Buhari’s arrival broadcast: Treading old weather -beaten path to unity

President Muhammadu Buhari

Despite the agitations in the land for the restructuring of the polity and a return to true federalism on which foundation the Nigerian nation was erected, President Muhammadu Buhari, like all occupants of the presidential seat before him without any exception, has given indications that the status quo may remain.

While the president was away on medical vacation in the United Kingdom, separatist groups stretched the fragile unity of the country to the limit with threats of dismemberment of the federation.

There was a state-at-home order by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) for Nigerians of Igbo extraction to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of defunct Biafra Republic and a reaction by some Arewa youth groups serving quit notice to Southeasterners to vacate the North on or before Nigeria’s Independence Day of October 1st.

As the polity was being heated to a near-boiling point, various other separatist groups from the Niger Delta region and across the country, began issuing quit orders to other nationalities to leave or face extermination.

And to prepare more incendiary materials for a nation waiting for conflagration, a hate song against the Igbo was making the waves in the north, ostensibly preparatory to the execution of the quit order which the authors insisted, was going to be executed.

It could be recalled that the terrible experience of ethnic cleansing between the Hutus and Tutsi nationalities in the East African country of Rwanda, globally referred to as the Rwandan genocide, during which thousands of lives were lost and which attracted international judicial sanctions, started with a hate song.

The social media became an avenue of divisive comments and hate speeches that the Federal Government toyed with the idea of creating punitive measures for comments that tend to instigate civil unrest or promote anything that can lead to or sustain agitation.

With the rising ethnic tension serving as an opportunity to ask the national question, a robust debate about Nigeria as a nation focusing on where the country took the wrong step and how to get out of the doldrums with clear-cut solutions, was engendered by prominent Nigerians across regional, ethnic and political divides.

Even the president’s party, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) could no longer play the deaf as it set up a committee headed by Kaduna State governor, Ahmed el-Rufai, to look into all the issues around restructuring and recommend a course of action for a party that had earlier included the matter in its manifesto.

For a country that was being dragged into the precipice through a repeat of the unfortunate actions that led to a 30-month destructive civil war, it was expected that President Buhari, in his arrival broadcast yesterday, followed the old path of his predecessors by insisting that, no matter what, “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable.”

As one of the former military rulers that toppled the apple cart by staging coups and counter coups that led to the destruction of the original federal structure and fought a war to unite the country, Buhari spoke in the old hard ways of decreeing unity into existence.

Right from the days of General Yakubu Gowon, the refrain from Nigeria’s cycle of rulers, which with the exception of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and former President Goodluck Jonathan, are military men who were there when the blocks of unity were being forcefully cemented together, had always been “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable.”

Indeed, this crop of leaders who were in the frontlines of the war to unite Nigeria both in the battlefield where they lost limbs and went through the trauma of seeing friends and colleagues dying and the corridors of power where they used the instrumentality of state authority to bring unity on an entity once described by late Obafemi Awolowo as a “mere geographical expression,” cannot bring themselves to the reality of undoing what they fought to entrench.

Recent pronouncements by main actors in the Nigerian leadership drama like General Ibrahim Babangida and Yakubu Danjuma on the reasons why the country should be restructured and the need to douse religious tension, have however lend credence to the fact that it is high time that a second look is taken at the formation of the nation to address imbalances that are causing tensions.

Many prominent Nigerians like Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and top diplomat, Emeka Anyaoku, two respected international voices, have also called for a renegotiated Nigeria. While Soyinka insisted that the country’s unity is not sacrosanct, Anyaoku and many others wanted a national discussion that would open a new vista of nationhood for Nigeria.

Through Buhari’s speech, it was clear that the president, rather than shift ground from the old position and agree that there are indeed problems that a gathering of Nigerians can resolve amicably, is still fixated on the old ways of non-negotiable unity.

