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A nut bereft of kernel

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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?

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 presas” 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.

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.

Nigerians can only hope that the speech to mark Change dispensation’s second anniversary will be other than rigmarole

Mr. Chuks Iloegbunam, an author, wrote from Lagos.

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