At a business forum during the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, President Muhammadu Buhari was asked: “President Buhari, there is great interest in your thoughts on many issues, on investments in the North East, on the continental free trade agreement … em, feel free to take your pick, but would you like to take the microphone and leave us with the final thought from you?”
That was a simple, straightforward question, you would think.
In the course of answering the question, Buhari uttered words that shamed Nigeria in the international arena. He launched into an extraordinary and unwarranted attack on his country’s youth. Buhari said in part: “And then the economy, we have a very young population; our population is estimated conservatively to be 180 million. This is a conservative one. More than 60 per cent of the population is below the age of 30. A lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming, you know, that Nigeria has been an oil-producing country, therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free.”
Ever since Buhari expressed those vexatious words that have been described as an ill-informed, inappropriate, and contextually improper critique of the Nigerian youth, the public has been debating the semantics of what Buhari meant when he used the term “a lot” of Nigerian youth. Does the term “a lot” imply many or a majority or a significant number or a large number? What exactly did Buhari mean?
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, a man who never wants to see his boss mocked in the public domain because of his frequent gaffes, jumped into the fray to try to clarify what Buhari meant. In doing that, in trying to beam light where there was darkness, Adesina added smoke to an already foggy environment.
In defending Buhari, Adesina exposed his own character flaws. He said: “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 recognises 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!”
This is an astonishing explanation. The debate was never about the difference between “a lot of” and “all.” Everyone with elementary knowledge of English language understands that the words “a lot of” connote or imply “many.” No one said Buhari’s use of the words “a lot of” Nigerian youth implied “all” Nigerian youth. That is not correct and that is not what Buhari conveyed.
Adesina’s attempt to twist Buhari’s words was offensive, appalling, patronising, and unnecessary. He should not have taken the argument from the platform of informed debate into the podium of misleading commentary. By admitting that “a lot of” does not imply “all,” Adesina seems to be justifying Buhari’s censure of many Nigerian youth. The question Adesina should answer is: Was Buhari right and justified in tarnishing the character of “many” Nigerian youth who did not deserve to be portrayed in that manner? We are not illiterates, you know.
Buhari was asked about free trade. He chose to go into an unrelated direction that gave him the opportunity to demonise his country’s youth. His response to the question shocked the nation. Buhari said Nigerian youth were lousy because they were driven by one consuming passion for free government services such as free education, free jobs, free food, free housing, free transportation, free loans, and so on.
What Buhari cleverly avoided was the government’s failure to meet its obligation to provide for the welfare, wellbeing, security, and safety of citizens. In every society, governments are obligated to provide for the welfare of citizens. Buhari’s government feels that providing for the wellbeing of citizens is an unnecessary burden. Government officials feel increasingly irritated when citizens demand for jobs. The government believes everyone must take care of their own problems. In our society, the idea that the state must demonstrate a duty of care for citizens remains a fantasy.
Buhari’s unfortunate remark about the attributes of Nigerian youth signposts the extent to which political leaders hold the youth in contempt. There is something inherently weird in the way political leaders reason in our country, in the way government officials look down at citizens, and in the way state officials misunderstand their responsibility to the people. Buhari probably did not understand that, as President, he is duty-bound to cater for the needs of citizens.
The youth are intensely aware of the extent to which Buhari’s government has achieved or failed to accomplish all the things it said it would do within the first year of taking over power. The youth know who is telling the truth. The youth know the political party that has scammed and continues to con the citizens. The youth know politicians who make grandiose promises during election campaigns but abandon those pledges as soon as they are elected. The youth know Buhari has abdicated his responsibility to citizens. The day of reckoning will come in 2019.
In 2015, the youth showed goodwill to Buhari and voted for him and his party. Three years on, Buhari has belittled the youth. He perceives Nigerian youth as good-for-nothing, lousy, idle, irresponsible, indolent, time-wasters, and decadent. What a pity!!!
It is time everyone reflected critically on the disaster that has befallen Nigeria with regard to the quality of political leaders we elected three years ago. How can a nation of highly-educated citizens, men and women of high character, active student and union leaders, be so tied to the same class of depraved leaders who contributed immensely to the underdevelopment of the country through sustained political chicanery, greed, and corruption?
Are we so thoughtless that we cannot see through the empty promises, the treachery, and the duplicity of ageing leaders? Buhari’s government has served for more than three years. Not many people can say their standard of living is better today than it was five years ago or so. Buhari and the APC have taken the nation to the level where everyone is exhausted, shattered, and hopeless. Why do we always elect into positions of leadership and responsibility old, devious, and clueless politicians who have nothing to contribute to the nation’s development?
Before now, Nigerian youth invested high hopes and unprecedented support in Buhari because they assumed the man represented a symbol of positive change, good government, and efficient economic management. They were wrong. After three years of lack of economic progress and clear political direction, after three years during which the government showed unwillingness to deal with cases of corruption among senior officials, many people are now rethinking their choice candidates for the 2019 presidential election.
Nigeria is an unlucky country and has always been.