According to Buhari, asking questions about Nigeria’s unity or querying the modalities of the union in such a way to threaten national unity or co-existence of the various entities in the country as a unified entity is like “crossing a national red line,” describing such move as a “step taken too far.”

The president however addressed some of the issues raised by the agitations and sounded a note of warning to “irresponsible elements” who in this contest refer to separatist groups and those giving quit orders stressing that “every Nigerian has the right to live and pursue his business anywhere in Nigeria without hindrance.”

While he agreed that there are indeed “legitimate concerns” and that “every group has a grievance”, the president said “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.”

In this instance, according to him, “The National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse,” not toeing the line of critics who branded the National Assembly as a major part of the problems bedeviling the nation.

In ending the broadcast however, the president opened a window of possibility of further strengthening the country’s democracy by promising “political evolution and integration,” which could be explored to create the kind of Nigeria that can be called a nation in the true sense of the word.

AS expected Nigerians have been reacting to the presidential broadcast and in these, two issues have been of concern to several political analysts which bothered on the speech and what he is expected to put in place to give assurance that his administration will tackle the myriads of problems confronting the country.

Calling on the APC and media handlers of the president to realise that Nigeria is bigger than any individual, a public commentator and National Chairman of defunct National Transformation Party (NTP), Emmanuel Mok said the clarity of the president’s speech and the way it was packaged were questionable. He said Buhari deviated completely from addressing the challenges of the country.

Harping on the area where Buhari insisted that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable, the former NTP Chairman said, “Buhari does not have the right to tell us our unity is not negotiable. The restructuring we are agitating for has nothing to do with the unity and peaceful co-existence of Nigeria.”

According to him, “Apart from the fact that he deviated from addressing the cogent economic issues and the barrages of hate speeches and increase crime rate, the president chose to look the other way in his brief speech. Mr. President and his party should better come to understanding the fact that it is either this nation address the needful in term of reordering its system or it will get to a point where we would be forced to divide.

“There is nothing Buhari and the APC would do that will be of meaning except they take us back to the drawing board to re-discuss a Nigeria where equity, justice and fairness will reign.”

Also faulting the Buhari’s speech focus, the Executive Secretary of the National Summit Group (NSG), Tony Uranta said whilst he was happy that the president is back to Nigeria after that lengthy sojourn in London, “one is tempted to believe that he may not be fully aware of the realities of the country he left behind for over three months!”

He said Buhari’s over-emphasis on the jaded mantra of Nigeria’s unity being non-negotiable, in his address to Nigerians, sadly portrays him as being very disconnected from the reality of the present state of the nation “and makes one wonder if the citizens will have real value added to our lives by the President’s being back.”

According to Uranta, “His speech was devoid of empathy with the sad state in which Nigerians have been battered through hunger, terror attacks and a bombardment by mendacious propaganda.

“It is evident from his broadcast that the single most important issue President Muhammadu Buhari recognises is the issue of our unity being “non-negotiable”; which is laughable because this country’s unity must be debated and a consensus reached by the leaders of the various political, economic, religious and cultural persuasions.

“A country where inequity and injustice walk the land freely is an unstable country and cannot stand the test of ethnic tensions.”

The NSG scribe added that it was painful to see that Buhari is determined to stand on the wrong side of history as regards the inevitability of Nigeria being restructured before 2019.

Uranta however said his message to Mr. President is “if Nigeria is not restructured, the Niger Delta region will oppose elections being held in 2019. A word is sufficient the wise.”

Other commentators are however of the opinion that Mr. President’s speech could be described as a preliminary explanation of what he really intended to do therefore there is the probability he gives another national broadcast in the next few days that will itemize how he planned to govern the country.

For instance, the leader of the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) Chief (Dr) Ralph Nwazurike said, “Obviously, Nigerians are still expecting President Buhari to re-address us because his initial speech was brief and also did not address anything of immediate need to the country.”

