One Blunder Too Many

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Monday Discourse

President Muhammadu Buhari’s gaffe at the ‎Commonwealth Business Forum in London wasn’t isolated. Tobi Soniyi looks at other instances when the president failed to carefully choose his words 

It is a reality of life that nobody, no matter how smart, is too smart not to make mistakes. Afterall to err is human, to forgive is divine.
But not in Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari and his handlers have never accepted that the president sometimes makes mistakes.‎
When someone makes a mistake, and he quickly apologises for the error, he wins the respect of the people he apologised to.

Rather than for the president and his handlers to accept the fact that the president committed a blunder when he did not only lie against Nigerian youths, ‎but also insulted them before the world, they adopted their usual tactics of prevaricating.
The attempt by his handlers to rationalise and explain away the blunder does not help.

Here is the statement the president made‎ during a panel appearance with world leaders at the Commonwealth Business Forum in London: “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.”‎

Some argued that he did not use the word ‘lazy’‎ others said he did not refer to all Nigerian youths. But the sentence is so straightforward that there should be no argument as to what it means. If the youths are angry at the president because of that statement, they are right to express their anger. That statement is simply unpresidential.
Nigerian youths are very had working. They are creative and talented. They are resilient. The problem is that this government has given them fewer opportunities. Which job did the president offer them that they refused to do?
The outrage which greeted the statement is justified and understandable in the circumstance.

As expected, politicians have been trying to make political gains out of the president’s statement. The main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, described as shocking, the comment by the president, adding that his remark brought the nation low in the eyes of the international community.
“How can President Buhari describe Nigerian youths as lazy, when they have proven, without doubt, to be one of the most industrious sets of individuals across the world?
“Nigerians find it extremely shocking that President Buhari could make such a false, derogatory and unpatriotic comment against our citizens at a time the nation was looking up to him to properly present our potentials to the global business community.
“It is alarming that at every international event, the President makes it a favourite past time to de-market, paint and denigrate our dear nation and her citizens in very negative light.”
PDP blamed the Buhari administration for its failure to provide job opportunities to the teeming youths population across the country.
The party added: “Here is a President, whose administration has in its three years of governance, contributed nothing towards providing opportunities for our youths and who 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 on 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.
“These are the same set of Nigerians who, upon being afforded the right opportunities in other countries of the world, are known to have excelled in various fields of endeavour.
“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.”
Not to be left out, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar also spoke in support of the youth. He said: “I will never refer to Nigeria’s youth as people who sit and do nothing. They are hard working. I should know, I have thousands of youths working for me all over the country who have been the backbone to our success.
“I’ve always said oil is not Nigeria’s greatest asset. Our greatest asset is our youth who created Nollywood out of nothing and an entertainment industry that is second to none in Africa.
“Our youth 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.”

Suffice to point out that, this is not the first time the president would criticise Nigerian youths. In an interview with the United Kingdom Telegraph in February 2016, Buhari said some Nigerians in the UK, mostly youth, were disposed to criminality and should not be granted asylum there.
He said: “We have an image problem abroad and we are on our way to salvage that. Some Nigerians claim is that life is too difficult back home, but they have also made it difficult for Europeans and Americans to accept them because of the number of Nigerians in prisons all over the world accused of drug trafficking or human trafficking. I don’t think Nigerians have anybody to blame. They can remain at home, where their services are required to rebuild the country.”

Of Constituencies and Percentage of Votes

Those who have been monitoring the president’s speeches would have discovered that once he is not reading from a prepared text, he sometimes makes statements that tend to embarrass the nation.
Remember his famous (many think it is infamous) statement on how he would treat the people of the Niger Delta? At the beginning of his administration, the president paid an official visit to the United States and had to speak at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on July 22nd, 2015.

After the president had spoken, members of the audience were invited to ask questions in a session moderated by former Undersecretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.
Dr. Pauline Baker, the President Emeritus of The Fund for Peace, said to the president: “My question relates to another area of Nigeria that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention during this trip and that is the Niger Delta. It’s a challenge that you are going to face. I wonder if you would tell us how you intend to approach it with particular reference to the amnesty, bunkering, and inclusive development?”

Initially, President Buhari did not appear to understand the question. However, after some help from Mr. Carson. President Buhari looked at Mr. Carson and said, “inclusive?”
“Inclusive government…including women, youth” Mr. Carson responded to President Buhari. “I see,” the President said.
Finally the prescient answered thus: “I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, gave me 97% cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%.
“I think these are political reality.”
Like his comment on the youth, the president’s response to Dr Baker caused an outrage. Having been elected as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he was expected to be president of all, not only of the people who gave him 97 per cent of the votes.

