Listening to the 61st Independence Day Speech of President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, his sixth as president, I concluded that his government is rated for those 18 and above.
The content of the addresses and statements by his government which takes all known credits and blames others for its failures while also making Trumpian claims, is not healthy for those younger than the consent age of 18. Therefore, all Nigerians below that age need parental guidance.
In his 3,427-word Independence address, the President took credit for all he thought are successes. On the other hand, he blamed others for the manifest failures of his government.
In the first five years of his government, he blamed the failings of his government on his predecessors since the 1999 return to civil rule. These are Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan.
But Nigerians got tired of these excuses; to them, Buhari offered himself to lead as President and Commander-in-Chief, not Complainant-in-Chief, therefore, he should simply get the job done. So, when in his 2020 Independence Day speech, he again blamed: “Those in the previous Governments from 1999 – 2015 who presided over the near destruction of the country ….” he received a barrage of verbal attacks from a citizenry whose patience had worn thin.
So, in 2021, President Buhari looked for a new bogeyman to hang for the manifest incompetence of leadership in the country. His choice was not surprising; the mass media, an institution he has distrusted since his days in the army. In fact, in the first major interview he granted after his December 31, 1983 overthrow of the elected Shagari administration, the then General Buhari vowed to tamper with the press. This he did in one of the most infamous ways in history by enacting Decree Four of 1984 under which reporting falsehood or the truth were punishable offences.
In last week’s speech, he first skirted round his target, claiming: “The seeds of violence are planted in people’s heads through words.” He then launched his missile attack: “Our media houses and commentators must move away from just reporting irresponsible remarks to investigating the truth behind all statements and presenting the facts to readers.”
A major crisis in the country is the skyrocketing prices of food. When Buhari came to power in 2015, a bag of rice was less than N8,000. The then National Minimum Wage was N18,000. It means that the wage could buy just two and a quarter bags of rice, which itself, was outrageous. But today with the Minimum Wage increased to N30,000 –which some states are not paying- the same bag of rice is N32,000. This means the current higher wage cannot even buy a bag of rice!
A number of factors are responsible for the criminally high cost of food. First is that huge farming populations have been driven off the farms in states like Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna and Niger states by bandits and kidnappers. A second reason is that many farmers in the Benue Basin, known as the ‘food basket of the country,’ have been displaced by marauders who have seized villages and towns in the region and turned the farmers to internally displaced persons. So, rather than being in the farms producing food, the farmers are in Internally Displaced Peoples’ Camps, dependent on food donations.
A third reason is that in a growing number of villages and towns, criminals are harvesting the crops of farmers. In Abuja where I live, I know many people who for this reason have stopped cultivating the very fertile lands of the country’s capital.
This, added to unchecked open grazing, which results in cattle entering farms and devouring crops without compunction by the herders or any form of compensation for the victims, is like a death sentence to farming in these parts of the country. There is of course, the old problem of increasing desertification.
When these calamities are added to increased prices of electricity, petroleum products and the mindless devaluation of the Naira in an import-dependent country, we cannot but experience hyper-inflation including for foodstuff. These factors, to me, are elementary. But this government does not appear to have such clues.
President Buhari in seeking to exonerate his administration from any blame, claims the cause of skyrocketing food prices is “due to artificial shortages created by middlemen who have been buying and hoarding these essential commodities for profiteering.”
This was the same excuse he gave as Military Head of State 37 years ago. Trending is the lead story of the ‘Sunday Herald’ Newspaper of January 29, 1984 with the headline “Buhari blames middlemen for poor economy.”
Over the years, virtually all nationalities in the country have complained about being marginalised. In 2015, one of the major planks President Buhari stood on to reach for power was the promise to restructure the country.
He reneged and there were reactions including increased agitations for restructuring in one form or another. Rather than an honest assessment, President Buhari is grandstanding. In his address, last week, he repeated the trite that: “Its (Nigeria’s) unity is not negotiable.”
He blamed “certain high-profile financiers… including one identified as a serving member of the National Assembly” for the renewed agitations.
By the way, in the first four years of his rule, Buhari used to blame the Eighth National Assembly, NASS, led by Senator Bukola Saraki for being responsible for the slow pace of his government and most of its failures. Today, with a rubber stamp NASS, the situation has gotten far worse.
The COVID-19 virus is known to have been with humanity for two years. Where a country of about a dozen million people like Cuba produced four vaccine candidates and has vaccinated its populace, a country of over 200 million people like Nigeria not only did not feature in such a race, but has in the past one year been unable to procure vaccines; it relies on donations. But President Buhari sees no failings in this, rather he grandstands, warning the “global community that the current state of access to COVID-19 vaccines is unacceptable.”
Then he turned to the near hapless Nigerian people and questions them: “Should another pandemic arise in the future, Our question is simple; will Nigeria be ready?” I don’t have the answer, do you? It is a JAMB question.
If you ask me, I do not think President Buhari should be blamed for such a vacuous Independence Day speech, rather we should blame his speech writers, but can we truly blame them for being unable to give what they don’t have? If you ask me, who will I ask? As the comedian, Mr Macaroni will say, I think President Buhari “Is doing very well”
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of African workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.