Buhari’s Most Divisive Independence Day Speech, By Majeed Dahiru
In addressing issues surrounding the renewed separatist agitation in the South-East, the president not only failed to reassure Nigerians from that part of the country of his commitment to a just and fair Nigeria where nobody will be marginalised on account of ethnicity, religion, state of origin and partisan choice.
Always proving even his most ardent supporters who are incurably optimistic about his ability to unite Nigeria and stir the ship of state in the right direction to be wrong, President Muhammadu Buhari has continued to demonstrate a gross capacity deficiency in the management of the diversities of a nation with multiple complexities. From his appointments to his close associations and public statements, Buhari leaves no one in doubt of his unapologetic sectional and extremely partisan tendencies.
Once again, these sectional and partisan tendencies were in full expression when the president delivered his Independence Day speech on October 1st – one that was thematically misplaced on such a unique occasion as a national day celebration, making it the worst independence speech ever delivered by a head of state in the history of Nigeria. Unfortunately, the speech was not only divisive it was characteristically full of blames and reeking with falsehood, as mob narratives were clearly elevated to a presidential speech.
An occasion that was expected to be about the unity, love, peace and renewed hope in the limitless promise of a better future for the union of the Nigerian federation was not to be. The president of the federal republic chose to go partisan when he elevated his campaign rhetoric, which is full of innuendoes, half-truths and outright lies to a presidential statement as he claimed that “we should remind ourselves of the recent journey from 1999 to 2015, when our country happily returned to democratic rule. However, in spite of oil prices being an average of $100 per barrel and about 2.1 millio barrels a day, that great piece of luck was squandered and the country’s social and physical infrastructure neglected. We were left with no savings and a huge infrastructural deficit. The APC Government’s campaign rallying cry to restore security, re-balance the economy and fight corruption was not all rhetoric.”
The consistent lamentations of the president about the failure of his predecessors without doing much to change the situation are worrisome. More worrisome are the inaccuracies and recurring falsehood in his claims. While it is not in doubt that previous administrations could have done better than they did, it is equally not true that nothing was achieved, as suggested in President Buhari’s absolute negative terms of appraisal. Contrary to the claims of the president, the crude oil price didn’t average $100/pb in the period in review, and the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan left a sizeable amount of money in savings for his administration to work with. The price of crude oil in 1999 hovered around $17 per barrel and didn’t exceed $69 by 2007, averaging about $37 per barrel. By 2008, the price of crude oil rose to $94 per barrel and peaked at $145 in the month of July, before falling to $77 per barrel in 2010, with an average price of about $76per barrel under the period in review. The only time in sixteen years that crude oil prices steadily exceeded the $100 threshold for more than twelve months was between 2011 and 2013 when prices went up as high as $109 per barrel. However, by 2014, the ever volatile international crude oil market experienced a decline in the price of the commodity to $96 per barrel, reaching a record low by 2015, with prices crashing to $49 per barrel. The cumulative average price of crude oil between 1999 and 2016 was $40 per barrel, and not $100 as claimed by the president.
Even now, the ruling APC is dominated by former PDP members or their opposition collaborators, from the vice-president and ministers to the leadership of the National Assembly, down to state governors and local government chairmen. Therefore, the president must begin to realise that those who he claimed “squandered our piece of luck” are leading figures in his government and ruling party.
As bad as Nigeria may have been in 2015, President Buhari inherited a better country than Olusegun Obasanjo did in 1999. Unlike Buhari who was bequeathed a reserve of $25 billion, an excess crude account of $2 billion, a remittance from the Liquefied Natural Gas Company of $2.1 billion and about two hundred billion naira in savings domiciled with the National Sovereign Wealth Authority, the Obasanjo administration inherited a $3 billion reserve with zero savings and a country without efficient institutions for state management.
The president’s claim about the total neglect of the nation’s social and physical infrastructure by previous administrations gives the impression that nothing was done in this regard before his coming to power. While much more was expected, there were however modest achievements that are worthy of commendations by a head of state on the occasion of its national day. Between 1999 and 2015, the Federal Government of Nigeria increased the average minimum wage of workers from about three thousand naira to eighteen thousand five hundred naira monthly, with a lifting of the embargo on public service recruitments. By 2015, it required about N1.8 trillion to service the personnel cost of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government, out of a total annual budget of about N5 trillion. There was a substantial expansion of road and rail transport infrastructure by several kilometres, with a number of airports getting upgraded and renovated. Several trillions of naira was expended on interventionist agencies in health care, education, agriculture and poverty alleviation. Agencies like UBEC, TETFUND and PTDF have imprints all over the country through physical structures and the award of scholarships to students.
By 2015, every state in the federation was endowed with a federal government funded university. One of such universities is sited in Dut’sinma, Katsina State, the home state of President Buhari. While a chunk of Nigeria’s resources was frittered away through corruption in government, it is not true that such practices have been the exclusive activity of any political party or administration. The attempt to project his ruling party APC as the rescuer of Nigeria only exposes the president’s ignorance or dishonesty or both. All monies that accrued to the nation were shared among all tiers of government, whose political heads were drawn from both the APC and PDP. Even now, the ruling APC is dominated by former PDP members or their opposition collaborators, from the vice-president and ministers to the leadership of the National Assembly, down to state governors and local government chairmen. Therefore, the president must begin to realise that those who he claimed “squandered our piece of luck” are leading figures in his government and ruling party.
In chastising the leaders of the South-East, he failed to realise that he is the real leader of the whole of Nigeria, which includes the South-Eastern region and it is his responsibility to calm the “hot headed” youth of the area by showing them the much needed love they deserve from him.
As the greatest beneficiary of Nigeria’s liberal democracy which, in political freedom, saw a series of loses for the ruling party at all levels and tiers of government beginning from 2003, and eventually culminating in his own victory over an incumbent in the 2015 presidential polls, President Buhari was not truthful when he said, “in the past two years, Nigeria has recorded appreciable gains in political freedom. A political party at the centre losing elections of state governor, National Assembly seat and even State Assemblies to the opposition parties is new to Nigeria. Added to these are complete freedoms to associate, to hold and disseminate opinions. Such developments clearly attest to the country’s growing political development. But like all freedoms, this is open to abuse.”
By far the most divisive part of his speech was his reference to the Nigeria-Biafra civil. “As a young Army Officer, I took part from the beginning to the end in our tragic civil war, costing about two million lives, resulting in fearful destruction and untold suffering. Those who are agitating for a re-run were not born by 1967 and have no idea of the horrendous consequences of the civil conflict which we went through.
I am very disappointed that responsible leaders of these communities do not warn their hot-headed youth what the country went through. Those who were there should tell those who were not there, the consequences of such folly”. In addressing issues surrounding the renewed separatist agitation in the South-East, the president not only failed to reassure Nigerians from that part of the country of his commitment to a just and fair Nigeria where nobody will be marginalised on account of ethnicity, religion, state of origin and partisan choice.
He failed to use the occasion of our national day to reach out to and stretch an arm of love and peace to a people so marginalised by his administration. Rather, he invoked the dark memories of war crimes of civilian massacre, starvation to death of millions of children because of a land, air and sea blockade of the rebel’s territories in clear contraventions of Geneva conventions, as a subtle threat, which left so many Nigerians disappointed. In chastising the leaders of the South-East, he failed to realise that he is the real leader of the whole of Nigeria, which includes the South-Eastern region and it is his responsibility to calm the “hot headed” youth of the area by showing them the much needed love they deserve from him. This could have been demonstrated clearly through his utterances, body language, policies, appointments and socio-political association, that he truly belongs to all and to no one in particular.