President Goodluck Jonathan and his running mate think so little of Nigerians that they have so far fled any venue where the presidential candidates have been invited to hold a debate. But when young Nigerians invited all the candidates to a debate tagged “What About Us?” to be anchored by acclaimed novelist, Chimamanda Adichie, many of them were certain that Mr. Jonathan would not say no to them.
They obviously didn’t know the man.
Instead of facing Adichie, Mr. Jonathan arranged his own one-man “debate,” inviting Nigeria’s hip-hop star, D'banj (whose real name is Dapo Daniel Oyebanjo) to ask him questions in a low-grade, soft session.
On March 17, 2011, D’banj took off his so-called Kokomaster hat and replaced it with that of the voice of the Nigerian youth as he took it upon himself to ask President Jonathan questions "concerning the youth."
We would not have bothered if Jonathan was being prepped for a reality show on D'banj's Koko mansion, but this was a session with a man asking Nigerian voters, including young ones, to entrust him with the highest political office in their country.
Having decided to duck from a debate organized by numerous Nigerian youth groups, Mr. Jonathan nevertheless wanted to show off that he's got the backing of the Nigerian youth. He chose a well-known popular entertainer as collaborator in a patently deceptive game.
Jonathan got it wrong!
Jonathan must have figured that the interview occurred at an opportune moment. It was his attempt to divert attention from the calls for real debates on an independent platform. Yet, in giving D’banj the job of asking him questions, Mr. Jonathan sought to give the impression that he’s in touch with the youth—and has great regard for them. But by choosing a rich stage performer who is obviously out of touch with the realities of the average Nigerian youth, President Jonathan showed himself up as a clueless leader who is out of tune with the vast majority of Nigerian youth and their top issues in the upcoming elections.
D'banj was an embarrassment. He spent much of the interview nodding blankly at Goodluck Jonathan's uninformed answers. The social media universe was merciless. It twittered insults at D’banj and his sponsor, Jonathan. On facebook, more barbs were flung at the two men. Many of D’Banj’s fans pointed to their newfound disrespect for the artist who is now seen as a man with a purchase price.
Many critics were disgusted that D’banj, who’s on Jonathan’s payroll, would dare appoint himself to represent the Nigerian youth.
By granting an interview to the likes of D’banj, Jonathan has ignored the politically aware coalition that formed “What About Us?”—a collection of talented, imaginative, articulate, highly educated and globally acclaimed Nigerian youth.
“Why would this man ignore the youth-led initiative for a real debate and give a comical interview to a hireling like D’banj?” asked a disappointed youth. “Is President Jonathan so scared that he won’t take questions from Chimamanda Adichie?” asked another.
D'Banj’s performance was so bad that he came out looking like a brainless political pawn, too grateful to sit across from a candidate who appears too timid and too unsure of himself to submit to any real debate.
Jonathan and the PDP may be misjudging the youth who are determined to put an end to the era of mediocrity and criminal showmanship that has dragged their nation backward for several decades.
For D’banj it was a regrettable moment, marking his career as an anti-youth crusader.
Adding to D’Banj’s miscalculation is the discovery that the Jonathan campaign is a sponsor of the Koko Concert scheduled to be held on the 25th of March, the same day as the Adichie-anchored youth debate. Many young people have reacted furiously to the news.
While this move might have been packaged by the Jonathan campaign as an ostensible outreach to the youth community, it came off as a huge gaffe, leaving the President looking disconnected from the core concerns of young people—and a man too afraid to speak to the youth without a script.
As for D’banj, the question is whether he’s going to ever regain respect within the Nigerian youth community. One former fan tweeted: "See d cheap propaganda of Dbanj n GEJ. I see y naija youths cant be trusted. Dbanj na west."
The entertainer’s huge public relations misstep might not matter to him, though; he’s making trips to the bank to lodge his lucre!
But one thing is certain, Nigerian youths don’t seem in any mood to be manipulated by politicians who hold them and their issues in contempt—or by their hirelings, whatever seductive songs they may sing!