While standing next to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, unarguably one of the most powerful women in the world, President Muhammadu Buhari told the international community that his wife, First Lady Aisha Buhari, belonged in his kitchen.
“I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room,” he ‘joked’.
The First Lady had publicly dragged Buhari’s competence through the mud when she claimed that his administration had been hijacked by a cabal and the president issued his no-holds-barred response much to the measured annoyance of Chancellor Merkel. This was in 2016.
Fast-forward to two years later, and it appears the president still can’t help himself from causing a stir under the gaze of the international community.
While speaking at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Westminster on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, President Buhari said Nigeria’s youthful population is reliant on the notion that the country is an oil-rich nation. As a result, he remarked that a lot of them wait on handouts from the government.
“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 has been an oil producing country, therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free,” he said.
Basically, a convoluted way to say they are lazy.
The president has received a lot of backlash from Nigerians, on social media and from political opposition, who have criticised him for his careless remarks about the nation’s youthful population.
This episode is just another in the president’s long list of embarrassing blunders he commits anytime he’s compelled to speak off the cuff, especially when he’s abroad.
When the president was asked how he hoped to solve the security challenge in the Niger Delta region during a visit to the United States in 2015, his first remarks were about how the region shouldn’t expect to be prioritised because it didn’t contribute much to his electoral victory.
He said, “I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, gave me 97% (of the vote) cannot, in all honesty, be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are political reality.”
Again, this moment of insensibility came just weeks after the president had mistakenly referred to Merkel as the President of West Germany.
Perhaps, the president’s worst moment came when he shared a ‘joke’ with Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom, during a meeting in February 2018.
After close to 100 people had been killed in Benue in attacks linked to cattle herders reported to be the president’s kinsmen, Governor Ortom had publicly clashed with the federal government over its commitment to secure the lives of people in the state.
When the president shook Ortom’s hand in the Presidential Villa, he smirked as he asked the governor rhetorically, “How are your cattle rearers?”
What all of these embarrassing episodes have in common is that the president was on his own to respond to situations and questions without a script that has been cooked and seasoned with caution by his communications team.
It almost appears as if the president cannot be trusted to be left to his own devices without him trying to burn down one thing or the other. Without screenings from his media aides and throngs of assistants, the president is almost always struggling to emerge with any sort of dignified responses.
The president has time and again displayed a streak of reckless statements that tend to embarrass the average Nigerian, and his inability to steer away from ill-thought out responses has been rumoured to be the reason why he speaks so little to the media since he was sworn in in 2015.
A scripted statement here, a scripted statement there, and the president has managed to limit the terrible exposure that comes from his speaking off the cuff in public.
However, his handicap has not escaped the glare of annoyed Nigerians.
With President Buhari set to embark on a re-election campaign for the 2019 presidential election, he needs all the goodwill he can get, but he won’t help himself with more moments like dragging Nigerian youths through the mud in a foreign land.
A president’s representation of a country is a very important touchstone by which the international community judges it. It’s no secret that Nigeria already does not enjoy a stellar reputation the world over, and President Buhari has not helped it much since 2015.
This is why when former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, described Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt”, the outrage didn’t last long because our own president had more or less been saying the same thing for weeks, scripted or unscripted.
A re-election campaign is going to open the president up to more moments like the one he just had in the United Kingdom, and it’s really interesting to see how he’ll wade through it without torching a few more of his declining goodwill.
His track record without a script is laughably poor and when he isn’t hilariously goofing, he’s being annoyingly insensible.
The problem is that the president is not the only casualty of these transgressions, Nigeria continues to be a laughing stock. More than the usual, anyway.
Keep a lid on it, Mr President.