The Nigerian Presidency was on Thursday put under a fire-fighting mode to once again issue a statement to clarify yet another unsavoury, never-should-have-been-made comment by President Muhammadu Buhari about a section of Nigerians in faraway London.
Buhari, who since his assumption of office in 2015 has been known on several occasions to run Nigeria and Nigerians down before the international community while claiming to be wooing investors, was once again caught in the act of making what many have tagged “unguarded utterance”.
Last Wednesday at the Commonwealth Business Forum in London, Buhari said Nigerian youths were ill-educated, lazy, and just want to sit and do nothing but look for freebies, relying on the notion that Nigeria is an oil-rich nation. The topic of discussion was “Making Business Easier Between Commonwealth Countries”.
“We have a very young population; our population is estimated conservatively to be 180 million. More than 60 percent 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,” Buhari had said.
For a president who once admitted that Nigeria has an image problem abroad and claimed “we are on our way to salvage that”, many Nigerians say such an utterance coming from Buhari was most unfortunate.
Just last July, Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), an umbrella body of over 17 million Nigerians resident abroad, lamented that the image of Nigeria as a corrupt country was affecting their investments and image abroad.
“We can’t paint white black just for some people to be happy. Is there corruption in Nigeria? Absolutely. One leader once said that we have corruption in Nigeria but Nigeria is not corruption and you cannot say that every Nigerian or Nigeria as a nation is corrupt,” Kenneth Gbandi, continental chairman, NIDO Europe, said at a press conference in Abuja as part of the activities marking the 2017 NIDO week.
But this reality seems to elude Buhari each time he has to make a statement about Nigeria/Nigerians abroad as he often ends up worsening the country’s battered image that he ought to be working hard to redeem.
BDSUNDAY recalls that barely four months after he was sworn in as president, Buhari muddied the image of ministers in Nigeria when he called them “noisemakers just like politicians”.
“The ministers are there, I think, to make a lot of noise … But the work is being done by the technocrats. They are there; they have to provide the continuity, dig into the records and then guide us, [those of us] who are just coming in,” Buhari told French television station, France 24, on September 16, 2015 to justify his non-appointment of ministers.
“So, I think this question of ministers is political. People from different constituencies want to see their people directly in government, and see what they can get out of it,” he said.
Also, in a wide-ranging interview with the Telegraph during a three-day trip to London in February 2016, where he was among world leaders attending the international conference on the Syrian crisis and the war on terror, Buhari said Nigerians’ reputation for criminality had made it hard for them to be “accepted” abroad.
“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,” he told the Telegraph in response to a question as to whether Nigerians were justified to seek asylum due to Boko Haram activities.
“I don’t think Nigerians have anybody to blame. They can remain at home, where their services are required to rebuild the country,” he said.
On May 11, 2016, Buhari admitted to Sky News’ Diplomatic Editor Dominic Waghorn in London that Nigeria was “fantastically corrupt”, thereby corroborating the then British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron had, in a conversation with Queen Elizabeth II ahead of the anti-corruption summit in London, said, “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.”
Shortly after delivering his keynote address at the summit in London tagged “Tackling corruption together: A conference for civil society, business and government leaders”, Buhari was making his way out of the venue alongside some dignitaries when Waghorn accosted him with a number of questions. When asked, “Is Nigeria fantastically corrupt?”, Buhari had said, “Yes”.
He had also said he would not like an apology from Cameron and that he was not embarrassed by what the Prime Minister said.
On August 12, 2016, Buhari told officials of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the then UN Under-Secretary-General Babatunde Osotimehin who visited him in Abuja that Nigeria was broke and going through hard financial times due to falling oil prices.
He was earlier quoted to have made a similar remark at a press conference after the Third India-Africa Summit (IAFS-III), which took place in New Delhi October 26-30, 2015. This was at a time and in a forum where the president claimed he was wooing foreign investors to come invest in Nigeria.
Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, had on May 19, 2016, in an attempt to justify the decision of the Federal Government to increase the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) from N86 to N145 per litre, told journalists in Abuja that the country was broke.
“The current problem is not really about subsidy removal. It is about (the fact) that Nigeria is broke, pure and simple!” Mohammed said, justifying why Nigerians had to pay higher for fuel.
In an effort to defend the recent gaffe, which is still generating angry reactions among Nigerian youths, Femi Adesina, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, said Buhari, as father of the nation, could never pass a vote of no confidence on all youths.
“Typical of their stock in trade, manipulators and twisters of statements of Mr President, who lie in wait to make mischief, interpreted the comment to mean that President Buhari had taken all Nigerian youths to the cleaners.
“But elementary English recognizes a wide gulf between ‘a lot of” and the word ‘all’. How can ‘a lot of them’ suddenly transmogrify to mean ‘all of them’? Mischievous and unconscionable!” Adesina said in the statement.
He added that Buhari had always applauded and celebrated Nigerian youths who excel in different areas of endeavour – sports, academia, and so on – and 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”.
Many citizens, however, say the only way to stop Buhari from committing these gaffes, and so make the job easier for Adesina and co, is to never let him speak in public without having a written script before him.