Nigerians are of the perception that the presidency ‘didn’t really hear’ whenever it shirks its responsibility in fixing mind-boggling problems that deny them sleep. How?
On October 22, 2021 President Muhammadu Buhari eventually addressed the nation, and made the #ENDSARS movement his focal point. It was two weeks after the protests began, and two days after the famous Black Tuesday shooting at Lekki Tollgate when the military officers allegedly opened fire on flag-bearing, national anthem-chanting protesters. The speech obviously came as a result of several cyber and verbal assaults on the cold silence of Presidency in the face of such heated incidents that went viral across the country. When the much-anticipated speech was finally delivered, it sounded forced; riddled with misinformation such that it did not even mention the Lekki shooting. And even if the president were oblivious to many of the happenings in the country, were his speech writers, too, blinded by the desire to please power? This question is germane here because the speech seemed to have been written in Mars. The speech did not make any mention of the very issue that agonised the souls of Nigerians at that very point in time. How could the Lekki massacre have eluded the Presidency? A deliberate omission?
Nigerians came down against the speech with irate comments. “The first thing I wanted to hear yesterday was the president speaking with some empathy. I also expected him to clear up issues like why the military (or men in military uniform) were shooting unarmed civilians…and show solidarity with the people,” reacted Wale Agbede, Lagos media expert. Ayo Sogunro wrote: “He basically complimented himself for listening to initial #EndSARS demands, then complimented himself for not being even more brutal, while complimenting himself for giving out money. Then he complimented his loyalists too.” Aisha Yesufu was livid: “Not a word from Buhari @MBuhari about #EndSars protesters killed. Not a word about citizens killed in Zamfara. You still have doubt that this man cares for no one and everyone is feeling the effect of his incompetence?” “I am disappointed by Prez @MBuhari‘s recorded speech to the country today. He failed to acknowledge the #Lekkitollgate killings. I didn’t see a concrete response to the culture of impunity and police brutality, or to governance reforms other than a regurgitation of “programmes,” said Kingsley Moghalu.
Be that as it may, the biggest irony in the speech is the part that reads: “I therefore call on our youths to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage government in finding solutions. Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.” But do all the presidential actions in the past one year portray that he really hear us? Maybe he catches a distant vibration of our relentless screaming. If the government would not acknowledge something as crucial as Lekki shooting, then it cannot acknowledge our harsh economic realities.
On October 2020, the president was reported to have addressed the Lekki shooting through his spokesman, Garba Shehu “The President, who said he had all along avoided going into a debate about the Lekki Toll Gate incidents until all the facts are established, appealed to the people all over the country to maintain peace and brotherhood as the machinery of the government…” That read like a carefully plotted afterthought after having realised the presidency goofed on the avoidance of the heart of the matter in his earlier speech. Why didn’t the president come out to read another speech, telling us all why he avoided the subject? Bear in mind that the second speech came after the public battering of the first speech. The pattern never changes with the presidency. The populace had to mount pressure on the government before making the earlier speech. And after the speech has been delivered, the public had to put the government under mounting criticism to make another speech and go straight to the main issue. This is the hallmark of a government which does not know how to listen and respond to burning matters.
The president’s speech of October 22, 2020 was also skillfully woven into it a thread of threat that read: “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,” he added. One year has passed since the delivery of the empty speech. It is more obvious than ever that the government cannot bring to fruition all that it promised in the speech. The speech promised to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty within the next 10 years but this seems like a mirage, as the government has put many more millions of its citizens into the mire of poverty in just over six years of its administration.
And still on the #ENDSARS movement, it is crystal clear that the government has not been forthcoming on result-oriented steps because of its seemingly negative attitude towards the culture of protests. Because of government’s stance, the police have become even more vicious towards citizens, particularly the youths that are often subjected to frequent brutality. The government, through law enforcement agencies, went after all the known faces of #ENDSARS movement, but those who were lucky enough to escape from the country are yet to return because of the fear for their lives. The enactment of the 2020 Police Act has largely remained a mere written document. The implementation of the Act is weak and almost nonexistent, a mere accretion that points to the fact that the government is not thinking about our well-being.