By Douglas Anele
As far as I am concerned, two events in the month of May have had significant impact in the history of post-independent Nigeria. The first one, which ranks as one of the profoundest announcements ever made by a Nigerian, is the declaration of independence of the eastern region from the rest of Nigeria in the early hours of May 30, 1967 by its military governor, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, as mandated by the 335-member Consultative Assembly of Chiefs and Elders.
That combustible declaration added gasoline to a chain of events already tending towards dismemberment of the country, such that keen observers of events in Nigeria after the Aburi accord collapsed were not surprised when Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon ordered “a short, surgical strike” against Biafra in July 6, 1967. Of course, those areas that constitute the defunct Biafran nation, especially the Igbo-speaking areas, are still suffering from the negative repercussions of the horrible civil war after forty-eight years since the last shots were fired.
The second event was the contrived return to civilian governance in May 29, 1999 that ended about fifteen years of uninterrupted military dictatorship. The history of how this happened, its contentious background and context, has been competently documented. However, it is interesting to observe that whereas successive administrations, including the present one, have celebrated May 29 as democracy day (which, in my view, is both a misnomer and inappropriate), the significance of commemorating the birth of defunct Biafra as a yearly event was not an item in the public consciousness even in Igbo heartland until the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra led by Nnamdi Kanu emerged on the scene.
And now that the Igbo and their immediate neighbours seem to have woken up from their existential slumber, President Buhari and other caliphate colonialists, in concert with their errand boys and girls from southern Nigeria, are using state apparatus of coercion and power to stop people from remembering those who died in the struggle to actualise the sovereign state of Biafra. This shows that the civilian administration we have now is a sick, a caricature of genuine democratic dispensation that respects individual freedom as such and allows the citizens to participate in public act of remembrance of past events that matter to them so long as it is peaceful and non-violent.
I believe that President Buhari’s heavy-handed jackboot attitude to anything Biafra, as if the word ‘Biafra’ is a deadly virus in his system that must be destroyed at all cost, is actually encouraging agitations for its actualisation because millions of Ndigbo now see him as a vindictive person surreptitiously continuing the plan articulated by Sir Ahmadu Bello in October 1960 for Fulani domination by working really hard to obliterate the tragic memory of Biafra. At any rate, he cannot succeed: myself and countless others sympathetic to the Biafran cause presently were indifferent to it until Buhari became President and started talking and acting as if the agitation for Biafra’s resuscitation is the greatest existential threat to Nigeria that must be expeditiously destroyed at all cost, and displaying an appalling level of insensitivity towards the issues that fuel the agitations that belies the dignity of his high office. The quest for Biafra will remain a festering wound until either the defunct nation is restored in one form or another after peaceful dismemberment of Nigeria or a sane and responsible government emerges that would correct geopolitical anomalies in the current system and ensure justice and fairness to all ethnic nationalities in the country.
That said, it must be pointed out that the 2018 democracy day broadcast of President Muhammadu Buhari, like all his speeches since May 29 2015, was uninspiring: his voice registered in my ears like that of an exhausted octogenarian weighed down by the heavy load of his office and earnestly hoping subconsciously that somehow divine providence should relieve him of the burden. Indeed, Buhari’s speeches are generally boring, and the situation is not made any better by the heavy Fulani accent with which he pronounces the words. Buharimaniacs argue tendentiously that eloquence is not one of his strong points: what matters in a leader, they claim, is the substance or content of his or her pronouncements. Such defence, however, does not hold water at all and those parading it are poor students of history.
Nigeria is facing real existential threats right now from different fronts and, therefore, urgently needs an inspirational President who, among other things, can rally Nigerians with the power of words to the serious task of rebuilding the country. In this connection, history teaches that a compelling eloquent or rousing speech by a leader particularly when his or her country is at crossroads can galvanise the dormant patriotic fervour of the hitherto lethargic and disillusioned citizens such that they would enthusiastically do whatever was required to salvage the country.
The mind-thumping speeches of Mahatma Gandhi of India, Winston Churchill of Great Britain, John F. Kennedy of the United States, and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu of the defunct Biafra, to take just three examples, demonstrate beyond any patina of doubt that great addresses by leaders do matter, that the capacity to ignite patriotic enthusiasm through words that motivate the citizens to act courageously and self-sacrificially in the national interest is an indispensable part of effective leadership.
Therefore, the lacklustre speeches of the President should be part of the conversation among Nigerians as the 2019 presidential election draws closer, considering that Buhari has indicated interest to run for a second term. To be candid, the unenthusiastic reactions of millions of Nigerians to President Buhari’s broadcasts especially in the last one year or so are not only due to his mediocre performance since assuming office three years ago; it is also partly attributable to the boring and uninspiring manner he delivers his speeches.
Leaving aside President Buhari’s tepid speeches in order to focus on the substance of his broadcast last Tuesday, one would discover a mixture of facts and fiction or what some cynics have labelled “fake facts.” Using as our barometer or navigator the investigative report published by Africa Check, an independent non-partisan organisation that scrutinises claims made by government officials, the assertion by Buhari that “the inflationary rate has consistently declined every month since July 2017” is correct but misleading if we consider the situation before the APC came to power in 2015. In the sixteen months before that time, the inflationary rate was between 7% and 8.5%; but according to the Central Bank, by January 2017, it had jumped to 18.72%.
No wonder, then, that despite government’s exultant claim that inflationary rate is falling (albeit marginally) prices of goods and services are not going down – in fact, prices of many essential goods and services are going up. It is only those at the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder that are feeling the pain of increasing prices of essential goods and services: pigs within the Presidency in the Animal Farm called Nigeria always parade statistics from official sources showing that inflation is going down because they have more than enough money to pay for anything irrespective of the inflationary rate.
In addition, the President says that “Recently, a new maintenance repair and overhaul facility with capacity for aircraft C-checks and other comprehensive levels of maintenance was established in Lagos.” Although the statement is correct and the facility in question will boost the country’s economy by providing job opportunities and help airlines save money and time, President Buhari did not mention that it is owned by an indigenous airline, Aero Contractors, which was taken over by the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) in 2016.
So, the aviation infrastructure he bragged about was not established by his government; rather, it belonged to a private company and is now managed by government through AMCON. On the statement that “rice importation from other countries has been cut down by 90%,” available records from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) covering 2014 to 2017 corroborate the President. His government is implementing policies such as increases in tariffs and foreign exchange restrictions which tend to discourage rice importation.
To be continued…