Wilfred Eya, Romanus Ugwu, Ndubuisi Orji, Fred Itua, James Ojo, Abuja, Tony Osauzo, Benin, Chukwudi Nweje and Sunday Ani
President Muhammadu Buhari’s 59th Independence anniversary speech, yesterday, has continued to raise dust, with prominent Nigerians sharply divided on specific aspects of the broadcast.
While some lambasted the President, especially on his tough stance on the issue of freedom of expression, others hailed it, saying it was in order.
Leading the pack was the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which described the broadcast as an insult to Nigerians and a mockery of the country’s integrity as an independent state.
In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, yesterday, the party claimed the speech was completely ‘unpresidential’ and full of manifest contradictions and false performance claims.
The opposition party said other leaders use the opportunity of such occasions to motivate their citizens but the President was “presenting uninspiring claims, propaganda and empty promises.”
The PDP spokesman added that the broadcast was an indication that President Buhari was allegedly not interested in nation-building nor the plight of Nigerians.
“The PDP notes that President Buhari, in his recorded address, failed to forcefully address the key issues of freedom, social justice, constitutional order, separation of powers, rule of law, human rights, credible elections, national cohesion, accountability and transparency in government, the very fundamentals of an independent state, because his administration had violated them all.”
Second Republic governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, also picked holes in the speech, describing it as disappointing. He said the President should not be involved in making threats because the situation that caused the problems he was complaining about was due to his failure to perform, arguing that people have the right to protest.
He said: “I feel disappointed that, instead of trying to reconcile with the people and encourage them to expect something better, he is threatening the people with dire consequences because they are complaining. It is very disappointing.”
Balarabe blamed the President’s speechwriters for his attitude, describing them as being mindless: “I think he is not advised well because these speeches are prepared by some people. Those people who prepared the speech for him are mindless. They really don’t care about advising him to take the right steps to reconcile with the people. People don’t expect threats from him; they expect reconciliation and words of encouragement.”
Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, said the Supreme Court had settled the matter in the case of Dokubo-Asari vs. Federal Government of Nigeria, when the Niger Delta activist was accused of treason.
Ozekhome noted that when it comes to an individual’s right regarding national security, such right has to be subsumed under national security but, even then, Dokubo-Asari was taken to a court of law.
“Now, there is a difference between individual right and what you call rule of law. What this government has also insisted on is that national security is superior to rule of law. We are saying, no. Rule of law is superior and higher than national security because, without rule of law, there cannot be a nation state, which will now begin to talk of national security.
“Rule of law predates even the nation itself. It is the violation of rule of law in the Garden of Eden that made God to drive away Adam and Eve because they violated the laid down rules. So, nobody is talking of individual right. But even then, when individual right touches on national security, what do you do? You go to the court of law and you allow the person to have a fair hearing, as the government did with El-Zakzaky,” Ozekhome said.
Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, asked: “Who determines what is national security? We all fought hard to preserve democracy and I spent 20 months in jail. We have the rule of law in Nigeria. If anybody is arrested for making a speech that threatens national security, it is for the court to decide that. It should not be decided by a politician but, like most reasonable people know, you should know where to draw the line.”
Commenting, former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, said President Buhari distorted facts, especially as it relates to the economy, anti-corruption war and the fight against insurgency in the country.
Wabara told Daily Sun in a telephone interview yesterday that, contrary to its claims, the Buhari administration has not done well in managing the economy as well as in the fight against corruption and insurgency in the country.
According to him, there is empirical evidence that, despite the claims of the President on the fight against graft and insurgency, Boko Haram terrorists were still very active, just as corruption has increased under his watch.
Wabara said: “(Buhari) didn’t inherit a bad economy, an economy that was number one in Africa when he inherited it from Goodluck Jonathan. He can’t be saying that, or is he another Trump? Is Buhari another Trump distorting history? What is the fight against Boko Haram? Every day they claim they have defeated Boko Haram, but Boko Haram is still active. I mean, these are things you see with your naked eyes. A blind man can see that he has not done well at all.
