© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Counting Buhari’s words on Democracy Day
The ICIR editor, Ajibola AMZAT, counted the number of keywords in Buhari’s Democracy Day speech and reported that though the president’s choice of words rings true to his election promise, not much has changed since 2015.
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari read a 3,561-word speech this morning to Nigerians in celebration of the Democracy Day. The speech consists of 148 sentences and 96 paragraphs.
Last year, when he declared June 12 as Democracy Day, his speech was shorter by 404 words. Notwithstanding, the president harped on similar issues he addressed in 2019, except that he focused attention much more on the economy this year than he did 12 months ago.
In his 2019 Democracy Day’s speech, the president mentioned the word “economy” only four times, this year the word occurred 10 times.
That is understandable. The Nigerian GDP has dropped from 2.27 per cent in 2019 to 1.87 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crash is deeper than the growth rates of many African countries, including Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, and Egypt.
As at December 2019, Nigeria’s domestic debt was over N18 trillion and foreign debt was over 9 trillion, according to Debt Management Office.
Yet, Nigeria’s Senate in March approved a plan to borrow another $22.7 billion from external creditors, a decision that has increased the external debt by nearly 28 per cent.
Data from Nigeria Natural Resource Charter shows that Nigeria Excess Crude Account has dropped to $71.8 million from $324.9 million in January 2020. And to make matters worse, the country’s Sovereign Wealth Fund has been depleted to 1.5 billion.
Although the president blamed the economic misfortune on the “pandemic [that] has affected the global economy,” he was silent on the fact that countries like Nigeria are more affected than others, due to what pundits have attributed to poor economic management.
As a national response, Buhari said his administration is integrating rural communities to the formal economy by extending access to credit and inputs to rural farmers as well as building feeder roads. He also disclosed that the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy has been launched to enhance the productivity of Nigerians. This effort has not shown a significant impact.
In fact, a few months ago, his Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, warned that Nigeria is sliding into recession. Since then, the slide has not stopped.
Another issue that featured prominently in the president’s speech is security. The president harped on the word “security’ 11 times, as he did in the year before.
To reduce security challenges, the president listed a number of measures he has taken.
The list included the creation of Ministry of Police Affairs, expansion of the National Command and Control Centre to nineteen states of the federation, resuscitation of the National Public Security Communication System and commencement of the implementation of the Community Policing Strategy.
He said his government has also established a Nigerian Police Trust Fund for alternative sources of funding security activities as well as introduced operation “Ex-Swift Response”.
But it appears these strategies have not reduced the high incidence of violent deaths in the land – at least not yet.
A report released yesterday by NigeriaMourns, a movement by Nigerians to mourn victims of the upsurge in violent killings, indicated that no fewer than 356 Nigerians were killed in 27 states of the country in the month of May 2020 alone.
The report indicated that 212 deaths were attributed to banditry attacks. And while communal conflicts accounted for 80 deaths, 27 were attributed to Boko Haram/ISWAP, 10 to cult clash, herdsmen attack took 10, eight were due to extrajudicial killings while five were killings related to isolated attacks and four to mob action.
In its latest report published in June, the Centre for Democracy and Development has noted that “President Buhari has exercised weak civilian oversight over his long-serving service chiefs, giving them wide leeway to manage military affairs.”
Infrastructure is another word that featured prominently in Buhari’s speech. In his address on June 12, 2019, the president used the word six times but used the same word eight times in his address this year.
The president spoke about the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund projects aimed to deliver the 2nd Niger Bridge, Abuja – Kaduna – Kano Road, Obajana – Kabba Road, and wider railway network among other projects. He disclosed that N800 billion recovered from corrupt public officials are being ploughed into development and infrastructure projects.
But there are indications that the execution of many of these projects are shrouded in secrecy. Despite the provision of the Public Procurement Act that compelled government agencies to upload their procurement plan on the Open Treasury Portal and the website of the Bureau of Public Procurement, many agencies do not abide by this law.
Last week, The ICIR published a report about Ecological Fund Office, EFO that awarded a contract to a company that has no official address.
EFO is one of the agencies accused by the Office of Auditor General (OAuG) of disregard for financial probity.
According to the 2017 Auditor General’s report published in 2019, no fewer than 265 of government agencies failed to submit their audited reports. In fact, under President Buhari’s watch, eleven agencies have never submitted their financial statement for auditing.
It is, therefore, curious to note that the word “corruption” appeared only thrice in his speech this year as opposed to seven times it did last year.
The president said “anti-corruption agencies have secured more than 1,400 convictions and also recovered funds in excess of N800 billion,” but CDD noted that most of the convictions, especially those secured by EFCC, are from cybercrime.
According to the think-tank group, Buhari has fallen short of his promise to “demonstrate zero tolerance for corrupt practices.”
In his speech this year, President Buhari barely stressed the issue of human rights violations that have been widely reported before and during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though, he mentioned the word “rights” three times, it was in respect to mineral rights. The only time he spoke about ‘legal right” was when he said his government has initiated a number of policies and programmes designed to promote the legal rights of Nigerians. But there have been reports of human rights abuse by law enforcement agents.
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission in its latest report shows that 18 Nigerians were violently killed by law enforcement agents while enforcing COVID-19 regulations. While the Nigeria Correctional Service was responsible for eight deaths, the Nigeria Police Force was responsible for seven deaths. The Nigeria Army, on the other hand, was responsible for two deaths while the Ebonyi State Task Force on COVIV-19, Afikpo South LGA was responsible for one death.
Even before the outbreak of Coronavirus, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has been trending for killing Nigerian youths extra-judicially. The Nigerian Security Tracker has recorded no fewer than 29 deaths caused by the SARS operatives between 2015 and 2020. Some of the perpetrators are rarely held to account for their involvement in torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, and in some cases, they are transferred to another location to avoid punishment, according to a 2016 report by Amnesty International.
Furthermore, the subject of rape that has become almost a talking point in the national conversation, did not get prominent mention in the president’s speech. Buhari only used the word “rape” once in the entire speech.
The president said he was “upset at recent incidents of rape especially of very young girls,” and he added that “the Police are pursuing these cases with a view to bringing perpetrators of these heinous crimes to swift justice.” And that was it.
Other keywords that featured less this year than in the previous year’s speech are banditry (1) and electricity (1).
But the words like “Agriculture” or “agro”, or “farm” do well in the president’s speech this year than in the last year. And the reason is not far fetched.
“Agriculture remains the key to our economic diversification strategy,” the President said.