As is the custom, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation this morning in commemoration of the 58th anniversary of the nation’s Independence.
We listened to the speech which was broadcast Nationwide by 7AM and below are five takeaways:
1. Improvements in security:
“There has been a steady improvement in the security situation in the North East. We remain committed to ending the crisis and make the North East safe for all,” Buhari said. “The age-long conflict between herders and farmers that was being exploited by those seeking to plant the seeds of discord and disunity amongst our people is being addressed decisively.”
The president was addressing two issues in two different regions in the country – the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and the farmers-herders clashes in the North Central.
While the military deserves our appreciation for their sacrifices in contending with the threats, the truth is that the security situation is far from tolerable.
Boko Haram recently killed an abducted aid worker, and have issued threats to kill an abducted school girl, Leah Sharibu, as well as two other abducted aid workers. Just last week, dozens died in Jos, Plateau state in another escalation of the herders-farmers clashes. It makes one wonder how Pres. Buhari can describe his government’s effort in that regard as “decisive.” Key policy solutions that could solve the challenges like a ranching policy or incentives to prospective investors in ranches are not forthcoming. The claims by the president that the crisis is being “exploited” is not backed by any evidence so far.
2. Niger Delta clean up:
“Efforts are on course in the Niger Delta to clean up polluted lands, restore hopes of the youths in the region and re-establish livelihoods, and strengthen their capacity to guarantee for themselves and for our country a brighter future.”
Important point to note is that: Technically, the cleanup has not begun yet. In fact, there were reports of delays in the commencement of the cleanup which have been attributed to its “special nature”, recession, and unspecified challenges in the Niger Delta. There are claims that the cleanup will begin in the final quarter of 2018 – we are looking forward to that.
3. Corruption, corruption, corruption:
“We are making progress in the fight against corruption and recovery of stolen public funds and assets despite vicious and stiff resistance. The shameful past practice, of the brazen theft of billions of Naira, is no more. Shady oil deals and public contracts that were never delivered have become things of the past,” Buhari said.
This is the president’s favorite talking point. In this year’s Independence Day speech, the president did not provide much details on the government’s tangible efforts in that regard like the Treasury Single Account.
However reports of huge sums reportedly amiss and unaccounted for by the federal government put a dent in the government’s arguments. The perceived one-sidedness of the EFCC prosecutions is also a cause for concern. Transparency International ranked Nigeria 148/180 with a total score of 27/100 in the Corruption Perception Index for 2017. To put this in perspective, corruption only reduced by one point between 2016 and 2017.
4. Economic diversification and a strong economy:
“We are diversifying away from reliance on oil to increased manufacturing capacity, solid minerals development, and agriculture. We are gradually strengthening the economy with a stable Naira and falling inflation rate. We are building an economy that is moving away from over-reliance on oil. Consequently, we have witnessed a massive return to farms and seen bumper harvest, despite recurrent floods across the country.”
While there is some positive movement like reduced inflation numbers, fact is that the unemployment numbers and the recent CBN warning of a recession threat should cause some pause. Growth has slowed down and it has been attributed to several risk factors including the oil sector, weakening demand and consumer spending, rising contractor debts, and low minimum wage. The agricultural sector which is one of our backup plans is also not performing very well due to floods and the ongoing farmer-herdsmen crisis affecting some of the main agricultural zones in the nation.
5. Social media fear:
“Now we have in our hands’ technology that is a powerful tool that we can and should use for knowledge and understanding. As with other countries, we must also learn how to manage those tendencies that, instead, look to abuse new technologies to provoke passions and stir tensions. Never before have we faced such a challenge. We must all rise to the responsibility of shutting out those disruptive and corrosive forces that hide in today’s world of social media. We need critical minds and independent thinking, to question and question until we are satisfied we have the facts. Otherwise, all the progress we have made as a democracy since 1999 is at stake.”
What this statement implies, particularly the last line is that social media is a likely threat to Nigeria’s democracy. If this is, in fact, the case, then perhaps Nigeria’s democracy is a sham and not as sturdy or grounded in democratic principles (like the protection of basic human rights, for instance) as we might like to think. Free participation of citizens is another key tenet of democracy and it is not far-fetched to expect that participation in the digital-age will, in fact, occur largely through digital mediums. Social media is not the problem. In fact, in a country and a democracy where the president believes that the rule of law should be subservient to other matters, social media is an important sling in the armor of activ citizens.