My Wife Belongs to the Kitchen

Youths are not the only set of people the president has issues with. He has not spared women either. Going by the records, it is becoming a pastime for the president to commit the blunders overseas. Let us go back to Germany. After the president’s wife told the BBC that the president did not know 45 out of the 50 of the people he appointed and that she too did not know them either even though she had been married to him for 27 years, the president responded while he was on official visit to Germany.
Buhari shocked the world, when in the presence of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel said: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen, my living room and the other room.” Although, he was talking about his wife, women across the country, an indeed across the world, got the message.
The president made the statement in front of an international audience and while standing beside the world most powerful and influential woman, Angela Merrkel.

What About Fantastically Corrupt?

After admitting publicly and before the international community that Nigerians are fantastically corrupt, why is the president having difficulty accepting the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index which shows that corruption remains pervasive in Nigeria?
In 2016, during the Commonwealth anti-corruption summit in London, the then Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron crossed the diplomatic line when he referred to Nigeria as a fantastically corrupt country when having a chat with Queen Elizabeth II.
Nigerians felt scandalised and expected their leaders to protect them. Even the president’s aides spoke out against the British prime minister. Nigerians wanted an apology from Cameron.
However, when Buhari was asked if he agreed with Cameron’s comments, he shocked everyone by replying “Yes.”
Then he added, “What do I need an apology for? I need something tangible, the return of assets smuggled into Britain as safe haven.”
When the president admits that Nigerians are fantastically corrupt, he seems to be under the illusion that he is not included.
Other negligible and embarrassing but avoidable mistakes of the president include but not limited to:
In the US, while speaking with President Barrack Obama about the peaceful power transition in Nigeria, the president mistakenly referred to his party as the All Nigeria’s People’s Congress.
While reacting to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s decision to postpone the 2015 general elections, Buhari as APC presidential candidate referred to INEC as the Independent Nigerian Electoral Commission.
Also during the campaign, Buhari could not correctly recall the name of his running mate, Yemi Osibanjo. Instead, he called him “Yemi Osinbade.”
In Germany, while briefing newsmen on the outcome of the G7 meeting, President Buhari referred to Germany as “West Germany” and also referred to the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel as “President Michelle of West Germany”.

Delivering a speech on the ‘abduction of the Chibok girls’, at the National Institute of Peace, the president mistakenly said that the children had been kidnapped from “their hotels” instead of “hostels”.

We Don’t Expect our President to Be Perfect

It is worth repeating the fact that no one is perfect. Nigerians know and understand that their president is not perfect.
However, they expect the president to speak positively about the country. Will it not be correct if the president had said that ‘Nigerian youths are eager to learn and to unleash their creative energy on the world. However, we are doing our best to create an environment where every young person will be able to maximise his or her potentials.’
President Buhari has said enough negative things about the country to discourage potential investors. It is time he started emphasising the positives. It is not about lying about Nigeria, rather it is about turning our weakness as a county into strength. It is about encouraging those who are doing well. The president should tell the sworld the story of a Nigerian taxi driver who returned huge sum of money left in his cab to the owner. The president should tell positive stories about his country.
Some Nigerian graduates are riding ‘okada’ to make ends meet. Others are doing menial jobs. The president needs to encourage them and not demoralise them.
No matter how careful one is, mistakes do happen. And when they do? Apologise. The president must heed the advice of Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central.
In his reaction he said: ”The President should simply withdraw the statement on the youths and apologise; and tell them what he will do for them in addition to what he had done for them.
“The President spin doctors are trying to spray fragrances on the feces and lace the dung with olive oil, it’s absurd.The President is a human being, he can gaffe and should be forgiven and should not be sent to the political guillotine.
“As for the youths, the challenge is to pick the baton and lead and stop holding the Alsatian Dogs of the political elite.The President echoes the perception of the bourgeoisie power elites, the youths must rise against it.”
If the president refuses to acknowledge the great strides achieved by our youths, others are not so blinded. An analysis by Rice University in the U.S. revealed that Nigerian youth were the most educated of all migrants in the country. The institution credited the finding to a culture of relentless drive for education amongst Nigerians. That is something for Nigerian youths to cheer about.

The president can turn this blunder into a positive development by using the opportunity created by the controversies to reach out to the youths. Hold a youth summit. Give them opportunity to express themselves. Listen to them. And do something for them.