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Why knowing your Germany from your “West Germany” matters

President Buhahahari’s mumbling and fumbling last week about visiting “President Michel of West Germany” has kicked up a storm on social media.

Several of the pro-Buhari comments have claimed that the comments were just “mistakes”. Some argued that George W Bush was known for such “mistakes”. Bush had a huge collection of what was termed “Bushisms”. Even Barack Obama has been known to “mis-speak”. Others claimed that such “mistakes” don’t matter as long as Buhahari delivers on the critical things that matter to Nigerians – security, electricity, infrastructure, jobs, etc.

There is so much wrong with these arguments.

If you want to defend Buhahari, bringing up Bush doesn’t really help your case. Bush was not fit to be US president, and possibly would not have made it that far if not for family connections. He did not have the intellect for the job and it showed. He was responsible for the biggest foreign policy disaster in US history since Vietnam – the invasion of Iraq that led to mass deaths and destruction, and the entire region is still suffering the effects seven years after Bush left office. Bush also couldn’t tell his Slovakia from his Slovenia, didn’t know there were black people in Brazil and so on.

However, an American president could afford to not be the sharpest pencil in the box because their governance and systems have been embedded for so long, with a huge army of policy advisers and officials to guide the top man. We don’t have such luxury in Nigeria. And our subculture of sycophancy doesn’t really encourage providing the president with critical advice or the elevation of the officials capable of providing such advice.

In a developing country, where the fundamentals for providing the basics of life for the majority of the people are yet to be put in place, we can’t afford leadership that doesn’t have a basic grasp of the issues.

You need such knowledge to understand what the problem is in order to have a vision on what is a workable solution. If you don’t even know that Germany has reunified, how would you figure out a way out of the quagmire that is power supply in Nigeria? If you don’t know the simple things, you’ve got no chance with the complex.

Competence in leadership is not possible without knowledge. And you need an inquiring mind and the intellectual curiosity to open yourself up to becoming knowledgeable.

Our president just came back from the G7 Summit in Germany when he made his infamous “President Michel of West Germany” statement. This was a demonstration of incompetence of the worst order. Was he not briefed about where he was going before the summit? Did his briefing not include background information on all the major players? Did he read the briefing? If he was not provided with briefing, why did not ask for it? How could the president of an alleged “Giant of Africa” go off to a meeting with the major world powers, in which he was expected to negotiate deals that would benefit his country and not be prepared with relevant information about the people he was meeting?

There is no excuse for this sort of incompetence and it cuts to the core of what is wrong with Nigeria.

The problem with Nigeria is that too many Nigerians are ignorant of what the problem is. Bala Usman said: “ Ignorance is not the same as illiteracy. Knowledge is not the same as literacy, or, even the same as the acquisition of educational certificates, or, academic ranks. Some of the most highly literate Nigerians, and the most highly educated, by virtue of their certificates and ranks, are some of the most ignorant over many crucial areas of natural and human existence and over our national life, like our geography, history, economy and politics.”

The president’s comments were not “mistakes”. They demonstrated his ignorance of the proper title for the German leader, his ignorance of her name and his ignorance of the fact that West Germany no longer exists. To competently address Nigeria’s problems, you need knowledge because accurate diagnosis means you are on the way to finding a cure.

It is the height of folly to believe that an ignorant man would somehow manage to stumble on solutions to the myriad of maladies that afflict Nigeria. You might as well let an “okada man” (motorcycle taxi rider) fly a plane.

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