President Muhammadu Buhari should apologise for his insult of Nigerian youths at the Commonwealth Business Forum in the UK last Wednesday.
This is now even more important following the “clarification” offered by his spokesman, Femi Adesina.
If he does not, and his All Progressives Congress does not denounce the statement, the youth should unite and vote against all APC candidates next year.
Mr. Buhari had said: 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.”
Mr. Adesina made an effort to explain the scandalous comment, and then he went on the offensive:
“There is no way President Buhari, father of the Nigerian nation in every sense of the word, who equally has biological children of his own in the youths age bracket, pass (sic) a vote of no confidence on all youths,” Mr. Adesina declared. “It can only exist in the imagination of those who play what the President has described as “irresponsible politics” with everything…
“It is futile for mischief makers to lie in wait, and take a minor part of the words of the President, and turn it into negative commentary, peradventure they could diminish the profile of the President…”
While Mr. Buhari did not attack every youth, his statement was insulting of all Nigerians, partly because he had never broached the sentiment before a Nigerian audience.
To begin with, no Nigerian thinks he was being fair, as the statistic upon which he made the claim is questionable.
By his own account, Nigeria’s population is at least 180m, of which 60 per cent is under 30 years of age. Sixty per cent of 180 is 108, meaning that he was speaking about 108 million people. Somebody seems to be saying that if you dismiss “a lot” out of 108m, you are not insulting many.
The question, is: what part of 180m young Nigerians is statistically significant enough for the leader of Nigeria to insult abroad but not at home? Eighty per cent? Sixty?
Keep in mind that 50 per cent of that 108 would be 54m. Could 54m have been what drove Mr. Buhari to make his strange pronouncement abroad?
Or perhaps, going by Mr. Adesina’s advocacy, his principal was only focusing on a “much smaller number,” such as five or 10 per cent?
Still, those would be 4.5 or nine million people. The point is that there isn’t, and cannot be, a number that justifies Buhari’s statement.
That is particularly because the assertion is false. It is the product not of research or policy, but of fuzzy thinking and inadequate public-speaking skills.
Sure, some Nigerian youths are uneducated and lazy. That is the nature of society. But mostly, they are denied. Denied opportunity. Denied places and prospects, and sometimes hope.
And they often just…reduced. Reduced to menial jobs. Street trading. Thuggery. Begging. Crime. Reduced to fighting to get out. To Libya, Italy, anywhere but here.
And those responsible for the denying and the reducing are underachieving and duplicitous politicians and governments whose tenures are spent making empty speeches and covering malfeasance.
Abroad, Nigerian youths are often in the news for impressive achievements, but at home, privileged Nigerians think only their children deserve opportunity.
Example one of three: President Buhari’s own son, Yusuf, who is presumably neither uneducated nor lazy. Yusuf reportedly graduated from university in the United Kingdom two years ago: a privilege “a lot” of Nigeria’s youth are too uneducated or lazy to enjoy.
Last December, Yusuf fell off an expensive motorbike in Abuja as he competed in illegal speed-racing. There was a long line of Nigeria’s mighty and powerful visiting him in an Abuja hospital, before he was taken to Europe for further treatment.
Now, if some people are not more important than right or wrong and justice, why has the presidency not explained how a new graduate without a job paid for two BMW motorbikes reportedly costing $314,000, or why, having broken the law, Yusuf is not facing trial in an Abuja court?
Example 2: In 2016, the Central Bank of Nigeria was exposed for having secretly employed dozens of family members of top government officials, without advertising the positions as demanded by law.
The privileged employees, in a nation suffering from massive unemployment, included a nephew of President Buhari. It is not on record that President Buhari, demonstrating integrity, voided those employments, or fired those responsible for the scandal or ordered a transparent new recruitment.
And yet, among those the same president was insulting last week are millions who were not given a chance by the CBN. Keep in mind that the CBN scandal just happened to have leaked.
Example 3: The 2014 Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) tragedy in which 16 job-seekers died in a stampede as they chased 4000 advertised vacancies. In that instance, over 6.5 million people nationwide had arrived at poorly-organised recruitment centres. The NIS had also illegally collected over N520m from the job-hunters.
Of this sad milieu, Mr. Adesina said last week his principal “has always applauded and celebrated Nigerian youths who excel,” and will continue to do so.
On the contrary, whatever impressions he has conveyed in the past were contradicted by his comments in the UK where his heart escaped through his mouth in an unguarded moment. If that is wrong, Buhari must explain—by himself—and apologise.
Unless that happens, what Buhari revealed about himself is tragic. But it is a political prejudice that has persisted in Nigeria for many years. It is at the heart of the Nigerian political conundrum where a leader finding himself unable to cope with the burden of governance, retreats behind layers of sycophants.
They listen only to that inner circle. They take care of their own while looking down on the people, pathetic creatures preventing royalty from enjoying power and privilege. Thus is nurtured the most fundamental and dangerous form of corruption.
But the reality is worse, for Buhari was last week not speaking only of Nigeria’s youths, but of the Nigerian people.
This is partly the explanation for why key members of the Buhari government take delight in self-worship and underachievement. They have mistaken the golden opportunity given them three years ago for a licence to engage in a game of bombast and blame.
The irony is that Buhari is a hero in his own eyes, not in the eyes of the people, who can see beyond his words but not at any real achievements.
And the youths are the ones that Bill Gates, just weeks ago, begged Buhari to invest in. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg visited them to demonstrate appreciation of their talent. Outside his family, whom has Buhari acknowledged? No executive positions in his government are held by anyone younger than 30.
Buhari must apologise for this disgrace of his own. And show true remorse by appointing the young to strengthen his weak cabinet.
Otherwise, there is really nothing wrong with talking about laziness. But first, one must stand in front of a mirror. And point into it.