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The President’s frequent blunders abroad

Ordinarily, President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to the widespread rumour concerning an alleged impostor, called Jubril El Sudani, occupying the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, might have demanded some frank comments. But given the platform and circumstance President Buhari chose to respond to that rumour, to offer any comment on the controversy may well be an undeserved celebration of a dubious figment and illogical narrative that is as petty and undignified as the presidential response to it.

Far more important than the rumour and the gratuitous response is the problem of recurrent incidents of the president addressing controversial issues whenever he is outside the country. Just as he did in Krakow, Poland, where he chose the United Nations Climate Conference to respond to the issue of an alleged Aso Rock impostor, the president, since assuming office in 2015, has, either by habit or extraneous circumstances, made policy statements on the economy or state of the nation, or even responded to controversial issues only when he set foot outside the country. This is curiously unpresidential.

Nigerians may not know the intentions behind this practice; whether the practice is borne out of the need to be around the re-assuring company of foreign advisers, or to get the prepared responses to burning issues from some consultants abroad, that practice of making profound statements on national issues does not augur well for the country. It is a psychological abnegation of the capacity of the presidential office and willful surrender to the outsider.

It shows disdain for the people and it lowers the prestige of the Office of the President.Although this newspaper considers the rumour mischievous, such chitchat leaves room for cautious reflection about the possibility of dubious machinations in this age of hyper-creativity. In these times of media neologisms such as post-truth and alternative truth, the sheer audacity that this rumour could be contrived suggests not only the possibility of impostors in offices, but also the reality of the evil that man’s heart can contrive when it is in the dark about the truth. Perhaps the fallacious rumour might have emerged from lack of information about Buhari’s prolonged ill-health and eventual recovery.

In February 2015 when he spoke in Chatham House, in the United Kingdom to an audience of mainly British public office holders, technocrats and business men, about his reason for contesting the presidential position, he stated: “When speaking about Nigeria overseas, I normally prefer to be my country’s public relations and marketing officer, extolling her virtues and hoping to attract investments and tourists.” President Buhari seems, by his conviction, to be living out that pre-election remark. Now, having become president, how do his frequent speeches abroad translate to public relations and marketing prospects for Nigeria, when oftentimes the speeches and remarks made are devoid of persuasive value?

Take for instance, the first major public relations gaffe of his administration: Reacting to a question on how he hoped to address the security challenges in the Niger Delta, the president expressed his intended discriminatory leadership and perceived animosity for that region when he said that the region should not expect to get any priority attention from his administration since he got scanty votes from there.

Besides, in 2016, standing beside one of the most influential women in the world, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, President Buhari threw another bombshell, when he reacted to his wife’s criticism of the presidency by stating that she belonged to “the kitchen” and “the other room.”

Two years later, while speaking at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Westminster, Buhari, in his typical blunder-ridden response, derided the Nigerian youthful population by suggesting they were lazy. Only a few months ago while delivering his address at the General Debate of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he tended to have exculpated the murderous Boko Haram of carnage in the North East while restating his position that the perpetrators of terror in the region were runaway fighters from Iraq and Syria with arms from the disintegration of Libya. These extracts have been embarrassing enough.

These slips are often let out when the president speaks ex tempore or without prepared scripts. Perhaps, this is what a president gets when he or she goes abroad to respond to trivial issues including this one. Therefore, to his speech-writers and protocol officers: Nigeria should be spared the embarrassment from her president. He should be made to speak less or not speak at all if there is no prepared speech. This paper has stated it before: “All this points to the quality of personnel handling that aspect of the presidency. Speech writers at the Presidency as well as the production crew should do well to present the President of Nigeria in a dignified and respectable manner befitting this great country.”

Whilst Nigerians do not want to believe that the president is being teleguided from outside the country, the frequency of this practice feeds the minds of inquisitive but well-meaning Nigerians with ideas that would lead to uncharitable speculations about Buhari and his activities. Such speculations are given credence by the emerging trend of certain African leaders running their countries from the luxurious confines of their European mansions.

Nigeria should set itself as an example for other African countries. It should be the pride of Africans that Nigeria is one country where its president speaks to the people and addresses the nation like a true father. No true African father addresses the issues of his household by speaking from the compound of another man. A President should respect himself, respect his office and respect his people.

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