President Muhammadu Buhari came sparkling as Nigeria marked her Diamond Jubilee on Thursday, October 1.
In the National Broadcast to commemorate the day, the President fired on all cylinders. He was forthright, matter-of-fact, not pulling punches. It was moment of truth, hour of reckoning, and he just said it as it was.
It was a reflective speech, ponderous, and declaratory. Not tongue-in-cheek in any way.
As expected of a broadcast on such day, it was both historical and contemporary. Ample mention was made of where we were coming from, where we were, and currently are. The President went down memory lane to the kind of country the founding fathers envisaged, their hopes, aspirations, visions and expectations.
But our forebears knew that the country was not one, and needed to be meshed and solidified. Said the President: “Our founding fathers understood the imperative of structuring a National identity using the power of the state and worked towards unification of Nigerians in a politically stable and viable entity.”
That was Nigeria from the very beginning. Let no revisionists come to paint the unreal picture of an idyllic country, which has now been shot to ribbons. No, right from the outset, Nigeria had needed unification, and success at that quest had always been relative.
Did we fail? Did we succeed, or are we succeeding? President Buhari came with the relevant posers: “Where did we do the right things? Are we on course? If not, where did we stray and how can we remedy and retrace our steps?”
He said the growth trajectory of a young Nigeria was cut short by an internecine civil war, which lasted 30 months. And he traced the history down to current time, where he said the country grapples with multiple challenges; population growth, which has ballooned from 45 million in 1960, to about 200 million today. Unity, security, the economy, and several other areas also pose challenges in diverse ways.
Should we then throw up our hands in surrender, and say we live in a failed or failing state, as some permanent critics would have us believe? Not by any stretch of the imagination. It was time to build and pull TOGETHER, which is the theme of the 60th anniversary celebration. Now is the time to chart where we need to go, and how to get there.
Some of our problems are actually self-inflicted, man made, the President posited. “Most of the problems we face have underlying cause in harping on artificially contrived fault lines that we’ve harbored and allowed to fester.”
Curiously, those who romanticize a Nigeria that had always needed constant unification are the very ones that cause the greatest problems today. They claim our diversity has not been well managed, while they are the very ones whipping up divisive tendencies and narratives. And President Buhari submitted: “We need to begin sincere process of national healing, eliminate old and outworn perceptions that are always put to test in the lie they are.”
There is the need to purge ourselves of stereotypes, said the President. Thinking of ourselves as coming from one part before seeing ourselves as Nigerians, must be eschewed.
Stressing that our greatest asset was our people, who excel in different areas of endeavor world over, we were charged: “Together, we can do much more for ourselves, and for our country.”
A home truth. Quite unlike the falsehood being peddled, the current administration is laying a solid foundation for the future, and it “can only be sustained by the collective commitment of Nigerians.”
History has shown that we have the capacity to live together peacefully, and we need to live to the high moral values we once cherished as a people, President Buhari declared. And then, to germane matters of the hour.
Our economy is in crisis, just like those of many countries globally, a matter exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nigeria now earns about 60% less than what it used to earn, but despite that, the government continues to be faithful to the people. Interventionist projects were proceeding apace, including Tradermoni, Farmermoni, School Feeding Program, job creation efforts, agricultural intervention programs, and many others.
The matter of the hour. Or rather, one of them. Fuel prices. Since this government came in 2015, the President had always argued on the side of the people, whenever the issue came up for discussion. To deregulate the fuel pricing mechanism or not? President Buhari had always stood as champion of the people. He had always asked why ordinary people needed to pay for the irresponsibility of past governments, which allowed our refineries to collapse, and we became a net importer of petrol, despite being blessed with oil.
For many years, the President had stood on the side of the common man where petrol prices were concerned. He always argued from the social, rather than the economic perspective. Till the argument became no longer tenable due to current economic realities. And he gave comparative prices of petrol in oil producing African countries, and beyond. Must have been a tough decision to take for a man who had singularly stood against full deregulation of prices for many years.
President Buhari is a civil man. Too civil at times, if you ask me. Some people launch bilious attacks against him and the government he leads, simply because they got ejected from their perch as permanent landlords of the country. He tells you not to respond, and when he finally gives the permission, he says do it in the most civil manner possible. But in the National Day broadcast, the man came smoking:
“Those who in 1999-2015 presided on near destruction of the country have have now the impudence to attempt to criticize,”
Are the gloves off? Just some jabs, if I know this President. Too civil, almost to a fault. In early 2018, a professional letter writer had launched his usual assault, which he had done against all sitting Presidents in the country since 1979. And about a week or two later, the National Council of State meeting was summoned for the State House. With his pen still dripping vitriol, nay blood, the letter writer showed up.
It was a matter of interest for us all in the Council Chamber, venue of the meeting, to see how President Buhari would react, coming face to face with the man with the poisoned pen. Absolute courtesy. He bowed to greet him. And throughout the meeting, whenever the man indicated that he needed to speak on any issue by pressing the microphone on his table, the President would say: “Yes sir.” Really, some people are respectful, almost to a fault. They still chase rats to people who they know are chasing snakes to them.
President Buhari concluded the broadcast on a hopeful note. “As a country, we are greater together than being smaller units of nationalities.”
True. One only hopes the separatists are listening.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity