Nigeria: Buhari's Jumbled Response to UN Question Sparks Online Furore

26 September 2019

A rapidly spreading video which appeared to show President Muhammadu Buhari giving an incoherent reply to a question at a United Nations climate change panel in New York has sparked social media furore.

Mr Buhari joined world leaders at the Climate Action Summit on September 23. The event, which featured Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other senior UN officials, was amongst the major highlights of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly that began on September 17.

As the panel discussion got underway, the moderator asked: "President Buhari, Nigeria has a very young population; perhaps you might highlight what a pathway for a resilient future looks like?"

The Nigerian president then began reading his answer from a prepared speech that detailed Nigeria's entire policy around climate change.

"Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I share the sentiment expressed by the secretary-general that the world is on the verge of climate catastrophe. Undeniably, climate change is a human-induced phenomenon.

"It is now imperative that we must step up our collective climate action in line with the request of the secretary-general. It is in this regard that I wish to reiterate Nigeria's commitment to its obligations under the Paris Agreement. The aspirations enshrined in our nationally-determined contributions and ensure resilient future that mainstreams climate risk is our decision making.

"I want to announce that the government of Nigeria will develop a more robust sectorial action plan and expand the scope of our sovereign green bonds in line with our intended upward review of Nigeria's NDCs [nationally-determined contributions] towards the inclusion of water and waste sectors by 2020.

"We will take concrete steps to harness climate innovative ideas by including youths in decision-making processes as part of our over-all climate governance architecture. We will mobilise Nigerian youths towards planting 25 million trees to enhance Nigeria's carbon sink.

"In the energy sector, Nigeria is presently diversifying its energy sources from dependence on gas-powered system to hydro, solar, wind, biomass and nuclear sources. Specifically, Nigeria is progressively working to realise 30 per cent energy efficiency and renewable energy mix by 2030. This is envisaged to lead to 179 million tons of carbon dioxide reduction per annum by 2030.

"I should also inform the summit that our government has introduced climate smart agricultural practices to unlock 74 million tons of carbon dioxide per annum, through relevant technologies, advocacy and best practices.

"As you are aware, the Lake Chad Basin, which used to be a region of productivity, food security and wealth for an estimated 40 million citizens living around the Chad Basin, has shrunk significantly from its original size due to climate change.

"We will continue to lead in efforts to have solid partnerships for the ecological restoration and recharge of the Lake. We are confident that this would improve the living conditions of the diverse nationals living in the area, promote inter-state cooperation, strengthen community resilience, as well as assist in addressing the environmental and security crisis that threaten the region, its resources and inhabitants.

"I am glad that the Secretary-General and some of the member states represented in this hall are partnering with us in this endeavour. We thank them for their cooperation and I look forward to deepening our partnership. Thank you very much!"

'Disgraceful', 'tortuous'

The president's handers circulated the response to the media on September 23, and it was published in full by PREMIUM TIMES on the same day. But the presidency did not clarify to the media that the speech was read in a response to a specific question for which a succinct, off-the-cuff answer should suffice.

The outrage, however, came on September 24 when the presidency's digital engagement office circulated a video of the event that contained both the question from the moderator and the president's seemingly incoherent reply.

Tolu Ogunlesi, a new media aide to the president, received immediate backlash for circulating the video and subjecting his principal to an avoidable ridicule.

God, no! This is painful to watch. The question wasn't about climate change. He was asked about the place of the youth in Nigeria's future, and, unfortunately, he read out an unrelated script as a response. You, the President's media handlers, are his biggest undoing. https://t.co/Nwu9Qctf9r

- Gimba Kakanda (@gimbakakanda) September 25, 2019

And this guy actually posted this video to hype our man? 🤦‍♂️ I don't know who is more dull, the newspaper reading president or his dummy PR that posted the dumbness of the old man to the whole world praising him for his climate change expo https://t.co/oGA9Wno2I5

- Man Like Blaze ™ (@BlazeBeat1) September 25, 2019

Bashir Ahmad, another new media aide to the president, abruptly took down his tweet of the video after being criticised for not immediately realising the video was counterproductive.

But overwhelmingly, Nigerians criticised the president for what they saw as a 'disgraceful' performance that brought them a 'nightmare'.

Please someone tell me this is an old video. Please this can't be yesterday. This is a torture no one should have to bear.What a catastrophe!This is what we have as President?!Calling Muhammad Buhari @MBuhari incompetent inept and clueless is actually a compliment! He is worse https://t.co/44l6y5hlA9

- Aisha Yesufu (@AishaYesufu) September 25, 2019

Since the summit is about climate change, they already assumed they can't ask Buhari anything aside climate change, so Tolu, Bashir & the rest of d team prepared a speech & put baba in autopilot mode, now they asked baba about plans for d future, he was saying something else, smh https://t.co/jFx53oqpwb

- Olorunshola Emmanuel (@iamimanuel) September 25, 2019

Zero correlation between question and answer but very typical of the Buhari administration:

They bring watery solutions to non-crucial issues while leaving the real problems unsolved and unanswered.

