Open Letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on Nigeria’s 61st Independence Day
General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd)
President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
Federal Republic of Nigeria
We write to you as members of the National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity), an international social advocacy and human rights organisation founded in 1952.
We have chosen this medium to congratulate you and our fellow compatriots on Nigeria’s 61st Independence anniversary. As Nigerians, we have every reason to exult the reality that our country has survived despite the numerous forces of disintegration that have assailed its existence. Therefore, we join you and our fellow compatriots to celebrate the indomitable spirit of our founding fathers and to urge Nigerians in all walks of life to keep hope alive in our quest for a just and egalitarian society.
However, we wish to also use this medium to draw your attention to pertinent issues that demand your urgent attention in order to save our dear country from dying under your watch.
In your first independence address on October 1, 2015, you gave an inspiring speech and declared to Nigerians “My countrymen and women, every new government inherits problems. Ours was no different. But what Nigerians want are solutions, quick solutions not a recitation of problems inherited. “Accordingly, after consultations with the Vice President, senior party leaders and other senior stakeholders, I quickly got down to work on the immediate, medium-term and long-term problems which we must solve if we are to maintain the confidence which Nigerians so generously bestowed on us in the March elections.”
Sadly, Mr President, six years after you gave that speech, your actions and inactions have exacerbated the problems you inherited such that the Nigeria of today can hardly be recognized as the country you met as President in May, 2015. Some of the issues you need to address are listed below:
Four months before your Independence speech, in your inaugural address you made that famous quote, thus: “Having just a few minutes ago sworn on the Holy Book, I intend to keep my oath and serve as President to all Nigerians. I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.”
We want to make bold to say that you have not served Nigerians as a whole for the past six years. Many Nigerians have had cause to draw your attention to what they consider as brazen nepotism and parochialism which have characterized top level appointments and policy decisions in your administration. Nowhere is this more glaring than in top level appointments into the security agencies. You appear completely unperturbed that Nigeria’s security architecture is dominated by people of your ethnic stock and religion. Between 2015 and 2020, out of your eight security chiefs, only two (Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Naval) are from the South, the remaining six including Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Director- General DSS, Nigeria Security Adviser (NSA), Inspector General of Police and Commandant, NSCDC are from the North. Also from 2020 to date, only the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Air Staff are from the South, the remaining security chiefs including the NSA, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, IGP, DG, DSS, Commandant, NSCDC are from the North.
Your actions are in total breach of the Nigeria Constitution as stipulated in Section 14 (3) which states:“The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
The diversity of Nigeria which has been a rallying point and source of strength for our country has been desecrated and mismanaged by your administration. Not only have other parts of the country been marginalized under your administration, you have given undue advantage to your kinsmen above considerations of national unity.
Primordial Sentiments over National Interest
One sore case in point on this issue has to do with Fulani killer herdsmen that have killed, and maimed scores of Nigerians, and destroyed their farmlands in the middle belt and southern parts of Nigeria. The Global Index of Terrorism identified the Fulani killer herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world. Rather than distance yourself from their heinous activities and treat them as criminals that should be dealt with, you treat them with kid gloves. An independent researcher and analyst based in Brussels, Belgium, Jose Luiz Bazan in a report titled: ” Working Document - Fulani Militias Terror: Compilation of News (2017-2020) published in Nigerian newspapers, stated that between May 2017 and May 2, 2020, Fulani Killer herdsmen have carried out 654 attacks, killed 2,539 and kidnapped 253, Nigerians. None of these marauding criminals have been apprehended and prosecuted. This inaction by your government has emboldened them and fuelled their campaign of terror against innocent Nigerians.
The Southern Governors Forum, unable to understand the curious reticence of your administration in tackling the menace of rampaging Fulani herdsmen, passed a resolution to ban open grazing to minimise the perennial conflict between migrant herders and the people. However in reaction to their resolution and demonstration of your unbridled bias you ordered the reactivation of pre-Independence 368 grazing routes across 25 states used in Nigeria’s First Republic.
We are at a loss over your obsession with open-grazing, an outdated method of animal husbandry. Not only is your directive unconstitutional as it contravenes the Land Use Act of 1978 which vested land use management in the hands of the state Governors on behalf of the people, it can plunge the country into avoidable chaos. Your insistence on the open-grazing beggars belief and diminishes your status as the President of Nigeria.
As at the time you gave your first Independence speech in October 2015, Nigeria was battling with only Boko Haram which you claimed your administration has weakened. We acknowledge that Boko Haram has been significantly degraded even at that, Leah Sharibu, one of the 110 students kidnapped on February 19 2018 from Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Bulabulin Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State is still with her captors three years after she was abducted. Your government has failed to rescue her.
Regrettably, the terrorism menace highlighted by Boko Haram has been swiftly replaced by banditry which is now the order of the day. Repeated attacks on schools and particularly, the abduction of school children have taken a heavy toll on our education system especially in Northern Nigeria. Before now, according to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Funds (UNICEF), one in every five out-of-school children in the World is a Nigerian. The situation is getting worse going by the recent alarm of the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon who said the future of Nigeria is under threat. According to him 10 million children are already out of school and 1.3 million children have been impacted by attacks and abduction. He said 600,000 children are out of school just in the north east alone.
