It has become something of a pastime for President Muhammad Buhari to speak of the country and her peoples in ugly light whenever he is on official assignment or pleasure outside the shores of the country. We saw the first trace of this in the early days of the life of this administration when the man, faced with the question of how he would ensure inclusive growth in Nigeria during an interactive session at the United States Institute of Peace, declared to the consternation of the civilized world, that “constituencies that gave me 97% votes cannot be treated the same way on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%”.
By this foremost statement, President Muhammadu Buhari unwittingly overruled his colorful remarks at his inaugural address to wit: I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody. The reality of that sweeping statement is today reflected in the ethnic coloration of the men and women of this government which would go down in history as one of the most skewed administration in terms of the occupiers of key governmental positions. But that is not the subject of the instant discourse.
While Nigerians contended with that unpardonable gaffe of Mr. President at the Institute of Peace, the man would go ahead to say even more unbelievable things about the country overseas, as though ‘diseased’ with a colonial complex of sorts that manifests itself in an uncanny willingness to deride one’s self and country before a western audience. In the year 2016, he told the Uk’s Daily Telegraph that Nigerians’ penchant for criminality has made them unworthy of acceptance in Europe and the United States. In his characteristic manner, the man said, “Some Nigerians claim 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”. In far away Germany, we still remember the infamous “other room” comment that betrayed the misogynistic side of the man.
One could go on and on to rehash this president’s penchant to throw Nigeria and Nigerians under the bus at any given opportunity before the western media, but suffice it to limit the scope of the extant discourse to the rave of the moment: which seems to indict a substantial amount of Nigerian youths; the most resilient group of people one can think of on the face of the modern world, the odds stacked against them notwithstanding.
Last Wednesday in far away London, at the just concluded Commonwealth Business Forum, President Muhammadu Buhari in another moment of verbal incontinence described Nigerian youths as ill-educated, lazy and in the habit of looking for freebies. According to him, Nigerian youths just want to sit and do nothing, relying on the notion that Nigeria is an oil-rich nation.
Now, since the Presidential image makers and vuvuzellas in their signature manner of being intelligent by half, have entered defence on his behalf suggesting the inference that their boss only indicted a fraction of the Nigerian Youths and not all of them, in his unrehearsed commentary to the extent of taking us through a lecture in basic English language, it is apposite to reproduce ippisima verba the president’s words to show the poverty of reason inherent in such pale defence that has in my considered opinion only made a bad situation worse. It is this:
“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 75-year old seeking re-election said in a room full of global leaders.
Now, from the warped logic of Femi Adesina and friends, they expect the audience at the forum to go into the arithmetic of finding the percentage of Nigerian youths who have been to school and are not jobless ducks sitting idly in the illusion that the Nation is blessed with the black gold. Yes, this must be the workings of the mind of Adesina and Garba Shehu when they fell over themselves in a futile attempt at the needless deconstruction of the difference between “a lot” and “all”, to drive home the point that the president only meant a fraction of Nigerian Youths and not ALL of them. Such an abstruce defense that reeks of a distinction without difference. A difference that is akin to the distinction between Lagos and Eko!
Now, assuming one is generous enough to consider this defence on its merits, one would soon discover that it does not in any way cure the gaffe inherent in that statement. “A lot of Nigerian Youths”, from basic knowledge of the rules of grammar suggests a higher percentage of the general youth demography. So in essence, President Buhari succeeded in telling that critical audience that 3 out of 5 Nigerian youths standing at random are either “lazy, haven’t gone to school and looking forward to the Nigerian crude oil” as an answer to all their problems. With all due respect to the president, this does not represent the reality on the streets of Nigeria. And assuming but without conceding that the situation is as described by the president, it is this writer’s submission that the Commonwealth Business Forum was not the right platform to have discussed same. At least not in such crude, derisive and dismissive language.
One would think that when heads of states travel outside their country to attend some global functions where they are given a chance at the dais to make case for their countries, such rare moments should be seized to market and sell the country to the international community. A marketing which should not be limited to reeling out statistics of how the government is performing at home, but most importantly of how the peoples comprised within the government are doing. But it appears this is not the case for the Daura-born septuagenarian. His, has been a cyclical assassination of the corporate image of Nigeria and her peoples at any opportune moment.
I notice that some sycophants of this government has had reason to tell us that the president’s resort to unmitigated bluntness in his international engagements is often informed by his sheer honesty and a host of other defenses that betray a poor knowledge of character-dynamics that define and set the tone for international socio-political engagement that a serious nation can profit from. Or did not Socrates in the Allegory of Metals advise that occasions present themselves when a leader must tell a ‘useful lie’ so as to promote allegiance to the state and enforce its social order? In the same connection, international politics and diplomacy cannot be without its ‘useful lies’. It is indeed a critical component of the mind-games that define the hire-wired politics of international relations.
While it cannot be contested that some Nigerian youths are jobless, and haven’t had the opportunity to afford a modest education; a situation which it must be pointed out pronto, is not directly occasioned by any fault of theirs, may we quickly inform this president that it cannot be seriously contended that Nigerian youths are lazy individuals. A proposition to the contrary informed by few cases here and there, it is submitted falls short of the minimum standard of deductive reasoning and which should be unheard of a president. It falls victim of what our own Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once referred to as the ‘danger of the single story’.
Contrary to the assertion of President Buhari, Nigerian youths are very resilient people who despite the odds stacked against them, have refused to surrender to fate but have continued to do battle with adversity in order to make ends meet─ odds which needless to say were precipitated by the leadership carelessness of Buhari and his generation of rudderless despots who appropriated the country and her resources in a never-seen-before leadership brigandage, and in the process mortgaged the future of these same youths which today he derides and make mockery of.
