President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday addressed the country as Nigeria marks Democracy Day.
Here are five things we noticed in his speech.
Zero nod to MKO Abiola, big on scorecard presentation
President Buhari signed a bill into law in 2019 designating June 12 as Democracy Day instead of May 29. Both days are significant.
Nigeria conducted arguably its freest and fairest presidential election on June 12, 1993. A Muslim-Muslim ticket of Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe of the Social Democratic Party won the election ahead of the Muslim-Christian ticket of Bashir Tofa and Sylvester Ugoh of the National Republican Convention.
But Abiola was never officially announced as the winner of that election and was never allowed to rule by the military regime. He later died in government custody.
On May 29, 1999, a democratically elected president – Olusegun Obasanjo – was sworn in as Nigerian leader in Abuja after years of military rule. Nigeria has not stepped back into the dark days of the juntas since then.
However, MKO, to whom June 12 Democracy Day is dedicated, was never mentioned in Buhari’s national address. Instead, the president focused on giving “an account of my stewardship on this day.”
Given that Abiola was a symbol of a free and fair election and one that was largely not coloured by tribal and religious sentiments, and especially that the last general election that handed Buhari another term in office in 2019 was mired in violence and malpractices, one would expect the president to reel out what his government would do to sanitise Nigeria’s electoral system.
That opportunity went begging.
Expansion of 4G coverage
Regardless of 5G technology being scapegoated by conspiracy theorists in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 6 million people and killed over 400,000 globally, countries that value the importance of technology to economic growth are designing plans to safely implement 5G. Nigeria also did a test run at a few locations towards the end of 2019.
But for now, Nigeria is working at expanding the 4G coverage by 30 per cent. Buhari said that much in his speech.
Banditry and Boko Haram
Nigeria’s northwest has been a hotbed of fatal attacks in recent months. Those attacks did not start this year but the government’s political solution – including granting amnesty to armed gangs – has not done much to reduce violent crimes in the region with hundreds killed in recent weeks in Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna and in Buhari’s home state of Katsina.
A clearer but an unflattering picture of the country’s burden of insecurity is revealed when you add Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgency in the northeast and militia attacks in parts of the northcentral to the mix.
But President Buhari said the government is doing all it can to tackle those problems.
“Ending insurgency, banditry and other forms of criminality across the nation is being accorded appropriate priorities,” he said.
Recent rape cases and gender-based violence
In May, a University of Benin student, Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, was raped and murdered by unknown persons inside a church where she had gone to read.
At the end of the same month, 11 persons were arrested for allegedly raping a 12-year-old girl in Jigawa State.
These cases and many others underscored the extent of gender-based violence women in Nigeria face and prompted waves of protests that could not be ignored by the government.
“I wish to assure all our women of this administration’s determination to fight gender-based violence through the instrumentality of the law and awareness creation,” Buhari said in the speech. “I am particularly upset at recent incidents of rape, especially of very young girls. The Police are pursuing these cases with a view to bringing perpetrators of these heinous crimes to swift justice.”
Despite noting that the economy has seen 11 consecutive quarters of GDP growth since exiting recession, President Buhari acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a real threat to the country.
In spite of the criticisms about his handling of the pandemic, Buhari said his government has taken actions that have ensured the country is only moderately impacted.
“Every single economy in the world has suffered a decline. Ours has been relatively moderate,” he said.
“In order to stabilise the economy, the Monetary Authority took steps to build the external reserves which resulted in improved liquidity in the foreign exchange market. The external reserves grew from $33.42 billion on April 29th 2020 to about $36 billion in May 2020 which is enough to finance seven months of import commitments.”