President Buhari’s comedy of errors

Penultimate week, President Muhammadu Buhari’s outing was so full of mistakes and needles gaffes which muddied the image of the administration more than portray it in good light as ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU highlights in this report.

Perhaps, President Muhammadu Buhari’s handlers, following Bill Gates’ upbraid, wanted to burnish his image but a series of faux paus achieved the very opposite of what they may have intended.

On March 11, the richest man in the world criticized the execution process of the Economic and Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP), saying it does not reflect the needs of Nigerians. In 2017, President Buhari launched ERGP, a medium-term document, aimed at pulling the nation out of recession.

However, at the last National Economic Council(NEC) meeting, Gates argued that the document’s ‘’execution priorities don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritizing physical capital over human capital.’’ Afterwards, the presidency arranged a flurry of engagements, following Gates’ criticism, to boost Buhari’s image both at home and abroad. However, several missteps have bungled the public relations stunt in the previous week.

An Award and a denial
On 27th of March 2018, news broke that President Buhari was conferred with the 1st Black History Month National Black Excellence and Exceptional African Leadership Award 2018, by the King Center, at the request of Late Martin Luther King Jrn’s family. Notably, the matriarch of MLK, Naomi Barbara King, and Isaac Newton-Farris led the delegation that presented what turned out to be a ‘fake MLK award’ to Buhari.

Indeed, a few hours after the award, The King Center out rightly denied it on its official tweeter handle. Categorically, The King Centre pointed out that “the award given to President Buhari of Nigeria was not given by The King Center, at the request of The King Center or by the children of #MLK and #CorettaScottKing. @MrFixNigeria”.

Nigerians Reacts
Interestingly, Nigerians seized the opportunity to lash out at the president and his aides. Former Minister of Education and the Co Convener of the #Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG)# campaign, Ms Oby Ezekwesili, had sarcastically mocked the award.

According to her, the award comedy has resurrected Correta Scott King, Reverrend King’s wife, from the dead to present the award. Similarly, another active member of the BBOG, Aisha Yesufu also lampooned the award as an example of Buhari’s incompetence. In an interview with The Punch newspaper, United States-based Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media, who lectures at Kennesaw State University, Farooq Kperogi, was equally unsparing. Specifically, he asked the President to punish his aides who have embarrassed him with the ‘scam award’.

In the interview, he clarified that it was the sister-in-law and nephew of the late Martin Luther King Jr that conferred the award on Buhari and not The King Centre. Consequently, he argued that they are at best ‘’ relatives, or extended family members, of the late King who have no power to give awards to anyone on behalf of the Martin Luther King family, which is formally represented by the King Centre.’’ Besides, Kperogi had pointed out that ‘’in America, Black History Month is celebrated in February, not in March. So, it makes absolutely no sense to give a Black History Month award at the end of March.’’

PDP mocks award
Expectedly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the leading opposition party, had described the award and the denouncement that followed, as a national disgrace and embarrassment. The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said that the “lie by President Buhari’s handlers smacks of desperation by the Presidency and the All Progressives Congress (APC), to procure international endorsement, ahead of the 2019 general elections. According to PDP, ‘’it is now clear that this sinking, incompetent and deceptive APC administration, in their desperation, can fabricate and stage-manage anything, including name-dropping of international figures and agencies, in their desperate attempt to delude Nigerians, once again, now that the 2019 general election is fast approaching.’’

“While we urge the Presidency to shed its proclivity for lies, we demand the immediate arrest, investigation and prosecution of all the Presidency officials involved in this messy scandal and crime against our nation.

Moreover, the Presidency and the APC should save the nation further embarrassment by jettisoning other planned endorsement stunts and fabricated performance indices, as Nigerians are already rallying with the repositioned and rebranded PDP in their collective quest to end the misrule of the APC and restore a sincere, purposeful and people-oriented government come 2019,’’ the statement further warned.

Federal Government reacts
In a swift reaction, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, put a spin on what really happened. The presidential aide, speaking through her spokesman, Abdulrahman Balogun, disclosed that Naomi King gave the award in her personal capacity and not on behalf of The King Centre. According to Erewa, “the members, led by the matriarch of MLK, Naomi Barbara King, were in Nigeria as part of the activities initiated to celebrate a low- key Black History Month in Nigeria, as part of deepening partnership between Africa and its Diaspora. As part of the activities, they visited President Muhammadu Buhari and gave him a commemorative plaque for his fight against corruption and what they termed from the “Africania Diaspora”, a term for Africans in Diaspora for which the oldest of them all is Naomi. ‘’ In addition, the statement argued that “Barbara King was selected to present, on behalf of the family (not MLK centre), as a sign of appreciation to the Nigerian President.’’

PMB like GEJ?
Significantly, Reverend Martin Luther King, the human rights crusader’s name has been used to give a similar award to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari’s successor. In February 2013, Jonathan was recognized for his leadership in “human rights, social justice and universal fight for freedom”. At that time, Jonathan thanked ‘’Dr. Charles Steele Jr, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and the executive of the SCLC for honoring me today.’’

Specifically, he expressed a pleasure in meeting ‘’Naomi King, the sister of the late American Civil Rights leader and founder of the SCLC, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was kind enough to attend the event and identify with the goals and aspirations of the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation.’’ Jonathan further said the he is inspired to continue to work for the advancement of democracy, peace and progress in Nigeria and Africa by the award.

