By New Independence Group
President Muhammadu Buhari’s national broadcast, after 104-days of medical tourism, was as disappointing as it signaled a dangerous bend in government-citizen relationship that must be checked right away in the interest of both the administration and the country.
It was curiously short in content and depth, merely skirting around many issues that agitate the minds of the citizens, and betrayed the conquistador mindset of the President, talking down on the citizenry in a manner reminiscent of the better-forgotten years of military rule, a significant part of which the president, admittedly, was.
Watch the broadcast as recorded by Channels here: https://youtu.be/hExRSrQdgJc?t=78
The speech was loud in silence on what ails the president, for which the leader of a sovereign state had to take up residence in another sovereign state for 104 straight days, after an earlier two months stay in that other country, drawing global opprobrium to Nigeria.
Also, it made such absenteeism displayed by the president the new normal with audacious tactlessness, threatening with dire consequences if they continue to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression, lumping up farmers and herdsmen in a curious blame-game for the rise in the mindless murder of men, women and children in their sleep by rampaging herdsmen, and generally telling those agitating for a fairer deal in national affairs that their legitimate demands amount to secession calls, which to him has crossed some phantom national red-lines as drawn by his administration.
We at the New Independence Group (NIG) consider all these as dangerous pointers that the Buhari administration is gradually tending towards fascism, a journey towards which it must apply the brakes, immediately.
In the address, the president said that “some of the comments” had “crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation.” He then declared: “This is a step too far”
The above comes as a language of fascism by a dictator because it is a gratuitous attack on the right and liberty of Nigerians to discuss, individually and in groups ,the state of affairs of their country. It is also a worrisome reminder of the “Enough is Enough” speech by the unmitigated dictator, the late General Sani Abacha, as a prelude to military clampdown on citizens justly demanding the validation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which a cabal was bent on permanently keeping in the cooler.
President Buhari’s address attracts the following posers, among others:
a, who determines the limits and extent of public discourse by, and among Nigerians, by drawing the so-called “red lines”? Is it the President and his cabinet, or is it an unpublished Act of parliament, contrary to the provisions of the 1999 constitution, the grundnorm, before which all laws must bow? What is the nature and content of the discussions that have crossed the Buhari administration red lines? Did they border on criminality known to existing laws of the land, or only as imagined by the current custodians of power?
b, President Buhari spoke, glibly about a private meeting he held sometime in 20103 with former Biafra secessionist leader, the late Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, at which they both purportedly agreed that the Nigeria question has been fully and finally settled. However, the President’s atrocious speech failed to address whether a purported discussion between him and Odumegwu-Ojukwu, two private citizens, approximated the rights of other citizens to discuss how their lives and future ought to be ordered. It failed to disclose how the purported private discussion in a private residence, in 2003, became the parameter to determine the present and future destiny of a nation and its people. Was that discussion between Citizen Odumegwu-Ojukwu and aspirant Muhammadu Buhari, in Daura, Katsina State to be regarded as a referendum on Nigeria’s destiny or the fate of the Igbo people in Nigeria, under whatever condition?
c, The president declared, with a tone of finality: “Nigeria unity is settled and non-negotiable”! The unity of any nation is never settled because history is replete with countless countries that have unraveled. Such coming apart may be by agreement around a negotiating table, or needlessly on the battle field where bullets do the talking. In any case, “settled” unity is often an outcome of negotiation. The Scottish question is recent history. It was never by a dictatorial declaration by a transient power holder. The point is, whatever was “settled” and “non-negotiable” about Nigeria’s unity was abrogated in 1966 when the terms of our negotiated settlement of 1960 and 1963 were violently jettisoned. Since 1966, Nigerians have endured existence under the military imposed terms of engagement, and being gang-raped by a ruling cabal – political merchants in military uniforms and their civilian counterparts in obscene display of sartorial elegance.
d, President Buhari also said: “The National Assembly and National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse”.
Nowhere in the world is the parliament a valid replacement for the sovereignty of the people who elected its members. This is why countries often resort to referendum when crucial issues arise. It happened in Greece in 2011 on the need to either accept or reject the economic bailout as offered by the European Union (EU). Most recently, it happened in colonial Britain on whether the people of Scotland wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom (UK), or not. On April 16 this year, Turkish people had a referendum on proposals for 18 amendments to their constitution. On June 23, 2016, Britons went to polls to determine their relationship with EU, a unity otherwise considered ‘settled’.
In none of these did the parliament, or some political body like Buhari’s National Council of State, made up of unelected people and former leaders, many of whom were culpable in the tragic state of our socioeconomic condition, see themselves as the ultimate decision makers in affairs of their nations.
With sorrows, tears and blood, Pakistan was excised from India and Bangladesh from Pakistan, while 15 states have peacefully emerged from the old behemoth, the Soviet Union.
The unity of Yugoslavia, made up of eight federated entities, and roughly divided along ethnic lines, was considered “settled” eventually dissolved into Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovenia.
The “non-negotiable” unity disunited at heavy cost in human blood. In sharp contrast, the former Czechoslovakia Republic negotiated a peaceful, bloodless dissolution, in what is referred to as the “Velvet Divorce.”
The choice before the government is to either be a part of history, or its footnote; be the administration that helps the citizens resolve the Nigeria Question through am open and fair discussion of what ails their country, and find solution to it. The administration may, also continue to play the ostrich and allow the problems to fester and grow beyond control, either now or in the foreseeable future.
e, “The national consensus is that it is better to live together than to live apart”, Buhari stated.
Perhaps, so. Much as it is reasonable to suggest that most Nigerians may wish to remain in one country, it is doubtful if the same people will subscribe to continue to exist in a political structure that circumscribes their individual ethno-nationality and religious aspirations. Given the state, level and tempo of sectarian agitations across the nation, the unity of the country, and the wish of Nigerians to stay together, cannot be casually taken for granted as President Buhari has done.
Not only that, the charge by Buhari to security agencies to deal with agitators must be seen as a declaration of war by a President who appears to care more about the interest of a tiny political merchant club, whose members definitely are gross beneficiaries of a sócio-political arrangement that has held down Nigeria’s manifest destiny, with collapsed infrastructure, disappearing economic activities, and destroyed education.
For a leader who has been absent from duty without any deemed obligation to avail the country the nature of his illness, the bill for which Nigerian tax payers have been made to pick, the six-minute national broadcast by President was an all-time low, even for his own accustomed standard.
To say the least, that address was as uninspiring as it was dispiriting to a nation’s mood in search of assurances for a better tomorrow. His was a missed opportunity to reinvigorate the people to keep faith with a country in which individually they found themselves amongst groups that were forcefully coupled together by an imperial overlord. For Nigeria and its ‘non-negotiable unity’ the hands of the clock move towards midnight when darkness may come to envelope a vibrant people, their robust engagement with the future and destiny of their country.
But the situation is not irredeemable, as the country’s journey to possible disintegration may be reversed, but, definitely not with the kind of mindset represented in President Buhari’s national broadcast of Monday, August 21, 2017.
Signed by Akinyemi Onigbinde (Convener)