A Speech the President Didn’t Make on Democracy Day By Majeed Dahiru
The much anticipated national celebration of June 12 as democracy day came by as an anti-climax for many. The failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to speak as much as a word to Nigerians on May 29, when he was inaugurated for a second term of four years, the forthcoming re-designated democracy of June 12, was used as an excuse. Ever patient Nigerians, anxiously waited for something new, which may signal a flicker of hope in a seemingly gloomy next level of President Buhari’s less than satisfactory administration.
As has become a recurring happenstance at events of national significance, President Buhari didn’t fail to disappoint his sceptics when he delivered his usual not-fit-for-purpose kind of speech on a day such as the inaugural celebration of June 12 as democracy day. In a lengthy speech, which spanned over seventy paragraphs, the President veered of the core issues for the reason of the season [democracy], after the third paragraph, delving into his usual favourable self-evaluation of his administration’s stewardship in the last four years. President Buhari’s claim of conducting a credible 2019 general election, praise for the leadership of Nigeria’s security services for reigning in a deteriorating security situation between 2015 and 2019, in the north east and his resolve to pull a 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next ten years, would have been more fitting for his missed inaugural speech on May 29. To have the needed impact maximally, a speech need not be automated. A birthday eulogy is not fit for the purpose of funeral oratory of the same man.
Remarks on June 12 democracy day, such that praised his core supporters and party loyalists who since 2003, when he first sought the mandate of Nigerians to lead, have consistently bestowed upon his candidacy, their democratic choice, fits the purpose of President Buhari’s acceptance of victory speech at his campaign/party headquarters. It would have been more appropriate to elucidate more on his academic credentials, which took a voyage from his home state of Katsina to Kaduna, England and America to attain at a campaign rally as a response to his opposition’s claim of lack of it. Similarly, President Buhari’s parade of his nationalist credentials, which his long years in public service afforded him, is best demonstrated in his much needed improvement in plurality management in the affairs of state under his leadership.
In addition to recounting his experience as a soldier, who fought to keep Nigeria one as well as his belief in the unity of Africa’s most populous nation, President Buhari’s remarks about the need for Nigerians to be proud of their country, and its glorious history of a big brother role in Africa and her contribution to continental liberation from imperialism, is best delivered on October 1st independence day anniversary, in order to reinforce national pride. There was absolutely no need to wash Nigeria’s dirty linen in the public by making remarks suggestive of elite conspiracy to undermine his administration as well as highlighting its claim of inheriting a pervasively corrupt, economically perverted and insecure country in 2015, before an international audience of visiting African heads of government.
On a day that was supposed to be one that was set aside to celebrate democracy, a remark such as ‘’China and Indonesia succeeded under authoritarian regimes. India succeeded in a democratic setting. We can do it’’, sends a conflicting signal, which is suggestive of an affinity for dictatorship by President Buhari is toxic to the essence of reason for the season. This is further underscored by the President’s vow to ‘’crack down’’ on those who according to him incite ‘’ordinary and innocent’’ people to violence. For an administration that has demonstrated disdain for free press, this might be a disguised attempt to curtail free speech and clamp down on opposing voices.
Conspicuously lacking in the President’s inaugural democracy day speech now re-designated from May 29 to June 12, is a fitting tribute to the memory of the man in the centre of it all; MKO Abiola, the winner of the annulled June 12 1993 presidential election, whose struggle to reclaim his popular and freely given mandate resulted in his martyrdom. The death of Abiola birthed Nigeria’s fourth republic constitutional democracy. For democracy to live, Abiola had to die. Abiola’s tenacity in the most difficult circumstance, even at the price of his personal liberty, kept the clamour for the return to civil democratic rule alive either through the actualization of the June 12 mandate or a fresh transition programme. This all important aspect of the personality behind the reason for the season, which was supposed take prominence in the early part of President Buhari’s speech, was actually tucked in paragraph 69 of a 74 paragraph speech, in a manner that appears self-glorifying when he remarked thus ‘’ As part of the process of healing and reconciliation, I approved the recognition of June 12 as Democracy day and invested the late Chief MKO Abiola and Bbagana Kingibe with National Honours, as I did with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi’’. The failure of President Buhari to pay a fitting tribute in his democracy day speech to the memory of MKO Abiola, the martyr of Nigeria’s 20 year old fourth republic constitutional democracy, like a toxic stench cannot be covered up by the tokenist symbolism of renaming a sports stadium in Abuja after him.
Preceding Abiola’s eventual martyrdom in 1998came that of his beloved wife, Kudirat in 1996, who was mowed down by agents of the same military regime that held her husband captive, for having the courage to demand both his freedom and that of the Nigerian state from the shackles of military dictatorial bondage. On a day such as the inaugural commemoration of June 12 as national democracy day, Kudirat deserves a special recognition from President Buhari as a martyred heroine of democracy who courageously stood up to the brutal tormentors of her husband and the Nigerian people. Similarly, a roll call of other prominent Nigerians that lost their lives in this noble course of democratic redemption of Nigerians deserved a special mention by the president while a special tribute should have been paid the memories of thousands of unknown Nigerians who were killed for protesting the injustice of June 12 annulment. The President should have adequately recognized the media, civil society organizations, labour unions and the international community for their concerted role of putting pressure on the military authorities to return Nigeria to civil democratic constitutionalism and their continuous demand for good governance from democratically elected leadership of Nigeria in the last 20 years.
In the spirit of true reconciliation, healing and national unity, it was appropriate for President Buhari to pay special tribute to his predecessors for their individual contributions to sustaining democratic governance in the 20 years since 1999. Former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo for skilfully holding the nation together in the early turbulent years of civil democratic rule and protecting Nigerians embryonic democracy from military abortion, Umar Musa Yar’Adua for making efforts at deepening the rule of law and Goodluck Jonathan for his electoral reforms that substantially Nigeria’s election management. The judiciary and national assembly also deserve special recognition for their respective complimentary roles in the sustenance of democratic governance in the last 20 years.
The June 12 democracy day celebration is one that presents a unique opportunity for President Buhari to reinforce the belief in democracy as the best form of government, while pledging a total commitment to deepening its roots and broadening its branches. To achieve a more democratic Nigeria, the President was expected to make fresh commitments to constitutional purism, fidelity to the morality of the rule of and protection of citizens’ fundamental human rights.
President Buhari’s acceptance of the call for the symbolic revalidation of the June 12 mandate by bestowing upon Chief MKO the highest honour in the land of GCFR as well as the re-designation of the fateful date of his aborted election as president as democracy day, he is morally bound to gracefully conclude the ritual of the reason of the season in a semblance of the afore stated manner. June 12 democracy day celebration will always be more about Abiola, President presumptive than any actual seating President as the immortal personality behind the reason for the season.