President Muhammadu Buhari broke with tradition yesterday, failing to address Nigerians after he was sworn in for a second term.
He had been expected to reel off his objectives for the next four years. Many guests at the Eagle Square venue in Abuja were apparently not impressed upon realising they would not be hearing from the leader.
As he inspected the parade comprising officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police, Buhari pumped his fist in the air in salutation at Nigerians who had come to watch the event. Many of the guests however did not wave back.
Four years earlier, when he took the mantle of office from former President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari had given a string of promises amid a huge fanfare.
The Federal Government had stated earlier that the inauguration would be low-keyed, as some events have been scheduled for June 12, the new Democracy Day. "Since the first observance of June 12 as Democracy Day falls into an election year, and as a measure to sustain June 12 as Democracy Day, the celebration of the inauguration and the advancement of democracy in the country would now hold on June 12," said Minister of Information Lai Mohammed.
But the president's action has been eliciting reactions with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) saying it was a tacit admission of guilt that the election was rigged.
"The failure by President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to make any commitment at the ceremony reinforces the truism that a product of flawed electoral process cannot serve the people or meet their aspirations under a constitutional democracy," the party said in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan.
It noted that the "poor attendance and passivity of the audience at the ceremony at a time that Nigerians were trooping, in their millions, to the inauguration of state governors elected on the platform of the PDP is a further evidence that Buhari and the APC were not elected.
"It is indeed pathetic that at a ceremony such as presidential inauguration, where truly elected leaders address their people, make commitments and unfold their governance direction, President Buhari did not showcase his plans or commitment to the development of critical sectors of our polity. It also speaks volumes that President Buhari had nothing to say to the victims of mindless killings and acts of violence in various parts of our country."
Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, President Emeritus of Igbo think tank Aka Ikenga, described the development as "strange" and "shocking". According to him, "governors read their speeches and asked the people to look forward to something that gave people hope and food for thought. The only person who didn't give us food for thought was the president. I think something is wrong; he is the most important person here."
Human rights activist and coordinator, Otoge Lagos, Mark Adebayo, said it was an unprecedented indiscretion in Nigeria's political history. He told The Guardian: "A presidential speech at inauguration is the norm in all civilised democracies all over the world. It's not just a national disgrace, but also an international embarrassment for the country.
"The president did not say anything at a time the citizens are under extreme economic and security pressure and in desperate need of reassurance. He has failed us totally. It is the same insensitive indiscretion he displayed by refusing to debate with his opponents before the 2015 and 2019 elections despite national outcry against such a practice."
The truth behind the president's failure to make a speech, according to media expert, Alex Ogundadegbe, is because "he doesn't know what to tell Nigerians this time. He now understands the mood of the people about his governance. We have more bad news than good news. Look at the level of insecurity, unemployment, even the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor has warned that the country might enter into recession again."
During a live television programme, Akin Oyebode, Professor of International Law and Jurisprudence at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), said the president missed an opportunity to administer a soothing balm on the citizenry by giving them "some impression of hope."
A chieftain of rights group National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Dr. Amos Akingba, argued: "I'm not even sure that there would be a speech on June 12. June 12 is different from the time you take the oath of office; when you should promise the people, tell the people, inform the people what you want to do. You don't have to wait till June 12. June 12 is just a recent approval. Today is the day you took an oath of office; you're inaugurated. Let us know what your agenda would be."
Lai Oso, a professor of Mass Communication, UNILAG, said he was surprised, adding: "Perhaps, he feels he said enough during his interview with NTA."
The Director, International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, said it was sad that government appeared muddled up over May 29 and June 12. "If we are saying June 12 is Democracy Day, then why didn't he do the necessary amendment to the law? I think the confusion is having May 29, and also having June 12 as Democracy Day. We should have a fixed day, so that when a president is inaugurated, he or she makes a speech on the inauguration day," he said.
But NADECO's general Secretary, Ayo Opadokun, felt there was little to worry about. Buhari didn't want to glamourise May 29 any longer, he explained. According to him, "The president and his handlers deliberately saved the speech for June 12, when the country will actually celebrate Democracy Day. If the president had made any speech yesterday, what else would he have said on June 12 after promising he would celebrate May 29 low key?"
A former deputy national chairman of the PDP, Olabode George, said the president didn't want to "start making promises when he is still uncertain about the outcome of the election tribunal looking into the petition challenging his victory in the presidential election."
Urging Nigerians not to crucify the president, he added: "It won't be ideal for Buhari to start making another round of promises to Nigerians now when he still has many unfulfilled promises he made in his 2015 inaugural speech."
Although it was tagged 'low-key', Buhari and his vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, took the oath of office in a brief ceremony full of pomp.
Security at the venue and around the Federal Capital City was beefed up. Men of the strike force unit of Nigerian Army in balaclavas took positions atop major high-rise buildings around the venue. Police dogs and anti-bomb trucks manned strategic locations to ensure there was no breach.
The president arrived at the Eagle Square at exactly 10:00 a.m. accompanied by his wife, Aisha. He went straight to the dais for the national anthem, marking the commencement of the ceremony, before retiring to his seat in the VIP cubicle.
The vice president alongside his wife, Dolapo, and other senior government officials including Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, Senate President Bukola Saraki were already seated before Buhari's arrival.
Former Presidents Goodluck Jonathan, Olusegun Obasanjo and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who contested the presidential election against Buhari were not in attendance. Peter Obi, Atiku's running mate was also absent.
Osinbajo, who arrived at the venue at about 9:35 a.m., also mounted the dais for the national anthem, which was played halfway. He however gets the full anthem whenever he represents the commander-in-chief.
Few minutes after 10:00 a.m., Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed was invited to the dais where he administered the oath of office and allegiance firstly on Osinbajo. Buhari took his turn next. Thereafter, they both signed the oaths register flanked by their spouses.
The president then witnessed the solemn lowering and hoisting of the national and defence flags by officers of the Nigerian Army, signifying the end of an administration and the beginning of another.
This was followed immediately by a 21-gun salute by troops of the Guards Brigade upon which the president was driven in a roofless Mercedes Benz van to inspect a parade by officers of the armed forces.
There was a mild drama when APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole breached protocol and stood in a line between the CJN and defence chiefs, and had to be 'corrected' by Guards Brigade Commander Umar Musa.
Residents of the capital city may not forget in a hurry the pains that attended the inauguration. Heavily armed soldiers deployed at different parts of the city subjected commuters to rigorous security checks, resulting in traffic gridlocks that lasted hours.