President Buhari’s broadcast to Nigerians in Hausa is ill-advised

To put it mildly, it is baffling that President Muhammadu Buhari should choose to address Nigerians in Hausa, rather than the medium of the English language, on the occasion of the Eid-el-fitr (end of Ramadan fasting). It showed poor judgment, insensitivity to the divisive forces plaguing the nation and a poverty of leadership that beggar belief. The president’s action also reinforced the perception that the federal government, especially the executive arm, is largely responsible for the excesses of various counter nationalist forces that have in recent weeks threatened the peace and stability of the country.

For the record, we are mindful of certain unclear circumstances concerning the recording which was released by the presidency apparently to counter some online news report that President Buhari had suffered speech impairment. Was it an interview granted the BBC Hausa Service by the president that was then transcribed and sent out as Eid-el-fitr message to Nigerians by an overzealous media aide? Or was it a deliberate recording by a president who may have unwittingly subscribed to the foreign media depiction of Nigeria as comprising “Muslim North and Christian South”?

Whatever may be the answer to those posers, the language of his communication, especially being the first time he would speak since he left Nigeria for the United Kingdom on May 7, has become the dominant issue. If the intention was to divide, the purpose has been achieved but it cannot be to the president’s long term interest. More troubling is that when a leader who was elected onto a national platform decides to play to parochial sentiments, it is usually a political rear-guard action that bodes ill for their people.

Having been out of the country on medical vacation for most part of this year, the interpretation of such a broadcast is that the president can no longer trust the pan-Nigerian electorate whose votes brought him to power. The cold calculation may then be that his political support base now resides in his native demographics and he needs to “rally the troops”, as it were, in the language he thinks most of them would understand in order to retain majoritarian power. Under our national circumstance today, it is a dangerous gambit.

It is all the more unfortunate because while the 2015 election in which Buhari defeated the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan approximated to a national mandate, he has done so much within two years to subvert that popular will. From his appointments which confirmed his public declaration that they would tilt more in favour of sections of the country where he got huge chunks of vote to his famous body language, the Buhari administration has done very little to rally all Nigerians for the peace and prosperity he promised when he was campaigning for office. By now addressing the country in his native language of Hausa, he has done enormous damage both to our country and himself at a most delicate period in our national history.

To the extent that perception is, oftentimes, as vital as reality, it was poor judgment on the part of presidential handlers not to expect a backlash from Buhari speaking to Nigerians in Hausa language. At a time the administration is increasingly being perceived by a section of the political elite as establishing a trend of institutional partiality, we wonder how his aides didn’t anticipate that there would be a negative reaction. Besides, the constitution of Nigeria is clear on the agreed national language as against regional languages. If the president therefore chose to address the nation in a language that did not communicate to all Nigerians, he is not only sending the wrong message, he is giving ammunitions to forces of division in the country.