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Buhari has been waging a useless cold war against Nigerian media


Over the past couple of years, there’s been a running joke about how President Muhammadu Buhari is only able to comfortably open his mouth when the breeze of foreign countries touches his face.

In the course of the three years that he’s been president of Nigeria, Buhari’s engagement with the Nigerian media can best be described as disconcerting. While he has been more amenable to speaking to the foreign media during trips to foreign countries, the president has only been touching the local media with a 10-foot pole.

Ever since he participated in a presidential media chat in December 2015, President Buhari’s voice has been sorely lacking in personally addressing key issues when he’s inside the country’s borders.

In fact, as far back as 2015 around the time of that media chat, there were already criticisms of the president’s penchant for making important policy statements while abroad. It didn’t take him time to garner a reputation as the president who unveils policy ideas while surrounded by foreign oxygen and people who are not too affected by those policies.

In place of Buhari’s presidential voice, Nigerians have had to be content with scripted and unscripted communiqués delivered through the condescending channels of his media dronesL-R: Lauretta Onochie, Lai Mohammed, President Muhammadu Buhari, Garba Shehu and Abike Dabiri-Erewa

The president is wrapped in wool by his media team (Twitter/@NGRPresident )

With every Boko Haram attack, each new one worse than the last; or corruption scandals that have been covered in fingerprints of top officials in his inner circle; or more recently, attacks by suspected herdsmen in the country, the president typically maintains undignified silence only sometimes punctuated with prepared statements from his media team.

Since that presidential media chat in 2015, he hasn’t had any interviews of any form with the Nigerian media. However, in that same time, he has been accommodating enough to sit comfortably and cavort with foreign media in foreign countries.

The president’s erratic media engagement has puzzled many for years, especially since there has been no direct word from him as to why he prefers to employ a reticent mode of communication when he’s faced with a sea of opportunities to lend his voice to burning issues in the country.

However, after his recent working trip to the United States of America, Nigerians should have a little bit more clarity on why their president has been playing hard-to-get with the local media.

If there’s anything that rubbed off on Buhari from his meeting with US president, Donald Trump, during his trip, it has to be Trump’s disdain for the media. The combative US president has made “fake news” a catchphrase in his campaign against the media, and some of his fiery influence might have been responsible for loosening Buhari’s lips about his own local media.US President Donald Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari hold a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 30, 2018

Trump appears to have passed the baton of media bashing to Buhari (AFP)

 While finally clearing the air on recent comments he made about how a large population of Nigerian youths wait on handouts from the government, President Buhari put the confusion of the whole situation down to the media’s refusal to fully report his comments.

According to him, the Nigerian media is selective in the sort of reports publised  to be consumed by the Nigerian people.

He said, “All these explanations I made, they refused to highlight them in their report and you know the media in Nigeria in most cases only do what they like.

“For instance, the nation’s achievements in the agricultural sector where millions of Nigerians benefited financially were left unreported by the media.”

The president didn’t stop there as  he noted that despite the unhelpful Nigerian media, his administration will continue to thrive.

“The media may not appreciate the work we are doing but we will shock them by the success we are recording,” he said.

Ever since the president’s perceived aloofness towards the Nigerian media, and Nigerians, this is the first time he has been explicit about his feelings. It suddenly makes sense that the years of intermittent media engagement from the president have been his own brand of punishment for erring children with too much agency to not toe the official line.

If his comments are anything to go by, the president has been displeased with the Nigerian media for having the liberty to operate without pandering to his government and what it subjectively considers success.

The Nigerian media, present company included, has not been kind to President Buhari’s administration, but it’s hard to argue that most of his government’s troubles are not self-inflicted. From failing or performing abjectly on key campaign promises, one fails to see what the president is miffed about.

His most legitimately highlighted success of late has been his revolution of the agricultural sector; and while great strides have definitely been made, the country is hardly in a great place right now; a far cry from what was promised.Buhari officially declares to run for 2nd term

Change has been slow (Twitter/BashirAhmaad)

Only five months into 2018 alone, hundreds of lives have been lost to wanton killings that still have the government chasing its tail; Boko Haram is still a black mark on the nation’s collective conscience; and the anti-corruption war has been struggling under the weight of expectations that the president himself used to ride to power.

There’s undoubtedly been a concerted effort to oust the president from power in next year’s election, and the media has been a willing party to this. However, what the president might consider a planned witch hunt of his administration is simply what many consider a fairly objective review of his tenure.

From a personal point of view, I do not believe that the president is as bad as he’s been severally painted; but on the other hand, there’s no way to objectively assess Buhari’s administration without reaching the conclusion that he has  failed to meet the target he set for himself only three years ago.

In those three years, the president appears to have been waging a cold, methodical war on the local media in the country while he has been exposing himself to the foreign media where  the results have not always been palatable  to people back home.

Rather than a perceived misrepresentation of his words by the media, the outbursts against the remarks falling out of the president’s mouth – whether it’s him appearing to absolve herdsmen of savage attacks or indicting hardworking Nigerian youths – are simply a manifestation of his own inability to get his points across in a sound manner.

The president might not get told this enough by his own coddling media team that has gone above and beyond to wrap him in wool, but a bulk of the flak that his administration has gotten is his fault.President Muhammadu Buhari and Femi Adesina“I shall give a thought to my administration’s failings but first, a selfie.” If the president could spare a day of introspection to objectively consider all the issues in a manner devoid of self-absorption, this is the same conclusion he would reach.

Even the foreign media that he seems to love so much has never really been unequivocally behind his administration either, the president has just been selective with how he appraises their content.

His administration has been highly dismissive of unfavourable reports from the foreign media, while unevenly quick to jump at every scrap of good news that also comes from there. The foreign media’s review of the president’s administration has been just as critical of his underwhelming first term as much as the local media has; Aso Rock is merely just more giddy with every whiff of positive foreign recognition of its administration that it tends to blow it up to shove the negative feedback into dark corners.

The same Nigerian media that the president appears to be in conflict with now was very instrumental to his momentous victory over a government that proved itself to be as exhausting as this one has also turned out to be.

With the president gearing up for re-election at next year’s polls, he has to realise he needs the local media more than his foreign friends. President Buhari cannot afford to continue alienating the local media simply because he thinks they’re not giving him his dues.

It’s not that the local media is unfair towards your administration Mr President, you’re just not as good as you think.


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