Kidnapping, as an enterprise, has spread across the country and violent non-state actors are on the loose operating without let or hindrance, whilst your security apparatus appears helpless. A recent report from SMB Intelligence, a research group, stated that 2,371 kidnap cases were reported in the first half of 2021. This makes it an average of 13 persons kidnapped daily across the country. It is worrisome to note that nowhere is safe in Nigeria today.
Both chambers of the National Assembly have separately passed a resolution calling on you to declare these bandits as terrorists. The National Assembly members’ majority of whom are members of your party are only re-echoing what many Nigerians have been urging you to do in the bid to tackle the issue of insecurity in the country.
Corruption/Living Condition/ Economic Crisis
It is apposite to point out to you that your anti-graft war which you promised with renewed vigour has since lost its steam. The United States in its 2020 Human Rights Report said of Nigeria, “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not consistently implement the law and government officials frequently engaged in corrupt practises with impunity.” The Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) in a letter signed by its Chairman, Suraju Olarenwaju titled: Reawakening the Anti-Corruption Drive” to your office on February 24 2021 listed corruption cases involving N900 billion which your government has since abandoned. Several top-ranking officials of your government including security chiefs have been accused of corruption but no effective action has been taken against them. Your administration’s anti-graft czar, Ibrahim Magu, former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was also accused of corruption, but he is yet to be dragged to the court. The massive corruption at the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) which you ordered a probe is still pending, so also is the case of stealing at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which the National Assembly investigated. It has been swept under the carpet. Transparency International 2020 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks Nigeria 149 out of 180 countries.
As Nigerian public officials loot the resources of the country, basic social amenities are not available to the people. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said 77 million Nigerians have no access to electricity. According to UNICEF, half of the 70 percent water sources available to Nigerians are contaminated. The global organisation also noted that 26.5 million Nigerian children are experiencing high or extremely high water vulnerability. Dr Osagie Ehanire, the Minister of Health in your cabinet disclosed that Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate which is 512 per 100,000 births is the worst in the world. As of today, the industrial action by National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has entered its 59th day because your government cannot be trusted to implement the agreement it willingly signed with its employees.
Worse still, the Human Development Indices in the country is depressing. Many Nigerian households find it difficult to feed with food inflation standing at 22.28 per cent. UNICEF reports that an estimated 2 million Nigerians suffer from acute malnutrition. It also disclosed that seven per cent of women of child bearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition. Many Nigerian youths are out of job and the unemployment rate is currently standing at 33.3 percent. Your social investment programmes are being mismanaged and are clearly not working. Your recent launch of a five-year national development plan which you said would lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, eighteen months to the end of your tenure shows the level of seriousness your administration attached to the plight of ordinary Nigerians since 2015 when you should have demonstrated your vision by unveiling the development plan.
Mr President, by October 1, 2022, you would be giving your last Independence speech as President and Nigerians would be hoping to have your score card. As we celebrate this year's Independence anniversary, it is time for you to think about the legacy you want to leave for Nigerians. We implore you to listen to all the voices calling on you to move against criminal elements in the country. The first step is to declare bandits as terrorists and stop the indefensible posture of your Presidency over the endless cycle of violence perpetrated by these mindless marauders.
Secondly, you must see yourself as a statesman and President of Nigeria by immediately jettisoning the idea of reactivating colonial grazing routes. You must lend your support to the ban on open grazing and fashion ways where the Federal Government and the various state governments especially in southern Nigeria would live in harmony with herders. To this end you must reinforce your directive to security operatives to arrest marauding herdsmen caught with guns and ensure their prosecution.
Also, it is not late to renew your war on corruption by ensuring all corruption cases involving officials and agencies in your administration are promptly investigated and those found culpable are arraigned in the Court of law to answer for their crimes. It is not enough for Nigerians to know you are not corrupt while officials of your administration, party members and those around you have allegations of corruption against them.
We have taken note of some infrastructural developments which your administration has achieved but you need to do more if Nigeria is to get out of the doldrums of underdevelopment.
In your address on March 20, 2016 to the National Economic Council retreat on the economy, you said, “Nigerians’ favourite talking point and butt of jokes is the power situation in our country. But, ladies and gentlemen, it is no longer a laughing matter. We must and by the grace of God we will put things right.” It is not too late to start making serious efforts in this regard. You need to fix the power problem of Nigeria before you leave office. The sure path to development is industrialization. It is impossible to lift people out of poverty by merely giving them cash handouts. Nigerians need to create wealth by manufacturing and availability of electricity is at the heart of Nigeria’s quest for development.
Like we have noted before, we want to reiterate that you have an ample opportunity as President to enthrone fiscal federalism by pursuing constitutional amendments with vigour in line with your electioneering promises. This would ensure just distribution of income, promote economic stability and enthrone efficient allocation of resources to federating units which ultimately benefits all citizens.
Majority of Nigerians are disillusioned and many have lost hope. They are clamouring for restructuring as promised by your party, which they believe rightly would bring us back to the path of greatness. Nigeria as presently constituted does not inspire the citizenry. Rather than clamp down on these voices calling for change and those of distressed Nigerians calling for responsive and compassionate leadership, it is time you give this yearning of Nigerians a serious thought and rise above primordial sentiments and stand for the interest of Nigeria. We hope you will summon the political will to do the right thing.