He added that Buhari being the Chief Economist, Security Officer and the manager of Nigeria “his broadcast failed to focus on the things troubling us as a nation, particularly since he left the country. It was so brief that we couldn’t comprehend it. In the first place, he was not elected to become a super human but to organise the country.”

Faulting the content of the speech, Nwazurike said it would have been expected that the issue of economy take the priority in Buhari’s mind due to the prevalent poverty and economic challenges that are making standard of living very chronic for the masses.

Said he, “For instance, the Nigeria economy is at present staggering, we are approaching the third quarter of the year and nothing significantly has been done over the budget. Money is not flowing. It would have been expected of Mr. President to announce his readiness to pump enough money into the economy.

“If you take a critical observation, core investors are gradually leaving Nigeria because they do not understand where this administration is heading. Many of us are still waiting to see the direction Buhari is taking us. It would also have been expected of Mr. President to seriously lay emphasis on the state of insecurity in the country since he left and as well take a reasonable position on the persistent demand for devolution of powers from the centre to the federating units. I am of the opinion that or challenges far outweigh the brief speech he delivered to Nigerians.”

In separate conversations with The Guardian, National Chairmen of Advance Democratic Congress (ADC) and National Conscience Party (NCP), Chief Ralph Nwosu and Yinusa Tanko expressed gratitude that the president was back save and sound to the country. They both agreed that his return has saved Nigeria a lot of stress and constitutional crisis.

Nwosu said the speech, which of course should have given a clear direction of where Nigeria is going as a nation, failed to give any ray of hope “what do I mean, the economy is still far down to such extent that the elite and well to do are lamenting, only God can say what the average masses of Nigeria are going through. I think the speech should have been drafted to calm the nerves of Nigerians.”

According to Nwosu, “The speech was like taking us back to where we are, which is absence of purposeful leadership. Nigeria has suffered and would continue unless we get someone that can provide purposeful leadership.”

He also noted that in Buhari’s absence, a lot was discussed about his unfulfilled campaign promises and particularly the debate over whether the APC promised to restructure Nigeria “for Mr. President to have hit directly that our unity is not negotiable without telling us what his government would do to appease the mind of those clamouring for change of system was not the best. There is the possibility of Nigeria witnessing renew and stronger agitations from the various ethnic nationalities in the country.”

The ADC chairman urged President Buhari on the need to reassure every component that made up Nigeria of fairness, equity and justice in the system differently from what we have at present.

Tanko on his part said it would have made more sense if Mr. President harped seriously on the issues that seem to be threatening the fundamentals of Nigeria “like security, youth unemployment and others.”

In a different opinion, the Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Southwest, Dr. Eddy Olafeso rather blamed the handlers of Mr. President for what he considered a poor speech that failed to bring succour to agitated minds.

According to him, “the aspect he referred to a meeting he had sometimes ago with the late Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu where he said they discussed about the unity of Nigeria was not necessary. We expected him to speak more on how to deliver on his campaign promises most of which are yet to be fulfilled.”

Meanwhile the Lagos chapter of APC said Buhari’s return and his speech would reinvigorate the country to move faster towards growth and development.

In a statement yesterday, the State Publicity Secretary, Joe Igbokwe said Buhari is a law-abiding citizen, straightforward thinker and a disciplined leader.

According to Igbokwe, “President Buhari did the needful by transmitting a letter to the National Assembly making it possible for the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo to step up to fill the vacuum as the Acting President and the humble servant gave a wonderful account of himself.”

He recalled the warm greeting between Buhari and Osinbajo immediately the president landed on Saturday, “we are all living witnesses of how the President held his Vice President’s hands when he landed in Abuja last Saturday and the whole world saw the affinity, the bond, and the brotherly love that exists between the two great and honest leaders. The photographs spoke a billion words.”

The party lamented that while Buhari was away secessionists multiplied the intensity of their agitations, Boko Haram continued to invade some communities in the Northern parts of Nigeria, and even the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) went on strike. We hope that President Buhari will brace up to boldly checkmate these challenges.”



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