The speech presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to welcome us back into his world, once again, actually lived up to its billing. Contrary to what many people have been saying on the soon-to-be-patrolled social media (especially the annoyingly brutal Twitter platform), the presidential broadcast did not disappoint. If I may ask, what else were you expecting? Flowery prose or poetry? Or an emotional account of the details of the infirmity that held him down, while thanking you with romantic phrases(that will bring tears to your eyes, AGAIN) for standing by him against the odds of people like Fayose and Fani-Kayode? Some were even expecting a major announcement that would border around a dissolution of his eternally lacklustre cabinet, or even a shocker: resignation! Sorry if you were disappointed. But the President chose to stay true to himself, regardless of how his supporters, especially in the south, rebrand him.
By now, it must be crystal clear to everyone that there must be something about democracy that ex-soldiers like Buhari are uncomfortable with. They either loathe the idea that they have to subject themselves to checks and balances, or finds it utterly troublesome adjusting to the fine principles of every one having a say in how a nation should be run. Maybe because he was a soldier, Buhari keeps forgetting that he is actually accountable to even the tiniest of us. We, the people are his employers and we practically reserve the power to dismiss him (why did I just hear “keep deceiving yourself”).
For example, he didn’t think it was necessary by any means to explain to us, how he spent the last 103 days, of the four-year mandate we gave him. He didn’t deliberately spurn us. He just didn’t believe he owes us any such explanation. So, when I see those who claim to have been disappointed by the speech, I immediately know they are part of the people who still retain a wrong impression of Buhari in their mind.
The speech in itself, which took the whole of five and a half minutes to deliver, is remembered more for the things not said, than those said. For example, any kind of “Thank You”, to Acting President Osinbajo was expected. Prof Osinbajo was in a very tight corner throughout. He was expected to act like he was fully in charge, when really, he was not. He played that role well. Contrary to what many people in government claim, (including a shocking article by respected journalist, Simon Kolawole: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2017/08/20/return-resume-and-resign/) there was indeed a power vacuum. It was expertly managed, but even Prof Osinbajo knew he had to measure his speech and actions. He was very wary of being accused of being overbearing, and he delayed most decisions till he either got a green light from the powers that be, or those decisions became almost inevitable. It was a sad testament of how sluggish we have been accustomed to, that we assumed the pace at which we were moving under Osinbajo was normal, or that ” Nigeria was moving”. Yes, we were moving. But slowly. However, there was no time to thank Osinbajo in Buhari’s speech. Then there was ASUU. I’m sure not a few lecturers must have strained themselves to hear any slight thing pertaining to their industrial action. Not a word. The cabinet. Which almost went to sleep as soon as he began his vacation. Something to jolt then to life? Baba couldn’t be bothered. Pending anti corruption cases involving his suspended SGF were there. No. Not even close. The commander in chief was back though, and he had some tough words for miscreants, many of whom are threatening the unity of Nigeria. They have to be afraid. Very afraid.
The speech was a threat to those “threatening the oneness and unity of Nigeria”. And if you wonder who the president actually had in mind, look no further than a certain Nnamdi Kanu and his crew. The president also talked about hate speeches, particularly on the social media, which he said, had “crossed the red line”.
Of late the term ” hate speech” had become prominent in government circles. Just last week, Prof Osinbajo claimed the administration will henceforth treat hate speech as terrorism. Being a brilliant lawyer and professor of law for that matter, I know Osinbajo is abundantly aware that most of what his government is scared of, and term hate speech, is merely free speech. So, I was initially taken aback by his comments, but Buhari’s emphasis on Monday cleared my doubts about who ordered him to make those statements.
President Buhari was quick to remind the IPOB agitators that a 2003 mini national conference was hosted in Daura. The total number of delegates was two, comprising of his humble self, and the former Biafra warlord, Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu. Accordingly, the unanimous resolution from that national conference, according to Buhari, was that Nigeria should remain one. No, MUST remain one. And any person that thinks outside that box would be crossing a red line. Alerting the security agents in same speech, it means the red line is actually going to be a bloody one, thereafter.
