The Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, and members loyal to the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party have also faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s choice of Hausa to convey his Sallah message to Nigerians.
On Sunday, the Presidency had, first time since the President went on a medical vacation to London 51 days ago, released an audio message containing Buhari’s message to Nigerians to mark the Eid-el-Fitr, commemorating the end of Ramadan.
Groups, including the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, and prominent Nigerians, had, on Sunday, berated Buhari for his decision to use Hausa to pass across his Sallah message in a nation with more than 350 ethnic groups.
On Monday, Gbajabiamila and the Chief Whip of the House, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, also condemned the President’s handlers for Buhari’s choice of language in conveying his message to Nigerians.
Gbajabiamila, who is also the All Progressives Congress caucus leader in the House, said the criticisms by different groups and individuals were not unfounded.
Ado-Doguwa, an APC member from Kano State, told Th PUNCH that Buhari should have sent a message to Nigerians in English and not in Hausa.
Gbajabiamila, in an interview with one of our correspondents, agued that what was most important was that people heard Buhari’s voice.
He admitted that the President’s handlers should have ensured that the language of communication was English.
Gbajabiamila stated, “The criticism is not unfounded, but I am the leader of the House in charge of government legislative business not a Presidential handler.
“I think that question should be directed to those who handle Mr. President. But as a matter of opinion, I would have preferred he spoke in English. But, again, not every Nigerian speak English, not everyone is literate.
“Yes, at this critical time and with all that is unfolding, it would have been better to speak in the official language.
“However, moving beyond the form to the substance, at least now, we have heard Mr. President speak.”
On his part, Ado-Doguwa aligned with Gbajabiamila that Buhari should have sent a message to Nigerians in English and not in Hausa.
The lawmaker believed the decision was an oversight by the President’s handlers and should be overlooked.
He said, “To be candid, Mr. President should have spoken in English, being our official language.
“But for me, it is an oversight that could be overlooked considering his medical conditions.
“Let us not trivialise everything. The most important thing for now is for Nigerians to pray for Mr. President’s recovery.”
Also, the Markafi and the Ali Modu Sheriff factions of the PDP in the House disagreed on Buhari’s choice of Hausa to send an audio message to Nigerians during Sallah.
While the Sheriff group said the message was meant for Muslims, who largely spoke and understood Hausa, the Makarfi faction argued that there were Muslims in the South-South, the South-West and the South-East as well, who should benefit from the message.
A lawmaker loyal to the Sheriff faction, Mr. Johnson Agbonayinma, told The PUNCH in Abuja, on Monday, that during the last Easter festivity, Buhari passed his message to Nigerians in English.
Agbonayinma, who is from Edo State, argued that Nigeria had more serious problems to grapple with than getting worked up over a Sallah message and the choice of language the President used.
He added, “I will say that the President was speaking to his Muslim brothers and sisters on Sallah.
“I should not take that as an offence. During Easter, he spoke with Christians in English. So, if he used Hausa today for Sallah period, we should take it in good faith.
“There are more serious issues to talk about in Nigeria, like how the economy is doing and how we can end the suffering of Nigerians.
“We should ask questions about our looted funds, particularly stolen crude oil proceeds.”
But the Minority Leader of the House and key member of the Makarfi group, Mr. Leo Ogor, disagreed with Agbonayinma.
Ogor noted that by speaking in Hausa, it meant that Buhari attempted to divide the Muslim brothers and sisters who were supposed to hear his message.
He observed that there were Muslims in the South who did not speak or understand Hausa.
“Are we saying that the Muslims in the South-South, the South-West and the South-East were not supposed to hear the greeting?
“Our lingua franca in Nigeria is not purely Hausa,” Ogor added.
He stated that while Buhari might have “good intentions” in sending the message, his media managers failed to advise him properly on how to go about it.
The Rep stated, “For the President to even think of greeting Nigerians, despite his illhealth, means that he had good intentions.
“However, his media team did not do a good job. They should know that not all Nigerians speak Hausa.
“Going forward, the President should use a more general language.
“His message is also a sign that he is recovering and we wish him well. We want him to return and address the myriads of challenges confronting Nigeria.”
The Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Service had aired the audio tape of the President’s message on Sunday, while the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, had also released a statement on Buhari’s Sallah message on Saturday.
Shehu’s statement translated Buhari’s message as saying, “I am immensely grateful to God for his mercy in guiding us successfully to conclude another Ramadan.
My greetings to all Nigerian Muslims and our brother Christians on the occasion of Eid-el-Fitr:
“May the lessons of Ramadan, namely piety, self-denial, prayers and generosity to the poor and the needy, be with us for all time.
“I, again, appeal to all Nigerians to avoid reckless statements or actions against our fellow countrymen. We should all resolve to live in peace and unity in our great country, which is the envy of many less-endowed nations.”
Osinbajo empowered to perform presidential roles –Shehu Sani
The lawmaker, representing the Kaduna South Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani, said in a Facebook post on Monday that since Buhari had transferred power to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, only the Acting President was empowered to speak to the country officially.
He, however, stated that the controversy over the Sallah message by Buhari was avoidable, especially at a time when ethno-religious issues in the country had been elevated to the front burner.
Sani’s post read, “There is nothing wrong with the President sending Sallah message in Hausa language. He is on medical vacation. He has transferred power to the Acting President. It is the Acting President that is bound to act ‘officially’ on state matters, including speaking in our official language – English.
“Understandably, we live in times when everything is sensitive and subject to interrogation and interpretation. This is avoidable.
“Let us pray for our President and our country, and work hard to surmount our challenges rather than harp on the superficial and the mundane. The Presidency should also periodically update the nation on the progress of Mr. President’s health to neutralise conjectures, speculations and ripples of rumour.”
In his own reaction, Senator Buruji Kashamu (PDP, Ogun East) urged Nigerians to focus on the content of the message and the intention behind it.
“I do not have any reservation about the message. Anybody can use any language he or she feels like using to communicate, depending on the position and location of the person.
“The President might have chosen the language without negative intent. My choice of language can be determined by where I am at a particular time and those around me.
“The choice of language by a President does not mean that the person does not love the whole of Nigeria or love his people (tribe) more than others. The issue should be on whether the President of Nigeria is doing well or not.”