My takeaways from Buhari’s Independence Day broadcast

My takeaways from Buhari’s Independence Day broadcast
October 25 10:53 2017

By Abdulrahman Abdulraheem

President Muhammadu Buhari must be one of the luckiest Nigerians that ever lived. He came at a time the country was less populated, less educated and less developed; when there was little or no competition for places in school and workplaces. He was born into a generation which got everything from the country on a platter of gold – scholarships, quick jobs, stable and planned future and all that. This is not however denying the fact that his devout nature, commitment, passion and discipline have helped to stand him out in the course of his illustrious military and enviable political career.

After three unsuccessful shots at the Presidency, luck smiled at him again in the run up to the 2015 election as his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, burnt every bridge, said and did everything possible to make himself unelectable for a second term in office, paving way for the change of guard that happened on May 29, 2015. The rest as they say is now history.

Talking about luck, all leaders of nations must often consider themselves lucky to be the one to face millions of their citizens on historic celebrations like independence anniversaries.

The President however used the opening of his broadcast to commit the same fundamentally grave errors he and his officials have committed for over two years now; the same old dry lines blaming the Peoples Democratic Party’s 16 years uninterrupted government as the reason for where we are today. The President’s speech writers seem to have lost touch with the outside of their palatial offices, so they do not know that Nigerians are tired of that repeated lines. It’s in fact the reason they voted for change in the first place. Rather than concentrate on delivering the change, the government has dissipated much energy in this boring blame game. Come to think of it, many of the President’s closest friends and appointees today played major roles in that era. His number one supporter, Olusegun Obasanjo, his minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, that of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, his Man Friday and Kaduna state governor, Nasir el Rufai and many others were the key players of that period. Is the President therefore saying that recycling of the same people in governance is the reason his administration too has been average at best in performance and neck-deep in corruption scandals?

I found it astonishing also that in this age and time and with all the literatures available on topical issues, the President still seems to be embarrassing the nation by confusing the issue of restructuring and devolution of powers with disintegration. In the good old days of the first republic when we operated true federalism with healthy competition among the regions, was the country not better off than this? Is the country not more divided now than in the first republic? Did the country face any threat of separation as much as it is facing now?

The President’s speech writers also forgot that October 1st is not meant to mark the administration’s anniversary in office but the anniversary of Nigeria’s independence. The bulk of the speech was silent on reflecting on Nigeria’s 57- year journey as a sovereign state – aside the usual threat to a section of the country on how it suffered during the civil war- but focused on majorly the administration’s achievements.

That day represented another missed opportunity for the President; an opportunity to disarm critics and agitators, both the fair and the unfair ones, with soothing words and unite the country along its dangerous fault lines with a historic, rallying speech. A President who has since his assumption of duty watched his country tear apart missed an opportunity to mend fences; rather he maintained his old, tough, hard-line stance on simple matters. He failed to inspire hope and motivate young people to productive, patriotic action with great quotable quotes.

Let’s face it. If we want to be kind to President Buhari, we will say his performance has been average but the more brutal truth is that his administration has been hugely disappointing, having failed to meet the yearnings of many Nigerians who bought into his party’s promise to turn Nigerian around for the better. So far, rather than give hope to the hopeless who trekked to the polling units and stayed in rains and sunshine to vote him in 2015, President Buhari’s administration has offered Nigerians more melodrama than quality leadership. Its either his wife is throwing him under the bus in a BBC interview, his minister is telling him to forget 2019, his closest governor is writing a memo on how his key aides are so incompetent and corrupt, a junior minister in a beat he is the substantive minister is leaking a memo he wrote him on how his anti-graft crusade is indeed a farce or the government is reinstating at the same time‘re-sacking’ a renowned fugitive who allegedly went away with billions of naira of pension funds. Sometimes, his key appointees, many of whom got the job due to considerations other than merit, get into a routine ‘roforofo’ fight with the sole aim of undoing themselves and derailing the administration and all the President does is to ‘siddon-look’ (apologies to Late Cisero of Esa Oke, Chief Bola Ige, SAN). The six month-period it took him to put this divided house together is a wasted time that can never be regained. The fact that it took him two years to launch his Economic Recovery Growth Plan has not only defied all known logical and rational justification but also showed a man who was only prepared to win election but not to govern.

