A must-read interview for President Buhari

There is a popular joke to the effect that if you have something to hide from Nigerians, your best bet is to keep it in a book. Doing so, there is almost a hundred per cent guarantee that it will remain a secret because the average Nigerian does not read. This point was made eloquently by the National Librarian and Chief Executive Officer of the National Library of Nigeria (NLN), Prof. Lenrie Aina, in November last year when he led top officials of NLN to the headquarters of the Nigeria Correctional Service to donate N2 million worth of books for distribution to 37 custodial centres around the country.

Quoting World Culture Statistics on the occasion, Prof. Aina said Nigeria ranked as one of the countries with the lowest reading culture in the world. He said: “In the last three years, we have been very active because there is what is called World Culture Statistics which tries to measure the art of reading all over the world. In the statistics, only two African countries were listed among countries that are reading. The countries are South Africa and Egypt. Nigeria was not among them. As a matter of fact, Nigeria was rated among the countries with the lowest reading culture in the world.”

At an award ceremony organised by the Ogun State Government for its deserving citizens in August, 2007, former President Olusegun Obasanjo openly boasted that he does not read any Nigerian newspaper. His reason: the print media lack in integrity. He said the print media had been using his name to sell their papers, threatening to charge a commission from any of them that used his name for a story.

Mercifully, the same does not seem to be the mentality of President Muhammadu Buhari if the public pictures of him savouring the contents of a copy of The Nation at the dawn of his administration in 2015 are anything to go by. That is the basis on which I am recommending for Mr. President’s perusal a three-page interview the National Publicity Secretary of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, granted this paper last Saturday.

The views expressed by Baba-Ahmed were like a direct response to President Buhari’s claim that his government has done exceedingly well in spite of public opinion to the contrary. In his address at a retreat held for ministers, permanent secretaries and other top government officials at the State House Conference Centre, Presidential Villa, Abuja in September last year, the President only stopped short of blaming the media for the widely held opinion about his government as a non-performing one.  He charged his cabinet members to go on the ‘offensive’ by spreading the news of the many successes of his administration so that ‘politically motivated’ statements would not take the shine off his government’s exploits.

Also in the course of his interviews around May 29, the President had said that Nigerians were not fair to him and his government considering where the country was when he took over the leadership of the country from former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. But asked his views on the President’s statement, Baba-Ahmed said: “This is the kind of thing that people write for him to read. For me, there are clear criteria for President Buhari to assess himself. That is if only he would accept that he is accountable to Nigerians; that how he performs is important to him.

“In terms of the security of the country, we are a lot worse than we were in 2015. I was part of the build and the campaign of President Buhari. I know what he inherited and I saw him mismanage even that opportunity to rebuild the country. And now we have a lot more security challenges than we had in 2015.

“So, I don’t know what his definition of fairness is, unless he just wants people who have become victims of crime and violence to just say thank you very much, sir, for claiming to have done the job that you have not even done.

“But we judge him by how many people are kidnapped by the day; how many people are murdered by the day; how many people are pushed away from their homes, villages and their farmlands; and we judge him by the threat to the security and integrity of the nation.

“So, I think when he says things like we are not fair to him, he merely reads the speeches but he doesn’t read the country.”

The views canvassed by Baba-Ahmed would have been easy to dismiss as the ranting of a biased and disgruntled ethnic irredentist if they had come from someone other than the highly cerebral spokesperson of the highly influential Northern Elders Forum. But as a kinsman of President Buhari from the North, Baba-Ahmed’s voice is akin to that of the proverbial epileptic which must be taken as celestial truth because he goes to heaven on a daily basis.

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