Buhari artwork
Buhari artwork

Defending President Mohammedu Buhari’s remark that Nigerian youths are lazy is like putting icing on cow dung. It may look nice on the outside, but the odor would still be there. In this case the nauseating odor stinks to high heavens.

The unfortunate remark ran foul of a key theory of communication. Harold Laswell’s theory of “Who says What? In which Channel? To Whom? With What Effect?” Laswell stated that “Who?” refers to the communicator and control analysis. “Says what?” refers to content analysis. “In which channel?” refers to media analysis. “To whom?” refers to audience analysis. “With what effect?” refers to effect analysis. In the instant case: “Who?” The President of Nigeria. “Said what?” Nigerian youths are lazy. “In which channel?” The global media. “To whom?” The whole world. “With what effect?” The world should beware of Nigerian youths because they are lazy (reluctant to exert themselves; averse to work; sluggish).

The Commonwealth forum in London where Buhari made this shocking and lazy remark was not a religious or moral readjustment program. If it were such an event, one would have understood the need to table a socio-cultural problem for forensic analysis. It certainly was not a problem-solving convocation either. It did not, in all ramifications, lend itself to tabling local or domestic problems. It was meant to encourage international investments and cooperation.

But, perhaps, one should not look at this from a purely communications perspective. Let us also consider the social psychology of what Buhari said from the perspective that every action of man is based on a cost/benefit consideration. A cost/benefit analysis of what the president said is, apparently, a haphazard enterprise as only he could speak on his motivations. More so, you judge a man by his actions but the man judges himself by his intentions. So what could have been his intention in indulging in such “a flight of fantasy” in London?

Was it a Freudian slip? My friend, Umoren, a university don, believes it was a Freudian slip, which betrayed his bias against Southern youths. He points out that the aspect of “waiting for oil money” fixes the last part of the jigsaw puzzle. Umoren argues that youths in the North do not talk much about oil money “and such stuff.” So he may not have had Northern youths in mind. Think again: Are Boko Haram members not youths? Are they lazy? So if the president had them in mind, would he have said that youths were lazy? Or would he have said that they were violent and destructive? Or is laziness more dangerous (and of more concern to Buhari) than suicide bombing and terrorism? Which youths did he actually have in mind?

It was unfortunate that this uncomplimentary remark about Nigerian youths was made at a forum designed for heads of state and government to market their national brands and encourage global investments. It was a forum for Buhari to tell the world what he has done to make Nigeria a better place – not what the youths were doing or were not doing. It was a forum for Nigeria to be celebrated – not lambasted. It was a forum for marketing your country in the international stage – not deriding it.

Jumping like a cat on hot bricks from one innuendo to the other and from one euphemism to the other, Buharists have claimed that what Buhari said was the truth. This apparently was a case of asking a man, “Who was Mungo Park?” And he replied, “He died of malaria at Jebba.” Technically correct and true, but irrelevant in the context of the question. Added to this, truth can only be established through research and there is no body of knowledge, which lends credence to what the President said about Nigerian youths being lazy.

However, for the sake of argument, let us assume that there were a research support for the argument that Nigerian youths are lazy, would it have been right for Buhari to say so in London? The answer is a resounding “NO!” When you table domestic problems at an international forum, you admit your helplessness or inability to solve them. America has had a problem with youth violence and drugs, but that has never formed part of the speech of any American President in any international forum. The Italians have had decades of problems with the Mafia and drugs, yet no Italian president had sought to internationalize the domestic problem at a global forum. No president, worthy of the office, washes his country’s dirty linens in the global space. The president is first and foremost his country’s chief brand strategist and chief public relations officer. His communication should increase the esteem of the country in the global stage.

The other argument of Buharists, particularly, from Aso Rock had been that he meant “a lot of Nigerian youths” not “all Nigerian youths.” This is a ridiculous argument! The distinction between “a lot of” and “all of” pale into insignificance when considered from the standpoint of authority (The President). In scientific research, there are no absolutes. When you measure variation, you cannot say that 100 per cent of the times, a particular thing would react a particular way. To accommodate this in research, you have error margins and you desist from using absolutes. The fall back position is usually something like “a lot of,” and you back it up by showing the tested proof of regularity or frequency. Therefore, “a lot of” means the majority and can also be used modestly and euphemistically for “all of.”

However, what happened in London was simply another line in a pattern Nigerians are familiar with. The present administration has turned faultfinding into an art. But if the truth must be told, Nigerian youths are not lazy. And they are not lazy because the country is not affluent. Lazy youths are found in affluent societies with social welfare programs like unemployment allowances, social security, health insurance, educational insurance, etc. In societies were survival is a rat race, like Nigeria, you are in real live “survivor series” – not the TV reality show. What you have in Nigeria is the survival of the fittest – you must “race” or die. The conditions are laziness-proof.

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