Independence Day: Buhari’s speech stirs fresh debate over key issues

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, in his Independence Day broadcast to the nation, on Tuesday, triggered a fresh round of national debate over key national issues as being handled by his administration.

Some of the contentious issues included his sermon on national unity, plan to deal decisively with hate speech on social media, relocation of major programmes from the office of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the warning to Nigerians to desist from what he described as lawless habits.

The president’s claim of remarkable feats achieved by his administration in the war on sleaze and insurgency, as well as the diversification of the economy from its current monoculture also generated widespread debate with some prominent individuals, groups and political parties poo-poohing the claim.

In the broadcast, the president had declared that “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.

“This change can only be delivered if we are united in purpose, as individuals and as a nation.

“We must all remain committed to achieving this positive and enduring Change.

“As I stated four years ago, ‘Change does not just happen. We must change our lawless habits, our attitude to public office and public trust.

“Simply put, to bring about change, we must change ourselves by being law-abiding citizens.’”

Leading the pack of those that critiqued the speech was the pan-Yoruba sociocultural organisation, Afenifere, in a reaction through its national publicity secretary, Yinka Odumakin.

The group dismissed the claim by President Buhari that his administration had succeeded in diversification of the economy, with the attendant encouragement of private sector investment.

Odumakin said there was nothing on ground, in concrete terms, to show that Nigeria had moved away substantially from its reliance on crude oil as the mainstay of the economy.

He said Nigeria had since been adjudged as the poverty capital of the world, noting further that the security challenge facing the country was a disincentive to foreign investment.

He lamented that an automobile company with an eye on the Nigerian market recently chose its neighbour, Ghana, to site its assembly plant.

He further warned that President Buhari’s remarks not to tolerate divisive comments was a signal to worse crackdown on opposition.

“The speech was full of long explanations on initiatives by the government but nothing in concrete terms on delivery. It didn’t address that.

“In the last four years, we have overtaken India and we are now the capital poverty of the world. The standard of living of our people is depreciating and the fallout of the increase in crime and all kind of violent outbreak across the country. This wasn’t addressed. So, if you talk about diversification, what are we diversifying into?

“I expected a much more sober assessment of the situation. Toyota is coming to Ghana to set up a plant because of our security situation: Boko Haram, kidnapping and all kinds of crime. So I don’t know what we are diversifying into really,” he said.

According to him, the president should have addressed the challenges of the nationhood and how to get out of it, while lamenting that we were more united than we are today.

Odumakin said for the comments on more decisive action against inciting comments, coming against the charge against Omoyele Sowore for insulting the president, it was a warning for a worse day ahead for those who plans to criticise the government.

One of the leaders of Afenifere, Chief Supo Shonibare, said the pronouncements of the president on security and economic issues were salutary.

He, however, expressed disappointment that the speech did not address the condition precedent to resolving the economic and security challenges.

“All other policies are merely chasing shadows. They will all continue to stifle growth, encourage ethnic anti-centrifugal forces and will be unable to address or resolve our security challenges,” he said.

Shonibare declined comments on the restructuring of the functions hitherto performed by the vice president.

While saying such action was within the prerogative of the president, the Afenifere leader said it was such enormous powers that informed the clamour for a return to a parliamentary system of government.

Nonetheless, he said Buhari should be conscious of the need to guarantee fairness and equity in taking such decisions.

“The president is the team leader and ultimate authority for executive actions and functions in a presidential system. One will only urge him to be mindful of the political regional balance between the various parts of the country,” he said.

Also speaking, Ijaw leader and elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, said there was nothing new in the president’s speech.

Clark, speaking on the Sunrise Daily programme of Channels Television, said the issues of increase in power supply and corruption fight had been touched on so many occasions.

“There is nothing new in Mr President’s speech. We have heard all these before – thee increase in power, corruption fighting back, etc,” Clark said.

He, however, stated that his anticipation was that the president would speak to the challenge of insecurity in this country.

In his reaction, the general secretary of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani, said “My general overview of President Buhari’s speech on the occasion of the 59th Anniversary was to make hope strategic, going by relative successes recorded by his regime in the first tenure.”

According to him, the president admitted that Nigeria was going through difficult time, adding that hard time is expected to bring about national grandeur, purposeful leadership and the best of everyone in order to overcome the challenges and not to bring about hate speeches which are not helpful.

“It is, therefore, our prayers that the government would live up to the promise of its mandate of next level at appreciable pace in order to inspire national solidarity that comes from unalloyed loyalty.

“One way the citizens can support the government to deliver on the promise of its mandate is to avoid fissiparous tendencies through hate speeches that are not helpful.

“Also the citizens can support the government by exercising more patience, since the fight against corruption and against insecurity as well as diversification of the economy are not matter of on and off like a TV,” he said.

The Labour, on Tuesday, asked President Buhari to speak out and let Nigerians know his position on the controversy surrounding the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and the Presidency.

Labour leaders, who spoke with Nigerian Tribune, said Nigerians became more confused than ever before, warning that the attitude of President Buhari was worsening the situation in the country.

Secretary-General of SSASCGOC, Comrade Ayo Olorunfemi, questioned the continued silence of President Buhari on the controversy surrounding the office of Vice-President Osinbajo but rather removed the N-Power scheme and others under his supervision.

