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A Critique Of Buhari’s Inaugural Speech

Ikeogu Oke

President Muhammadu Buhari may not have written his inaugural speech. And no one who appreciates the enormous responsibilities a leader in his position faces would quarrel with that. In fact, it is generally acknowledged that leaders of nations hardly write their speeches. Usually, they engage the services of speechwriters who are meant to know or predict their thought patterns and reflect those in the speeches they write on their behalf. The speechwriters, working with their principals, produce speeches acceptable to the latter, sometimes cutting a path to immortality for them by infusing memorable remarks into such speeches.

Such collaboration explains the occasional use of the first person pronoun in such speeches, resulting in such a gem of self-definition as “I belong to everybody; and I belong to nobody,” which we find in President Buhari’s inaugural speech. This profound remark conveys Buhari’s confidence in his independence as well as his infinite capacity for identifying with others. It can be interpreted as his having declared: “I am a man of the people; but I am also my own man.”

And that component of his being his own man bears a message for whoever presumes to be his godfather, who may be expecting to turn him into a presidential lackey. The message: That person is mistaken! This is an admirable stand in our politics, in which the meddlesomeness of godfathers has repeatedly proven to be an impediment to good governance. Need I cite the examples of their victimisation of Chris Ngige (as Governor of Anambra State) and Goodluck Jonathan (as President) to buttress this fact? I regard the quality and content of the speech highly. However, a speech that ends with an inapt Shakespearean quote hints at its imperfection and therefore some room for its improvement.

The Shakespearean quote (from Julius Caesar) is inapt because, through it, Shakespeare urges us to take full advantage of periods of good fortune such as the oil boom of the 1970s, as such a windfall can be temporary, and investing it judiciously can make the difference between economic stability or uncertainty in the future. But the speech Buhari uses it to conclude dwells on the need to reverse conditions he sums up thus: “At home we face enormous challenges. Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns.”

Such is what Shakespeare would describe as “outrageous fortune” in Hamlet. So if the speech had to end with a quote from Shakespeare, an apt choice would be this passage from Hamlet (arguably his most famous): “To be, or not to be, that is the question:/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/And by opposing end them.” Or who cannot see Nigeria’s condition, as portrayed in the speech, as comparable to suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”? Who cannot recognise Buhari’s task, and by extension Nigeria’s, even if he did not suggest that during his electioneering campaign and in the speech, as “to take arms against a sea of troubles/And by opposing end them”? In effect, the Shakespearean quote in the speech reflects a contextual shortcoming.

By contrast, the quote from Hamlet would have served to complement Buhari’s attitude to the challenge he believes is facing him and our nation, summarised by his assurance that “Daunting as the task may be, it is by no means insurmountable.” However, one can sense that his Shakespearean quote is related to his confession of his inability to recall “when Nigeria enjoyed so much goodwill abroad as now,” and his apparent expectation of this “unprecedented goodwill” to translate into help from its foreign sources in improving our nation’s fortunes. And I dare say that this enthusiasm is the result of an erroneous impression that that we can genuinely rely on the goodwill of other nations to bring an enduring solution to our problems.

The goodwill that can truly redeem a nation from great tribulations and develop it must originate from its people. We once counted on such foreign goodwill, with one of our governments promoting the concept of “technology transfer” as a result. Was technology transferred to us in the end? Yet some self-driven Asian nations have transformed into technological giants since then. We must face the reality, beginning with our new President, that, in the intriguing world of international diplomacy, goodwill from foreign nations is one of the ways in which such nations seek to advance their interests even against nations to which it is expressed, and therefore seek internal solutions to our problems.

To develop, Nigeria must stop thinking like an entity with a rudimentary mind, unable to grasp how the world works. We should ask how we can make Nigerians more nation-loving, such that they do not, for instance, persist in vandalising our gas pipelines as an excuse for poverty and through such acts of sabotage deprive our nation of electricity, considering that poor citizens of other countries do not vandalise their country’s gas pipelines.

We should ask how we can make Nigerians more patriotic, so they can desist from looting and offshoring public fund. And so we do not have such situations where some foreign countries, with their “unprecedented goodwill,” may return some of such fund like the “Abacha loot” while continuing to receive similar funds from our other leaders. Need I add that Mr. President’s promise not to validate some people’s fears that he “shall go after them” – regardless of whether he has credible corruption-related evidence to do so – contradicts his commitment to fight corruption? And that this contradiction is amplified by his having said repeatedly that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria? Or ask if it no longer bothers him that corruption could kill Nigeria after his electoral victory? I do not regard Mr. President’s fears that corruption could kill Nigeria as unfounded.

And international morality has not evolved to the point where nations would discourage any of their kind from destroying itself unless its continued existence is more beneficial to them than its death. Also, his determination to rout Boko Haram, as expressed in the speech, contradicts his earlier reported declaration that the fight against Boko Haram is an injustice against the North.

And it prompts the question: What has changed that he no longer sees fighting Boko Haram as perpetrating injustice against the North and so is now determined to confront the group? I think the answer to this question would enable us determine if his move to strengthen the onslaught against Boko Haram is not a ruse. His analysis of the origin of Boko Haram is correct.

And I have elsewhere condemned the summary execution of the sect’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, as a reckless, unjust and provocative act to which its members reacted with excessive, misdirected violence, as though two wrongs can make a right. But if Mr. President, a devout Muslim, recognises the sect as “a mindless, godless group who are as far away from Islam as one can think of,” why would he criticize the fight against the group as an injustice against the North, a terrain dominated by adherents of Islam? Could he have been referring to a variant of the group, perhaps a political clone as opposed to the original religious one he refers to in his speech? Again, I have raised these questions because I believe that unless they are answered truthfully, enabling a full understanding of the nature and ramifications of the Boko Haram problem, it may never be solved satisfactorily. Finally, I congratulate Mr. President for a good inaugural speech.

•Oke, a poet and public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja. [Email: ikeogu.oke@gmail.com; Tel: +234-(0)803-453-1501]

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