The emergence of Major General Muhammadu Buhari as the leading light of the democratic opposition to the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) following his emergence as flag-bearer of the then fledgeling All Progressives Congress, APC was indeed a very puzzling point for many.
Given his antecedents as a former military head of state that had been part of the putsch that terminated the Second Republic, the critical question was how much of a democrat had the General become?
At that time, the General and his handlers had made frenetic efforts to persuade all that he had indeed become a reformed democrat. Five years after, and with the nation making the auspicious leap of marking its first-ever Democracy Day on June 12 – a day that many believe resonates more with the idea of a democracy day celebration than the alternative May 29 – the confusion lingers.
Indeed, the situation has also not been helped by the contents of the broadcast made by President Muhammadu Buhari on this most epochal day. This is because the address spoke less in real terms to the central questions relating to the significance of the day and rather came out, in large parts as a text that was sandwiched between a reeling of the grand achievements of the administration and a somewhat revisionist and dodgy attempt to ignore the real meaning of June 12 and the significance of a Democracy Day. And as has come to be characteristic of the administration also, it was also laced with the now consistent trademarks: buck-passing and the blame game.
From the get-go, there was no attempt in the address to make any pretence about the fact that the administration does indeed have its parameters of interpretation. And this comes out quite clearly when the President affirms that the celebrations are about ‘21 years of uninterrupted civil administration,’ even as it is ‘a day to honour our founding fathers who toiled to establish our republic and every Nigerian who has worked tirelessly to sustain it.’ Now, if this is the object of Democracy Day what then is the focus of Independence Day? Is this a slip or an adamant re-casting of history?
Indeed, the semantic challenge gets more troubling when it is observed that the entire address does not mention the person of Bashorun MKO Abiola, the central martyr of the June 12 ignominy, or refer to the event of the annulment of the elections that took place on that historic day and whose redress had inspired the whole process of switching the celebration dates from May 29th to June 12. Pray, what is a wedding without a bride? What is a funeral without the corpse?
And when we come to ascriptions of what democracy indeed means to the administration as can be gleaned from the speech, we are also to be further assailed with platitudes that rhyme in sound but ring hollow in meaning. Here is one: ‘I congratulate leaders of our democratic institutions for their determination to ensure that Nigeria remains a shining example of democracy.’ As if to respond to the veracity of this claim, the President’s party was only hours after the address to be embroiled in a show of shame on account of the skullduggery involved in its muscling out of the incumbent Governor of Edo State from the ongoing governorship primaries process. This is even as members of the Kaduna State House of Assembly had fiercely traded blows on the floor of the house during a bid to impeach their own Deputy Speaker. So much for excellent democratic conduct.
Rather than speak quite appropriately than to the questions emanating from the reason for the day and what should be done to advance better democratic conduct in the country such as the introduction of electoral reforms and the restructuring of the federation, the President veers off to give an account of his stewardship: ‘we have recorded notable achievements…and are establishing a solid foundation for future success.’ He then proceeds to list several of these notable achievements.
While this may not be the appropriate place and space to critique the listed achievements, this newspaper is however particularly distressed by the line from the speech where the president seemingly dismissed the mounting crisis of insecurity as being merely ‘recent sporadic incidents.’ It even gets more troubling when he explains them as having been perpetrated ‘as a result of criminals taking advantage of COVID-19 restrictions!’ In the normal run of affairs, would such restrictions not ordinarily make it easier for security forces to sniff and track such attacks and attackers?
In the view of this newspaper, a Democracy Day is firstly a day to make strong statements about democracy, its practice, its improvement and its sustenance. Without it, there is no need for a democracy day.
Having missed the point to make a strong case for more germane matters like the restructuring of the federation and the institution of electoral reforms in the address under reference, the next best arena where the Buhari administration had to make any grand declaration was in the area of security, and more so when it had already acknowledged in the same address that it was not oblivious of the problem.
However, rather than engage the grand challenge for what it is, Mr President could only throw in this relatively tepid line: ‘I must implore State and local governments to revamp their intelligence assets.’ Given the scale of the problem and the intensity of cross-country debate as to the best means of resolving it, that has even graduated into the establishment of state and regional security systems by respective sub-national actors; much more was indeed demanded of General Buhari on the all-important subject of security.
On the question of the economy and the standard of living of the people, the speech equally disappoints. While basking in the euphoria of post-recession GDP gains and the social investment programmes that the administration has introduced ‘to reduce social and economic inequality,’ it glosses over the fact of expanding poverty and unemployment.
When it comes to the administration’s media relations scorecard, President Buhari curiously elects to go global: ‘I must admit that the relationship between the media and successive governments has not always been perfect.’ Mr President Sir, we can leave history out here and simply focus on what your administration must do to ensure a freer climate for media practice.
And then, as is to be expected, the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic does take a quite deserved place in the address. The hope for us then is that the President’s admission that the parlous state of our healthcare facilities has been an essential factor in our less-than-satisfactory response to the scourge, as well as his claim that the administration is presently working at improving on the situation would not just be an expression of hot air. Very simply, Nigerians deserve better! That indeed is the central message of June 12.