“Removing it (N-Power) from the office of the Vice President is also an indication of the level of meanness to which we trivialise issues of national interest. People begin to look at it in various ways.

“In the first instance, what is the essence at this time. At this period when there is controversy, why are you removing it from the office of Vice President? Why are you trying to deflate the office of Vice President?

“Nigerians are confused as to what is going on. What is the situation with the N90 billion to which Osinbajo said he wanted to clear his name? What is the position of Mr President on that? Nigerians are used to body language, which is not taking us forward but backward,” he said.

On the threat over social media and hate speech, the SSASCGOC scribe said the All Progressives Congress (APC) imported hate speeches assisted by the social media against the previous government.

He pointed out that the APC government came into being through propaganda, adoption of hate speech against the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, adding that being a democratically-elected government, the previous administration lived with and managed it.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the broadcast as an insult on the psyche of Nigerians and a mockery of the national integrity as an independent state.

In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, the party stated that the speech was “completely unpresidential, lacking in patriotic stance and replete with manifest inconsistencies, contradictions, paradoxes and false performance claims” which further confirmed that the country was in wrong hands.

It lamented that President Buhari failed to 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.

“The party regretted that President Buhari had no forceful reassurances on the challenge of escalated insecurity under his watch; he had no clear-cut and operable blueprint to revamp our economy, which his administration wrecked in a period of four years, resulting in so much hardship and despondency that Nigerians now resort to suicide and slavery abroad as options

“Our party notes that this address further exposes that the Buhari Presidency is not interested in nation building; that it is completely disconnected from the people and remains insensitive to the plights of Nigerians,” it said.

The party lamented that the country had experienced the worst form of division, deprivation, human rights abuse, constitutional violations, disregard to rule of law, electoral malpractices, disobedience to court order, disrespect for separation of powers and curtailing of press freedom, regretting that the nation was losing its voice and due regard in the international arena.

“The dearth in foreign direct investment and the inhuman treatments being meted out to our citizens in countries where we were once held in very high esteem are some of the injuries our nation is suffering under the Buhari administration,” it added.

Also, the National Conscience Party (NCP) told President Buhari to stop threatening Nigerians over hate speech, saying that he was also a product of such speech.

National chairman of the party, Dr Yunusa Tanko, in an interview with the Nigerian Tribune, in Abuja, reminded the president of freedom of speech and freedom of expression inasmuch as they are factual, and wondered why the president was threatening Nigerians if his government had been doing the right things in the interest of the people.

“This is a threat to the Nigerian people. We remember very well that this same government came into power through propaganda and even manipulating issues in such a way that people will believe that he (Buhari) is messiah as against the interest of the people. It is not correct to threaten the people you govern.

“Anybody that is promoting what is not factual can be challenged but as far as the statements being made by the people are factual and verifiable, no need to threaten the people you govern. It shows bad leadership,” he insisted.

National chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie, however, said diversification of the economy was a work in progress, while he was also of the opinion that those who had formed the habit of running  down public officers on social media should be ready to face the full wrath of the law.

He said the social media had been reckless, adding that the threat to deal with hate speech did not scare anyone.

“It should only scare those who have made it their pastime to publish falsehood, incite the people, run others down and create more and more division.

“We are complaining that Nigeria is very divisive now but most of the division is created by false publication. So, if those who cause this trouble are sanctioned, then there will be sanity in information dissemination,” he said.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) called on President Buhari to devote more attention to areas of security, mass unemployment and unity of the country.

National chairman of the party, Professor Tunde Adeniran, said “we want the president to put more efforts on the security of the nation which is becoming alarming on a daily basis. More efforts  should also be geared towards how to create employment opportunities for our youths,” he said.

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Buhari needs to apologise to Nigerians —Ubani

The immediate past second vice president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Onyekachi Monday Ubani, asked President Buhari to apologise to the nation for misleading information in the past.

Describing the entire speech as uninspiring, Ubani was particularly irked that President Buhari was finally admitting that his late friend and associate, Sani Abacha, looted public fund as the military head of state.

According to him, “I was surprised that he acknowledged that some money stolen by Abacha had been traced and going to be repatriated to the country, because he had always exonerated him.

“How did he even feel reading that out? He needs to apologise to Nigerians for defending that man in the past; that he did not steal kobo from the public treasury. But we leave him to his conscience.”

Ubani, was, however, more incensed with the veiled threat in the president’s speech, regarding hate speech, which the senior lawyer felt was a ploy to gag Nigerians from criticising the government.

For him, the Buhari government was doing poorly and should be criticised, noting that it is a must-done, even if one would pay with his life.

“I am for decorum in public speaking. I believe one must choose his word correctly with maturity. But it is the height of intolerance for the president to be issuing threat, especially when the government isn’t doing well.

“If the government isn’t doing well, people must criticise it and it is not today that the civil societies which I belong have been receiving and facing threats from government. Is it Abacha, [Ibrahim] Babangida or even the Buhari himself as a military ruler. Did that stop Nigerians from criticising governments which did not do well?

“The only way you can ask me not to criticise you is if you are doing well. I know, as Monday Onyekachi, how much I supported the promises made by this administration before it came to power. If this government doesn’t want to be criticised, it should fulfil those promises made to Nigerians, which have not be fulfilled,” he said.

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