Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Omololu Ogunmade and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Presidency and the United States Embassy in Abuja have refused to respond to a report in the Financial Times (FT) of London, where US President Donald Trump was reported to have described President Muhammadu Buhari as lifeless.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, told THISDAY Monday that the presidency would not react to such a comment.
Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs failed to respond to THISDAY’s call and text messages, seeking the federal government’s position on the report.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama did not pick his call or respond to the text message sent to him. The ministry’s spokesperson, Dr. Tope Elias-Fatile, also did not reply his text message.
The FT while reporting the planned meeting between Trump and his Kenya’s counterpart, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, billed for Monday, reported that Trump, after meeting with Buhari last April, the first with any African leader, told his aides that he never wanted to meet someone so lifeless again.
The Monday meeting, which according to the report, is part of efforts by the Trump administration to foster stronger ties with Africa, it is hoped, would end US neglect of the continent.
Already, the White House said Uhuru Kenyatta’s Kenya was one of closest US security and trade partners in Africa.
“Donald Trump will welcome Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta to the White House on Monday for what will be only the second one-on-one meeting the US president has held with a sub-Saharan African leader since he took office last year,” the FT reported, adding: “The first meeting, with Nigeria’s ailing 75-year-old Muhammadu Buhari in April, ended with the US president telling aides he never wanted to meet someone so lifeless again, according to three people familiar with the matter.”
However, when contacted, officials of the embassy in Abuja declined comments on the issue. Calls to the spokesperson at the embassy, Russell Brooks, were not answered and another staff at the embassy who pleaded anonymity refused to also say anything.
On the Kenya’s president visit, the report said advocates of closer US-Africa ties hope the encounter with the much younger Kenyatta, 56, “will breathe fresh life into a relationship with a region that Washington is seen to have neglected as other countries, notably China, develop ever-closer trade and investment ties with the continent”.
It added: “Africa has never been high on his radar but if the big guy likes you he’ll find a way to make things work.”
Trump is widely criticised for not having an Africa policy. So it’s in his interest to have something from [meeting Kenyatta] he can present as a win.
President Fit and Lively, Says Media Organ
But the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) Monday said the president would not be distracted by the derogatory remarks credited to President Trump, but will remain focused on his mandate to deliver on his promises to the Nigerian people.
While describing Trump’s comment as disrespectful, the Chairman of the group, Mr. Niyi Akinsiju, and Secretary, Mr. Cassidy Maduekwe, said in a statement that whether it was indeed said or in fact unsaid, Buhari would in his character continue to remain focused on his mandate to deliver on his promises to the Nigerian people.
The group said: “President Buhari is fit and capable to run for the 2019 elections and oversee the affairs of the country for four more years, President Trump’s hate speech notwithstanding.”
They stressed that this was not the first time the US President was heard to make such derogatory remarks about world leaders, and thus Buhari would not be distracted by such.
They said: “We are aware that President Trump’s disrespect for World Leaders is not new; his comments on Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, calling him ‘meek and mild’; his reference to Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel’s actions as ‘insane’, or his outlandish Tweet at the UK’s Theresa May, and more recently, the alleged remarks he made after meeting President Buhari.”
Commenting on the development, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said Monday that Buhari and his handlers had opened the nation up for international ridicule.
The National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement in Abuja on Monday said such embarrassment is what a nation gets when “incompetent leaders, out of inferiority complex, resort to jumping around the world,” desperately shopping for endorsement from world leaders.
The party said Buhari had been seeking international recognitions that were not predicated on any achievements from his three years in office.
It charged the president to take a cue from Trump’s comment by settling down at home and discharge his responsibilities to Nigerians and humbly accept his failure.
According to the opposition party, “While the PDP has strong reservations on the reported comment by President Trump, for which we demand a response from the Buhari Presidency and the US White House, the party further holds that had our dear President not cheapened the exalted office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by his woeful outing during his visit to the United States, President Trump would not have had the opportunity to assess his level of incompetence and make such an embarrassing statement about our President.”
In its comment, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) said Trump’s comment was an affirmation of the widely held beliefs that Nigeria was running on autopilot and in danger of being thrown off the cliff by the crass incompetence of Buhari.
The national spokesman of CUPP, Mr. Ikenga Ugochinyere, described the statement by Trump as the last awakening call for Nigerians to go and collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to enable them elect a President in 2019 who understands what the issues are.