In less than one year in office, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has racked up far more communication gaffes than any other president in the nation’s history. Walk with me as I highlight eight of them:
1. Dasuki cannot be allowed to go abroad to see his doctor while there are over two million people displaced [during ‘Presidential Media Chat’, Dec. 30, 2015]
This may sound pleasant to the ears of the average Nigerian and even draw a few tears from the eyes of some, but it shows Buhari openly flaunting his disregard for the law. Dasuki would not be released despite being granted bail by the courts. Buhari thus lost every moral right to brag about respect for the rule of law.
- Let the Christians go and fight the terrorists or the militants in the south [interview with Martine Dennis on Al Jazeera]This was the president’s controversial response to a question on concerns in some quarters that he was trying to Islamize Nigeria by joining forces with the Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Islamic states to combat terrorism. PMB obviously allowed his anger to get the better of him. While his intentions are good as the nation stands to gain a lot from joining the group, his remarks are capable of starting another war for him. The perfect response would have been to allay fears, highlight the benefits of a more secure Nigeria and just how much we stand to gain from the coalition. But President Buhari had to tell “those Christians” to go and fight the war. And, come to think of it, the concerns aren’t entirely baseless: the Igbo are yet to get an appointment in Buhari’s government, apart from the ones made mandatory by the constitution; the president’s northern brothers swell the non-ministerial appointment list.
3. You know more about our budget than I do. [interview with Martine Dennis on Al Jazeera]
The president first made this remark in a reply to a question on the huge funds allocated to the state clinic in the villa. And that was just after he had said he had to study the ‘budget’ before he could comment on the outrageous $25,000 allocation to the vice-president’s office for books in an earlier question. He obviously didn’t think it was wrong to pay Martine such a compliment after he told her, for a second time, that she knew more about our budget than he did. The lady didn’t probe him on the impropriety of a president knowing so little about his budget and instead settled for a huge score with her employers who would be so proud of her work: A sitting president once admitted she knew more about his country’s budget than he did! As a Nigerian, it was disgusting to watch my president tell a foreign journalist that.
4. Is the minister of state for petroleum not Igbo? [Presidential Media Chat]
When asked why he hadn’t been appointing Igbo people to positions, in compliance with the Federal Character Principle, he tried to dodge the question. He said there were restrictions placed by the constitution, in an apparent bid to feign ignorance of the fact that the interviewer meant non-ministerial appointments. As fate would have it, Buhari ran into a hold-up on his detour and asked if the minister of state for petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, wasn’t Igbo. Kachikwu is from Delta State
in the south-south region of Nigeria, just like Central Bank governor Godwin Emefiele (another “Igbo”).
5. I am pleased that Nigerians wherever they are, whether South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Europe or Alaska for that matter, you will make impact, both positive and negative [while addressing members of the Nigerian community in South Africa]
Yes, PMB said he was pleased with even those making negative impact in foreign countries! The apostle of anti-corruption and “death to all drug peddlers” did say that to Nigerians living in South Africa. I wonder how our “exports” like fraudsters, drug traffickers and prostitutes felt after Buhari turned round to
blame the criminal antecedents of Nigerians living abroad as the reason foreign countries are wary of us.
6. Those who can afford it can still afford it. [interview with Martine Dennis on Al Jazeera]
On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with a president saying this, when asked if he would pull his kids from their schools abroad as a result of the high dollar-naira exchange rate. He owes no one any explanation really, but he came across as being quite insensitive. A more dignifying response would be: “If I can no longer afford it, I would have no other choice but to pull them out.” The parents who are forced to pull their kids only wanted the best for them. A more sensitive president would have even gone as far as sympathizing with them instead of a response no different from one an illiterate trader would give to show off: “I can afford it…!” Hugh? You can afford it with taxpayers’ money?
7. I have been with them throughout our trying times; what then is the reward for such dedication and suffering? [BBC Hausa interview]
This response effectively shoots down all the arguments of Buharists in defence of his lopsided appointments. It’s not a matter of competence but ethnicity then. The president admitted to rewarding loyalty ahead of even competence.
8. Constituencies that gave me 97% cannot be treated the same way on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5% [Q&A session at United States Institute of Peace]
Our leader chose the United States, of all places, to say that those who voted en masse for him would be treated better than those who didn’t. Yet he said there would be justice for all. In even the most non-legal contexts, justice connotes impartiality, equity and fairness. Every Nigerian has a right to freedom of association and it is unconstitutional to discriminate against anyone based on their political affiliations. They have equal rights with those who voted in numbers for Buhari and deserve to be treated equally. If he had kept his plans close to his chest, perhaps nobody would have suspected anything.
For the good of Nigeria and its good people, I sincerely hope I wouldn’t have to write a second part of the Buhari gaffes any time in the future.
— By UMAR SA’AD HASSAN (a lawyer based in Kano)
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