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When it’s not presidential faux pas


Muhammadu Buhari

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari again the other day courted some controversy, when he noted that, “others who feel they have another country may choose to go. We will stay here and salvage it together.”

This seemingly innocuous statement resulted in some sensational headlines such as: This statement resulted in some sensational headlines such as: ‘‘Those who feel they have another country free to go – Buhari;” “Others who feel they have another country may choose to go – Buhari;” “Those Who Feel They Have Another Country May Choose To Go …”; “Buhari: Those who feel they have another country may choose to go …”; “Buhari: You may choose to leave Nigeria if you have another country …”; and “Nigeria: Others Who Feel They Have Another Country May Choose to …”. However, the flip of the statement, in which he said that himself and others who did not have another country, would rather stay back and salvage it together, did not make its way into the story. There is a sense in which we can note that the President is always credited with this kind of faux pax, which can be easily deconstructed in the media.

Not too long ago, the same President Buhari made a statement, which not a few actually termed insensitive and unpresidential. According to media reports in April this year during the Commonwealth Business Forum in London, while describing Nigerian youths, the Nigerian leader said that “more than 60% 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.” This was reported in the media to mean that he described Nigerian youths as ‘lazy’; and that it was derogatory to the country’s young people.

The above statement, though well intentioned in the view of the President but to some Nigerians, particularly the youth, it was embarrassing, awkward, upsetting and offensive! The President was widely criticised for using an international forum to berate his country’s glimmer of hope – the youth as lazy, irresponsible and visionless. Most of the angry critics specifically noted that their leader was not concerned about the country’s embarrassing army of unemployed youth could migrate legally or illegally, because they are hungry for jobs, which are not available in Nigeria.

Specifically, the president’s reconstructed view sparked social media outrage as it was claimed touched on the sensibilities of many Nigerians. As such, President Buhari was fiercely criticised, with many saying that he failed to convey the reality of Nigerian youth’s ingenuity and exploits; and not empathic about the plight of those who embark on ‘suicide mission’ under the guise of migration because ‘things’ are not right in the country! They argue that, not many Nigerians would just decide to leave the country, but for the hostile environment.

This troublesome contextual reporting is unfortunate because the president’s statement ordinarily denotes encouraging Nigerians that there are opportunities for youths to work and earn a living in Nigeria, than waiting for ‘freebies’; and that citizens should remain faithful and loyal to the country in all their dealings, because we have no other country, but Nigeria.

Essentially, Nigeria’s leader is said to be saying that there is work to be done to rebuild the country and Nigerians will get much more; so, let us stay here and salvage it together instead of embarking on ‘suicide mission’ through Libya and the Mediterranean sea to chase utopia.

Hence, it is important that the excerpts of the President’s cringy statements should be interpreted in context, instead of running negative commentary just on the connotative meaning. So, Nigerians should not dwell on the words and expression; but his spirit and sustain our love for our country.

While we appreciate the frustration of the president in the face of this contextual reporting, we would like to note that he should be temperate and noble in his choice of words and expressions because words not well chosen can be twisted by even citizen journalists who now rule our world so remarkably.

In the same vein, the president’s reputation managers should be resourceful enough in their strategic planning schemes of work before the president’s outing. The president’s men should learn, unlearn and relearn some art of presidential communication – to avoid regular embarrassing statements. As a leader, the president should speak and not talk. And when he speaks, he should choose words that can minister grace to the people he leads. He should also be unequivocal in his choice of words and expressions. The words leaders use, carry enormous powers: they can build and they can ruin.

Finally, a more strategic approach to reducing the fierce criticism of the president’s words and expressions is good governance. Therefore, the leader of Africa’s most populous black nation on earth should not speak equivocally and flippantly.

So, on the whole, Nigeria’s president should intensify efforts on the provision of decent healthcare, quality and affordable education and critical infrastructure. He should also not discount the importance of creating an enabling environment, which will give the people opportunity of employing themselves and earning a decent living. These are necessary for every patriotic Nigerian to remain focused on how to fix Nigeria and make it a better country, instead of dissipating energy on what the president said or meant to say.

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Muhammadu Buhari‎
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