Seven Takeaways from Buhari’s Democracy Day Speech  

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By Tokunbo Adedoja

President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday addressed the nation in commemoration of the 2018 Democracy Day. His address, which lasted for about 25 minutes, touched on the challenges confronted by his administration when it  was inaugurated in 2015, efforts to tackle those challenges, the results of those efforts and plans of his government going forward.

There are seven takeaways from the speech:

INSECURITY STILL A KEY ISSUE 
President Buhari’s speech had 37 paragraphs that touched on a broad range of issues. Nine of those paragraphs were devoted to security, underscoring the fact that this remains a key issue three years after he assumed office. Starting off with security issues in the third paragraph of his speech further reinforces the fact that it is the most topical issue in Nigeria today and would continue to dominate discourse for a long time. Rather than engage in lamentations over the state of insecurity, Buhari chose to highlight what his government had been able to achieve in three years, citing the degrading of Boko Haram, re-establishment of authority of government in hitherto occupied territories, and the release of over 16,000 captives including, 106 Chibok and 104 Dapchi girls.  His speech also noted the incidences of kidnappings, herdsmen-farmers clashes, and killings and destruction of properties across the country.  He seized the opportunity to reassure Nigerians that perpetrators of killings and their sponsors would be brought to justice while emphasising that public safety and security remains the primary duty of his government.
ANTI-GRAFT WAR CONTINUES DESPITE CHALLENGES
Those who thought the approaching campaign season would weaken the anti-graft war as politicians begin to engage in horse-trading may begin to have a rethink. That was quite clear from the president’s speech as he said the second primary objective of his administration was to fight corruption headlong and that his government was more than ever before determined to win the war, however hard the road is.  Citing recoveries of billions of naira, forfeiture of properties and the improved image of the country as some of the remarkable results of his anti-corruption crusade,  Buhari used his oft-repeated quote, “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will destroy the country,” to explain the threat corruption poses to the nation. He however noted that Nigerians and the international community had begun to applaud his administration’s policies and determination to fight the scourge.
REVAMPING THE ECONOMY, A PRIORITY 
With the speech, Buhari did not only emphasise the commitment of his administration to revamping the economy, he also showed that successes were being recorded in various sectors of the economy.  From the declining inflation numbers to rising growth figures and impressive foreign reserves, the president kept rolling out figures to show that things were getting better in the economic sector. He talked about the  Social Investment Programmes created to help citizens graduate from poverty through capacity building, investment and direct support; the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan; the home grown school feeding programme and the conditional cash transfer that he said had so far recorded over 297,000 caregivers  with N5,000 monthly stipends paid to less privileged Nigerians in nine pilot states.

He also spoke about the N-Power job creation scheme which he said had  so far recruited 200,000 youths while the next batch of 300,000 had been selected.  He mentioned the giant strides recorded in road transport infrastructure and the railway sector which he said had received tremendous attention of his administration.

Even when he spoke about the reforms put in place to fight corruption, he explained the successes achieved in terms of economic gains. For example, he said whistle-blowing policy had helped to recover over N500 billion; management reforms had identified and removed over 52,000 ghost workers from the federal government MDAs payroll and N200 billion had been saved from the elimination of ghost workers in public service,  while billions of naira had also been saved from maintenance fees to banks with the Treasury Single Account (TSA).
NIGER DELTA ELDERS’ ROLE IN REGION’S PEACE RECOGNISED
Like he has always done when it comes to the issue of the Niger Delta, President Buhari again emphasised the role of Niger Delta leaders in the return of peace to the hitherto restive oil region.  He said the Niger Delta region had enjoyed relative peace through social inclusiveness and cooperation of the elders and the good people of the region. He also said government was committed to implementing the comprehensive peace, security and development plan for the region and noted that the environmental clean-up of the region which commenced with the launch in Bodo, Ogoni in June, 2016 was progressing satisfactorily. He also said farming assets were being revived and investors in cocoa and palm oil plantations were showing serious interest in the region again. There are views that the peace in the Niger Delta is extremely delicate because fundamental issues affecting the zone have not been addressed by government. How that aspect of his speech is received by the leaders and youth of the region will become obvious in the reactions that will trail his broadcast.
 
SUBTLE APPEAL TO WOMEN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
How often do we hear Buhari talk about the role of women in politics? Well, many will quickly cite his wife’s criticism of his government and his reaction that “she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and my other room,”  which was interpreted by many to mean women had no role in governance.  But times have changed. Election season is fast approaching and politicians are now weighing their words when it comes to different sections of the voting population. Women represent a huge voting bloc. It is thus not surprising that they were acknowledged and praised for their contributions to national development and advancement of democracy in the president’s speech. Appearing in the 32nd paragraph, and just a paragraph before the point where he spoke about the upcoming election season, is an indication that this will be a key strategy in the president’ reelection campaign. There was also a subtle appeal to the youth in his speech, when he said in a few days, he would be joined by many promising young Nigerians to sign into law the “Not Too Young to Run” Bill. The bill passed by the National Assembly seeks to reduce the age for running for office in Nigeria and young Nigerians have been calling on the president to sign the bill into law.
 
A SHORT BUT CONTROVERSIAL LINE
In President Buhari’s bid to explain the improvements in the power sector in the past three years, he spoke about the declining use of generators as a source of power. He said Nigerians from all parts of the country had continued to report better power supply and less use of generators. Many Nigerians must have been taken aback when they heard that claim. The truth is that most Nigerians who watched his broadcast must have watched it on televisions powered by generators. The president did not give the source of his claim neither did he back it up with data. He should expect this to be one of the highlights of his speech that would be comprehensively debated. He should also expect this particular line from the speech to trend for daye.

SILENCE ON RESTRUCTURING

Many had thought that President Buhari would use his democracy day speech to weigh in on the national discourse on restructuring, but that never happened. Because of the lopsided nature of the Nigerian federation, the debate on restructuring had been on for years and even dominated discussions in all the national conferences held to address Nigerian problems.  The issue however gained momentum in the last few years due to the  deadly clashes between farmers and herdsmen, and also the perceived lopsidedness in the distribution of resources and political appointments. Leaders of zones in the South and Middle Belt region had been calling for the restructuring of the country as a way of addressing these problems. With his Democracy Day speech, Buhari has again sent out a clear signal to them that though his administration was looking at resolving problems plaguing the nation, structural restructuring was not an option on his table.