Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Buhari’s Speech: A Nut Bereft Of Kernel

By Chuks Iloegbunam
Two things leap disa­greeably out of Presi­dent Muhammadu Buhari’s first-year-in-office anniversary speech of May 29, 2016. In the broadcast’s 2624 words, not once did he mention the words Fulani herdsmen, let alone address the real and pre­sent danger they constitute to Nigeria’s continued existence as one political entity. Was this unfortunate omission because he is himself of the Fulani eth­nic group? Or was it because he considers a final stop to have been put to the herdsmen’s mur­derous rampaging throughout the country? Or is it because the destructive army is a law unto itself, above censure and sanc­tion?
*President Buhari
And this: “We are fully aware that those vested interests who have held Nigeria back for so long will not give up without a fight. They will sow divisions, sponsor vile press criticisms at home and abroad, incite the public in an effort to create chaos rather than relinquish the vice-like grip they have held on Nigeria.” In rendering the above two sentences in the present continuous tense, wasn’t Presi­dent Buhari suggesting his gov­ernment’s lack of total control, much in the manner of a mon­arch unable to hold his goblet?

Sidelining the connotative meaning of these sentences as down to clumsiness by presi­dential speechwriters, and also not minding the grammati­cal mistakes in the speech, a fundamental worry is evident. Consider this: “They will sow divisions, sponsor vile press crit­icisms at home and abroad, in­cite the public in an effort to cre­ate chaos…” If you interpreted this official attribution of trea­sonous quality to a robust media as the first decisive step to the systematic emasculation of pub­lic opinion, your apprehension would sit on a solid foundation. Is it not often said that truth – read an unfettered media – is in­variably the first casualty in any dispensation’s charted course to a repressive bastion? Suddenly, a government that rode straight to power on the wings of the re­lentless and remorseless media battering and badgering of the Jonathan administration is talk­ing about a “vile press”!

The “vile press” must, of course, have no future in this democratic march, must not fea­ture in the dynamics of change. So, let’s take a more detailed look at the President’s broadcast, em­ploying the instrument of con­tent analysis. “By age, instinct and experience, my preference is to look forward, to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead and rededicate the administration to the task of fixing Nigeria,” said Buhari. Yet, about half the speech was on the past, rather than an expatiating on the “tri­umph”, “consolidation”, and “achievements!” he vaunted. He moaned about Boko Haram’s devastations. He moaned about the collapse in oil prices. He moaned about decayed infra­structures. He moaned about the preceding government that did not live up to expectation. You would expect the elaborate exercise in threnody to be fol­lowed by his administration’s rectifying “achievements!” That turned out to be a fatuous dream.

*Chuks Iloegbunam 
Let’s look at the details in terms of policy initiation and the reversal of national dilapi­dation. The President pointed at his administration’s thrust: “The problems Nigerians have faced over the last year have been many and varied. But the real challenge for this govern­ment has been reconstructing the spine of the Nigerian state. The last twelve months have been spent collaborating with all arms of government to revive our institutions so that they are more efficient and fit for pur­pose:

*That means a bureaucracy better able to develop and de­liver policy.

*That means an independent judiciary, above suspicion and able to defend citizen’s rights and dispense justice equitably.

*That means a legislature that actually legislates effectively and

*Above all; that means politi­cal parties and politicians com­mitted to serving the Nigerian people rather than themselves.”

Very good! So, in what ways have the administration impact­ed bureaucratic improvements? The broadcast does not answer this question. In what ways have the administration promoted the independence of the judici­ary? Since this question is not answered either, Nigerians may draw conclusions from the long list of judicial injunctions dis­regarded by the government. In what ways have the admin­istration promoted the ideal of a legislature “actually” legislat­ing effectively? It is not in the broadcast. When the President talks about “political parties and politicians committed to serving the Nigerian people rather than themselves,” what, please, is the import? Collectively, wouldn’t the report of the National Con­fab convened by the last admin­istration better deal with these issues?

Take a look at the hoo-ha on fixing general decay. “The infra­structure, notably rail, power, roads were in a decrepit state. All the four refineries were in a state of disrepair, the pipelines and depots neglected.” So, to what extent has the Buhari ad­ministration rectified the gen­eral decrepitude of his sustained lamentation? How many kilo­metres of rail line has the gov­ernment constructed? What quantity of rolling stock has it imported? Not in the broadcast! Has the government increased mega wattages even by an iota since its inception, or is it not a fact that the country twice set a world record of zero wattage delivery under its watch? How many kilometres of roads has the Buhari government tarred? Not a single kilometre in 12 months. Of the four existing refineries all of which were “in a state of disrepair”, how many are now of improved capacity? Not one.

Well, it must be conceded that the Buhari government achieved something in its first year! It identified 43,000 ghost workers through the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Infor­mation (IPPI) system, saving the country a colossal N4.2 bil­lion in stolen pay packets every month. It also blocked leakages in public expenditure, “boldly” using the treasury single ac­count (TSA)! But much-ma­ligned former Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, intro­duced the IPPI during President Obasanjo’s second term, and the same lady introduced the TAS during Jonathan’s presidency. But, again, hush!

Space stifles this submission because a book could easily be written on the President’s broadcast. Suffice to sum up with a couple of comments. When Buhari promises to “save Twenty-Three Billion Naira per annum from official travelling and sitting allow­ances alone”, it should be taken with a pinch of salt because he travelled abroad 36 times in his first year in office, each time with a large contingent. That’s three junkets every month, which makes him about the most travelled President in re­corded history.

This first anniversary broad­cast clearly delineates rhetoric and achievement. And, “If the militants and vandals are test­ing our resolve, they are much mistaken.” If unarmed Biafran agitators are spotted, they must be gunned down! But, on the atrocities of the Fulani herds­men, a deafening silence…! Nigerians can only hope that the speech to mark Change dis­pensation’s second anniversary will be other than rigmarole.

*Chuks Iloegbunam, an eminent essayist and author is a columnist with a national newspaper. He could be reached with iloegbunam@hotmail.com

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