Wednesday, October 7, 2015 12:09 pm
It is customary for leaders to make national broadcasts on auspicious occasions, one of which is a nation’s National\Independence Day. Nigeria’s own Independence Day, that day in 1960 when we got independence from Great Britain, fell due last week Thursday, October 1 and President Muhammadu Buhari appropriately addressed his “fellow citizens” but this time not as a uniform-wearing coup-maker but as a babanriga-wearing elected civilian head of state. In times past, such occasions used to be festive and joyous; drums were rolled out; military parades and match-past by students were staged; revelry by citizens ruled the waves and public discourse on themes that revolve around burning national issues arrested the attention of the country’s intelligentsia. Since the day is usually declared work-free, everyone usually prepared well ahead for it and this was one occasion when many Nigerians demonstrated a sense of vivacious camaraderie.
No more! Five and a half decades of broken promises, failed dreams, and dashed hopes have put a wedge between government and the governed. Not only have the people lost confidence in their leaders, they have also woken up to the painful realization that Independence, to quote the Ugandan poet, Okot p’Bitek, fell like a bull buffalo for only the political leaders who have helped themselves to the goodies while the masses, like Frantz Fanon’s “wretched of the earth”, have been left to their own pitiable devices. There exists today deep-seated animosity for the leaders by the led. Independence has, thus, become “their” Independence and the celebration of it “their” celebration – and not the people’s.
The times are hard for the vast majority of the people; a systematic and rapacious denigration of the economy over time has totally wiped out the middle class and impoverished over 90 per cent of the entire population. Meeting basic needs are hard to come by, much less devoting time and resources to an anniversary that reminds the people of the uncanny cruelty of those in whom much trust and hope was invested. That is on the side of the people.
On government’s side, the fear of Boko Haram has become the beginning of wisdom. For many years now, the Presidency has had to hide behind fortified walls, like biblical Gideon hiding away from the Midianites to thresh wine, to celebrate Independence. Venturing out to near-by Eagle Square is considered too risky a mission to undertake, not minding the plethora of military forces and armada of weapons at the disposal of the government. If gold rusts, what will silver do? If presidents run away from Boko Haram, how can we in good conscience expect ordinary citizens to stand up to the insurgents? I shudder to think that, perhaps, security reports counselled Buhari against venturing out of his Aso Rock cocoons last Thursday; thank goodness he obeyed, for who knows whether the twin bomb-blasts by Boko Haram a day after in Nyanya and Kuje, two suburbs of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, were actually meant for him?
My first observation about the Buhari speech, however, is that it said nothing about the nation’s founding fathers – those who fought for the independence we were celebrating. How can you celebrate the day or event without making a mention of those who made the day or event possible? This is a grievous error which must be guarded against in future. The labours of our heroes past surely must not be made to look as if they are in vain. Buhari said one vital ingredient lacking in our match to greatness as a nation is “unity of purpose”. I disagree! Replace that with “purposeful leadership”. “Countries far less endowed have made greater economic progress by greater coherence and unity of purpose”. Substitute the underlined with “visionary leadership and discipline”. For the very first time since he took over, Buhari saluted Jonathan “for not digging-in in the face of defeat and thereby saving the country untold consequences”. This is belated, but, as they say, better late than never. Important, however, is that a pall of doubt was cast around the statement with the opening phrase “whatever one’s views are”; either you believe Jonathan’s conduct was statesmanlike or you do not believe. If you believe, say so without mincing words; if not, leave it out. As if to confirm that Buhari’s admission of Jonathan’s statesmanship was not sincere, he, in the next statement, took back with the left hand what he had given with the right when he said, “We are not after anyone. People should only fear the consequences of their actions” Subtle threat, again; isn’t it?
