someone wrote.

For PMB, history is on a roll. What he does with his tenure and how he handles criticism will be for the book. Right now Nigeria is in a pickle. In a few days we’re expected to celebrate 56th independence anniversary, but Nigerians are not in the mood. Doubts and anger have overshadowed hope.

This is the lesson: PR campaign like “change begins with me”, will be a “bad market” in a moment of anger with depressing statistics. It is like selling cocaine before a police officer, nobody wants to buy it. To push the sale, more crime has to be committed. You have to employ trick. It is the reason Obama’s speech was plagiarised.

Taken together, it is now crystal clear that the drumbeat for “change begins with me” campaign has stopped.

There’s need to change the campaign itself and also find the right timing for its launch.

And for what I know, speechwriting is a professional job. It is not for Tom, Dick and Harry.

Is the man behind the speech a professional speechwriter? If no, President Buhari needs to make necessary change. If yes, an international embarrassment like this one shouldn’t happen anymore.

Buhari can choose to ignore this and move on since the scandal about plagiarism is already dying out but the aphorism that a stitch in time saves nine is as valid in this case.

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