Buhari’s 60th Independence Speech: The Truth, The Half-Truth, The Ruse and The Condescension
“Disappointing”, that was one of the lines used by Nigerians to describe President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Day Speech. That the President’s speech sounded like what Nigerians have always heard tells the fact that very minimal progress is being made, if any at all.
While the President said quite a many things, the reality is not in tandem with his speech. The speech has been described as one of the worst ever in the history of speeches. The many half-truths, ruse and show of careless disregard for the plight of Nigerians were also hoisted and the president kissed the current Nigerian situation like a badge. On the same day, some Nigerians trooped out in hundreds and thousands to protest the current situation of the country, and once again, the much-flaunted democracy was given a red eye - an eyesore. Police officers arrested peaceful protesters, and have charged them to court.
A government that is doing nothing close to the wishes of its people is also very defiant to complaints, protests and is totally skewed to the path of silencing whoever is not on its path. Nobody grows without accepting criticism and Nigerian leaders will not be exceptions. On the much talked-about Independence Day, the President threw caution to the winds as he went on a streak of comparisons of fuel pump prices. What the President failed to do, however, is to also compare the wage structure and new minimum wage of its biggest cited example, Saudi Arabia.
Rather than appease the people, and make them understand the actual situation and supposed difficulties better, the President went on a splurge of inconsiderate comparisons to explain why Nigerians should be smiling while suffering.
In item 3 of the President’s speech, he said ; “At this stage in our nationhood, it is important that we reflect how we got here to enable us work TOGETHER to get to where we aspire to be as a strong indivisible nation, united in hope and equal in opportunity.” Nigeria is not TOGETHER, contrary to what was emboldened in the speech and the choices of the President also points to this. With a lot of nepotistic choices, the tribal contempt bhas increased further under Buhari and it is partly down to the lopsidedness in his choices of personnel for offices.
Nigeria's aspiration to be a nation of equal opportunities is a mere lip service. Little or nothing has been done to emancipate the Nigerian commoner, who is hanging on very lean hopes to have a better life. Opportunities are not equal in Nigerian and nothing is being done by the government to close this gap. The Nigerian middle class has been phased out, and it’s either you are poor or rich now.
As a result of the very lean opportunities to the commoner, Nigerian graduates are leaving the country for where they will be better appreciated and be rewarded, not for who they know but by what they know. In the sixth item of the speech, he said: Our founding fathers understood the imperative of structuring a National identity using the power of the state and worked towards unification of Nigerians in a politically stable and viable entity.
Nigeria’s independence was on very weak foundations and there was a clear division as to the ownership of the true national identity. The only nationalist who showed a truly national stance was Nnamdi Azikiwe. The politics that came up after we gained independence was a pointer to this and that we have struggled to remain united and even had what was a tribal war seven years after independence was a clear indication of our very divisive nature.
Sixty years on, we are still at that stage and tribalism and nepotism are still very present in our daily lives. Tafawa Balewa said he would wage a holy war against the South as he described the togetherness of Nigerians as a “British intention”. "There is no basis for Nigerian unity. It is only a British intention for our country," he was quoted to have said in Time Magazine of October 10, 1960. In a book by Frederick Forsythe, titled the “The Biafra Story”, Balewa was quoted as saying in 1947: “We do not want, Sir, our southern neighbours to interfere in our development. I would like to make it clear to you that if the British quitted Nigeria now at this stage; the northern people would continue their interrupted conquest to the sea.”
Ahmadu Bello in a different way hardly showed his allure for national unity. In actual fact, he was quoted to have described Nigeria as a “mistake of 1914”. Nigeria has struggled to be a nation many years afterwards. Obafemi Awolowo stood out as a regional aficionado and the ideas he projected were more Western than national. This was one of the reasons he lost in the 1979 Presidential elections to Shehu Shagari despite being heads and shoulders ahead of his opposition who became President. The political parties led by these founding fathers had all the paraphernalia of division in them. They were divided along tribal and regional paths and political contests were more or less regional battles. While this is not as pronounced, there are still good examples to cite in the political structure of the country.
Buhari became Nigeria’s Head of State in 1983, overthrowing the government of Shehu Shagari. In his 60th Independence Day Speech, he described the progress made by Nigeria through reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation as being truncated by the military rule, despite getting back to democracy. We came out of the civil war with a focus on reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation that enabled the country to put in place world class development structures and a strengthened public service that well served the government. This positive trajectory continued with a return to democratic government which was truncated by another round of military rule. Astonishingly, it was his government that did that truncation of democracy in 1983. History hardly lies. Has the President forgotten that so quickly?
In item 26 of the speech, the President listed the ways he plans to put Nigeria on a good course for once and they looked again like lip service. A people with a very high purchasing power and low income will be poor and the Nigerian government is doing very little to correct that. The socialist programmes of the country are at best money-spinning ventures for the handlers and it is also a ground for the man-know-man ways which has become more Nigerian than its citizens. Item 27 of the speech saw the President say “I am a firm believer in transparent, free, fair and credible elections as has been demonstrated during my period as a democratically elected President.”
Well, there have been endless cases of electoral malpractices in court and votes buying is still a very big problem. Security agents are still being used for purposes totally different from the protection of lives and properties. While there has been a level of sanity in recent elections, that the Nigerian government has demonstrated honesty to free and fair elections is a half-truth.
In fairness to the President, some of his statements are true as seen in investigations from Accountable Nigeria. The tradermoni, farmermoni, school feeding programmes, and agricultural interventions have been alluded to by beneficiaries of the programmes. Finally, and in what made the speech a very whimsical one, Buhari went on to show a blatant disregard for Nigerians and the incessant hardship being faced in the country. At no time would the President make a logical meaning of his choice of words in telling Nigerians why they have to accept the new petroleum price. The reception it got was expected - cold. And it is even more disappointing than ever, with an air of condescension and high-handedness.
Petroleum prices in Nigeria are to be adjusted. We sell now at N161 per litre. A comparison with our neighbours will illustrate the point; a. Chad which is an oil producing country charges N362 per litre b. Niger, also an oil producing country sells 1 litre at N346. c. In Ghana, another oil producing country, petroleum pump price is N326 per litre. Further afield, Egypt charges N211 per litre. Saudi Arabia charges N168 per litre. It makes no sense for oil to be cheaper in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia. This is not what Nigerians voted for and it is the hallmark of a government that does not accept to be critiqued, criticised or complained about, yet keeps people in states they never imagined.