Buhari Under Fire over Comment on Nigerian Youths, Presidency Clarifies Remarks

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  •  #LazyNigerianYouths trends on social media

Omololu Ogunmade in London, Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos and Victor Ogunje in Ado-Ekiti with agency reports

President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday came under attack over his remarks on Nigerian youths, forcing his media team in the presidency into overdrive as it tried to clarify what the president meant to say.

Buhari, who is in the habit of committing cringe-worthy gaffes when he doesn’t have a written script before him, had on Wednesday in London at the Commonwealth Business Forum described Nigerian youths as ill-educated, lazy and in the habit of looking for freebies.

According to the president, Nigerian youth just want to sit and do nothing, relying on the notion that Nigeria is an oil-rich nation.

“More than 60 per cent of the population is below 30, a lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country, therefore, they should sit and do nothing and get housing, healthcare, education free,” the president had said to a room full of business and global leaders.

The president’s comment adds to an earlier one he made criticising Nigerian youths.
During a February 2016 interview with UK Telegraph, Buhari had said some Nigerians in the UK, mostly youths, were disposed to criminality and should not be granted asylum there.

He was fiercely criticised at the time for the comment, with many saying it failed to convey the reality of Nigerian youth’s exploits.
His statement on Wednesday equally elicited an outcry from youths in the country and several Nigerian leaders who blamed the president for failing to recognise the ingenuity of Nigerian youths and shirking his responsibility by providing decent healthcare, education and ensuring that jobs are created for teaming unemployed youths in the country.

Seeing the push back by the public, however, the presidency Thursday was quick to clarify that Buhari who is seeking re-election in 2019 and will need the votes of young voters, was not referring to all youths in the country and has a lot of respect for them.
Reacting to the president’s remarks, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar took to his Twitter handle to say he would never call Nigerian youths lazy, noting that they are hardworking.

“Our youths are charting new frontiers; creating a huge tech industry on their own! Their entrepreneurial spirit, work ethic, and creative abilities are things of pride and should be applauded, encouraged and nurtured.

“I will never refer to Nigeria’s youth as people who sit and do nothing. They are hardworking. I should know, I have thousands of youths working for me all over the country who have been the backbone to our success,” Atiku said.

Senator Ben Murray-Bruce (PDP, Bayelsa East), in his Twitter post, pointedly accused Buhari of being the lazy one.

“Whoever says Nigerian youths are lazy should just buy a mirror and he or she will see the real definition of laziness! I have over 1,000 Nigerian youths in my employ and not one of them is lazy,” he tweeted.

Former presidential aide, Reno Omokri, said the president was only describing himself as he sits in Aso Rock (the State House) and does nothing.

“He is describing himself. He sits and does nothing at Aso Rock. He gets free housing at the Presidential Villa. He spends 103 days in London and we pay for it! Joblessness makes him talk anyhow!” he said.

Femi Fani-Kayode, former Aviation Minister, also lambasted the president via Twitter, stating: “Two years ago in London you clapped for David Cameron when he said… the Nigerian people were ‘fantastically corrupt!’ Today in London you tell a group of foreigners that Nigerian youths are lazy illiterates who do nothing and who expect to be given everything for free.

“What type of leader takes pleasure in slandering, shaming, denigrating and humiliating his own people before the world? What type of man tells foreigners that his own children and youths are lazy and unproductive?
“You have destroyed your own people and shamed them before the world!”

Also, several youths created the hashtag #LazyNigerianYouths to project their entrepreneurial spirit and success stories to counter the president’s negative narrative.

According to them, the president was fond of casting Nigerian youths in a bad light in the eyes of the international community.

Udoka Uju, popularly known as the Lady Painter, while sharing her success story said: “I am Nigerian. I paint homes and offices for a living. @MBuhari I am not lazy, we are not lazy. #LazyNigerianYouths.”

Cordelia Okpe said: “Can our leaders show us where their children work? The ‘first children’ for instance, what work do they do? Where do they work? What have they contributed to Nigeria’s growth or death? You call other people’s children lazy? We refuse that label. #LazyNigerianYouths.”

