More often than not, leaders across the world are put on the defensive either in form of a backlash for a policy misstep or by the ferocious snap of their political detractors.
Also as frequent, though, is the tendency of their aides to swiftly intervene and minimise the magnitude of public relations damage a controversy could inflict on their principals.
This is what top officials of the Buhari administration have done over the past two and a half years.
Within this period, the government has endured its fair share of public relations nightmare.
From disowning its official campaign document following citizens’ demand for fulfilment of promises; to blaming rats for budget inconsistencies, some of Buhari administration’s excuses could stack up well with those of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Saddam Hussein’s spokesperson who was declaring victory on TV even when invading Americans could be seen launching sorties in the background.
Following the recent blaming of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party for the scandalous recall of a dismissed fugitive into public service —an excuse that rivals the legendary dog-ate-my-homework parlance— PREMIUM TIMES collates 10 of the government’s most controversial, even ridiculous, excuses.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but here’s our top 11 in no particular order:
- Rats invasion compelled president to work from home
The administration came under intense ridicule when it claimed that President Buhari was compelled to work from home because he discovered that rats had taken over his office when he returned from his latest medical vacation in the U.K.
The presidency was trying to disabuse the public from reports that the president might not have recovered well enough to undertake presidential duties.
- Ministers are noisemakers
When Mr. Buhari began feeling the heat from the public after failing to appoint ministers nearly four months into his term, he excused himself by undermining the role of ministers.
“The ministers are there, I think, to make a lot of noise,” the president said during a trip to Paris in September 2015. He hyped the efforts of civil servants as crucial to running public service.
While civil servants play long-term roles by virtue of their career, the ministers have constitutional roles to play in government.
While the civil servants could be delegated by the president, ministers help drive the policy of an administration. They sit at federal executive council meetings with the president for policy directives.
The policy agenda of an administration based on its ideology is foisted on civil servants to implement through the ministers, who are political appointees and usually members of the ruling party.
- Rats tampered with budget
The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, blamed rats for manipulating the budget of his ministry — subsequently disowning it.
The excuse competed with an earlier claim by lawmakers that their version of the same 2016 budget had suddenly gone missing.
- PDP responsible for Maina scandal
Abdulrasheed Maina, a civil servant and former chairman of presidential task reform team, was dismissed from service as an assistant director in 2013 by President Goodluck Jonathan for alleged corruption.
Mr. Maina was recommended for prosecution, but he fled from the law to Dubai. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission then declared him wanted.
In 2015, Mr. Buhari defeated Mr. Jonathan’s bid to return for a second term in office.
No one had heard much from Mr. Maina since he bolted until two weeks ago when PREMIUM TIMES revealed that the Buhari administration, despite its claims to be tough on corruption, had surreptitiously reinstated him into the civil service.
The public outrage that followed the report sent the administration reeling.
But rather than take serious disciplinary measures against those responsible for the gross violations and implement changes that would forestall future occurrences, the presidency decided to shirk responsibility — in the most bizarre way it could.
Mr. Shehu, unsurprisingly, issued a statement, putting the blame of Mr. Maina’s return on Mr. Jonathan, who had stopped directing Nigeria’s affairs for 875 days preceding the scandal.
Of course, Mr. Jonathan lashed out at the administration, describing it as “uncoordinated and rudderless“. But even this wasn’t nearly as scathing as the barrage of insults directed at Mr. Buhari and his aides for passing the buck.
- Recession is just a word
When Nigeria’s economy plunged into recession last year, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, moved to assuage the fears of Nigerians.
Mrs. Adeosun urged citizens not to be frightened about the development, saying a recession is just “a word.”
Following public backlash, she later denied ownership of the Twitter account, saying she could not have altered such. The tweet was also deleted.
But two days later, PREMIUM TIMES spotted a video that showed Mrs. Adeosun actually making those statements.
“I know people are concerned about recession. Recession is a word,” Mrs. Adeosun said. “We can come out of recession.”
- Handover notes delayed ministerial appointment
Apparently having forgotten that he had earlier downplayed the importance of ministers and said he was not in a hurry to appoint them, Mr. Buhari in November 2015 said Jonathan administration officials were to blame for delay in ministerial appointments.
During a speech at the National Democratic Institute, which came a few days after he inaugurated the first set of ministers, the president blamed the Jonathan administration for submitting “vague” handover notes to his own government.
Throughout the speech, which was read by Lai Mohammed, the minister of information who represented him at the event, nowhere did the government highlight the specific aspects of Mr. Jonathan’s handover notes that were vague.
This excuse is ridiculous because handover notes are optional and, all over the world, incoming leaders are known to have selected key cabinet positions even before their inauguration.
When the National Assembly considered major amendments to the Constitution, it included a timeframe within which a new president must name cabinet members.
The lawmakers did not consider the significance of any handover note before imposing no longer than 30 days from the day of assumption of office because they know it’s not mandatory, even though it’s part of the democratic process.
- Buhari postponed Federal Executive Council meeting to receive a report
Mr. Buhari returned from his latest medical vacation in London on Saturday, August 19. His first FEC meeting was supposed to be Wednesday, August 23, but the president postponed it.
A State House statement said the decision was taken to give the president a chance to receive a report on alleged corruption by suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, as well as the discovered Ikoyi cash haul involving the National Intelligence Agency.
A picture later circulated shortly after the statement, which showed that the president received some documents from the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Receiving a report should take a few minutes at most. And this could be done before or after the FEC meeting, which usually holds between 10:00 a.m. and noon.
- PDP to blame for all that ails Buhari’s government
Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali, dropped a hoopla on Friday when he held the PDP responsible for Mr. Buhari’s shortcomings.
Mr. Ali, a key ally of the president, declared that the administration has failed, but said all the recorded misfortunes could be ascribed to PDP’s alleged influence over Mr. Buhari’s choices.
- Federal Executive Council meeting cancelled because of Sallah
The FEC meeting for Wednesday, September 6, was cancelled since ministers had no time to prepare their paperwork due to Sallah break, according to Mr. Mohammed.
The government declared public holidays for Friday, September 1 and Monday, September 4 for 2017 Sallah. The celebration itself held on September 1.
The excuse sent tongues wagging across the country since the FEC has a fixed date that all cabinet members are aware of.
In 2014, Sallah holidays were on October 6 and 7, yet the Jonathan administration convened FEC on October 8.
It was only in 2013 that FEC was cancelled because October 15 and 16, Tuesday and Wednesday, fell on public holidays for that year’s Sallah.
- Unnamed official made scandalous insertion into president’s speech
While launching a campaign to preach against “widespread act of immorality” a year ago, Mr. Buhari lifted quotes from Barack Obama without attribution while reading from a prepared speech.
The plagiarism was later observed by a THISDAY columnist, Adeola Akinremi, earning the president another round of public condemnation.
The presidency subsequently blamed the scandal on an unnamed deputy director at the State House, even after Mr. Buhari himself had apologised for the damage.
- SSS Recruitment Scandal
When, in April, PREMIUM TIMES uncovered how the State Security Service quietly recruited far more persons in from the north than the south against the country’s federal character laws, the presidency responded.
In a distributed statement on the same day, the Buhari administration confirmed the lopsidedness but said it was informed by an alleged imbalance in previous recruitments carried out by the agency.
But no evidence was provided to support this claim, despite requests that the nominal roll of the agency showing staff distribution by states be published. It was clear that the presidency was only playing up some of the excuses that were adduced on social media by the administration’s loyalists.