President Buhari no doubt misunderstands what it means to be a Nigerian youth. He obviously does not appreciate that to be a youth in Nigeria, is to be an ‘alternative foregone’, to borrow the language of the economists. He obviously does not know, and cannot understand the pains of going through university education and graduating to a life of despondence informed by a government that has slept on its role of creating job opportunities, having graduated from secondary school at 19 and joining the Army. Our military-dictator turned ‘democrat’ does not know the bitter pangs of living through a day as a Nigerian Youth. He has not visited the rising technology hub at Yaba, Lagos State to meet a band of young visionary Nigerian youths who have undertaken to use technology to better the lot of the Country and create opportunities. He has not visited Aba, in Abia State to meet a battery of young and visionary Nigerians who are revolutionizing the abandoned leather and textile industries in Nigeria by previous governments of which he was a member.
This president has not visited the average streets of Nigeria to meet with young Nigerians who are keeping on despite the indifference of a government that has relegated them to the background. Diseased of amnesia, he must have forgotten how the Wizkids of this world are revolutionizing and putting the Nigerian entertainment industry on the global map. He does not know that the top-rated Nollywood driven by Nigerian youths is a million-dollar industry exploring the unqualified talents of the young Nigerian and creating wealth and employment. In far away North eastern Nigeria, Buhari has since forgotten the resilience and bravery of a battery of youths of that region who few years ago teamed up to form a task force to contend the unending cycle of terrorism. He is oblivious of the efforts of the young Igbo youths at Onitsha Main market, Balogun market, Ariaria and so on and so forth whose business of importation of auto-mobile spare parts and all other types of products and commodities have contributed to the economy of the informal sector, boosted international trade and attracted revenue to government. The list is endless of the positive efforts of the average Nigerian youths out there that knocks the bottom off Buhari’s assertion the other day but for constraints of time and space, one may not be able to delimit them in one discourse such as this.
To be sure, if Buhari was understandably constrained to speak of the Nigerian Youth at the forum, there are a number of areas in which the Nigerian youth is affecting the landscape of the commonwealth (some of which I have identified above), which the man could have highlighted at that gathering and which this writer is confident would have caught the fancy of that important audience. And not the easy stereotypical catharsis that the president descended into.
Let it be said right away that there are some Nigerian youths who have not lived to the minimum expectation of the society, as there are bound to be deviants in any social group. But these group it is submitted are in the minority, and their indolent attitude cannot be used as a standard for measuring the character of the generality of the over 100 million Nigerian youths. It is the basic principle of logic that the part cannot be greater than the whole nor can it be used as a poster card of a population. I am a Nigerian Youth currently in my twenties and I do know so many people of my generation who have increasing faith in this country and working to make ends meet despite the barrier that Nigeria is.
I know of young graduates who have in the absence of employment have gone into the business of makeovers and cosmetology to make ends meet and have created jobs in the process; I know of those who have gone into baking and catering services and are gainfully employed at that; I know of a Youngman who graduated as a lawyer but has taken to photography and is doing pretty good at that; I know of a young Nigerian who has written a very important book on the leadership architecture of Nigeria and suggesting a way forward; I know of a graduate of mechanical engineering who have taken to local manufacturing of leather shoes and have employed few hands in his modest leather shop; I know of a colleague who graduated as a lawyer but has made foray into the entertainment industry; a mentee of mine called me the other day to intimate me of his intention to register a partnership. He and a colleague have decided to go into the business of a publishing house.
All these and many more, are inspiring stories of young Nigerians within my circle who are in their twenties and who have set for themselves a goal and are working towards it. And I believe same is the story elsewhere. What these young Nigerians need are words of encouragement; they need a pat on the shoulder; they need to be talked to about their challenges in their chosen endeavors. The least they need is to be thrown under the bus by a president who ordinarily ought to take these remarkable stories of their feats to that very important audience at the Commonwealth Forum, since it is meant to be a dialogue of nations bound by a common-history.
Few years ago, Wiki leaks went to town with the revelation of how very senior government official were falling over themselves to appease or massage the ego of western diplomats. It was a painful read at the time as it left an ugly portrait of how Nigerian government officials still battled with the overhang of colonialism. Now, it is this ugly narrative that president Buhari seems to be revising since his second coming. It took the effort of the Murtala/Obasanjo military government in the 1970s to take on the British head-on and get us some much deserved respect abroad with the famous, “Africa has come of age” declaration, but for this president, engagement with the outside world has been situated along context of a Nigeria of ‘nothingness’; a very sad leadership attribute especially for a country touted to be a regional leader.
President Muhammdu Buhari by his latest commentary has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that he is removed from the realities of the average Nigerian. If he does not appreciate the circumstances of the citizenry that constitute the largest chunk of the Nigerian demography, then it is open to conclusion that he is not at home with events at the seat of power. It is good to know therefore, that the Nigerian youth have risen up to call the president’s bluff as well as other well meaning Nigerians. 2019 would no doubt present the perfect opportunity for the Nigerian youths to show this president whether they are indeed idle and lazy, or pretty occupied trying to eke out survival out of a bad situation forced on them by successive leadership of which president Muhammadu Buhari is a member of both the new and the old Order.
The Nigerian youths are not idle and lazy. All of them may not be educated as much as Buhari’s Zarah or Yusuf, but they are ambitious; industrious; innovative and can match their peers in any part of the world. It is thanks to their patience that the engine of the nation still grinds; and a certain President Muhammadu Buhari must not take this patience for stupidity, nay indolence.