After 103 days holed up in London with a mystery illness, President Muhammadu Buhari returned on Saturday announcing he will address the country on Monday morning. Nigerians waiting for anything of substance from the absentee and part time president (when he is in the country) would have been as disappointed as they have been in the two years of this administration.
The speech, just like his administration, was the same story of promising so much and delivering so little. At least it wasn’t broadcast in Hausa. Buhari said: “I am very grateful to God and to all Nigerians for their prayers. I am pleased to be back on home soil among my brothers and sisters”. He didn’t even bother to address what was wrong with him that warranted the prayers. His attitude to the people that footed the bill for his extended stay was “my condition is none of your business even though you paid for my treatment”. The arrogance and disdain for the people he is supposed to serve were staggering.
Watch the broadcast here:
Then his fake mask as a “converted democrat” slipped as he spoke of being “distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation. This is a step too far”. Who determined those “red lines”? Why is he more bothered by comments that cross fictitional “red lines” than actions by Fulani herdsmen and his military, to name but two, that have painted several communities with red blood?
In a democracy, people are free to question any existence as long as it is done in a peaceful way. His long stay in the UK should have informed the president, if he had any intellectual curiosity, about Scottish aspirations for independence. Many in Northern Ireland are committed to leaving the UK to form a united Ireland with the south. There are secessionist movements in Spain and in the US. Nobody is making threats about “red lines” to those separatists.
Buhari then tried to legitimise his empty words with reference to the late leader of the doomed Biafran secession, Emeka Ojukwu, whom he said “came and stayed as my guest in my hometown Daura. Over two days we discussed in great depth till late into the night and analyzed the problems of Nigeria. We both came to the conclusion that the country must remain one and united.” He added for good measure: “Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood”.
Buhari seems unaware that his and Ojukwu’s opinions are just that of two people. They have no right to impose such opinions on others. In a democratic setting, you should try and convince others that your opinion is the right course of action, and not tell them you have reached a conclusion that they must accept. A diversity of opinion is healthy for a democracy. This is a concept Buhari is yet to understand and it makes him as dangerous to Nigeria’s unity as the separatists.
He is right that they should not allow “irresponsible elements to start trouble”. But he has been doing exactly that with his lukewarm reaction to mass murder by Fulani herdsmen. He has backed “irresponsible elements” in the army that have committed mass murder against Shias in Zaria and shot unarmed pro-Biafran protesters.
The president said: “Every group has a grievance. But the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of co-existence. The National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse.” Once again, Buhari fails to understand what “democracy” truly means. People have a right to channel their grievances via any means necessary as long as they are peaceful. Many Nigerians have little faith in a National Assembly stuffed with “irresponsible elements” that owe their seats to fraudulent (s)elections. The Council of State made up of the president, vice president, former presidents, former chief judges, the heads of the National Assembly and state governors are all part of a ruling elite with little legitimacy or credibility. None of these people represent the interests of ordinary Nigerians and should be rightly ignored by the majority, who have every right to use other peaceful means and organisations to advance their interests.
Buhari added: “The national consensus is that, it is better to live together than to live apart”. He is in no position to know this. There is no valid opinion poll to suggest that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians prefer to live together. It may be true that they do, but until there is evidence of this, Buhari or anyone else should not be claiming it as a fact. The facts are that there are several groups advocating the breakup of the country. Separatism has grown legs since Buhari took over. He should take a cold look at himself and his utterances, even in this particular half-baked speech.
After concentrating for much of the speech on the separatists, Buhari only had one line each on Boko Haram, the economy (that continues to tank), and “farmers versus herdsmen clashes”. He continues to frame the latter like US president Donald Trump did with the white supremacists and anti-racists in Charlottesville as if there was moral equivalence between both sides. The clashes between herdsmen and farmers are simply about the cattle of the herdsmen destroying the livelihood of farmers. But Buhari is a Fulani supremacist and the herdsmen are Fulani. His stance on this issue is more of a threat to Nigerian unity than “irresponsible elements” on “the social media”.
Sadly for Nigeria, the most irresponsible person in the country today is the one that occupies the highest office in the land.