“The fight against corruption is selective. It has even quadrupled. The amount of money that is stolen in Nigeria these days is mindboggling. These are facts. To me, he has not done well at all. And these are verifiable.”
The leadership of the two trade centres, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), yesterday declined comments on President Buhari’s address to the nation on the occasion of the 59th anniversary of Independence.
When contacted, NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, preferred that a text be sent to him, but there was no reply from him four hours later. And the president of the TUC, Quadri Olaleye, said he could not comment because he was in a noisy environment and promised to return the call later.
Similarly, members of the PDP in Edo State declined to comment. The state chapter chairman and publicity secretary of the party, Chief Dan Orbih and Chris Nehikhare, respectively, directed the reported to the national chairman.
“Call Secondus. It’s Edo I am concerned with, Edo people are suffering,” Orbih said.
Meanwhile, Goddy Uwazuruike, former president of Aka Ikenga, said the broadcast showed a lack of seriousness. He said it was part of the same long line of empty speeches the President had been giving since he came into office.
Uwazuruike said, “An Independence speech should be motivational and encourage the people. All President Buhari has done in his speech is to threaten our free speech. Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed but Buhari is now trying to take it away. Anytime Buhari wants to trample on human rights, he says it is because of national security. Is he now trying to tell us that the wisdom of one man is superior to the Constitution?”
On his part, Onyekachi Ubani, former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch, dismissed it as an empty broadcast, asking: “What did the President say? It was a prepared speech, he did not say anything, so what am I reacting to?”
Meanwhile, the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), commended President Buhari on the broadcast, but warned that Nigerians would hold him by his words on power, security and the diversification of the economy.
IPAC president, Peter Ameh, said though he welcomed the declaration on hate speech, government must give orientation to the security agencies to ensure that criticisms by Nigerians do not translate to hate speech.
The IPAC boss told Daily Sun: “For us, the issue of power is very key, if it will be taken care within the specific time. The challenge is very huge, when the power sector is not generating enough power for entrepreneurship to scale the level that they are currently. The cost of production also affects the output of production, which in turn affects the management of companies.
“It is good that we have an accessible and available power supply when necessary for our local companies to compete globally in line with our very robust and adequate manpower. It will help to reboot the economy to a point that it can ginger growth and development,” he said.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, urged Nigerians to keep hope alive, saying the Buhari administration would continue to work to ensure unity, security and prosperity for all Nigerians.
“My message to Nigerians is to keep up hope; 59 years of independence in a country as diverse as Nigeria is not an easy thing but the good thing is that everybody is glad to be part of one united and prosperous Nigeria.
“The political class has its role to play; my advice to the political class is that we should not overheat the polity. Elections are over. We should all join hands to build the nation. The beauty of democracy is that, every four years, you have the opportunity to decide who is going to be your leader but once elections are over everybody should join hands together to build the country because I believe that even those in opposition, they mean well for Nigeria; therefore, they should join hands with the government to build a united and prosperous Nigeria.”
Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, also hailed Buhari for prioritising investment in infrastructural development with the approval of N600 billion to revamp infrastructure across the country in the next three months.
The governor said the move was necessary to spur economic development in Nigeria.
Obaseki said Nigeria had not experienced needed economic growth because over the years, policies had not been aligned to drive growth, adding that the Buhari-led administration got it right by coming up with policies that would spur economic growth.
The governor urged Nigerians not to lose faith in the country, noting that, despite the difficult times, the nation would be great again.
Elder statesman and Second Republic member of the House of Representatives, Junaid Mohammed, said he did not listen to the broadcast because he did not have electricity, but advised that people should learn to make their points and criticise government in a reasonable way and not make inciting statements that would lead to violence.
“Everybody is making noise about what is democracy and what is not democracy, but look at the Nigerian Bar Association, what is democratic about it? Free speech is not absolute.”
In his contribution, former minister of education, Dauda Birmah, said the President was right to have admitted that he inherited a bad economy. He, however, claimed that the economy was on the right track.
He urged President Buhari to look beyond oil and create multiple sources of revenue for the country. Birmah said more attention should be paid to the development of agriculture in the rural areas.