Nigeria slams “racist” Economist magazine report on “Change begins with me” campaign

President Muhammadu Buhari

The Nigerian government has slammed United Kingdom-based magazine, The Economist, over its report on the government’s anti-indiscipline campaign: Change Begins With Me.

President Muhammadu Buhari launched the campaign on September 8, calling on citizens to imbibe new values and change attitudinally before demanding the “change” which he had promised.

But in a report titled: ”Nigeria’s war against indiscipline, Behave or be whipped” – on September 24, The Economist blistered the new campaign.

Locally, the campaign had met with criticisms that – the idea was not original; Mr. Buhari plagiarized parts of his speech during the launch; and that the President was trying to shift burden of “change” promise.

Days after the magazine’s critical report, Nigerian government through the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, reacted on Wednesday. Mr. Mohammed described The Economist’s as “racist” and one characterized by “embellishment”.

“Contrary to the newspaper’s self-professed belief in ”plain language”, the article in question, from the headline to the body, is a master-piece of embellishment or dressed-up language,” said Mr. Mohammed.

“It is loaded with innuendos and decidedly pejorative at best, and downright racist at worst.

“The Economist wrote that President Buhari wants to ”tame” Nigerians with the ”Change Begins With Me” Campaign. For those who are the owners of the English language, the use of that word is unpardonable, “The verb ”tame” suggests that Nigerians are some kind of wild animals that must be domesticated, and the usage reveals the mindset of the authors of the article: a deliberate put-down of a whole people under the guise of criticising a government policy,” he added.

Stating further, he said it was untrue that the government would enlist volunteers to enforce the campaign. Rather than force, he said, Mr. Buhari made it clear “moral suasion, the very antithesis of force, will be employed to achieve attitudinal change among Nigerians.”

“In its rush to discredit the ”Change Begins With Me” Campaign, The Economist, a widely respected newspaper, fell below its own standards by choosing to be economical with the truth. Enforcement is not part of the strategies to be employed under the Campaign, and nowhere has it been said that the ”moral police” will be unleashed, as reported by the newspaper,” he said.

Mr. Mohammed expressed worry that the paper did not deem it necessary to speak with any official of the government, thus “breaching one of the codes of journalism, which is fairness…It chose instead to quote a ”critic” of Mr. President in a perfunctory manner.”

Reacting to one of the major criticisms the campaign has faced which was echoed in The Economist’s report, the Minister said the campaign was not designed to shift responsibility of “change” to Nigerians “as many have erroneously said.”

He said, “It is an all-inclusive campaign that was designed to start with the leadership. That much was explained by the President when he said the government would ”drive the campaign” and that it must be strongly supported by all concerned individually.

”Change Begins With Me” was designed to start from the President, then trickle down to the Vice President, Ministers, other top government officials and to all citizens. What is the campaign asking Nigerians to do? Be the change they want to see in the society.”

He continued, “In other words, if we all want an orderly society, for example, the motorists among us must obey traffic rules, our aggrieved youth must stop destroying public property, patent medicine sellers must stop selling fake drugs, commercial vehicle drivers must stop taking alcoholic beverages before driving etc. There is nothing extraordinary or over-burdening in all these.”


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