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As Buhari’s anti-youth comment provokes anger

As Buhari’s anti-youth comment provokes anger

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President Muhammadu Buhari stirred up a hornets’ nest again on Wednesday, describing many Nigerian youths as lazy and always wanting freebies at the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London. His comments are still generating a public backlash, JESUSEGUN ALAGBE writes

Once more, President Muhammadu Buhari drew the ire of Nigerians, particularly the youth, on Wednesday when he said at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Westminster, United Kingdom that many Nigerian youths like freebies based on the notion that the country is an oil-rich nation.

The forum was an integral part of the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and had brought together businesses critical to trade and investment and seen leaders from various countries debating the issues facing their countries in 2018 and beyond.

Throughout the meeting, which represented the interests of over 2.6 billion people, there were at least 5,000 top leaders from the business, politics, academia and culture, which came together to showcase the Commonwealth’s vibrant and diverse network.

According to its joint organisers — the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, the Government of the United Kingdom and the City of London — the business forum “is a truly unique and historic opportunity to promote and celebrate the very best of the Commonwealth to a global audience.”

At the very global audience, President Buhari told other world business, political, cultural and academic leaders that Nigeria had a very young population, most of whom were uneducated but wanted everything offered to them on a silver platter, just because the country is an oil-producing one.

He said, “About the economy, we have a very young population, our population is estimated conservatively to be 180 million. This is a very conservative one.

“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, health care, education free.”

Unsurprisingly, the President’s comments have since been generating a backlash by the Nigerian youths, businessmen, politicians and indeed the opposition, who are already cashing in on his gaffe.

“I will never refer to Nigeria’s youths as people who sit and do nothing. They are hardworking. I should know, I have thousands of youths working for me all over the country who have been the backbone of our success,” former Vice President Atiku Abubakar wrote on Twitter.

“Our youths are charting new frontiers; creating a huge tech industry on their own. Their entrepreneurial spirit, work ethics and creative abilities are things of pride and should be applauded, encouraged and nurtured.”

But Atiku wouldn’t be the first person to applaud the ingenuity of the youth, especially in the face of massive unemployment (52.65 per cent as of January 2018), harsh business climate and the country’s worst economic recession in 25 years.

In his September 2016 visit to Nigeria, the Chief Executive of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, while voicing out his impression of the country’s young developers and entrepreneurs, said, “The energy here is amazing and I’m excited to learn as much as I can.”

Later in July 2017 when the Chief   Executive Officer, Google, Sundar Pichai, visited the country, he described the youths as “creative, smart and driven to succeed,” and noted that there was an urgent need to create opportunities for them.

“The Internet and technology as a whole offer great opportunities for creating jobs, growing businesses and boosting economies. But people need the right skills, tools and products to navigate the digital world and to make it work for them, their businesses and their communities,” he added.

Eyebrows were, therefore, raised by several Nigerians when Buhari attacked the majority of the youthful population, describing them as lazy and wanting education, health care and housing on a silver platter.

In an article, an associate professor of Journalism and Emerging Media at the Kennesaw State University, US, Farooq Kperogi, described as unfair the President’s dissing of the Nigerian youth.

Claiming that Buhari supervises a government that serially engages in secretive, illegal employment of the children and relatives of the high-ranking political elite (including his) in well-oiled, high-paying government agencies, he decried that millions of brilliant, hardworking but underprivileged young people vegetate in agonising misery.

“Yet, he [Buhari] goes to London and calls young Nigerians lazy, uneducated, and entitled; as people who want to ‘sit and do nothing, and get housing, health care, education free,’” Kperogi wrote.

“These are not the young people I see when I travel to Nigeria. They are not the young people I interact with on the social media. Maybe Buhari is describing his children — and himself. If he insists he is describing ‘most’ Nigerian youths, then his disconnect from reality is more severe than we had previously imagined.”

Although the Presidency later clarified that Buhari did not refer to all Nigerian youths as lazy, but rather “a lot of them”, this explanation had still failed to pacify Nigerians.

The Publicity Secretary of Youth Arise for Nigeria, who is a lawyer and political analyst, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, described the President’s speech as wrong.

Oshoma said most Nigerian youths had been successful without the input of the government in their lives. He said even though some Nigerians were lazy, their laziness was a result of the society they found themselves in.

He said, “The society prepares crime; the criminal commits it. The society prepares the youth that it has. In the country where Buhari made the statement, their children don’t hawk in traffic; they are sent to school. Their youths don’t have poor leadership. We agree that some youths are lazy, but they inherited the laziness from their leaders.

“They look up to their leaders who manipulate their way up in the society and follow in their footsteps. They look up to leaders who rob them of their collective resources and no appropriate punishment is meted out to them. The youth struggle to go to school and still end up jobless; yet a primary or secondary school leaver gets the job of a President or legislator, receiving millions of naira as allowance. There is no compensation for hard work in Nigeria.

“The leaders are those who compensate criminality; they encourage criminality, as they only pay attention to the violent people in the society, such as giving amnesty to militants or terrorists.

