By Daniel Kanu
It has become an annual ritual for sitting Nigerian presidents to give independence anniversary speech on every October 1, to commemorate Nigeria’s independence from British colonialists in 1960.
Last Tuesday, October 1, was the country’s 59th independence anniversary celebration and it was not different from what used to be the hallmark of the occasion where the incumbent president would explain the journey so far, sacrifices made, what he has been able to do from what he met on the ground, what he intends to further achieve with his government policies.
As captured by President Muhammadu Buhari last Tuesday: “It is also a time for us, collectively, to remember the sacrifices made by our founders and great leaders past; by soldiers, by distinguished public servants; by traditional leaders, by our workers – sacrifices on which Nigeria has been built over the 59 years since Independence in 1960; and rededicate ourselves to attaining the goals which we have set for ourselves: a united, prosperous and purposeful nation in the face of 21st Century opportunities and challenges.”
The speech is always expected, among others to be one that would inspire hope on the citizenry as it would chart the way for what is to be expected, and more importantly, to solicit greater support for the government, perhaps due to the good works on its expected performance index.
In his broadcast that lasted for about 25 minutes, the president highlighted his government’s efforts in improving security, accelerating sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and fighting corruption, as well as restoring good governance.
He also called on Nigerians to be united so that the country would emerge from its present challenges stronger than ever.
Buhari had reiterated a point he made in his 2015 Independence Day speech about Nigerians being law-abiding citizens to bring about real change, submitting that it was Nigerians commitment to have genuine change that made them not only to elect him in 2015, but to re-elect him again for the second tenure.
He said: “In the past four years, the majority of Nigerians have committed to change for the better. Indeed, this administration was re-elected by Nigerians on a mandate to deliver positive and enduring change – through maintaining our national security; restoring sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development; and fighting corruption against all internal and external threats.”
On security, Buhari said that there was no way good governance and economic development could be sustained without an enabling environment of peace and security, boasting that in the last four years, his government has combated the terrorist scourge of Boko Haram.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to our gallant men and women in arms, through whose efforts we have been able to achieve the present results. We are also grateful to our neighbours and allies – within the region and across the world – who have supported us on this front.
“The capacity of our armed forces to defend our territorial integrity continues to be enhanced by the acquisition of military hardware, as well as continued improvements in the working conditions of our servicemen and women.
“The Ministry of Police Affairs has been resuscitated to oversee the development and implementation of strategies to enhance internal security. These initiatives are being complemented by the ongoing recruitment of 10,000 constables into the Nigeria Police Force. This clearly demonstrates our commitment to arrest the incidence of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes across our nation.
“We remain equally resolute in our efforts to combat militant attacks on our oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta and accelerate the Ogoni Clean-up to address long-standing environmental challenges in that region,” he said.
On accelerating sustainable and inclusive economy growth, Buhari said that his government inherited a skewed economy where the oil sector comprised only eight per cent of Gross Domestic Product, but contributed 70 per cent of government revenue and 90 per cent foreign exchange earnings over the years.
He said that regrettably, previous government abandoned the residual investment-driven non-oil sector, which constituted 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product and comprised agriculture, livestock, agro-processing, arts, entertainment, mining, and manufacturing activities that provide millions of jobs for able-bodied Nigerians and utilize locally available raw materials and labour for production.
He said that the Federal Government is addressing the imbalance, as a commitment to achieving economic diversification has been at the heart of their economic strategies under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, which was launched on April 5, 2017.
“This medium-term development plan charted the trajectory for our economy to exit from recession and return to the path of sustainable, diversified and inclusive growth for Nigerians. Pursuant to these reforms, the economy has recovered and we have had nine successive quarters of growth since our exit from recession.
“Our efforts to improve the power sector will complement other infrastructure investment projects under the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund, which is investing in the Mambilla Power Plant project, as well as key economic road infrastructure, such as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Second Niger Bridge and Abuja-Kano Expressway. The first set of these projects remain on track to be completed by 2022.
“Our journey to food security and self-sufficiency is well underway. We have made remarkable progress in almost all segments of the agriculture value chain, from fertilizers to rice, to animal feed production. We shall sustain these policies to ensure additional investments are channeled, thereby creating more jobs in the sector. We must not go back to the days of importing food and thereby exporting jobs,” he noted.
On fighting corruption and restoring good governance, the president said that government’s institutional reforms to enforce the Treasury Single Account policy, introduce the Whistle-blowers’ Initiative, expand the coverage of the Integrated Payroll Personnel and Information System, as well as the Government Integrated Management Information System have saved billions of naira over the last four years, and deterred the rampant theft and mismanagement of public funds that have plagued the public service.