Lagos shuts down for Buhari
After the award controversy, President Buhari left Abuja to Lagos on a working visit, ostensibly to cement his ties with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and reach out to the South west in the race for 2019. At Lagos, controversy still trailed the president, first with the declaration of public holiday during the visit and the closure of major roads in the city.

On March 29, the state government had declared a work-free day to enable residents to come out en masse to welcome President Buhari. In addition, roads were closed on the first day of the visit, so were airports.

Specifically, Ikeja, Agege, Maryland, Ikoyi, and Victoria Island routes were temporarily closed, and the visit literally shutting down Lagos. Significantly, most commuters were were forced to trek for hours owing to the blockade. A resident, Ayodeji Iyanu, said he trekked from Iyana Ipaja to Ladipo, Oshodi. Iyanu, who shared his experience on Twitter, accused the police who manned the blocked roads, of eye service.

A motorist, Tony Bekederemo, said he spent about three hours driving a short distance, from Apongbon to CMS. A popular Twitter user and self-acclaimed adviser of the state governor, with the alias, Lagos Class Captain, said he trekked from Sango, Ogun State to Mangoro, Ikeja area of Lagos ‘’because Say-Baba is coming to open bus stop in Lagos. Is it fair like that? Sir, there’s pandemonium everywhere. Please help.’’

A resident who simply referred to himself as Davizs said a lot of damage had been caused by the shutdown of Lagos roads. ‘’By closing the roads, business (was) closed, funds lost, tickets wasted, flight missed, plans trashed, and more. Just because you want to please our President, a city was displeased.”
Significantly, one I K Mosina recalled that a similar lockdown occurred in the state during the Jonathan administration. According to him, “it’s quite shameful that what was totally condemned by the government of Lagos State during GEJ’s visit to the state still happened during the man called Mr. Better.’’

Similarly, a civil society group, Enough is Enough Nigeria, said shutting down the state over Buhari’s visit could not be justified. “The decision to shut down a commercial city like Lagos is totally unreasonable and unnecessary. How many cities in the world are shut down due to a presidential visit? Lagosians deserve better!”, it asked. In addition, the Founder of Stanbic IBTC, Mr Atedo Peterside, had described the development as unfortunate.

According to him, the road closures were totally unnecessary and unfortunate. ‘’In the 21st century, nobody closes down a mega city. The President and governors should simply have used helicopters. No right thinking person will close down New York or London or even Sydney,” he tweeted.

Significantly, Peterside’s post had generated more than 131 comments and 1,400 retweets within 24 hours. In summary, Lagosians believed that they lost so many man hours, lost so much money and suffered unduly because of Buhari’s visit.

Naomi Controversy
Similarly, the working visit encountered controversy with the international supermodel, Naomi Campbell. After taking photos with the president, she had tweeted that it ‘’was a pleasure to be invited by his Excellency, the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, to the private launch of Eko Atlantic @NGRPresident @MBuhari.’’

Thereafter, a firestorm broke out in the social media as Buhari was criticized for inviting Campbell ‘’of all people’’.

However, within a short time, the presidency had denied inviting the model for the tour of the Eko Atlantic City. According to Bashar Ahmad, Buhari’s Personal Assistant on New Media, the President met Campbell at Eko Atlantic City and that she merely requested to take some pictures with Buhari, which the president had obliged her. “For the sake of clarity, President Buhari didn’t invite Ms. Naomi Campbell to any event during his 2-day visit to Lagos State.”

Interestingly, Ms Campbell also quickly deleted the original post and replaced it. Campbell, in the new post, said ‘’was a pleasure to meet His Excellency the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, to the launch of Eko Atlantic. Here for Arise Fashion Week. ‘’

Eko Atlantic ‘commissioning’
Besides Campbell, the event where the president and the model met was also subject of controversy. After the two-day working visit, there was a disagreement between Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and the presidency over what Buhari did at Eko Atlantic City.

The governor, via his Twitter handle, had claimed that the president went there to inaugurate the Eko Atlantic City project. The tweet read, “we took a tour of the Eko Atlantic City with Mr. President as he officially commissioned the project. Eko Atlantic is a good example of what Public and Private Partnership can do to the Nigerian economy.”

Once again, the social media was abuzz with claims and counter-claims. Specifically, some Nigerians pointed out that the project had been earlier commissioned by former President Jonathan in 2013. In particular, pictures showed the then governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola, and US President Bill Clinton during the event.

In fact, Jonathan’s ex New Media aide, Reno Omokri added a new twist in the controversy on his twitter handle, when he pointed out that ‘ Jonathan got the real MLK award, so @MBuhari went to get his own fake award. Jonathan did the real commissioning of #EkoAtlanticCity, not to be outdone; Buhari went to Lagos to do his own fake commissioning! Inferiority complex. ‘’

However, the presidency stated that he only went there to inspect the project. The tweet which was posted on @NGRPresident read, “The President did not commission or launch Eko Atlantic City. His visit was a tour as part of a two – day offical visit to Lagos State and the plaque he unveiled was to commemorate his visit to the site.

On the whole, penultimate week was not a good outing for Mr President as it was so full of mistakes and needles gaffes which muddied the image of the administration rather than portray it in good light.

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