By Dirisu Yakubu
Renowned Professor of Political Science, Bolaji Akinyemi has warned writers of President Muhammadu Buhari speeches to be mindful of the implication of what they dish out for public consumption, particularly as it concern the international community.
Akinyemi who stated this in a Breakfast programme, the Morning Show on Arise Television also cautioned the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai to guide against antagonizing the country’s local and foreign audience when issuing press releases to explain the position of the military.
The former Minister of External Affairs spoke against the backdrop of the controversy in the reported shootings of protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate allegedly by uniformed soldiers, stressing that the reaction by Mr. President to the concern raised by the international community was far from the expected.
The President had in his address to Nigerians in the wake of the protests that later turned violent in some cities said, ”To our neighbours in particular and members of the international community, many of whom have expressed concern about the ongoing developments in Nigeria, we thank you and urge you all to seek to know all the facts available before taking a position or rushing to judgement and making hasty pronouncements.”
Reacting to that jibe by the President, Professor Akinyemi said: “I don’t think the President’s speech is helpful when a President decides to demonize the international community and tell them basically to either mind their business or that they don’t know what they are talking about. Invariably and because of technology, the international community knows what he is talking about.
“I will not be surprised if the United States of America, USA through its satellite has videos of what happened at Lekki Toll Gate that night. I remember during the first Gulf war, the American Chief of Staff telling the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA to turn the camera on to one of their satellites around because he wanted to see precisely what was happening in Iraq, in a particular area and they did (real time).
“Even if you want to disagree with the international community, it is good to do so in a civil way. If I were writing that speech, I wouldn’t have written it that way.”
On the response to the Lagos incident by the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, Professor Akinyemi had this to say: “Let me also expand my comment to cover the lack of civility by the statement released to the public by the Chief of Army Staff. I have been dealing with military officers of General level. I didn’t serve under General Yakubu Gowon but I interacted with him. I interacted with Generals (Murtala) Muhammed, TY Danjuma, my boss, Ibrahim Babangida. I am used to civility in the speech by the Generals in the Nigerian Army. I found the tone of that speech offensive,” adding that “even if you want to put the views of the military across, there are ways to do so without offending your readers or listeners.
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“Nigeria should know that it is dealing with the international community as well as the domestic community. You are dealing with educated and civilized people. Those who represent us or speak on our behalf should watch their language,” he added.
The Protests in Perspective
“Nigeria is both lucky and unlucky. Nigeria is lucky in the sense that our own crisis came in the season of protests. Black lives matter protests all over the world, protests in Thailand, Chile, Kirghistan as well as Guinea. This means that for the world, it will not perceive Nigeria’s protest as an aberration. It will not regard Nigeria as a bad boy within the international system. That is the good part.
“The bad part is that after 12 days, there were shootings in Nigeria. Thailand protests and demonstrations have been going on for about a month; Kirghistan’s have been going on for about two months and there have been no shootings. So, we’ve got the awkward position in which Nigeria finds itself. My own reading of the international communities’ assessment of Nigeria is that they don’t believe the protesters started the violence and I think they are right in that,” he further noted
Nigeria’s possible culpability
For the revered diplomat, “This (protests/ shootings) will not affect Nigeria’s standing simply because Nigeria is still perceived as a regional player that has sufficient capability to impose its views and will in West Africa. Sooner or later, we are going to be involved in what is going on in Guinea, following the rubbish which they have just gone through which they called Presidential elections. One of the contradictions which we still teach our students happened under General Sani Abacha. Here was a brutal dictator trying to re-introduce democracy in Sierra Leone and the world allowed him to do so because the objective in Sierra Leone was what the world wanted and so, they were prepared to let him get away with it. And we often get this kind of confusion and contradictions in international relation where the bad guy often goes ahead to do the right thing internationally, not domestically.”
Is youth negligence in governance the reason for these uprisings?
“I don’t like narratives that start in the middle. Nigeria at different times in its history had always been ruled by the youths. The first generation of leaders- Sardauna, Balewa, Awolowo, Azikiwe, Aminu Kano, were all in their 30s when they started. Balewa was Prime Minister around the age of 35, Sardauna was in his 30s when he became Premier of the North, Awolowo was in his 30s when he became Premier of the West and Zik was in his 30s when he became Premier of the East. How old was Aguiyi Ironsi? Probably in his early 40s but when Yakubu Gowon came in, he was in his early 30s. When Murtala Mohammed came in, he was in his 30s because I used to crack a joke with him that ‘we were about the same age sir’ and you know, typical military man, he will tell me to shut up. ‘You are a civilian younger brother,’ and that makes all the difference because I was 33, and I think he was 34.
“We didn’t really know how old General Obasanjo was during his first coming but he probably was in his 40s. In 1999 when we came back to civilian rule, how old was Donald Duke? How old was Tinubu, Segun Osoba and other governors? They were either early 40s or mid 40s. It is only this dispensation that we can talk of old people ruling Nigeria, “ Akinyemi stressed.
Like the famed Professor noted, the utterances of Mr. President are not likely to hurt Nigeria internationally for now but his counsel in the use of language remains food for thought for the President’s speech writers.