On January 1, 1984, Nigerians listened to the inaugural broadcast of the then military Head of State, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who had on the previous day seized power from President Shehu Shagari in a bloodless coup.
It is an open secret that the Shagari era was marred by high-level corruption, unemployment and falling oil prices which ultimately led to recession. Shagari’s administration also suffered endemic religious and political violence which made the regime deeply unpopular among Nigerians.
Expectedly, when Buhari seized power from Shagari, Nigerians trooped out in celebration as he promised to fight corruption and address other ills plaguing the country.
In his 1984 inaugural speech, he said, “While corruption and indiscipline have been associated with our state of underdevelopment, these two evils in our body politics have attained unprecedented height in the past few years. The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society.
“Since what happens in any society is largely a reflection of the leadership of that society, we deplore corruption in all its facets. This government will not tolerate kickbacks and inflation of contracts nor will it condone forgery, fraud, embezzlement, misuse and abuse of office and illegal dealings in foreign exchange and smuggling.”
The younger Buhari incidentally took over at a time when several state governments could not pay salaries. In his speech, he lamented the decay in public infrastructure such as dilapidated hospitals.
He said, “We have no doubt that the situation is bad enough. In spite of all this, every effort will be made to ensure that the difficult and degrading conditions under which we are living are eliminated. Let no one, however, be deceived that workers who have not received their salaries in the past eight or so months will receive such salaries within today or tomorrow or that hospitals which have been without drugs for months will be provided with enough immediately.
“We are determined that with the help of God, we shall do our best to settle genuine payments to which government is committed, including the backlog of workers’ salaries after scrutiny.”
Buhari, the then dictator, slammed the National Assembly for failing to curb the excessive spending of the executive arm of government. He said the lawmakers rather preferred to earn huge salaries and allowances which could not be justified.
Buhari, therefore, dissolved the legislative arm of government.
He said, “The situation could have been avoided if the legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities. Instead, the legislators were preoccupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefits and unnecessary foreign travels, which took no account of the state of the economy and the welfare of the people they represented.
“As a result of our inability to cultivate financial discipline and prudent management of the economy, we have come to depend largely on internal and external borrowing to execute government projects with attendant domestic pressure and soaring external debts, thus aggravating the propensity of the outgoing civilian administration to mismanage our financial resources.”
Thirty-one years after, there seems to be some similarities between the speech of 1984 and President Buhari’s inaugural speech. The reason is not far-fetched since the problems bedevilling Nigeria then is similar to the ones of today.
For instance, the new Buhari has inherited a huge debt profile as well as a high level of unemployment, dwindling oil prices and corruption just as he did in 1984.
Today’s scenario is even worsened by the unprecedented level of insecurity occasioned by Boko Haram terrorism and the Niger Delta problem.
Buhari, who now describes himself as a converted democrat, obviously cannot dissolve the National Assembly as he once did. He also cannot make arbitrary arrests. He will no longer be able to rule by edicts and decrees but will have to follow due process, make compromises and respect the autonomy of other arms of government.
Taking this into cognisance, Buhari in his second inaugural speech promises to fight corruption in every lawful manner. He, however, assured Nigerians that he will not victimise his political opponents, describing the past as a ‘prologue’.
He said, “There is now a national consensus that our chosen route to national development is democracy. To achieve our objectives, we must consciously work the democratic system. The Federal Executive Council, under my watch, will not seek to encroach on the duties and functions of the legislative and judicial arms of government.
“The law enforcement authorities will be charged to operate within the constitution. We shall rebuild and reform the public service to become more effective and more serviceable. We shall charge them to apply themselves with integrity to stabilise the system. For their part, the legislative arm must keep to their brief of making laws, carrying out oversight functions and doing so expeditiously. The judicial system needs reform to cleanse itself from its immediate past.
“The country now expects the judiciary to act with dispatch on all cases, especially on corruption, serious financial crimes or abuse of office. It is only when the three arms act constitutionally that the government will be able to serve the country optimally and avoid the confusion all too often bedevilling governance today.”
Although Buhari’s approach seems to be more refined – going by his utterances – his temperament and his feelings towards corruption and maladministration remain the same.
In his new inaugural speech, the Katsina-born politician described the post-First Republic leaders as spoilt children who destroyed the country.
He said, “In recent times, Nigerian leaders appear to have misread our mission. Our founding fathers, Mr. Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Mallam Aminu Kano, Chief J.S. Tarka, Mr. Eyo Ita, Chief Denis Osadebey, Chief Ladoke Akintola and their colleagues worked to establish certain standards of governance.
“They (founding fathers) might have differed in their methods or tactics or details, but they were united in establishing a viable and progressive country. Some of their successors behaved like spoilt children, breaking everything and bringing disorder to the house.”
Buhari, who was infamous for arresting and jailing journalists in the 1980s, appealed to the media this time around, describing the Nigerian press as the most vibrant in Africa. He urged the members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm to be patriotic.
Buhari, in his new address, reveals that the War against Indiscipline programme during his military administration known for forcefully instilling discipline in civilians through crude means such as flogging, will have no place in today’s democracy.
He says, “We are going to erect and maintain an efficient, disciplined people-friendly and well-compensated security force.”
As in 1984, Nigerians are hopeful once again that things will change for the better as espoused in the slogan of Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress.
The retired general is returning by popular votes and not though the barrel of the gun. He thus cannot be more powerful than the constitution allows. However, the converted democrat has been quick to state, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.”
The author is Eniola Akinkuotu is a senior reporter of The PUNCH Newspapers.
The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.