After a fire was put off at the National Assembly in Abuja on Wednesday morning, President Muhammadu Buhari lit a bright new one on a platform with a blue backdrop at Westminster, United Kingdom.
“We have a very young population; our population is estimated conservatively to be 180 million. That is a conservative one,” he said.
“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”.
To prove his qualms with Nigeria’s complainant-youth are justified, the president claimed he has done “quite well” in various sectors including security, economy and agriculture. No impact figures or naira-kobo details were given to the ladies and gentlemen in the audience of the Commonwealth Business Forum to buttress these achievements, just the $15 billion dollars he announced Shell (whose executives he had met earlier in the day) say they will invest in Nigeria.
Having kept watch (online) for the Senate to remain standing, it was unsurprising that this fire has absolutely enraged Nigerians who must now question the motivation behind Mr Buhari’s propensity for the boldly odd and brazenly ridiculous once he is away from the country.
The proper import of the president’s remarks about Nigerian youth sitting and doing nothing should be derived from the fact that he was giving his final thoughts of the day on the panel discussion he was on, by responding to questions on investments in the North East and Nigeria’s approach towards free trade agreements. He was to give the audience something to remember about Nigeria and Nigerians, something they will pick up on in conversation with the next Nigerian they meet. So that when he begins with the point of Nigeria’s preparedness to secure the confidence of potential investors, it would have seemed most suitable to tell the international community that significant parts of the North East, previously locked down in fear, are recovering and re-opening for business. It would have been apt to say that the Niger Delta was no longer a war zone, preaching that the stability in the region means rising oil prices matched with steady daily production will provide a much-needed basis to rebuild the country and fulfill the year of infrastructure. President Buhari had the right eggs to make omelets delicious enough to whet the appetites of the Commonwealth business people, even if Nigerians, too angry with him, would still not touch the plate, however well-polished, with a ten foot pole.
What the president chose to say instead was baffling. Drifting from the damage “so-called” Boko Haram has done to education and health infrastructure to the economy, the segue to “a lot” of 60% of Nigerians being without education and indolent was simply stunning. The cause of the progression in the argument is hard to tell that one has no choice but believe it is something the president deeply believes. He just had to get it out there.
The line, “claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country”, raises a specific inquest: who are the particular group among this “lot” to whom Buhari directs his disgust? The Niger Delta avengers or disgruntled Yar’Adua Amnesty beneficiaries? If not them, the scorched returnees from Libya, or the 16 million people or 18.8% of the labour population who are unemployed? (The rate has risen for nine quarters till the end of 2017).
Is the president annoyed with his 10.5 million out-of-school children, the highest number in the world, or irritated with thousands of young people who have had to give up on tertiary education due to incessant strikes by academic and non-academic unions? Is he uncomfortable with the thought of the Federal Government’s outstanding failure to pay the tuition and allowances of Ugwu Chinedu, Aloagbaye Momodu, Juanita Bashir and other PRESSID scholars who are now imperiled in foreign schools with mounting academic, residential and survival debts?
Mr Buhari loves England. His one year in the ‘60s at the now-defunct Mons Officer Cadet School at Aldershot as a young man barely twenty must have been quite the thrill. London is where he meets his doctors, and he seems to like Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. And as it was at the 2016 Commonwealth event in London when he re-echoed David Cameron’s assessment of Nigerians as “fantastically corrupt”, president Buhari has unleashed and sent home another suitcase oozing with denigration and repulsion. There are a number of things young Nigerians could be accused of but Entitled Bottom Feeders? Slothful Blockheads?
It has been observed that a man who has literally lived off the Nigerian state all his life should be the last to throw shots at young people grappling with a system rigged by their elders against them. If it could be argued that his personal integrity and the PDP years were justification for the “fantastically corrupt” jab, what could justify the mass condemnation of young Nigerians before the world? What parent hangs his children out to dry before strangers at a salon for homework, bad breath or whatever?
When he returns to Nigeria, the president will go back to being spoken for by his media aides or using prepared notes. As before, there will be few occasions where he will have to speak ad lib; there will be no media chats unless the urgency of re-election requires. It means precious little moments to read the president’s well-guarded mind like Westminster are the small window for assessing the true thoughts of Buhari about his country and countrymen. Many cannot believe what they have heard but their diaries have recorded.
For the day of reckoning.