Talking specifics now, the anti-graft crusade has been literally thrown into dust bin by the President’s decision to so far, sustain his long-held reputation as a man who prefers loyalty to competence and integrity (and forgive corruption when it is committed by somebody in his inner circles). While we wait for the full disclosure of assets and funds recovered as promised by the Vice President recently, we must give kudos to the President as the funds can be channeled into productive ventures which Nigerians can benefit from. Lack of high profile convictions and the President’s determination not to wield the big stick against his key men who have been accused of graft will however continue to represent low points for him in this regard.

On security, the Boko Haram insurgents have had their impact reduced to the extent that they can’t hit places outside Borno. This is commendable but a far cry from expectation. People are still being killed in Borno and the cruel fate of IDPs has been worsened in recent years; as they lack food and access to medicare, they have been bombed and killed by both terrorists and government forces (in a grave error that was not punished). In fact, they have been robbed by acts of corruption backed by government officials at all levels. Only few of the Chibok girls have been rescued as the fate of most of them remains unknown. Kidnappings, ritual killings and armed robberies and other violent crimes are making Nigerian cities inhabitable as the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris (another appointee whom one cannot really explain how he was found fit for the job!), dissipate more energy, resources and force in fighting personal battles and quelling civil, peaceful anti-government protests rather than protecting defenseless citizens.

The economy has been in shambles for the better part of the present administration. Rather than engaging the Niger Delta militants in a dialogue to stop the impending attacks on oil facilities in the region in 2015, the President went with guns and tanks and things got worse, oil production was reduced drastically and couple with low prices in the international market, the country went into a historic recession. Ironically, a government which didn’t want to take any iota of responsibility for the manner in which the country’s economy hit an all-time low under its watch and blamed its predecessor, is now rushing to take the credit for the fact that the country is now out of recession when we all know that the increase in the price of oil in the intentional market played a major part in ending recession.

While Mr. President rushes to London and stay for like forever to take care of his health at huge, undisclosed cost to the nation’s treasury, the State House Clinic where the families of those poor civil servants working in the Villa are supposed to access free medicare as part of the privileges of working in the Presidency, has lacked drugs and other necessities for so long. The President and the gang of corrupt, unfeeling, uncaring and insensitive aides he took with him to the Villa have now done the worst by withdrawing the subsidies people enjoy in the Villa including that of the State House Clinic which they have now vowed to commercialize.

Only the President, his key aides and family members, who also go to London at the slightest threat of headache, have the right to live, the lives of the civil servants and rank and file men and their families do not matter. The question on the list of many people in the Villa now is, is this the change we voted for?

All hope is not lost, world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, hardly start any race well as he often experience bad starts but he races to make up for lost grounds midway and ends up winning the race most times. Like Bolt, President Buhari has not started well but this is the midway through the journey where he can hurry to repair the damaged reputation of his administration. He needs to change something in his pace of work and his inner circles and focus more on concrete accomplishments which have direct bearing on the lives of the people, not paper achievements and figures which fly in the face of the reality at the market. May 29 and October 1st 2018 present more opportunities. The President and his speech writers should know that reeling out his achievements in detail the way he did on October 1st are routine enough; the ministers and aides do that on a daily basis but independence day broadcasts should be meant to make some other deeper reflections on the entire journey of the country and inspire people to believe in a greater tomorrow. His speech writers should endeavor to ensure he leaves government either in 2019 or 2023 with a better and more befitting quotable quote than “My wife belongs to the kitchen, the living room and the other room.”