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Buhari: The Unity Sermon and The Reality of Nigeria’s Nationhood

Tougher times await Nigerians from President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech to mark Nigeria’s 60th anniversary. His speech vanished any hope of lower petrol and electricity prices as he affirmed that “It makes no sense for oil to be cheaper in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia.”

According to him, petrol presently sells for N168.00 in Saudi Arabia, which is the highest in a country that is a member of Oil Producing and Exporting Country, OPEC; while in Nigeria it sells at N162, said to be a cost reflective price. Unlike Nigeria which imports refined petroleum products, Saudi Arabia meets its local consumption. Promises made by the Buhari government of reviving the Nation’s four refineries since 2015 is yet to materialize. Refining petroleum products will not only provide jobs locally, it could also enable the government to make products cheaper locally.

From the foregoing, it is highly likely that the cost of petrol will rise much higher as crude oil price slowly recover. As at September 30 the OPEC basket price was $41.46 per barrel, down from $42.92. It is strange that fuel price is rising in Nigeria, not falling, with lower cost of crude oil.

Buhari compared Nigeria with neighbouring oil producing countries: Chad – N362 per litre; Niger, N346; Ghana, N326, and Egypt N211

What Buhari is not telling Nigerians is that the continued depreciation of the Naira against all international currencies is the reason for continuous increase in the price of fuel. From the Central Bank of Nigeria official rate of N360/$ it has gone down to N379/$ with inflation at 13.4 percent. The crisis in the dollar inflow from low crude oil price has led to crisis in the economy as businessmen find it difficult to fund off shore transactions. Today, banks are denying Nigerians full access to withdraw from their domiciliary accounts due to short supply of dollars.

Economists say the cost of fuel in Nigeria is not necessarily cheaper and that government should apply purchasing power parity as a more appropriate comparison.

It is expected that crude oil price will appreciate and with that the local cost of fuel will further go up. So a N200 and above pump price of fuel is not unlikely soon. This is more re likely because the government said it is not sane to borrow to fund subsidy. Critics argue that is not necessary; that all that is needed is for Nigeria’s refineries to work.

Then president, Olusegen Obasanjo, privatized two refineries to make them operational but the Umar Yar’adua regime reversed the privatization, and yet failed to revive the refineries, as promised. All subsequent governments after initial promises also failed to revive the refineries.

A big part of the financial crisis is coming from the roiling insecurity across the country. The President complained of “disproportionate spending on security.” The security budget is ₦190.65 billion for 2020. This has been increased by 11.3 percent to ₦212.32bn in the proposed 2021 budget with Boko Haram ‘technically defeated’ but still making daring raids and ambushing the military and kidnapping more people. Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State has been attacked two times in one month. The bandits have equally stepped up their game despite increased military expenditure and deployment.

The 2019 Global Terrorism Index ranked Nigeria as the third-worst country exposed to terrorism with no improvement recorded since 2017. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Nigeria’s $1.9bn military allocation is third largest in Africa to South Africa’s $3.5bn and Algeria’s $10.3bn.

The President also harped on government’s emphasis on the “enthronement of the rule of law”, and urged people to avoid actions that could compromise the judiciary. He cited the Edo gubernatorial election as an example of his resolve on free and fair election. Conversely Kogi governorship election is seen as the worst election organized by this administration.

Paragraph 30 of the broadcast appears complicated and pregnant with meaning and threat. “Democracy, the world over and as I am pursuing in Nigeria, recognizes the power of the people. However, if some constituencies choose to bargain off their power, they should be prepared for denial of their rights.” What exactly does this mean? Who are the President referring to? This is because different groups across the country have ,more than it happened in the past, heightened the campaign for separation or restructuring, either in the southeast or the southwest or the North Central or even the southsouth.

Buhari called on Nigerians to work together as one and make progress. Ironically, his government’s policy of nepotism and lopsided appointments have divided the country most since independence. There are fears of a gradual erosion of trust, as some Nigerians believe that Mr President says the right things but in practice does the opposite. In his inaugural address at Eagle Square on May 29, 2015, he swore to belong to no one and to all, however, the last five years has proved he does the opposite as he discarded the federal character principle, while the people believe that he fatally pursues the unbridled Fulanization of the country.