On the surface, the speech sounds like one meant to preserve Nigeria’s unity, but it doesn’t require rocket science to see beyond the deceit. First, the so called red-line has been drawn, and redrawn so many times, that we don’t even know where it is supposed to be. We only condemn those calling for disintegration when the pot of soup has landed on our lap. Once our group is not in power, then Nigeria may go to blazes. There was once a group that threatened to make Nigeria ungovernable for Goodluck Jonathan when he was President. Niger Delta militants didn’t threaten our sovereignty when Jonathan was in power. IPOB didn’t make as much noise when Igbos had it rosy couple of years back. So, many times, the cry for breakup of Nigeria is often an indication of how fragile our federation is. That is enough to make us sit down and rework our existence. How long will one group keep breathing down the neck of another just because of power?
However, we can’t deny the utter hypocrisy of those drawing this fresh red-line. While they cast Nnamdi Kanu as the culprit, they allow those beating the drums of war in the North walk free. Nnamdi Kanu has done many irresponsible things, Infact, he keeps arrogating to himself powers be neither has, nor can legally possess. But, at least Kanu hasn’t threatened to kill anyone. Rather, its Kanu’s people who have been murdered in cold blood. Its Kanu who was denied bail repeatedly despite court orders. Its Kanu who was victimized. His approach may be ridiculous, but he has made his demand exceedingly clear: a referendum.
However, a group in the North has threatened to violently eject Igbo’s in their region. If my memory serves me right, no official withdrawal of that treasonous statement has taken place. There are many anti-Igbo songs blaring on loudspeakers in the north inciting the people to hate and violence. Till date, not one person has been arrested. So, when President Buhari talks of redlines, and does not look in the direction of Arewa Youths at all, but turns around to warn social media users, then many, many redlines will be crossed. Social media cannot be gagged. While a lot of irresponsible things happen on social media, and people hide under the anonymity the platform affords, attempting to police what people say or do on their own platforms would be an unfortunate descent into totalitarianism and fascism. What’s more, the APC practically rode into power on the wings of the social media. It didn’t set Nigeria on fire then. It won’t set Nigeria on fire now.
And talking of redlines, our government has been the one doing the crossing. Amassing power and wealth off the citizens, they turn around to harass them with it. ASUU has resumed the latest round of its perennial strikes, while LAUTECH students can go to hell for all they care. Graduates grope around for jobs, any job at all these days, while criminals are having a free rein over the rest. The security agencies see citizens as people to be bullied rather than protected; police demanding for money to investigate criminals on your behalf, thereby making merchandise off people’s losses, while soldiers would make you regret the day you were born if you’re ever caught in military fatigues. Everywhere a Nigerian turns, there’s one kind of oppression or the other. Those are redlines, which the ruling class has crossed against us. But, it’s we they are threatening.
A girl from Anambra who scores 120 in a common entrance examination would likely not be admitted, whereas a boy from Yobe who scores as low as 10 would be, into a Federal Government College. That is a redline. The number of people employed into DSS from Katsina is more than the people employed from the entire Southeast. That is a redline.
Workers are owed salaries, and pensioners are literally dying on the queues for their money. But a governor gets fat pensions for life. An everlasting reward for looting the state already. Legislators are granting themselves immunity. Those are dangerous redlines. A certain nincompoop of a governor who owed as much as sixteen months of salary arrears, even had the effrontery to declare a public holiday to celebrate Buhari’s arrival. That is a brutal red-line. Redlines of oppression, redlines of nepotism, redlines of a federation skewed in favour of one region, redlines of intimidation.
It is my opinion that what IPOB really wants is not their own country. They only want to be loved. They want to feel wanted. The highhandedness that was used against Kanu earlier has only enlarged his scope. Any further harshness would not yield desirable consequences. We all want a President who is Father to all, and not just to some. Even if Nnamdi Kanu says he is not a son, if Muhammadu Buhari says he is a father, and behaves as such, IPOB would die a natural death. But if threats of daring to cross redlines are what our President has for us, after so long a time of being away, then the “redline police” will have a hard time arresting the crossers. Because there will be many of them. Very many of them.