Nigeria: For Buhari, Speaking Only After Nigerians Begged Followed a Pattern

22 October 2020

This is not the first time the president would keep mum when uncertainties hover above the nation's landscape

Since Tuesday, when chaos broke out in Lagos after soldiers opened fire on protesters in Lekki, President Muhammadu Buhari came under fire for his silence.

The incident fouled the mood of the nation, but the call for an address by the president was not heeded until late Thursday.

When the president's address came, he refused to condemn the attack on peaceful protesters by armed security operatives in Lagos, or give an explanation of who deployed the army to the ground of the protest at Lekki.

Dozens of people including protesters and police officers have been killed in the violence that has resulted from the protests in many states, but none has triggered uncertainties as the attack on protesters in Lekki, an upscale suburb in Lagos.

Although the number of casualties from the incidents are still being disputed, a number of injured persons from the scene have been confirmed, after weeks of protests calling for an end to police brutality.

There has been no responsibility taken by the army, which was indicted for the attack, which witnesses said continued into the next morning, Wednesday.

It took clamours from Nigerians, including from lawyer, Afe Babalola, former president and the administration's critic, Olusegun Obasanjo, former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, monarch and religious leaders, and the Senate before a presidential address came on Thursday.

However, some Nigerians were shocked when the president was mum on the chaos in Lagos and his lack of empathy for those who died in the process.

"You ask(ed) for (a) speech, you got the speech, and now you are speechless," Shehu Sani, a former senator tweeted.

You ask for speech,you got the speech and now you are speechless.

- Senator Shehu Sani (@ShehuSani) October 22, 2020

Former central bank deputy governor, Kingsley Moghalu, said he was "disappointed" by the speech as the president "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 "programs", " he tweeted.

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 "programs".

- Kingsley Moghalu (@MoghaluKingsley) October 22, 2020

Prior to the president's speech, his aides released statements on his behalf, and vice-president Yemi Osinbajo had released a terse statement on Twitter.

But many took exception to the president's silence since the shooting was reported on Tuesday, and his failure to clearly address the uncertainties around the shooting when he eventually spoke.

The closest he said was: "I am indeed deeply pained that innocent lives have been lost. These tragedies are uncalled for and unnecessary. Let me pay tribute to officers of the Nigeria Police Force who have tragically lost their lives in the line of duty."

Meanwhile, while calls by Nigerians for an address by the president were on, Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said himself has not spoken with the president since the shooting occurred.

Yet, Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo said he spoke with President Buhari.

Apart from the Lagos incident, in Zamfara State, 20 people were reportedly killed by bandits, and not less than six people were killed in an explosion in Niger State.

Yet, there was no statement from the president's office to condole with the victims immediately after the attacks. In the speech he read on Thursday, he was taciturn too.

NOT THE FIRST TIME

But this is not the first time the president would keep mum when uncertainties hover above the nation's landscape, amidst clamour for him to speak.

This year alone, the president has shown that twice.

First was at the height of the uncertainties that trailed the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country in February.

At the time, Nigeria's COVID-19 confirmed cases have within days reached 27, and there was anxiety in the country.

So there were calls in some quarters for the president to address the nation and instill hope in the citizens.

He got some stick for his silence, even as information minister Lai Muhammad said the time for a presidential address was not ripe.

Also, presidential publicist, Femi Adesina, at the time, downplayed the calls for the president's address, saying "it's a matter of style."

"If you go back to school you will remember in stylistic class we were told that is idiosyncratic, which means it differs from person to person," he told ChannelsTV at the time.

"The style that A adopts may not be the one that B adopts. There is no style we can call the style for everybody. Everybody is at liberty to adopt a style that suits him."

By late March, after Nigerians increasingly grew uncomfortable with the posture of the president, he bowed to pressure by addressing the nation in person, after the virus broke out in the country a month earlier.

But the president would yet again be reluctant to address the nation.

While the COVID-19 clamour lasted, a fatal explosion billowed at the Abule-Ado area of Lagos, killing over 20 people, grounding schools and other buildings.

The blast was caused by a leaky fuel facility of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, investigation by the BBC showed.

The ruins were described by Governor Sanwo-Olu as looking like a "war zone" and "a situation never seen before."

Residents in Lagos, in fact, likened the disaster to the bomb blast incident that razed Ikeja military cantonment, killing and displacing hundreds, and injuring thousands in January 2002.

Then, President Olusegun Obasanjo immediately visited the scene the next morning to commiserate with the victims and reiterate hope.

"There is the normal thing that we do, or that the military will have to do, which is when a situation like this occurs, the military must carry out an inquiry," Mr Obasanjo said at the time, in an attempt to douse the tension.

Nigeria also observed a day of mourning for victims of the explosions while government flags flew at half-mast.

However, when the Abule-Ado incident happened, President Buhari refused to visit the scene or the state.

He nonetheless condoled with the victims of the blast in a statement released by his office.

Meanwhile, a delegation of governors visited the scene.

Rather than the president addressing the nation or visiting the scene of the tragedy personally, Governor Sanwo-Olu instead flew to Abuja to show the president photos of the ruins, drawing widespread criticism.

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