President Muhammadu Buhari’s broadcast to the nation shortly after his return from medical vacation in London has attracted so many comments, some laudatory and others not complimentary. Those who felt satisfied with the short speech opine that it touched on important issues at stake, while those opposed to it say that it was short of the expectations of most Nigerians.
I wish to stand in the middle of the road of those that applaud the speech and those that condemn it simply because I regard their positions as extremes. I strongly believe that taking a middle position or being non-aligned or neutral will enable me to objectively appraise what the president said without fearing whose ox is gored. More so, we are once again at the nation’s crossroads where malevolent spirits operate, in search of appeasement sacrifice.
While the first group that praised the speech to high heavens consists of Buhari’s fanatical followers and lapdogs of the administration, the second group that did not see any merit in the speech is made up of those opposed to the president and those critics that always find fault in anything that is outside their making or conception. In this period of criminalization of hate speech or rather control of hate speech, I wish to also be very careful in my choice of words in the exercise. Words can be harmful these days.
How one uses words; innocent and impotent words, can sometimes be a crime. This notwithstanding, one of the merits of the speech is that the president expressed gratitude to all Nigerians for their prayers and concerns while he was out of the country. The president stressed that he is pleased to be back home among his brothers and sisters.
Before going further with my evaluation of the president’s speech, it will be beneficial to highlight some of its major points. Buhari is worried that while he was away and kept in touch with events at home, he noticed that although Nigerians are robust and lively in discussing their affairs, some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national redlines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation.
He made reference to a meeting in his home in Daura with the late Biafran leader, Chief Emeka Ojukwu, where both deliberated on the nation’s problems and concluded that Nigeria must remain one and united. The president also said that “Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable.” He also said that “every Nigerian has the right to live and pursue his business anywhere in Nigeria without let or hindrance.”
Buhari also identified that “every group has a grievance” but observed that “the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of existence.” He averred that the National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate bodies for national discourse.
He charged the security agencies to intensify the war against the Boko Haram insurgents, kidnappings, farmers versus herdsmen clashes and ethnic violence caused by political mischief makers. He urged Nigerians to eschew petty differences and face common challenges of economic security, political evolution, integration and lasting peace.
No doubt, the president’s speech is short and appears to be in parables rather than in details. In spite of its acclaimed beauty, there are obvious gaps and silences in the speech, giving its briefness and lack of necessary details. For instance, the president failed to frontally address the raging issue of restructuring in a manner most Nigerians had expected as well as the various quit notices issued by the Arewa youth groups and others.
Lumping herdsmen violence with farmers’ clashes is to simplify the issue. In fact, the herdsmen brigandage goes beyond that oversimplification. Although some of these issues can be inferred from his speech, they were not given the right sound bites, prominence and needed underscoring. I also do not agree with the president that Nigeria’s unity is settled and therefore not negotiable, irrespective of what he and Ojukwu agreed on.
No one or two persons can pontificate to all of us on the notion of national unity. Our unity must be open to negotiation until we perfect it based on equity, fairness and justice. No nation’s unity is a settled issue that cannot be questioned or renegotiated if it is not working well as in the case of Nigeria. If the roofs of the nation’s edifice are leaking and the walls are cracking and the paints are peeling off, it requires some structural repairs, reconstruction or restructuring.
The agitations by MASSOB, IPOB and others arose as a result of glaring injustice, inequity and unfairness of the Nigerian federation. These are visible in the states’ and local governments’ structure, revenue allocation, and federal appointments. I can go on and on. These are legitimate concerns that should be addressed through dialogue for the desired peace to reign.
It should not be by force of arms. And we need not go to war to achieve these. We have trodden that path before. Nigeria’s unity should be by consensus and not by force. That is the more reason why this ‘change’ government must not joke with restructuring that most Nigerians are clamouring for now. The business of remaking Nigeria is too big to be left in the hands of the National Assembly and the National Council of State alone.
It is the duty of all of us. These are some of the areas the critics of the speech have merit. But since the president had been away on sick leave and it is observable that he needed much time to rest and recover fully, he should not be burdened with a long speech that will itemize all our problems and treat them one by one. This is where Buhari supporters have merit.
Moreover, the president is not a man of many words. He says many things in a fewer words. He economizes words as if they are scarce commodities. He does not want to waste words. We should forgive him on that score. As a retired army general, his words come forcefully and lack the persuasion and sobriety required of his office. He really missed that golden opportunity to talk to Nigerians persuasively and play on their emotions.
In all these counts, let’s bear with him and give him the benefit of doubt that he meant well for the country. Let’s continue to pray for him and other leaders so that they can lead us well. Let’s not welcome him home with shouting bouts, hate speeches and needless confrontations. He needs peace to work well.
We can criticize him constructively and with love in defence of the constitution. Therefore, all separatist agitators and quit notice purveyors should also give the president a chance to address their grievances. Nothing works well by force of arms and ultimatums. Nigeria is our own, let’s make it better.