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 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 a gas-powered system to hydro, solar, wind, biomass and nuclear sources. Specifically, Nigeria is progressively working to realize a 30 percent 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 endeavor. We thank them for their cooperation and I look forward to deepening our partnership. Thank you very much!”
The president’s handers circulated the response to the media on September 23. But the president 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 president’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 avoidable ridicule.
Watch video below:
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.