Next paragraph, the president said his government inherited problems (how about assets also?) before adding: “But what Nigerians want are solutions, quick solutions (and) not a recitation of problems inherited” I hope APC spokesperson Lai Mohamed heard that! Enough of all the cracked record of “PDP Augean stable; PDP mess.” It is time to set at work. Thank God the president understands that now. When an IG of Police boasted of how his forces would worst Boko Haram, the next day the insurgents bearded the lion right in its lair. Buhari in his Independence Day speech said: “Our gallant armed forces under new leadership have taken the battle to the insurgents and severely weakened their logistical and infrastructural capabilities.” The next day, the insurgents exploding two bombs in Buhari’s face! Buhari described Boko Haram’s bombing campaign as “indicative of their cowardice and desperation”. Cowardice? No! I have never accepted Boko Haram being called cowards because evidence on ground proves the contrary. Call them “dare-devilry” and their acts “dastardly” and you will be closer to the point. The president thumped his chest on power supply, which has improved than before, and also fuel supply, which has also stabilised. He is right but to get a truer picture as well as ensure that we keep making improvement, a newspaper interview in the Sunday PUNCH of October 4 at page 45 quoted one Mr. Neil Croucher, MD\CEO, Abuja Electricity Distribution Company as saying that “a number of factors contributed” to improved power supply, including but not limited to Buhari’s magic wand (my own emphasis). Some of the factors as listed by Croucher are “improvement of the hydro situation” (i.e. water level); “improvement in gas supply to power generation plants”; “improvement in the securitisation of pipelines”, and “the benefits of the activities of the new investors both at the generation and distribution levels” Thus, a truer picture is that some of the credit must rightly be passed on to previous administrations.
On the anti-corruption war, Buhari is on course but the caveat is that he should refrain from public lynching and respect due process. The war must also cut across party lines as the corrupt are everywhere. When he said, “But what counts is not so much what (money) accrues (to the country) but how we manage our resources that is important”, I demurred. Both are important and must be treated as such. He should also amend the statement: “The new APC government is embarking on clean-up, introducing prudence and probity in public financing” to read “The new APC federal Government…” Can Buhari speak for APC governments at other tiers who are unwilling to toe his example of publicly declaring their assets? On bail-out funds to states, he said: “The new APC government stepped in to provide short-term support to the owing states and enabled them to pay off the backlog and restore the livelihood of millions of Nigerians” This is misleading in the important respects that, one, not all states have accessed all of the bail-out funds; two, not all the states that have accessed it have paid their workers; three, there are complaints by workers that some governors have been playing monkey games with the funds. Buhari would have received applause if he had read out the Riots Acts to pranks-playing governors.
The speech spoke of “apparent delay” in the appointment of ministers; it was not only apparent, it was real! Call a spade, a spade, please! It followed up by saying “There is no cause to be anxious” There is! Who feels it, knows it, said Rita, wife of reggae king Bob Marley. Or, as they say, he who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. Nigerians are the ones wearing this shoe, not Buhari. The alibi given for the delay is also jejune; the minimum number of ministers is a clear and unambiguous constitutional provision. The speech said “Anyway, the wait is over”; it is not! Only the list of the first set of ministers-designate has been sent to the Senate for screening. “Subsequent lists” (how many?) will be sent “in due course” When? As it is, no one will be able to pin Buhari down as was done with his self-imposed September-ending deadline. But perhaps the most troublesome part of the speech was the second to the last paragraph in which the president called Nigerians “lawless” and “unruly”. “We must change our lawless habits…”.”We must change our unruly behaviour…” “…we must change ourselves to being law-abiding citizens” Buhari dares to call us lawless and unruly! He talked down on us and was so, so condescending. Saint Buhari! Sinner Nigerians! Already at play is the cult of the messianic leader we spoke about a while ago. Imagine an American president talking down on Americans this way!
Buhari’s speech-writers must henceforth guide against such recklessness. When our own president runs us down this way, what does he expect foreign media, embassies, and governments to do? An adage says he who sells his own people cheap will never get them to buy back at premium price. Presidential speeches must be truthful, inspiring, and stirring. It must drip with nationalistic fervour. Buhari’s first Independence Day anniversary speech as an elected president fell far short of these benchmarks. There is, however, copious room for improvement in the years ahead.
BOLAWOLE, one-time editor of The PUNCH, writes via [email protected]