President Muhammadu Buhari returned to the country last Saturday after a 103-day medical leave. His arrival brought to an end the protests over his prolonged absence from the country by the Charly Boy Ourmumudondo Group, which had in the preceding days been trying to gather momentum, in its fight to get the president to either return to the country, or resign from office.
It is good that Buhari arrived just in time, as the group had appeared bent on instigating a crisis, the outcome of which would have been difficult for anyone to predict. Already, the group had been attacked by angry traders at the Wuse market, Abuja, where it took its anti-Buhari protests. Nigerians must thank God that the ethnic-colouration that was being foisted on the Wuse incident, and other tribal altercations that it might have instigated, were nipped in the bud by the timely return of Buhari to the country.
But, now that the president is back, what next? I will not attempt a look into the crystal ball here to see whether his return will give the nation’s economy a shot in the arm, or take it further downhill, as some “wailing wailers” and Buhari naysayers are postulating. There is plenty of time for that, when the president has settled down to work and gotten back his rhythm, as I hope he will.
The focus of this column, instead, is on the president’s broadcast on Monday which appears to have rubbed some Nigerians up the wrong way. What exactly did the president say? As The Sun newspaper captured his message in its Monday front page: Buhari Talks Tough: … vows to deal with Boko Haram, insecurity. Other riders captured his stance on the non-negotiability of Nigeria’s unity and Nigerians’ right to live and do business anywhere in the country without hindrance.
Specifically, the president, after a perfunctory expression of gratitude to God and Nigerians for their prayers, expressed his distress over comments, especially in the social media, “which crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation.” This, he said, “is a step too far.” He referred to his discussions with now departed Biafran leader, during which they concluded that the “country must remain one and united.”
Buhari went on to affirm that Nigeria’s unity is settled and non-negotiable. As he put it: “We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood.”
He also rightly identified the National Assembly and the National Council of State as the legitimate and appropriate organs for national discourse, and told the people that the “national consensus is that it is better for the people to live together than to live apart.”
Some of those who have taken exception to Buhari’s speech have expressed their unhappiness with his reference to the late Biafran leader, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, and described his narration of their conclusion that Nigeria must remain one, as unnecessary. Former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili, said the speech was a terrible case of a missed opportunity, while former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, described it as uninspiring. The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) said there was nothing to rejoice about in the speech, while the Executive Secretary of the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS), Mr. Tony Uranta, said the speech portrayed the president as disconnected from the present realities in the country.
But, it has not all been knocks. Elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai, APC Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, Senator Shehu Sani and the apex northern group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) variously praised the speech for its emphasis on the unity of the country, its non-negotiability and the need for peace and strengthening of the war against Boko Haram and general insecurity. Also, the decision to deal with hate speeches and the assurance to all Nigerians that they are safe to live in any part of the country that they desire.
What do I really think of the Buhari broadcast? I think both the Buhari supporters and naysayers have their points. However, if I were to be the president of an ailing country who has been away for over three months at public expense, during which I was unable to attend to the duties which afforded me that privilege, I would dwell more on thanking the people for holding fort and keeping the ship of state sailing while I was away. I would empathise more with the people who are clearly going through difficult times which I had been unable to attend to, or even assuage, even before I fell ill.
My message would be largely one of reconciliation and an appeal for cooperation. I would talk about the difficulties and challenges they were passing through and reassure them of my renewed commitment to working hard to surmount the challenges. I would appeal for understanding and call for all hands on deck to surmount the challenges confronting the nation. I will talk about the nation’s serious economic problems and promise to make things easier for the people. I will also appeal to the people to let us make the best of living together as it is in our collective interest.
Certainly, I would have avoided calling anyone “irresponsible elements”, even if that is what I truly think they are. I would also have better chosen my words on the non-negotiability of Nigeria’s oneness.
Make no mistake about it, I am not an apostle of breaking up the country into different parts, but I do not subscribe to this idea of national unity as a pill that has to be forced down the throats of the people. Instead, I would want all hands on deck to build a strong and united country that would be of great value to Nigerians in all parts of the country. I clearly do not see unity as something that has to be forced on the people. It is something that should be gotten through conciliation, fairness, brotherliness and justice to all the constituent parts of the country, but that is not an affirmation of the fact that the government has been unfair or unjust to anyone.
I would also particularly thank Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, for their loyalty, patriotism and efforts to keep the country stable while I was away because I would recognize the antics to which they could have gotten in my absence.
I definitely would have, like Buhari, harped on the need for unity, but would not talk about any red line. I would also have said something about the economy, poverty and unemployment
Overall, I think the president did his best, given the fact that he had been ill and away for so long. As his spokesman, Mr Femi Adesina has said, this is just the first of several steps the president would be taking in the coming days.
I welcome Buhari back and wish him the good health and peace of mind he requires to navigate Nigeria’s ship of state towards peace, progress and prosperity.