Nigerians had very high expectations on June 12 that President Muhammadu Buhari’s Democracy Day speech would make up for lost ground from May 29, when he failed to deliver a speech at his inauguration for a second term in office. In the event, the June 12 speech also fell short of expectations because it was long on rhetoric but short on policy and program specifics.
June 12 was celebrated as Democracy Day in Nigeria for the first time this year. The president had earlier signed a law declaring it to be a public holiday. In anticipation of that, Buhari’s inaugural on May 29 was low-key. Eleven African heads of state and many representatives however turned up to grace the June 12 event at Eagle Square, Abuja. There were several exhibitions and side shows but all ears were trained on Buhari’s speech, which was expected to lay out the comprehensive framework for his second and final term in office.
A major portion of the speech dwelt on Nigeria, its resources and its successes, including its role in UN peace-keeping operations, ECOMOG in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, our contribution to the liberation of Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and our Big Brother role to West African neighbours. This was probably more appropriate for an Independence Day than for a Democracy Day speech.
President Buhari listed Nigeria’s resources to include water, arable land, forests, oil, gas, solid minerals and a good climate. He said, “However, the bulk of our real wealth lies in Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry and Mining. We possess all the ingredients of a major economic power on the world stage.” This statement is a major mistake; an educated manpower and a visionary leadership are bigger resources than the ones found under the soil, as proved by Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea.
The president also dwelt at length about his educational pursuits, all the places where he worked, his entire career devoted to public service, as well as how he visited all parts of Nigeria, by road and by air, during his five presidential campaign runs. With respect, all these issues were more appropriate for the campaign but Buhari has already won re-election. As to the current challenges, Buhari said, “The principal thrust of this new Administration is to consolidate on the achievements of the last four years, correct the lapses inevitable in all human endeavors and tackle the new challenges the country is faced with and chart a bold plan for transforming Nigeria.”
He referred to his Administration’s 2015 program, which was security, economy and fighting corruption. He said, “None but the most partisan will dispute that in the last four years we have made solid progress in addressing these challenges.” Some Nigerians, and not necessarily the most partisan ones, may say some progress was made but not a solid one. While progress was made in tackling Boko Haram, banditry, kidnapping and farmers/herders’ conflict shot to the front in the last four years. The economy dipped into recession during the last tenure, while corruption is still very much a national malaise.
A very interesting part of the speech was where Buhari said, “With leadership and a sense of purpose, we can lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.” Reference to ten years is problematic because his Administration has only four years left and Nigeria is not famous for policy or program continuity. He pointed out that China, India and Indonesia all lifted millions of their citizens out of poverty and said Nigeria too can do it because, like those three, it is “characterized by huge burdens of population.” This is a very good ambition indeed, but unless Buhari moves fast and rolls out a comprehensive program of accelerated economic growth, we would not be on the path to achieving that grand ambition.
Even though President Buhari said in his speech, “Over the next four years, we are committed to assembling a strong team of Nigerians, and allies, to implement our transformative plans and proposals,” he has not made any appointments more than two weeks since his inauguration. We urge him not to repeat the mistake of 2015, when he did not make key appointments for three months and only appointed ministers after six months. If we intend to emulate China, India and Indonesia, we must speed things up.
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