Did you listen to President Buhari?

Buhari

The critics who quarrel with the brevity of President Muhammadu Buhari’s welcome back speech either did not listen to that speech last Monday morning or they were simply incapable of decoding what he said  – lacking the capacity,  as they say,  to  read between the lines. Either way, they have failed to appreciate what a connoisseur of a good speech said some ages ago.

“Good speech,” says this sage, “is like a mini skirt, short enough to be enticing, long enough to cover the subject matter.” President Buhari had a choice. And the choice was between brevity and garrulity. He voted for brevity which, we are told, is the soul of business. And the business of the day, for the man who had been away for 103 days, was to announce his return and to say how happy he was to be back on the Nigerian soil among his brothers and sisters and to thank them, all of them including the incredible Ayo Fayose for their prayers and good wishes.

But he did more than that. He went down memory lane to recount his memorable banter with Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the late Biafran warlord, who, despite the awesome arsenal available to him during the unfortunate civil war, could not take the Igbos out of Nigeria. Biafra of his dream died on January 12, 1970 after 33 months of civil war and fled into exile.

Col Philip Effiong, his next in command, formally surrendered to General Yakubu Gowon, the military head of state and gave up the struggle. Ojukwu returned from exile 13 years later, a born-again Nigerian compatriot and even contested election to the Senate. In the 2003 meeting in Buhari’s Daura home, the two of them reflected on the situation in the country and came to the conclusion that Nigeria must remain one and united.

President Buhari on Monday sounded a note of warning to all the new Biafran irredentists and the Arewa youths who reacted by giving the Igbos a quit notice. Nigeria’s unity, he said, is settled and not negotiable. As if addressing Nnamdi Kanu directly, he said “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.”

And for the Arewa youths, the message was clear: Nobody is going nowhere come October deadline. Nigeria, he said, in a few words, was big enough to accommodate all. And all the citizens are therefore free to make a home and do their business anywhere they choose to reside without let or hindrance.

I think there is something in the brief speech for everybody. For the proponents of restructuring, Buhari said there is no denying that there are legitimate concerns. Every group, he said, had 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,” says the president. Now this is the clincher – which critics call buck passing: the National Assembly and National Council of State, I quote the president, are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse. The national consensus is that it is better to live together than to live apart. End of quote. This, certainly, may not be good music to their ears but you cannot accuse the president of not saying anything.

As for the hoodlums who have vowed to make life nasty for the majority of innocent citizens, and here I am referring to Boko Haram and the army of kidnappers, herdsmen, cultists and ritualists, to say nothing about armed robbers and human traffickers and men and women who wilfully sell their own children in return for some filthy lucre, the president vowed that “terrorists and criminals must be fought and destroyed relentlessly so that the majority of us can live in peace and safety.”  For emphasis, he pointedly mentioned elements of Boko Haram which have been attacking soft targets in the North East. He did not leave out kidnappers, and the famers versus the herdsmen conundrum and those who fuel ethnic violence to further their political interests.

In case you missed it, he reminded the anxious citizens that “our collective interest now is to eschew petty differences and come together to face the common challenges of economic recovery, political evolution and integration as well as lasting peace among all Nigerians.”

But I noticed an omission. There was no reference to the fight against corruption, the third leg of the tripod of his administration. War against corruption. This was very conspicuous by its omission. And I hazard a guess. My guess is that for someone who has been showered with unprecedented good will – goodwill from all, the saint and sinner alike, it is appropriate for the president to wave the olive branch. To say thank you, I appreciate.

This is not to say there is a change of attitude to the fight against this cancerous corruption that has held the country by the jugular. This calamity escaped the presidential attention, though I would have thought one reason he was eager to get back to duty was corruption.  But we wait.

Obviously the president couldn’t have mentioned every matter under the sun in that brief speech. The Academic Staff Union of the Universities, ASUU, has waged a war against the Federal Government. And, from the admission of the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, a fanatical ASUU follower, it looks like the government again is in the wrong. Agreements were reached, but the agreements were not kept. Standard practice. But soon, for the sake of our dilapidated educational system, ASUU will be persuaded to call off this strike – with another agreement. But the president can’t be faulted for not giving it a mention, even in passing.

While the president was away, a lot of other things happened that can, at best, be lumped together under miscellaneous matters. One of them is the perennial conflict between the Presidency and the National Assembly. And it has to do with Ibrahim Magu in the main. Remember that the vice president, a legal luminary and professor of law, Yemi Osinbajo had fallen for the advice of another legal enfant terrible that goes by the rather romantic name of Femi Falana who had espoused the theory that not all appointments are to be approved by the Senate. And that includes the appointment of the chairman of EFCC, though the EFCC act stipulates otherwise. But the Act is inferior to the Constitution. There was nearly a civil war or is it civil disobedience? I don’t know if the president read in the papers while in London that the presidency disowned the acting president on this issue. I nearly asked which presidency, as someone in utter shock and despair, once asked when told he had been suspended by the presidency. Which presidency?

Though the president did not say anything about the war against corruption in this short but-straight- to-the point speech, there is this rumour that a bill to give amnesty to treasury looters is in the offing. For now it is difficult to know how to read or predict the reaction of the president. But he should not bother so much about mere speculation. When he gets to that bridge, he will cross it – some people allege that the alleged bill is allegedly self-serving. Honestly I don’t know.

And did he, the president, hear from far way London that his triple minister, Babatunde Fashola, was embroiled in some controversy with legislators who were said to have tampered with his ministry’s budget and the said tampering was negatively affecting projects like roads, Lagos-Ibadan highway inclusive? But it was dismissed as a storm in a tea cup. All that happened was that the lawmakers skimmed some billions of naira out of the aforementioned budget so they could dig bore holes, and so forth and so on, in their respective constituencies. But fair, you know, is fair especially in this strange world of politics.

And finally, I am sure the president – though he appears to be averse to such irritations – will eventually take some interest in the affairs of his beloved party, the APC, which appears to be at war with itself – especially in some states like Kogi, Bauchi, Kaduna and Kano. Political war drums, muffled for now, will soon begin to sound more clearly. A stitch in time may help to prevent a more acrimonious development around the country.



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