According to him: “The blight of corruption is fighting back. Nevertheless, this is a battle that we shall see through and this is a war, which we shall win by the grace of God. I will also call upon all Nigerians, from every walk of life, to combat corruption at every turn. By choosing to question and confront corrupt practices, by reporting unethical practices or through whistleblowing. Together, we can overcome corruption and will no longer be a country defined by corruption.
“The Ministry of Justice, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission will continue to address this menace. We are determined to ensure that transparency and good governance are institutionalized in public service”.
Since the Tuesday broadcast, mixed reactions have continued to trail the claims of the president, just as the social media have been awash with reactions, particularly the threat that the Federal Government won’t tolerate free speech that threatens national security.
While some Nigerians who spoke to Sunday Sun commended the efforts of the government, a greater number of the respondents seemed to kick at the declarations concerning the achievements.
Some Nigerians, ordinary people, senior lawyers, and notable political actors took a swipe at the remark by Buhari at his position on freedom of expression which they noted sought to elevate national interest above the rule of law.
A few claimed that the statement complied with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
They said Buhari was gradually introducing censorship of rights of expression, constitutionally given by the law by some abrasive policies.
A respondent who simply identified himself as Paul told Sunday Sun that he was tired of the rhetoric of the Buhari government whom he said were experts in propaganda.
Paul, whose face was a mask of anger during the interview, said: “I am not interested in what President Buhari is claiming that they have achieved or want to achieve. But I worry that after his first four-year tenure what do we have? If you don’t know as a journalist because some of you have compromised, let me tell you that under Buhari we have: a pariah state, a banana republic, a terrorist-rogue enclave, a deeply divided nation, a cesspool of corruption, a poverty capital of the world.
“What has Buhari’s government done on restructuring the country, on devolution of power? Why is it that appointments are given with impunity from his section of the country? He said the economy he inherited was skewed what of his super skewed appointments? Does he need an angel to tell him that President Jonathan left a buoyant and the fastest growing economy in Africa, if not the world? The truth is that Nigeria will remain stagnated as long as Buhari stays in power. ”
Sylvester Okechukwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who warned the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government to respect the laws of the land, explained that the freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution.
According to him, that right guarantees every Nigerian to speak his mind on issues. “Nigeria’s constitution protects the right to freedom of expression and provides that any restriction to this right must be justifiable in a democratic society.”
He cautioned the government not to exploit concerns about hate speech or fake news as a pretext for repression of free speech.
His words: “The authorities should not exploit concerns about hate speech or fake news as a pretext for repression of free speech. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari should preserve Nigerians’ free access to the marketplace of ideas, online or offline.
“The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa also provides that any restriction to freedom of expression must ‘serve a legitimate purpose, necessary in a democratic society.’”
Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, a human and socio-economic activist, said that he saw nothing unlawful in what President Buhari said in his speech.
“The statement that his administration won’t tolerate free speech that threatens national security complies with Section 38 and 45 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended),” he said.
On his part, Chief Nkereuwem Udofia Akpan, an Abuja-based constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, faulting Buhari’s statement that ‘‘his government would no longer tolerate free speech that threatens national security,’’ said that until the constitution of Nigeria is amended, the freedom of speech and expression would always remain secured and guaranteed.
He said: “Legally speaking, Mr President did not say anything new and neither can he by proclamation make any amendments to our body of laws as it pertains to any of the fundamental rights in particular, the right of free speech and expression is secured and guaranteed under the extant and sacrosanct provisions of Chapter IV particularly Sections 39 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, which he swore to defend in his oath of office.
“Now, unless those extant provisions were altered last night and I am confident there were no such illegal alterations, then legally speaking his speech has not added anything new to our laws.”
A public affairs analyst, Ochonogor Joseph, said that President Buhari’s Independence Day speech that he would not tolerate free speech was indeed a sad thing to hear from a man who once said he’s a democrat.
“The president should be reminded that his party rode on this same freedom of speech to clinch power from PDP in 2015. He should be reminded that the current opposition has not abused free speech compared to what his party did in 2015,” he pointed out.
Former Presidential aide to Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri also contradicted Buhari on all his claimed achievements and exploits, saying that the president’s broadcast was full of lies.
Omokri who has remained critical on the Buhari government said that the government’s assertion that they are on top of security challenge: that they are winning the corruption battle as well as fixing the economy were all mere imagination of the president, which are far from the reality.
Experts say the game of the future is for nations to innovate, compete or die. The challenge for Nigeria, they say, is that the country needs to start preparing for a world without oil, which calls for innovation in diverse aspects of the economy.
And that requires unity, a peaceful environment that will inspire growth, breed justice and fair play, which, they say, is lacking from the actions of the present leadership.