The Many Misses in Buhari’s Speech

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Either by default or design, President Muhammadu Buhari, last Monday, failed to avail himself of many opportunities in his nationwide broadcast, writes Olawale Olaleye

President Muhammadu Buhari’s nationwide broadcast last Monday was an anti-climax. After 103 days in London, the United Kingdom, on medical grounds, Buhari was on Saturday treated to a hero’s welcome by a spontaneous but palpably excited crowd at the Abuja airport. And at the Presidential Villa, the jubilation at home was as wild as the one at the airport as family and friends toasted to an improved health.

Top of it all, there was joyousness across different parts of the fede ration. While a majority of the governors was physically present to welcome him back home, some governors led the jubilation in their states and a particular governor stepped up his game by declaring a “no-work day” in his state, in celebration of the return of the president. Although the celebration continued even after the Monday morning broadcast, Buhari, however failed to seize the momentum in spite of all that was on the card whilst he was away.

Buhari’s speech on Monday was no less a riot act read out to certain elements in the country. With a generally condemned opening phrase that reads: “Dear Citizens” as if he was not one. Past presidential broadcasts had “Fellow Citizens” or “Fellow Nigerians” as opening phrases. The president’s speech was unable to appeal to the generality of the people, who had been hurting, not since he left for medical checkup in London, but from the time the ‘change’ administration took off with seemingly unrealistic promises.

Take for instance, an administration seen as having performed below expectations in practically all its promises, the broadcast thus gave the president, who had canvassed against medical tourism during the electioneering but ended up spending 154 days in total for medical attention, an opportunity to lay the issues bare.

He should have seized the opportunity offered by his national broadcast to give some clarifications on his change of mind, perhaps, even if the circumstance had helplessly birthed a genuine need for the trip. But he would not even see a need for it let alone come up with sellable excuses or reasons.

As you read this, no one could tell for certain what truly the nature of the president’s ailment is. Since he’s been traveling back and forth for medical check-up, the presidency has refused to hint at the president’s ailment but continued to insist that his health is a personal issue. Again, the Monday broadcast was an ideal platform and avenue, more with the appropriate timing. But he failed to at least dispel some of the swirling theories that are gradually building up around his health.

Of the lackluster nature of the speech, two issues however stood out. One, technically, the president has made his stand known on the issue of restructuring. By passing the buck to the National Assembly and the Council of State and yet without taking a position, even in his right as a citizen and leader of the country, the president showed without equivocation that he was not called out for such an issue. Yet again, it was an opportunity lost.

A corollary to this was his declaration on the non-negotiability of the nation’s unity. There is no gainsaying the fact that the nation’s strength lies in her unity. Lest Buhari forgets, the unity of Nigeria is arguably a desire by every leader, encouraged by national creed and which could only be worked towards and not an order to be slammed on everyone as if in a servant/leader relationship. His delivery of that line, particularly, was dictatorial, arrogant and poorly conceived, giving him away as lacking in the basic knowledge of what it takes to hold the nation together, more so at a time various agitations, both for and against the unity of Nigeria were rife.

These aside, there were too many other pending issues awaiting the action of the president – political, economic, security, social and of course, governance. It was expected, therefore, that after 103 days in London, the second in a row, the president would prove being on top of these issues and how he was determined to address them. But he brushed them all aside and spoke tough on Biafra and other agitators, as if those were all that mattered to the collective concern, sadly, in the face of hunger, insecurity, staggering disappointment and apprehension.

It was a momentum that came effortlessly. The opportunities didn’t play hard to get. Indeed, it wasn’t just for the asking; it was waiting to be taken and boom, Buhari frittered them all away. It wasn’t terrible misses as such; it was a conscious resolve not to seize the momentum but run the show his old-fashioned way. Indeed, the speech was grossly insipid and lost what could have passed as a clarion call to all citizens at a time like this.

And with unsavoury tales from the Villa days after his arrival – like the stories of rodents preventing the president from reporting at his desk and canceling of the Federal Executive Council meeting, the first after his arrival – nothing seemed to have changed about the president and the presidency, and as it is, it may have become too late to expect either a personal change or a collective transformation of the government.