“Obafemi Awolowo [1909-1987] gave free education to the youth of his time, but this time round , the Nigerian society is not fair to the youth and so anything they become is a product of their environment. This is not trying to give excuses, but there is no fact in what the President said. Nigerians are the second most educated immigrants in the United States. Anywhere they are, they thrive. The facts speak for themselves.”

Oshoma said it was time Buhari took seriously the comments of Bill Gates when he visited Nigeria recently. [Gates had decried poor investment in human development in the country.]

Oshoma added, “I say this, it’s not even the fault of lazy youths among us, though I can never encourage laziness. It’s the fault of their society. Let’s even agree that the youth are lazy, what has the President done to solve the problem of laziness?

“Is there any human capital development that he’s making? Any investment in the lives of the youth? You heard what Bill Gates said the other time he visited Nigeria? Has Buhari provided schools and the youth refused to attend? Has he provided jobs and the youth refused to work?”

A lawyer and political commentator, Mr. Tunde Esan, said it was unfortunate that President Buhari did not seem to understand the social contract between his government and the people.

“If he did, he wouldn’t refer to education, health care and other basic amenities as freebies. These are things that are ordinarily supposed to be provided free in a sane society. They are things that are provided by governments in the sane climes,” he said.

Esan said Buhari’s outburst at the Commonwealth Business Forum stemmed from a judgmental mindset that the President had about the citizens of his own country.

He said, “I’m sorry to say, but President Buhari has a faulty mindset about people and the situation of things. It’s a mindset that judges people and doesn’t have an understanding of leadership and governance. What parameters did he use to describe many youths as lazy? At least, you must have got some facts and statistics to prove a point before saying it.

“It’s ironic that a man who has failed to provide three million jobs every year to the youth as he promised during electioneering would describe his youths as lazy. Talking about his faulty mindset, it has always been there. In 1984, he was the one who launched the War Against Indiscipline. In other words, he meant that his people were indisciplined. In 2016, he brought it back again. In the same year, he said his wife belonged to the kitchen. That’s a statement from a particular mindset, one that feels it is always superior to others. It’s a closed mindset.

“It’s a mindset that makes him not to want to listen to other people’s perspectives. He believes his opinions are always the right ones. If he really understood what governance and leadership meant, he would have done something to alleviate the suffering of the people and not be making unwholesome comments.”

An Abuja-based political commentator and human rights activist, Dr. Paul Amen-Aifuwa, also said President Buhari ought not to make a statement such as the one he made on Wednesday, especially at an international forum.

He said, “It’s irritating! I have personally chosen to shut my ears to any statement from him because it makes me feel sick. No President should be going about making such statements. And the statement is not even a fact. Did he carry out any research? I want to pardon him because it must have been a slip of the tongue.

“A President should ask himself, ‘What programmes have I developed for the youth to develop their capacity?’ ‘How can I help with this bad situation?’ ‘What can I do to better the lives of my youths?’ ‘What positive impact can I make in their lives?’

“You cannot make a statement like that without first doing something to change the situation. Where is the change you now brought? There is just too much noise going on in this country and it should stop. Nigerian youths are hardworking when they have the necessary resources. In fact, when they have meagre resources or nothing at all, they still try to survive.”

A Lagos-based social commentator, Ms Lolade Kayode-Smith, said it was unfortunate that the President often spoke ill of his citizens during some of his foreign trips.

On February 5, 2016, Buhari told the Telegraph UK that Nigerians’ reputation for crime had made them unwelcome in Britain and other countries.

He added that because of the number of Nigerians imprisoned for law-breaking in Britain and elsewhere, they were also unlikely to get much sympathy.

In May 2016, the President during an interview on Sky News, apparently admitted that Nigeria was a “fantastically corrupt” country, thereby lending credence to the words of a former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who shared such as a joke with Queen Elizabeth II before television cameras.

The conversations had occurred when the President attended the Anti-Corruption Summit hosted by Cameron in London.

In the said interview with Sky News Diplomatic Editor, Dominic Waghorn, Buhari, agreed that Nigeria was ‘fantastically corrupt’.

The chat went thus:

Sky News: Will you like an apology from the prime minister?

Buhari: “No, no not at all”

Sky News: Are you embarrassed by what he said?

Buhari: “No I’m not.”

Sky News: Is Nigeria fantastically corrupt?

Buhari: “Yes”

Speaking to our correspondent on Buhari’s latest anti-youth comments, Kayode-Smith said, “The President’s focus in London should have been on how foreign countries or businesses can tap into the energy of the youth in Nigeria. But now that he has said his own youths are lazy, how does he want the international investors to perceive them? Though I was not surprised by his statement, I never thought it would be that bad.

“If you look at the source of Buhari’s statements, it’s a mindset that wants to put the blame of his own ineptitude on others. Nigerian youths are enterprising. We have the lazy ones, but those ones shouldn’t be your theme when you attend an international summit.

“In the US, there are lazy youths as well, likewise in the UK and others. But do you ever hear their Presidents speaking ill of their people? No President of a country like Russia, South Korea, China, Singapore, Dubai or Kenya would ever say their youths are lazy. These are enlightened leaders who know the weight and implication of every word they say.”

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