Extended Comment: Is There A Way To Defend Buhari’s Comments?

Thursday was Groundhog Day for President Buhari’s media team. It took more than half the day, when #LazyNigerianYouths had already notched up north of 50,000 tweets, for the first response to come.

They were shook!

Rather impressively, the ‘go and peep’ was assigned to Bashir Ahmad, the 27 year-old personal assistant to the president on new media. Mr Ahmad, whose appointment at 25 was widely cheered in 2015 as Buhari being for the young people, followed a wary path in choosing his words of defence, for this was definitely not a time to attack.

“PMB has always applauded and celebrated Nigerian youths who excel in different areas of endeavour, from sports, to academia, and other realms” Mr Ahmad tweeted. “And he will continue to do so, because he values the youths and knows that they are the fulcrum on which the future of the country rests”.

An official response by Mr Femi Adesina, the president’s Special Assistant on Media, followed, saying there was no way the President who is a father with biological children of his within the youth bracket will “pass a vote of no confidence on all youths”. Mr Adesina branded the interpretation of the President’s words as the typical stock in trade of manipulators and mischief makers.

So did the president pass a vote of no confidence on all youths? These were his words:

“We have a very young population; our population is estimated conservatively to be 180 million. That is a conservative one. More than 60 percent 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”.

As I have written elsewhere, the president’s drift to talking about “a lot” of 60% of Nigerians being without education and indolent did not have to happen. He was supposed to simply answer questions about Nigeria’s plans for attracting investment to the North East, as well as throw light on the country’s hand-brake approach towards signing free trade deals. That he segued to talking about youths who do not go to school and expect free education due to oil money was entirely conscious.

And, yes, it was a vote of no confidence on Nigeria’s youth as a whole.

How else do you describe a statement that “a lot” of people are sitting and doing nothing? Are the other persons not included in the “a lot” supposed to rejoice with the president for singling out “a lot” of those whom they know do not exist, seeing there is hardly any young person in this country who does not consciously try to make good value of him or herself? Some have had to go to Libya, others South Africa, than sit and do nothing, and wait for oil money.

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These deserve some accolades

Mr Bashir attempted another defence: that the President “didn’t say Nigerian youths are ‘lazy’ and he has never said so anywhere, on or off camera. If you have been to school and not sitting at home expecting freebies, the president wasn’t referring to you. You and I know the people he’s referring to”.

But who was he referring to? Because the only persons I know who sit at home expecting freebies are on a far higher economic class than I am, hence have had the freebies. Unless the president’s angst is against people in specific regions of the country where educational enrolment is low (which is largely in Northern states), there could be no justification for his outburst. Even that will count against him: how do people go to school without security? Leah Sharibu went to school and, after 60 days, is not back. Some of the Dapchi parents have sworn to not send their wards back to school. Can we discuss the quality of the schools too, where children sit on the floor or are served by teachers who cannot pass tests for Common Entrance?

In the end, it was good that the president made those remarks. Hundreds of small businesses have been given massive free visibility on twitter and a sense of purpose to hustle on re-affirmed. There are very few opportunities to hear Mr Buhari speak his mind without notes. That is when to catch him candid on matters concerning his country and countrymen. Everyone needs that knowledge come 2019.

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By Alexander O. Onukwue | Follow @inquizimedia on Facebook and Twitter

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