• By Hannu Afere

Greta Thunberg at 16 has the world angry. The Swedish native who has Asperger’s Syndrome, first garnered worldwide attention when she skipped school to protest climate change on the steps of the Swedish parliament. Since then she has not only become a voice but also the face of climate change. For people who believe her message on climate change and view the earth as a planet in crisis, Greta speaks pure unvarnished truth. For the rest, the reactions range from dismissing her speeches as the ramblings of a precocious child to mocking harsh attacks on her person, her condition or her looks. These polarizing reactions came to the fore during the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit.

During this summit, we saw Greta Thunberg face down world leaders giving an impassioned speech daring to ask “How dare you look to my generation for hope?” To the esteemed audience and while the world’s political sphere burns up with the audacity of it all whether it’s positive or negative, we as Nigerians do not have the same luxury. This is because while a sixteen year old who not only managed to speak eloquently in a language that isn’t her native tongue but actually made an impact during her speech, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari managed only to incite scorn from the average Nigerian. Shortly before Buhari was called to give a speech the moderator asked this question; “President Buhari, Nigeria has a very young population. Perhaps you might highlight what a pathway for a resilient future looks like?”

To which the president replied with a prepared speech where he begun with;

“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 actions in line with the request of the Secretary-General. It is in this regard that I wish to reiterate Nigeria’s commitment to its obligation under the Paris Agreement, the aspirations enshrined in our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and ensure a resilient future that mainstreams climate risks in our decision making.”

The four minute long clip was uploaded on Twitter by the Special Assistant to the President on Digital and Media Tolu Ogunlesi who took it down after facing some serious backlash from less than impressed Nigerians. Buhari is not known for his eloquence in public speaking, this is an already established fact. What stands out though was the obvious disregard for the question thrown at him to open the floor, so to speak, so he could give his already prepared speech. Now the Special Assistant on Digital and Media has come to his defense to the shock of absolutely no one and spoken quite emphatically that the introduction given by the moderator was merely that, an introduction. He (Tolu Ogunlesi), insists that The President could choose whether or not to answer the supposed question and he simply chose not to. That is not a big deal is it? Nigerians, according to him have done what Nigerians are wont to do by ignoring the message and focusing instead on irrelevant happenings that have nothing to do with the matter at hand. Is he right? I don’t think so.

The truth is that whether or not it was an introduction, it was still a question. The President of Nigeria is notorious for going wildly off topic or stringing together words that might make sense only after careful perusal. Nigerians are suspicious and rightly so considering past experiences, that the President simply did not answer the question because he could not. Let us face it, the question was out of the blue and President Buhari has shown time and time again that he is unable to think on his feet. He instead waits for his ever ready team of overpaid intellectuals to feed him answers, a bit like a not so bright kid who copies answers off the smartest kid in school and bribes them later with candy. Perhaps Buhari simply was not ready for a question not pertaining to the already prepared speech, which to be fair he read quite smoothly, thank goodness for small favors.

Could he have simply chosen not to answer? Yes but for a President whose major controversies surround his lack of a WAEC Result that answer seems plausible but not likely. Nigerians want to have faith in the government, what citizens of a country would not? Instead of dismissing concerns why does the government not address the question of the competency of the President head on? No smoke screens, no scoffing condescension, just pure unvarnished truth. Nigeria as a country is suffering in the international community, our image is in tatters and our economy is in shambles meanwhile every other day we uncover new “Nigerian” fraudsters home and abroad. To put it simply, this country needs more than prepared speeches and intellectual coyness to fix what is broken. With Buhari’s lack of ingenuity is that even possible? It may seem like a question, a mundane matter that has been blown out of proportion but this incident is only a symptom of an underlying cancer that collects more diseased cell as the days pass. A problem the government is willfully and wholly ignoring.

Perhaps The President needs to borrow a page from the book of Greta Thunberg and teach himself the intricacies of a subject he claims to be passionate about, governing the nation to greater heights of prosperity. Perhaps it is us, the citizens of Nigeria who need to take a page or two from her book and learn to stand for what we believe in and what we want. Perhaps we need to learn to stare down inconsistencies and injustices in the face like those world leaders attending the summit and say “How dare you look to us for hope when you have the power to change things from your seat of power?”


Hannu  Afere (c) Sept 2019

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