GOVERNMENT at all level in Nigeria are known to capitalise on any available opportunity to reel out handy, readily available compilations of their supposed achievements but those who were insisting that President Muhammadu Buhari should address Nigerians after the Lekki Killings on Black Tuesday, October 20, and those who eagerly anticipated his speech once it was announced that the President would, at last, address Nigerians on the evening of Thursday, October 22, would not have expected that the occasion would be used to blow the administration’s trumpet.
The #EndSARS protests had commenced in early October, after a video, showing operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force killing a young man in Delta State, went viral on the social media. However, calls on Buhari to address Nigerians concerning the protests became strident after soldiers fired live bullets at unarmed protesters at Lekki toll gate, in Lagos, on Tuesday, October 20. Several protesters were killed, and many others were injured, in the incident which is now known as the ‘Lekki Killings’.
Following the incident, President Buhari was urged to address Nigerians, particularly the youths, who are leading the #EndSARS protests which was fast transforming into a protest against bad governance in the country.
So when information went round on Thursday evening that the president would be addressing Nigerians at 7:00 pm on the same day, hopes and expectations were high that Buhari would actually address the issues currently on the front burner, most especially issues surrounding the Lekki Killings.
Minutes before the presidential address, a very hopeful and expectant Twitter user went as far as suggesting that heads will roll among the leadership of the country’s security agencies.
“Buhari cannot finish this address without firing some people today,” the Twitter user tweeted in high hopes.
But the 37-minute address turned out to be an anti-climax, as far as the issues that matter at the moment are concerned. Not once did Buhari mention the ‘Lekki Killings’, over which he was implored on to address Nigerians. Expectations that the President would reprimand the military authorities, or even order the prosecution of the army officers and other personnel involved in the incident, turned out to be pipe dreams.
Rather, the President devoted a substantial portion of his address to reeling out his administration’s achievements on ‘poverty-alleviation’.
He said, “Government has put in place measures and initiatives principally targeted at youths, women and the most vulnerable groups in our society.
These included our broad plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years; the creation of N75 billion National Youth Investment Fund to provide opportunities for the youths and the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Survival Fund, through which government is: a. paying three months salaries of the staff of 100,000 micro, small – and medium – enterprises; b. paying for the registration of 250,000 businesses at the Corporate Affairs Commission; c. giving a grant of N30,000 to 100,000 artisans; and d. guaranteeing market for the products of traders.”
He also went ahead to list other poverty-alleviation initiatives undertaken by his administration, such as Farmermoni, Tradermoni, Marketmoni, N-Power, N-Tech and N-Agro. “No Nigerian Government in the past has methodically and seriously approached poverty-alleviation like we have done,” Buhari said. He also spoke of his administration’s plan to implement a new salary structure and other incentives for teachers. He didn’t fail to mention that the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission had been directed to expedite action on the finalisation of a new salary structure for members of the Nigeria Police Force.
But by opting to talk about ‘poverty-alleviation’, the President missed the point. The #EndSARS protests was not about poverty and hunger – it was about putting a stop to police brutality and all other forms of human rights violations and abuse of power by those in authority.
The emphasis on ‘poverty-alleviation’ resonated with the President’s infamous reference to Nigerian youths as ‘lazy youth’ and the perception that he sees the youths as a bunch of ‘never-do-wells’ was reinforced in his advise to the protesters, who he told to take advantage of his government’s programmes to make their lives ‘better’ and more ‘meaningful’.
“In the circumstances, I would like to appeal to protesters to note and take advantage of the various well-thought-out initiatives of this administration designed to make their lives better and more meaningful, and resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy. For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and the law and order situation. Under no circumstances will this be tolerated,” Buhari said.
When the protests escalated even after the disbandment of SARS, some of Buhari’s supporters started tagging the #EndSARS movement as a push for regime change. In the national broadcast, the President showed he has a similar view by suggesting that the protesters were being used by subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating the country’s nascent democracy.
Also, although the President admitted that the choice to demonstrate peacefully was a fundamental right of citizens as enshrined in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution and other enactments, he still chided the demonstrators, referring to them as ‘so-called protesters’ for reportedly invading an International Airport and in the process disrupting the travel plans of Nigerians and the country’s visitors.
Buhari, a former dictator who supervised a highly brutal, oppressive regime in his days as a military Head of State, also appeared to regret the initial decision to scrap SARS. “Sadly, the promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests,” he said.
At a press briefing earlier on Thursday, shortly before the President’s address, Director of Information, Defence Headquarters, Major General John Enenche, had suggested that viral images and videos of the ‘Lekki Killings’ on the social media were ‘photoshopped’. Enenche even went as far as saying that Junior Secondary School students were the ones who might have created the images and videos. Buhari, in the national broadcast, stuck to the same narrative, advising the international community to ‘seek the facts’ about the situation in the country.
Buhari said, “The spreading of deliberate falsehood and misinformation through the social media in particular, that this government is oblivious to the pains and plight of its citizens is a ploy to mislead the unwary within and outside Nigeria into unfair judgement and disruptive behaviour.To our neighbours in particular, and members of the international community, many of whom have expressed concern about the ongoing development in Nigeria, we thank you and urge you all to seek to know all the facts available before taking a position or rushing to judgment and making hasty pronouncements.”
Indeed, the president failed to address issues that mattered in his national broadcast. United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, had, while condemning the Lekki Killings, urged the Federal Government to investigate the matter and bring the perpetrators to book. The broadcast ignored that burning issue.
Nigerians who anticipated the President’s broadcast were disappointed. It remains to be seen whether the protesters would heed the President’s call by discontinuing the street protests.