Adaku Nonso said: “So many old men and women from the 1970s and 1960s have refused to retire in public offices and allow promotions. How many government projects have been put in place to even consider us? You employ the old and dead to public office but youths are lazy.”
@Ilynem wrote: “Buhari didn’t get an education when it was free now calling us #LazyNigerianYouths when education has become a luxury and getting a good paying job is now regarded as a miracle? Can’t believe I once campaigned this man. God forgive me.”

Prosper Otemuyiwa said: “Nigerian youths are lazy? Lol. I can tag at least 80 developers/techies that are shaking and breaking tables here and abroad without government’s help.

“Also, we still pay tax that helps you and family survive your stupendous health bills #LazyNigerianYouths.”

Oke Umurhohwo said: “I am a Nigerian youth and working very hard. I pay my bills and my taxes even when the government does little or nothing to provide basic amenities.

“There are many Nigerian youths like me and we won’t be ridiculed by a charlatan of a president. We are not #LazyNigerianYouths.”

Princess of @onenaijababe said: “I’m a teacher in three different places. I also sell cars, I don’t do anything illegal. I work round the clock. I am a Nigerian youth. I am a superwoman. I am not lazy.”

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, however, preferred to issue full-blown statements to criticise Buhari’s remarks on Nigerian youths.

Fayose, in a statement issued by his media aide, Lere Olayinka, called on youths in the country to show their strength by voting against the present government in 2019.

According to the governor, “It was painful that the president could describe youths in Nigeria that are daily struggling to make a living under a harsh economy as lazy people.

“Contrary to the morale-killing comment of the president, Nigerian youths are hardworking, intelligent and enterprising.
“Their future was mortgaged by past leaders like President Buhari, who had everything at their beck and call as youths. I imagine the youths of today having half of the opportunities available in the 50s and 60s.”

Fayose recalled that Buhari at age 19 left secondary school to join the Nigerian Army and by 21 had been commissioned a second lieutenant and appointed platoon commander of the Second Infantry Battalion in Abeokuta, present day Ogun State.

“Within his 24 years in the army, the president was governor of North Eastern State, Minister of Petroleum, Chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and head of state. Where can our youths get such opportunity today?

“Under his watch as Minister of Petroleum, N2.8 billion went missing from the accounts of the NNPC in Midlands Bank in the United Kingdom. That N2.8 billion at that time was like $2.8 billion (over N1 trillion) now and here is he insulting the youths whose existence his likes mortgaged,” he added.

The Ekiti governor advised the president to stop de-marketing Nigeria and its people in foreign lands and reminded Nigerians of Buhari’s interview with the British Telegraph newspaper in 2016.

The governor, who insisted that the negative foundation the likes of Buhari had laid for Nigeria had made life impossible for the youths, went to ask: “As military governor of the North Eastern State, what difference did President Buhari make in the lives of youths in the North?”

He described Buhari as an analogue president, adding: “There is no connection between him and the youths because I doubt if he can even use a common android phone.

“One can’t really blame the president; he does not understand what is obtainable in the country anymore. That’s the reason he was still seeing West Germany and Deutschmark in 2015.”

Urging the youths to use their votes to send Buhari out of office in 2019, Fayose said: “I did say before now that majority of the youths that voted for President Buhari in 2015 never knew who they were voting for because they had not experienced him as a military ruler.

“Most of them were those that were born in the 80s and they did not witness Buhari’s clueless and draconian government.”
Also, in a statement issued by spokesman of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, the main opposition party faulted the president’s remarks on Nigerian youths, saying by their demonstrated industry, they could not in any way be described by anybody as lazy.

The party said Nigerians found it extremely shocking that Buhari could make such a false, derogatory and unpatriotic comment against Nigerian citizens at a time the nation was looking up to him to properly present its potential to the global business community.
PDP said it was alarming that at every international event, the president has made it a favourite past time to de-market, paint and project Nigeria and her citizens in very negative light, an indication that he has stopped believing in Nigeria.

