From ‘Aisha belongs to the other room’ to ‘Nigerians are fantastically corrupt’… six times Buhari embarrassed Nigeria abroad
President Muhammadu Buhari has always been known as a man of few words ― especially at home. It is not clear if this has anything to do with his extensive military career. Back in 2015, most of his campaign speeches were strikingly short. But not only is the President terse when he speaks, he has also become infamous for not speaking often ― even when thought necessary by many.
However, Buhari has complemented for this limitation with his penchant for overseas speeches and interviews. The only problem is his record has not been free from controversy and what some would classify as embarrassing remarks, ranging from shades of tribalism and anti-patriotism to even sexism.
Here are the prominent ones:
THE 5% CONSTITUENCY WITH A 5% CUT
On July 22, 2015, not long after he was sworn in as President, Buhari was at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to deliver a speech.
One of the questions after his brief talk came from Pauline Baker: “I wonder if you would tell us how you intend to approach it [the Niger Delta challenge] with particular reference to the amnesty, bunkering and inclusive development.”
After seeking clarification from the moderator on what she said or meant by “inclusive development”, Buhari asked Baker if she had a copy of the election results.
“Constituencies that gave me 97% cannot in all honesty be treated, on some issues, with constituencies that gave me 5%,” he said. “I think this is our political reality.”
He further said those who put in effort to vote for his party “must feel that the government has appreciated the effort they put in putting the government in place”.
‘NIGERIANS HAVE A CRIMINAL REPUTATION’
Fast forward to February, 2016, Buhari was on another official visit, this time to the United Kingdom. During his stay, he granted an interview to The Telegraph newspaper that caused a sandstorm back in Nigeria, with many taking to the hashtags #IAmANigerianNotACriminal and #NigeriansAreNotCriminals to vent their anger.
When the interviewer, Colin Freeman, asked if Nigerians were justified to seek asylum due to Boko Haram activities, Buhari said some Nigerians had “made it difficult for Europeans and Americans to accept them because of the number of Nigerians in different prisons all over the world accused of drug trafficking or human trafficking”.
“I don’t think Nigerians have anybody to blame,” he said. “They can remain at home. Their services are required to rebuild the country. If their countrymen misbehaved, the best thing for them is to stay at home and encourage the credibility of the nation.”
YES, NIGERIANS ARE ‘FANTASTICALLY CORRUPT’
A day after British Prime Minister David Cameron was caught on camera describing Nigeria and Afghanistan as “fantastically corrupt”, Buhari was presented an opportunity to rebut this claim ― or at least shed light on what the true picture is.
It was in May 2016. Dominic Waghorn, Sky News’ Diplomatic Editor, had asked, after his speech, if he would like an apology from the British Minister. “No,” he said. “No, not at all.”
“Are you embarrassed by what he said,” Waghorn asked. “No, I’m not,” he replied.
But, “is Nigeria fantastically corrupt?”
“Yes,” came the short, shocking response. Nigeria’s President had just casually admitted that his country ― not a fraction of his countrymen ― is corrupt. While he had supporters back home who said he was only being candid, many thought that was no way to speak as the country’s ambassador.
‘MY WIFE BELONGS TO MY KITCHEN AND THE OTHER ROOM’
Not to forget the other statement about the other room, one that has kindled the flame of a new slang still dancing on the tongues of countless Nigerians. Since Aisha Buhari had taken to BBC to express her reservations with his administration, he equally decided to publicly put her in her place ― or rather, where he thought she belonged.
In October 2016, during a joint press briefing with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her country, he was asked for his reaction to the First Lady’s comments.
First he laughed, then he said: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.”
It didn’t take time before Nigerians figured out where the President meant as “the other room”. They not only questioned why such statement was at all uttered, they also wondered why it was made in Germany, one of the few countries in the world ruled by a woman.
‘BLAME GADAFFI FOR FARMERS/HERDSMEN CRISIS’
On Wednesday, April 11, while meeting with his friend, Archbishop Justin Welby, in London, Buhari said no one but late Muammar Gaddafi should be blamed for the herdsmen crisis. This statement took many by surprise, leaving Nigerians wondering what was the connection between a dictator who died seven years ago and violence in a place 2,000 kilometres away.
Buhari had said the problem of killings “is even older than us” and “has always been there”, but has now worsened with “the influx of armed gunmen from the Sahel region into different parts of the West African sub-region”.
“These gunmen were trained and armed by Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram,” he added.
‘NIGERIAN YOUTH WANT FREE THINGS WITHOUT WORKING’
And the latest, uttered also during the ongoing state visit to London, is this gaffe: a lot of Nigerian youth have not been to school but want to sit at home and enjoy freebies such as education and healthcare ― simply because their country is oil-rich.
Speaking at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Westminster on Wednesday, Buhari 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.”
It is not clear where the President got his facts from, as no known poll has been conducted to measure the attitude of Nigerian youth in to work and to oil wealth.