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Buhari: One Slip Too Many

Yes, Buhari does not have a university education and he hasn’t been known exactly for his eloquence, but his handlers have to prepare him adequately before he makes public speeches

Kennedy Emetulu

This is not a mocking write-up; it is a serious piece meant mainly to draw attention to something that could become a real problem in the future. While they were on the campaign trail, President Muhammadu Buhari had been mocked for not remembering the name of his vice president, for not remembering the name of his party and so on.

The reason for these mistakes is not far-fetched. President Buhari’s handlers and coaches at the time were not doing their job.

I know Buhari is no longer a young man and they all have to be careful how much they exert him; but, c’mon, what does it take to go through a speech and master every name and every title the man needs to mention? These things matter, the so-called elementary things matter, because when you don’t get them right, people everywhere, rightly or wrongly, cannot trust you to get the more serious ones right.

Yes, Buhari does not have a university education and he hasn’t been known exactly for his eloquence, but his handlers have to prepare him adequately before he makes public speeches. He is the president of a nation for Christ’s sake! Okay, I can understand all these mistakes on the campaign trail, but it just cannot be allowed when the man is president and when talking about important foreigners! Our president has just returned from the G7 Summit in Germany, a forum of huge magnitude and significance where he met world leaders and had several chats.

After a meeting of the Lake Chad Basin Commission yesterday, he spoke on Channels TV where he had reasons to refer to his recent trip to Germany, but what did we hear? He referred to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel as “President Michelle of West Germany”! C’mon, this is just so wrong, wrong on several fronts! First Germany has a President, but his name is not Michelle, his name is Joachim Gauck and I doubt Buhari met him. And even if he did, he was not the one Buhari was referring to; he was referring to Angela Merkel (not Michelle) and her title is Chancellor, not President. The worst of the booboos is to refer to Germany as West Germany.

In 2015, West Germany? C’mon! That is just not excusable! If Buhari still has the worldview of 1985 when he was in office as Military Head of State and when there was indeed a West Germany, he has to be brought into this century with a proper lecture in international relations. Let me not end this without voicing concerns too about the way the fellow called Garba Shehu has been doing his job as Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.

The man is an accident already happening and waiting to happen still. He keeps issuing empty contradictory statements one after another as if they’re going out of fashion. For instance, he was the one who on 30th of May, a day after the president was sworn in, issued the statement that President Buhari had publicly declared his assets as promised during the campaign, because he said he would do so immediately upon taking government. But, in fact this did not happen.

All that happened was the routine declaration at the Code of Conduct Bureau. When curious Nigerians raised eyebrows at this volte-face, Alhaji Garba Shehu icily directed them to go use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to get whatever information they want on the president’s assets! Exactly a week later, the same Shehu in another cringeworthy attempt at some damage control issued a statement claiming that President Muhammadu Buhari has said that in fulfilment of one of their campaign promises, his declared assets and those of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will be released to the public upon the completion of their verification by the Code of Conduct Bureau.

So, did the president make two separate promises about declaring his assets in public during the campaign? Of course not! And rather than simply say the president would make the public declaration of his assets within his first 100 days in office and leave it at that, he’s now claiming he will release it after verification by the Code of Conduct Bureau. Of course, that raises another question of credibility.

I mean, if you are making a public declaration of your true assets would you need anyone to verify it and ascertain it’s true before you release it to the public, especially where you have the precedent of President Umaru Yar’Adua and then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to follow? Won’t you feel confident releasing it to the public immediately, knowing there can be no contradiction from anywhere, because you know you are saying the truth? The idea of waiting for the conclusion of verification before releasing it indicates that you are not sure of what you have declared to the CCB and until they finish their verification and give you a clean bill of health, you can’t do anything.

Does that mean you have something to hide, something you’re praying they don’t discover upon verification? Yesterday, Mallam Shehu was at it again. He was quoted as saying that President Buhari sent a communication to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa to delay the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, because the president was having a meeting at the International Conference Centre in Abuja with elected legislators of the APC at the same time the inauguration was originally scheduled.

This was after the Proclamation Letter from the president had already been sent to the Clerk of the National Assembly indicating that the ceremony should be performed at 10: 00 am. Now, aides of the National Assembly Clerk are being forced to deny that any such communication was made, not even by a phone call or via text messaging. It simply didn’t happen! So, why would Mallam Garba Shehu be making such a claim? What point is he trying to make?

The significance of these two examples of how Mallam Shehu works is that they put the president in a bad light. It exposes him as someone who is not sure exactly what he wants to tell the Nigerian public, someone who isn’t firm with his decision-making.

Mallam Shehu should not just think his job is to be issuing statements left, right and centre, he is also responsible for burnishing and protecting the president’s image with the national and international publics. That means whatever statement he issues must be absolutely necessary and must be trusted by the people.

For instance, he didn’t have to issue any statement after the president declared his assets at the Code of Conduct Bureau. He should have waited to issue a statement when the president makes up his mind to make the public declaration he promised at anytime within his first 100 days in office.

If he’d exercised that patience, the president wouldn’t be wiping egg off his face now nor would he have been made to appear as though he did not intend to publicly declare his assets, but for the outcry after Mallam Garba Shehu’s initial statement.

The statement about the president sending a message to the Clerk of the National Assembly to delay the inauguration was totally uncalled for after the events of the day of the inauguration. In fact, it was and still is in the interest of the presidency to extricate itself from the day’s show of shame, rather than seek to show there was an attempt to stop the proceedings, possibly to placate some party leaders who are up in arms against Saraki and co by giving the impression that the president was always on the same page with them. If that was the objective, placating such leaders does not need making such self-indicting claim.

The president can always explain himself to them privately outside the public glare. So, while the bright boys and girls bring the president up to speed with the state of the world in 2015, someone should also tell Mallam Garba Shehu that in his job, patience is a virtue. He has to constantly sniff the wind first before he delivers any statement, because he is the voice of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

•Emetulu wrote in from London, UK.

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