“Mr. President’s latest salvo is totally unacceptable and must be condemned by all right-thinking people to avoid further verbal assaults against our country, particularly at international fora.

“How can President Buhari describe Nigerian youths as lazy, when they have proven, without doubt, to be one of the most industrious set of individuals in the world?

“Here is a president, whose administration has in its three years of governance, contributed nothing towards providing opportunities for our youths and which has not initiated or implemented any development project or set up any industry to provide jobs for our aspiring youths.

“Here is a president under whose watch, factories and businesses have shut down resulting in over 24 million job losses and under whom no meaningful foreign direct investment has been attracted to the country.

“This is a president who daily watches Nigerian youths sweating at menial jobs under very strenuous conditions on the streets of Abuja, Jos, Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Bauchi, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Onitsha and other major cities, yet he unsympathetically described them as lazy,” the PDP said.

The party said Nigerians, when given the right opportunities in other countries, are known to have excelled in various fields of endeavour.

“Nigerians can now see that when the PDP accused President Buhari of de-marketing our nation, we were not playing politics. It is however saddening that after de-marketing his own generation, President Buhari is set to destroy the future of younger Nigerians.
“We ask, now that President Buhari has gone ahead to denigrate our youths, who form the bulk of our workforce, as lazy and lovers of freebies, how can he expect any foreign investor to bring in investment into our country?

“Most disheartening is that these are the same young persons who form the highest demography of voters that put their confidence in him in 2015. Now they are receiving the short end of the stick from the president.

“Our final take is that the APC has done enough harm to our dear nation and there are no signs that they will change their stance. Nigerians, especially the youths, must therefore spare no thought in their resolve to vote them out in 2019,” it said.

However, the presidency Thursday dismissed the perception that Buhari had mocked Nigerian youths while speaking at the Commonwealth Business Forum.

His media aide, Femi Adesina, said Buhari’s remarks had been twisted as is “typical of the stock in trade” of those he described as “manipulators and twisters of statements of Mr. President, who lie in wait to make mischief”.

According to him, such persons who have cultivated the habit of misinterpreting the president’s comments, twisted it “to mean that President Buhari had taken all Nigerian youths to the cleaners”.

According to him, elementary English recognises a wide gulf between “a lot of” and the word “all”, adding: “How can ‘a lot of them’, suddenly transmogrify to mean ‘all of them?’ Mischievous and unconscionable!”

He said it was impossible for Buhari, whom he described as the father of the Nigerian nation in every sense of the word and who has biological children that are young, pass a vote of no confidence on all youths.

“It can only exist in the imagination of those who play what the president has described as ‘irresponsible politics’ with everything.”
Adesina added: “President Buhari has always applauded and celebrated Nigerian youths who excel in different areas of endeavour, from sports, to academia, and other realms. And he will continue to do so, because he values the youths, and knows that they are the fulcrum on which the future of the country rests.

“Indeed, every country has its share of idle population, and it is the bounden duty of government at all levels, to create an enabling environment for them to actualize their potential. That is what President Buhari is committed to doing.
“The focal areas of the administration; securing the country, reviving the economy, and fighting corruption, are actually intended to give youths a future and hope.

“This much was emphasized in an April 5, 2018 comment by President Buhari, while receiving letter of credence from the head of delegation of the European Union to Nigeria, when he said: ‘Our insistence on probity is to encourage people to be accountable, and accept honesty as a lifestyle so as to secure the future of our youths.’

“The president also said more than 60 per cent of Nigerians fall into the age category of youths and deserve to inherit a stable and prosperous country that they can be proud of, adding that the government will work assiduously to prevent waste and the depletion of resources by corrupt Nigerians.

“It is futile for mischief makers to lie in wait, and take a minor part of the words of the president, and turn it into negative commentary, peradventure they could diminish the profile of the president.

“Nigerians across all walks of life know who is serving them faithfully and truly, and they will always reciprocate such fidelity as occasions demand.”