Saturday, September 25, 2021

President Buhari and northern Nigerian youth, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

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Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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President Muhammadu Buhari seems to be unhappy about the terrible conditions faced by the Nigerian youth, but lacks the wherewithal to address their plight. The other time in London he made some controversial remarks on them. He said, “a lot of Nigerian youth” were unproductive. This position has robustly generated heated debates in both the mainstream and social media. People debated the propriety or otherwise of such comments in a foreign country. In their estimation, the President should have said something positive about Nigeria even if that was not the truth. Anyways, he unpalatably said what he wanted to say. His negative perception of the Nigerian youth in a world where all that matters is impression is indeed a problem. The people that were unhappy with President Buhari’s undiplomatic comments clearly expected him to launder the image of Nigeria in such outings.

In the reckoning of those oppositional elements, Mr. President should at least indulge himself in some public relations stunts in a world of make-believe and doublespeak and half-truth or complete untruth. Is it perhaps a tall order to demand upon the one-dimensional personality of President Buhari, the no nonsense straight-faced retired infantry General, to lie about his country? In case people have forgotten about the man they are dealing with, President Buhari is obviously unschooled in diplomatic niceties. Shall we recall how his military associates once attested to his Spartan character? That character is also found in his single-minded conviction to do things his own way, and not any other way. The other thing about President Buhari is of course his stubborn refusal to accept the persuasion of his embattled assistants that he is so unwilling to allow to do their work. In their line of duty, the President should have accepted their advise for a good outing on all occasions.

The weight of Mr. President’s office demands nothing short of allowing all his assistants to comfortably do their public relations job. This is something they are paid to do. They are paid with taxpayers’ money to promote positive perception of the nation. No self-respecting nation can afford to ignore the critical role of its image-makers. Not in a world where all that matters is the image one projects. Nobody says Mr. President should not say things as they are, but he must be conscious of the fact that there are one thousand and one ways of saying the same thing. There is for instance a way of saying something that would simply evoke pleasant memories or laughter. The same thing could also be said in a manner that would elicit anger or displeasure. It all depends on one’s delivery abilities.

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Initially, I thought Mr. President should have been worried about his undiplomatic verbiage in London. He should have learnt one or two things from its fallout, and the rancorous reaction of Nigerians to his unsavory utterances outside Nigeria. Indeed, he should have been most concerned with public outpourings on the matter. But that was not to be. On his return to Nigeria from London, the President pretended as if there was nothing to it. At least his self-righteous posturing says as much. His body language did not acknowledge the implications of how the generality of Nigerians felt about his gaffe. His Media Assistant Femi Adesina attempted to do some damage control that completely turned out to be unconvincingly feeble. His pathetic defense of Mr. President’s goof had only aggravated a very bad situation. All in all, it was an exercise in futility although his principal does not seem to care. It is difficult to break a habit in grownups. There is nothing any aide can do about it. We just have to live with its consequences.

Even before the fire is extinguished, the President has once again zoomed to the United States on the invitation of President Donald Trump. This time around he used the cozy atmosphere in America to fire another controversial shot on the Nigerian youth. As if intended to mitigate the furor of his earlier blunder, he directly aimed his verbal assault on northern Nigerian youth. The very social cluster that was dying to have him assumed the mantle of leadership against all odds. In an interview with Voice of America, our President rhapsodized in that his guttural voice, “You know in the north most youths are uneducated or school dropouts. If not because we had good harvests in the last two farming seasons, the situation would have deteriorated”. To drive the point home, he also stressed the fact that “these youths even if they travel out of the north for greener pasture they hardly make it economically because what they earn as income cannot afford them to meet their basic needs or return home.”

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Definitely yes! Mr. President you are right. In all honesty, uneducated and unskilled young people cannot compete in a knowledge-based society where the means of survival are only acquired through good quality education and skills that northern Nigeria, particularly the Northwest that is also doubled as the most populous zone out of the six geopolitical zones in the country, is not providing to its youth. That zone will only supply the rest of the country with a pool of beggars and unskilled laborers. However, in my whole years of knowing President Buhari I could not vividly recollect the constructive efforts made by the President to redress the menace of uneducated and unskilled youth in northern Nigeria, especially now that he is the leader of Nigeria.

Rather than waste time to lament over the lack of education of northern Nigerian youth, I expect the President to use his God-given opportunity as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to at least ensure that there is a change of attitude in the region. But he is not communicating anything to the people. He should work diligently towards securing the future of northern Nigeria. He should ensure that the North had a rethink of its system of education. The “uneducated” youth should be provided with quality education because they do not have anybody to send them overseas to get good education, the type enjoyed by the children of Mr. President and other elite in the hierarchical structures of northern Nigerian feudal enclave where the principles of inequality and injustice are deeply rooted, and are daily entrenched in the name of governance and leadership values.

My worry in all this is that the northern establishment is flagrantly living in perpetual denial of the new geopolitical context in Nigeria, a new reality where each section of the country is struggling to be on its feet through careful planning and economic development. While all other sections of Nigeria are thinking of transforming their regions, the North is regressing uncontrollably into chaos, into self-induced poverty in the midst of abundance. The visionless northern elite, particularly the political leadership, only think about self-aggrandizement and corruption. Their interest in the people is only when they seek their support to win elections into powerful political offices. That is all. You will never hear from them again until it is time for another round of elections. Right now, there is hardly any state in northern Nigeria that is self-sustaining with all the region’s resource endowments. I think the responsibility of good leaders is not to engage in useless lamentations but to act constructively to ameliorate bad situations.

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The North has become a huge burden in Nigeria precisely because of the ineptitude of its leaders at all levels. Bad leaders are now resorting to divide and rule tactics and identity politics to perpetually set ordinary folks against one another. In the name of ethnicity and religion, the people of the North are killing each other while the leaders watch helplessly where they are not actively conniving or even sponsoring the mayhem. The so-called “uneducated” youth have now been turned into canon powder for wanton destruction. The politicians are everywhere using them as local militias that are set against opponents. There is no state in the North without these deadly militias. The central government knows about this development but nobody is doing anything about it.

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I sincerely think the northern youth that have made enormous sacrifice to ensure that President Muhammadu Buhari was elected into office did not deserve his berating. They are looking for a visionary and problem-solving leader in him, and nothing else. They followed him because they expected in him a leader that could address their plight. If he could not provide that leadership, there is no point then. In fact, he should have used the powers invested in him to make sure that the deplorable situation in the region is arrested by all means. In this regard, the President must learn to operate with men of ideas, skills and propriety rather than dead woods and rotten fellas that have surrounded him. From day one of President Buhari’s tenure, they have not added value to anything other than to cause embarrassment to him. Surprisingly, he remains aloof towards them.

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