by Jude Ndukwe
President Muhammadu Buhari’s 103 days absence from Nigeria based on medical reasons, left Nigeria drifting further apart away from what a nation should look like. There were palpable tensions everywhere, sharp divisions among the people, rise in police brutality against the citizens as epitomized by the treatment meted out to the Resume or Resign protesters, increase in the general feeling of insecurity with Boko Haram terrorists becoming even more daring than ever before etc.
All these agitated the minds of Nigerians leading to very strong suspicions that the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, was being limited in the exercise of his powers as Acting President by the infamous cabal touted to call the shot at the Villa no matter who is Head of Government.
It is strongly believed that most of these grave afflictions currently affecting Nigeria were seeds sown by the president himself and some members of his government through their speeches and actions before and since the APC administration came to power in May 2015. One would, therefore, have expected that the period of his illness would have served as a third opportunity divinely provided him to deeply reflect on ways to weed out every seed of discord and division he and his government have sown among the people and reverse his anti-democratic credential baggage with which he moved into Aso Rock.
But Buhari does not seem to be a man ready to learn and make amends for his shortcomings and excesses even if given a hundredth opportunity.
Having returned from London after so much time in near-solitary confinement, Buhari seemed to have come back with no ointment but more venom that neither does his health any good nor the nation any better. He still carries on in a fashion that typically depicts him as a dictator that he was in his first coming as a military ruler.
For example, in his 6-minute post London speech to the nation, what should have been used as nerve-soothing opportunity to turn the negative vibes in the polity into positive ones, bandage every wounded citizen, nurse the country with words of hope, courage and vision of a bright future, Buhari addressed the nation like a man hungry to avenge whatever wrong he perceives the citizens have done him simply because they criticize his government, and rightly so, and demand good governance from him. He sees the citizens as conquered fellows who should not dare question his authority or actions. To Buhari and his managers, Nigeria is a conquered State and the citizens are nothing but sub-humans that must be threatened, cowed, commanded, ordered and “destroyed”.
Yes, Buhari said criminals should be destroyed relentlessly. Such a statement emboldens security agents to act with impunity just like most of them have continued to do under this administration. Buhari should know that we have processes of dealing with criminals. There are laws for such elements in our society. In destroying criminals relentlessly as Buhari ordered, it is possible to also destroy innocent Nigerians in the process. Nigeria is not a jungle!
Buhari set the tone for a speech that immediately tells the citizens their place in the eyes of the president right from the opening statement, “My dear citizens”. Truth is that we are not Buhari’s citizens. We are citizens of Nigeria, and Buhari is not Nigeria and can never be Nigeria. By that opening statement, it is obvious what Buhari thinks of us as Nigerians: his citizens.
Are we then surprised that almost every one of his words and actions are directed at us like a conquered people, a people who belong to no country but to him? Not even the late General Sani Abacha, as dictatorial as he was in one of the darkest eras of our history addressed us as ‘My dear citizens”. Even he was courteous enough to start his addresses with a more polite line like “Fellow Nigerians” or “Compatriots”. But to Buhari, we are his citizens, his property!
It was at that point I knew the speech was not only going to be drab and uninspiring but that it would also be a disaster!
And what was that about him hosting the late Dim Emeka Ojukwu in his Daura home where they both discussed “in great depth till late into the night and analyzed the problems of Nigeria” and “came to the conclusion that the country must remain one and united”?
The import of this in the speech is lost on Nigerians because one would wonder if Buhari had taken to heart his discussion with Ojukwu on those two nights, he would not have made such a calamitous mistake of dividing the nation along “97% vs 5%” lines in one of his latter pronouncements. He would have brought to justice those trigger happy military officers who mowed down harmless Igbo in the name of a crackdown on IPOB members. He would have brought to justice those army officers and personnel who wantonly massacred members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (Shiites) over a period of two days in Zaria and he would have taken firm actions against Fulani herdsmen terrorists who murdered fellow Nigerians in Agatu, Enugu, Nasarawa, Taraba, Abia, Ondo etc.
Surely Ojukwu being a man who would not stand injustice would not have told Buhari in that their now famous discussion that his actions of today encourage oneness and unity of the country.
To say that Nigerians who ask one form of question or the other concerning our collective existence as a nation “have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation” is a step too far is another pointer to the president’s unrepentant brashness. Everywhere in the world, in UK, Spain, etc, people are raising questions about their collective existence. As it is in those other places, it is not the questioning that is the issue but the handling of such questioning.
While the UK, Spain and other places are subjecting such questionings to democratic processes, in Nigeria, those who dare ask similar pertinent questions are criminalized and issued with official threats.
The truth is that we are not deterred! Buhari and his team can go ahead and threaten us with whatever is at their disposal, we will continue to speak and ask questions. That is within our rights. Whatever is Buhari’s reactions to them is entirely his own decision. If we could preserve our rights under Abacha and overcame his excesses, we would not give up our rights for Buhari no matter how hard he tries for us to do so.
Rather than empathise with Nigerians for the failed promises and untold hardship visited on them by his administration, Buhari squandered the golden opportunity presented by his illness to court the support and cooperation of Nigerians and decided to further alienate himself from the masses.
“Every group has a grievance. But the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of co-existence”. But that is not when you criminalise and threaten such groups who have expressed their grievances without taking up arms against the State.
That speech was a bad dream. To save us from its misfortune, let us all just pretend it did not happen and that Buhari would address us in a nationwide broadcast tomorrow!
The author tweets @Stjudendukwe