Buhari’s October 1 Rhetoric: The Terrific And The Forgettable, By Ebere Onwudiwe


Good presidential speeches often strive for eloquence and significance. President Buhari’s October 1 address had some terrific phrases and forgettable claims that meet both conditions.

In 1, 978 words, the President makes a special effort to strike a note of unity and fairness. For me, those are the impressive parts of his speech. There are also some platitudes with a certain ring of anger in the speech. Those are forgettable.

This point may be best appreciated by separating the nice phrases from the unremarkable sentences in the speech. One example from each group should suffice. First, the good stuff.

The most memorable part of the President’s address is his recognition of Nigeria’s “…profound diversities and opportunities and the need for us to work TOGETHER” (his emphasis) to become an indivisible nation “united in hope and equal in opportunity”.

For all those who are strong believers in one Nigeria, this will be the best-remembered passage of the president’s October 1, 2020 rhetoric. Indeed, the best legacy the president can leave is a concrete effort to build a nation out of the “profound diversities” of Nigeria’s peoples.

So far, he has hardly lifted a finger on this count. Instead, his administration has been marked by an atmosphere of divisiveness, distrust, and discrimination – according to some Nigerians. This reality cannot create the level of togetherness that can fuse an indivisible nation.

I have no doubt about the sincerity of Mr. President’s desire to create a strong and united Nigeria: His love for Nigeria has never been in doubt. But why does no one tell him that he cannot achieve a strong and united Nigeria through exclusionary and punitive policies against those who did not vote for him? That once elected, he becomes the president of everyone, political foes and friends alike. And that one way to demonstrate that is to let every vote count, from Edo to Imo State.

Managing “to keep things going” indicates little haste or even incremental progress. In fact, it is a lousy way to express a difference between one administration and others, because it suggests nothing more than treading water to stay afloat. This produces no great advance to brag about. The line is below Presidential.

Another way is to mend the cracks on the wall of national integration in Nigeria. They exist, these weakening and disuniting cracks, and it is a piece of great patriotic advice to point this out to Mr. President.

There is the unsettled citizenship question, there is the indigene-settler contradiction, there is the general perception of injustice and unfairness, and there is nepotism, all of which combine to create an atmosphere of distrust and violence, of demands for separation and restructuring of the federation.

Let me say a word or two on restructuring. The last restructuring of the federation was done on May 27, 1967 by Decree No. 14 of the Federal Military Government as a Nigerian civil war weapon to divide the country into 12 states to appeal to the non-Igbo ethnic groups in the former Eastern Region. This inadvertently corrected an obvious territorial imbalance that had advantaged the powers that be in the Northern Region of that time.

After more than fifty years, the issue of restructuring, with its attendant political instability remains. A second legacy of the president is to take this bull by the horns and solve the second round of the restructuring question on a conference table. It may be as simple as decentralisation of some powers and responsibilities.


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