- President Buhari’s speeches must lift Nigerians from despondency
President Muhammadu Buhari lost a vital opportunity to inspire Nigerians when he delivered a drab 58th Independence Day anniversary speech that was not uplifting enough.
Presidential addresses are meant to achieve three main aims. They are supposed to proffer an accurate assessment of national conditions. They are meant to demonstrate the measures being taken to maintain progress and halt retrogression. And most importantly, they are aimed at inspiring the citizenry to greater efforts in the service of their nation.
This last objective is very important. A leader who inspires his nation can get its citizens to rise above temporary setbacks and focus on the goal of sustained national progress. He infuses it with the can-do spirit that is fundamental to achieving greatness. He transcends political partisanship, ethnic divides and religious schisms, uniting citizens into a formidable force for the general good.
President Buhari’s speech signally failed to do this. It was not so much what was said, but how it was said.
There was the usual recounting of the administration’s attempts to achieve sustained economic growth, combat insecurity, and maintain the country’s pre-eminence in African and global affairs. There was the reassurance of government support for the military and the youth. There was the promise to bring peace to troubled regions and combat environmental degradation.
These are eminently worthy sentiments, but they paradoxically show that the president failed to demonstrate his understanding of the despondency that is gradually coming to dominate perceptions of the country that he leads.
A nation globally famous for the optimism of its people has become one in which apocalyptic predictions are no longer the stuff of fantasy. A citizenry that was once well known for its long-suffering patience and forbearance is increasingly resorting to violent self-help. The general belief that things will be better is slowly giving way to views that everything is getting worse.
Regardless of its good intentions, the Buhari administration has been characterised by a persistent inability to act decisively. It took almost half a year to appoint the cabinet. The 2016 budget was tainted by accusations of manipulation. The country’s security agencies have shown a troubling lack of restraint. Senior members of the administration have been caught up in corruption and forgery scandals.
The government’s own spokesmen have aggravated the situation by offering odd rationalisations for the administration’s actions and inactions.
This is where Buhari himself comes in. He is the primary marketer of his government and his Independence Day speech should have sought to reconnect with the citizenry at a more visceral level, devoid of empty platitudes and reminiscent of the passion of his inaugural address in May 2015.
He could have been more honest in acknowledging the shortcomings of his administration. He should have laid out clear plans for addressing the country’s most pressing security issues, incorporating specific timelines and deadlines. He could have celebrated the resilience of the Nigerian people, applauded their fortitude, and honoured those qualities with a corresponding forthrightness.
Nigeria is in dire need of inspirational leadership and it is incumbent upon President Buhari to provide it. As the country approaches critically important elections, it is sincerely hoped that he rises to the occasion.