Recently, the Nigeria Customs Service carried out a promotion exercise which gave the eight highest positions in the service to northerners, destroying the careers of senior southern officers. This hardly supports Buhari’s poetry of one country. Keeping the same military chiefs, 90 percent of whom are northern Muslims, since 2015 and other structural removal of southerners from critical federal positions belies all pretense of a united country under him.

“To make this country what we desire,” Buhari says Nigerians must unite and resolve the following “identified critical challenges that underlie our present state”:

“Evolving and sustaining a democratic culture that leaves power in the hands of the people; Supporting the enthronement of the rule of law, demanding accountability of elected representatives and contributing to good governance; Increasing our commitment to peaceful co-existence in a peaceful, secure and united Nigeria; Harnessing and Optimizing our tremendous human and natural resources to attain our goal of being in the top twenty economies of the world and in the process; Lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years; Strengthening institutions to make them stronger in protecting National Interests; and Imbibing tolerance in diversity.”

The way forward, according to the President, is Nigerians thinking Nigeria first. “An underlying cause of most of the problems we have faced as a nation is our consistent harping on artificially contrived fault-lines that we have harboured and allowed unnecessarily to fester… The stereotype of thinking of ourselves as coming from one part of the country before seeing ourselves as Nigerians is a key starting point to project us on the road to our deserved nation’s evolution and integration,” he argued.

The government’s slogan is that “Change begins with me.” The hope is that this new campaign of national ethos begins with Buhari through transparent, fair, just policies and projects, which did not happen in the past five years.

However, he canvasses a new order. “We need to begin a sincere process of national healing and this anniversary presents a genuine opportunity to eliminate old and outworn perceptions that are always put to test in the lie they always are.”

Perhaps what the administration wants to achieve with the launching of the new National Ethos is what the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in its Independence anniversary message asks of him. The party urged Buhari “to reposition his government and urgently address the economic and security challenges that have escalated under his watch.”

Kola Ologbondiyan, National Publicity Secretary of the party, in a statement admonished that “Mr. President should immediately rejig our security apparatchik as well as his cabinet to inject new blood to effectively manage the affairs of our nation,”

The Party regrets that “the gains achieved as well as our pride as an independent nation, have all been reversed by thoughtless policies including the mortgaging of our nation’s sovereignty to foreign interests through loans and utter neglect of our productive sector.

“Escalated insecurity, insurgency, terrorism, kidnapping, and banditry have continued to ravage various parts of the nation to the extent that citizens have lost hope in the government and now resort to regional and states security arrangements,”

In his Independence message, Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, called for national healing.

“Our nation is in dire need of healing. We must foster unity and douse the tense atmosphere which is breeding feelings of alienation. We must promote freedom of speech and freedom after the speech. As such, in the spirit of our 60th Independence Anniversary, I call on the Federal and state governments to release all political prisoners and detainees, and discontinue the prosecution of such individuals. If Nelson Mandela could reconcile with those who imprisoned him for 27 years, we can reconcile with those who have disagreed with us.”

He urged for policies and programmes to target the youth, “The youth of Nigeria represent the future wealth of the fatherland and the only way we can tap into them is through quality investments in education and skills acquisition. Through the creativity that they inject in their passion, the excellence of the Nigerian youth is a global signature in diverse fields notably in sports, as they can be found in medicine, education, business and finance, agriculture and our entertainment industry.

“Indeed they ‘berekete’ (abound) in every facet of our life from the rainforest of the south to the sudan and sahel Savannah of the north and the guinea Savannah of the midlands of the territories we call home. We may have failed to take advantage of the power of the Nigerian youth. But there is something much more significant that their triumphs teach us a people looking forward to a better future. When they win, they celebrate Nigeria. Our youth are ready and eager to conquer the world. What they lack is the leadership to take them through that process,”

Ends.

President Muhammadu Buhari Photo
President Muhammadu Buhari
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