By Tochukwu Ezukanma
On May 29th, 2019, President Mohammadu Buhari was inaugurated for a second four year term. The elaborately ceremonious event was all familiar for it was the seventh presidential inauguration Nigerians were witnessing in the country’s twenty years of unbroken democracy. As usual, it was a jamboree of the shakers and movers of the triumphant political party. As usual, it was also graced by the splendor of military parades, an assortment of national and international invitees, and a resplendent array of members of the judiciary and legislature. Typically, the high points of this pomp and pageantry are the swearing in of the president and the president’s inaugural speech.
But, noticeably absent from this second inauguration ceremony was the presidential inaugural address. Nigerians justifiably expected the speech because it is an essential fixture of presidential inaugurations in Nigeria. Its absence was as disheartening as it was revealing. It was disheartening that a president that stood at the end of a four year term, and at the threshold of another, refused to give Nigerians an account of his four year service to the country, and apprise them of what to expect in his next four year term. It revealed the president for what he is: a retrograde record breaker.
The inaugural speech is a global phenomenon. Since the advent of modern democracy in 18th Century United States of America, it has remained a central aspect of every presidential inauguration. With it, the president sets the moral tone of his presidency and defines his objectives and goals for his new administration. With his 1933 inaugural speech, the incoming American president, Theodore Roosevelt, gave hope to a desperate nation buffeted by an economic recession, and unnerved by Japanese militarism in Asia and the stormy stirrings of Nazi barbarism in Europe. Conrad Black summed it up succinctly, “When Roosevelt finished his fifteen minute address, no one doubted that a drastically new era has begun…”
In 1940, on May 13th, in his opening address as the new British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, with his electrifying oratory – “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat (in the war) against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime” – redefined an epoch. He roused a demoralized, pacific and war-weary British nation and Commonwealth to martial resolve and glory. In his 1961 inaugural speech, John F Kennedy struck a memorable chord in the American minds and set the stage for his New Frontier policy with his unforgettable, almost hagiographic, phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
Nigeria is in dire straits. The entire spectrum of the Nigerian society is troubled. There is poverty and hunger, violence and brutality, ignorance and disease, lawlessness and strife, etc in the land. Apart from the need to give Nigerians a report of his earlier four years in office, and highlight his objectives, goals and strategies for his new term, the president should have given an inaugural address to rally a fractious and despondent country and give her, for long, debased and suffering masses hope. It was an opportunity to give solace to millions of Nigerians afflicted by the devastations of Boko Haram terrorism, Fulani herdsmen murderous fanaticism and other myriad sources of violence in Nigeria. He should have, on that day, at the least, reassured the teeming poor and downtrodden, and the seemly forgotten men and women at the bottom of the economic pyramid of a hopeful economic future.
The country is abuzz with speculations on why President Buhari gave no inaugural speech. The optimists surmise that it was deliberate: a conscientious choice to defer the speech for another day. But then, the question readily arises, if it is given on a day other than the inaugural day, will it still be an inaugural speech? The cynics speculate that he did not speak because he did not know what to say. If he did not know what to say, his advisers and handlers would have educated him on what to say, and written it down for him. Still, others, in their cynicism, think that he gave no speech because he does not care. He is totally indifferent to his responsibilities as the president of Nigeria and the expectations of Nigerians. This seems the most plausible of all the reasons.
Are the consequences of his four years of indifference to his duties and insensitivity to the legitimate aspirations of Nigerians not conspicuously evident? Our educational and health care systems remain in a mess and our country’s social indexes are still pitiful. Despite the hoopla about the fight against corruption, Nigeria remains extremely corrupt, and Nigerians, remorselessly corrupt. Presently, the country is incredibly divided. Even during the civil war, Nigerians were not as divided along ethnic, regional and religious lines. The Nigerian economy hobbles precariously, as the unemployment rate remains dangerously high, especially, among the youth, and more and more Nigerians slide into desperate poverty. The dearth of electric power continues to render businesses un-operatable and unprofitable. The incidence of violence is unparalleled: terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, meaningless killings, etc.
President Buhari is a record breaker. He has already broken a number of records – all in the negative – in his four year presidency. In the annals of Nigeria, he is the first president that it took six months to appoint his ministers. Never before in the history of Nigeria did the naira fall so low against the dollar as during his presidency. Has he not given the Fulani herdsmen a carte blanche in their murderous binge across Nigeria? No Nigerian president ever pandered so brazenly to a terrorist group and its unyielding butchery of the innocent. So, it was in line with his tradition of breaking the record in the negative that he became the first Nigerian president to get inaugurated without giving an inaugural speech.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Oriental Times or any employee thereof.