Watching this, for me, was mental torture and really quite painful. https://t.co/upzl8H7bDA

- Demola Olarewaju (@DemolaRewaju) September 25, 2019

Who else noticed no applause was given after the recitation?Beautiful nonsense!!!

Considering the question asked and the answer given. No lecturer in Nigeria deserves to fail any student for answering wrongly in exams.#UNGA2019 https://t.co/4dACWHLoNV

- Goodfella.✍ (@flave15) September 25, 2019

Did I miss the question?🙈🙆🏽‍♂️.

Bubu went with a script and it didn't matter whether you asked him about a young population or about dwindling revenues, the answer is "we are focusing on climate change" 🤣🤣🤣🙆🏽‍♂️ https://t.co/IK5paMo7IO

- Zeal Ak (@zeal_a) September 25, 2019

Question: "Nigeria has a young population , perhaps you may highlight what the pathway to a resilient future looks like?"

Answer: @NGRPresident reads out script - word for word - on #ClimateChange

At this rate of foolishness, Nigeria is far from everything development 😭😭 https://t.co/TghrDuTYU9

- Hoe🍆Lee😳Water💦 (@BodaMajidi) September 25, 2019

So embarrassing! When it has reached the level that PMB cannot respond to simple questions ex tempore, why allow him to be part of a panel discussion? His handlers could have arranged for one of the officials that accompanied him to UNGA 2019, do justice to the Question! Aarrghh! https://t.co/6zMP5dVXZo

- Lizzy Ine-Akhabue (@IneLizzy) September 25, 2019

Q1. Using Pythagoras theorem, find the relationship between the question asked and the answer answered... [Hint: certificate=affidavit]

Q2. Who did we offend?🤷‍♂️ https://t.co/iozNS7c9cD

- Nnaemeka Udokwu (@emekaudokwu) September 25, 2019

Mr Buhari's aides insisted the response was not off tangent while pushing back against the scathing attacks on Wednesday night.

"The online hysteria is completely unnecessary," according to an unsigned statement that was circulated by State House officials but only attributable to 'President's Media Office." It was unclear why none of the president's more than a dozen media aides could sign the statement.

The statement said the president gave a coherent reply to the actual question that was asked against the backdrop of the event.

"The theme of President Buhari's panel was 'Towards a Resilient Future'," the statement said. "To address the theme of the event, President Buhari chose to deliver prepared remarks."

The presidency said since the moderator used the word 'resilient future' in her question, the president addressed "exactly that in his prepared remarks... highlighting what a "resilient future" will look like in Nigeria -- by focusing on the administration's policies."

Some of the administration's supporters on social media agreed, dismissing criticism as a distraction by elements determined not to see the bright side of Mr Buhari's government.

I've seen many people wail, groan and make so much noise about this video and I'm tempted to believe it's either mischief or ignorance. How did they want him to answer the question? A was that not the answer he provided? Well... people will always talk https://t.co/UL0UHhlAVf

- Mallam Maigida (@Deerok4) September 26, 2019

A social media, commentator, Dipo Awojide, said it was awkward for the president to take a prepared speech to a stage of panelists.

I really don't know what is going on in that Buhari's UN video but no one should be reading a speech from a paper or iPad or whatever on a panel discussion. You should speak from your head and engage the audience. That is if it is a panel discussion.

- Dr. Dípò Awójídé (@OgbeniDipo) September 25, 2019

Presidnt's Health Situation

Mr Buhari has faced questions about his health since assuming office in 2015. The president is now spending his second term in office, having been declared winner of the presidential poll in February.

The president has made several trips to London for medical treatment since 2015, with two of them lasting between 51 days in early 2017 and 103 days mid-year. The presidency has consistently rejected Nigerians' demand for transparency over the president's illness, with officials only disclosing a persistent ear infection.

While Nigerians largely suspect the president's old age may naturally impair his physical well-being, they have mooted concerns about the president's apparent memory lapses -- especially his ability to remember things or give coherent response to questions.

In June 2015, after honouring an invitation to take part at the G7 Summit in Germany, Mr Buhari said he had met with 'President Michelle' of West Germany. Meanwhile, the president only met Angela Merkel who has been the German chancellor since 2005 -- and not then-German President Joachim Gauck.

West Germany ceased to exist since 1990 following its reunification with East Germany at the end of the Cold War.

In 2016, Nigerians were again alarmed by Mr Buhari's response to a question about his anti-corruption effort. A reporter for German broadcaster, DW, had asked the president about his crackdown on alleged corrupt persons, especially in the wake of Sambo Dasuki's case. He, however, replied with criticism of multinational oil corporations and their exploitation in the Niger-Delta.

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