By Rotimi Fasan
IT’S been one week since President Muhammadu Buhari made the statement that has got many Nigerians, most of them youths, literally asking for his head. The cry out there is for every able bodied Nigerian youth to try and walk their talk by getting their PVC and for once give the lie to Buhari by voting him and his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, out of power.
The heat generated by the president’s words is not letting up one week on. The fire fighters at the presidency have been at their wit’s end putting the right type of spin on what is fast turning the youths of this country into an anti-Buhari coalition, the first of its kind against an incumbent leader. Try as they might the spin masters have not been successful in their attempts to explain away the PR disaster that was the president’s unguarded remarks.
One can’t remember any other issue getting Nigerians this much exercised in recent times. Not since the issue of the president’s health about which the president and his minders have to this day been as tight lipped as they could possibly be.
That Nigerians could be this galvanized over a matter as apparently unremarkable as a statement made in a moment of fuzzy thinking must be surprising to Buhari, a man not famed for any deep understanding of the complexity of Nigerian politics. If anyone could get a glimpse into Aso Villa’s apprehension of the hullabaloo surrounding the president’s remark they might be shocked to hear that the president couldn’t make sense of the whole ‘noise’ being generated.
His minders would have indulgently explained to him how uncomprehending Nigerians could be. How much Nigerians lack any understanding of what the minders would say is the president’s wise diagnosis of the Nigerian problem not to mention the utter frankness with which he expressed himself on the matter.
What then did Buhari say to get people coming after him in this manner? It all goes back to his recent visit to the United Kingdom. Isn’t it remarkable that the president always seems to have a way of saying all the wrong things abroad, reserving them for when he is out of this country? The answer may well be in the fact that when he is abroad he does not enjoy the luxury of being shielded from the press as he is when at home where he could choose to ignore any comment, good or bad, that he does not wish to respond to.
A president that could choose not to attend a presidential debate is not one that would entertain questions from reporters. All of this has apparently left Buhari without much communication skills including the ability to pass across his ideas without making unforced errors. Otherwise, Buhari would have been guilty of making same unguarded remarks even here in Nigeria had the Nigerian press been given regular access to him. He covers for his lack of conversational/communication skills, it would seem, by being as taciturn as possible.
But to return to those words that are rankling both the old and the young. The president, to paraphrase him, had during a comment at the Commonwealth Business Forum in the UK literally dismissed a wide section of Nigerian youths as populated by mostly illiterate freeloaders that look up to the government to provide for their everyday needs for no other reason than that Nigeria, in their reasoning, is an oil producing country.
His remarks would seem a direct response to Mr. Bill Gates who had recently taken the Nigerian ruling class to task for their neglect of the country’s human capital, particularly the youths, in their governing agenda. The Gates comment had in some quarters been taken as an indictment of the Buhari administration. Perhaps it was in a bid to give a backhanded response even if indirectly to Mr. Gates that Buhari decided to launch an unprovoked attack against the youths by calling them indolent.
While Nigerians have generally taken these remarks as directed at the youths of this country in general, presidential spokespersons including stalwarts of the APC have tried to mitigate the effect of the offensive comment by splitting hair about who actually the comments attack. For them the president is critical of only a section of the large population of Nigerian youths rather than the generalised condemnation it has been taken to be.
Indeed I agree with supporters of the president that his comments is directed at only a section of Nigerian youths but I do so for a different reason that may not be to the credit of the president. It appears to me that the president’s comment is aimed at youths from a section of this country, namely, the Niger-delta and perhaps, anti-Buhari youths from the South-east who sometimes pretend that the South-east is part of the Niger-delta. But the presidency will not admit to that or explain things to that level for fear, I presume, of reinforcing the charge of parochialism against the president and his government. They could be accused of anti-Niger Delta or anti-Igbo sentiment. Thus Buhari’s Commonwealth Business Forum remarks are a product of the same mind that distinguished between the 97% that voted for the president and the 5% that did not vote for him.
The president’s words: more than 60% of Nigeria’s estimated population of 180 million is according to him made up of loafing youths who freeload on the government claiming Nigeria is an oil producing nation. Come to think of it, which section of the Nigerian population (certainly far less than Buhari’s estimated 60%) boldly lays claim to or asserts its right to the wealth of this country, a product mainly of crude oil, as a matter of right, of being an oil-producing region? From what parts of the country have the youths waged a war of attrition against the government in their justified quest for a share of the country’s oil wealth? Their methodology may be questionable but not their demand.
Which section of the Nigerian youth population was given amnesty and receives monthly stipends not necessarily for undertaking particular tasks? An answer to these questions should tell you exactly who Buhari’s remarks were aimed at. Nigerians from other parts may demand their share of the national cake but would not openly say they are doing so because the country is oil-producing.
That only happens during fuel scarcity not as a matter of everyday provisioning. Only youths from the Niger-delta hinge their demand for equity on claims of the country being oil-producing. Not Boko-Haram, not Yoruba youths by whatever name and until the emergence of IPOB Igbo youths would not make such a claim. But even at that Buhari was totally wrong making such statement about Nigerians to foreigners.