Nigeria’s newly elected President, Muhammadu Buhari, is no stranger to power or leadership. Surprisingly, his past as a military Head of State of Nigeria from December 1983 to August 1985, after seizing power in a military coup d’état, was helpful rather than detrimental to his democratic bid for Nigeria’s presidency.
After three failed attempts at the nation’s highest office in 2003, 2007 and 2011, he was finally sworn-in as President on Friday, May 29, 2015. His speech at the inauguration ceremony included a direct appeal for Nigerians to sit up straight, something quite reminiscent of his commanding past as Nigeria’s military Head of State.
Buhari’s first address to the nation took place 32 years ago, and placed side by side, both addresses are quite similar in their authoritative tone, the challenges addressed, and the sense of urgency to tackle pressing issues. Some have even noted that President Buhari should just have repeated his 1983 speech at May 29 inauguration ceremony. After all, they argue, many of the issues raised in his 1983 speech are still the nation’s present reality. Others suggest that Buhari’s authoritarian past means his approach to leadership is outdated, but looking closely at the present state of Nigeria, it is hard to say whether Buhari is outdated, or if the issues plaguing Nigerian citizens remain entirely the same.
In both speeches, President Buhari identified the shortcomings of previous leaders:
1983: Buhari said: “The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society.”
2015: Buhari notes that Nigerian leaders appear to have misread the mission of the country’s founding fathers, and have “behaved like spoilt children, breaking everything and bringing disorder to the house.”
President Buhari’s disdain for corruption has remained a major tenant throughout his time as a Military Ruler, and in his three bids for presidency.
1983: Buhari stated that his administration will have zero tolerance for theft, “nor will it condone forgery, fraud, embezzlement, misuse and abuse of office and illegal dealings in foreign exchange and smuggling.”
2015: President Buhari mentions ‘pervasive corruption’ as one of the ‘enormous challenges’ his administration will tackle.
For a federation, a system of checks and balances— a component that has largely been missing in Nigeria’s history of governance—is integral to ensuring accountability, justice and equality.
1983: “However, little did the military realize that the political leadership of the Second Republic will circumvent most of the checks and balances in the Constitution and bring the present state of general insecurity.”
2015: “It is only when the three arms act constitutionally that government will be enabled to serve the country optimally and avoid the confusion all too often bedeviling governance today.”
In 1983 as it is today, Nigeria’s economic growth was affected by the detrimental impact of global oil price shocks.
1983: “As a result of our inability to cultivate financial discipline and prudent management of the economy, we have come to depend largely on internal and external borrowing to execute government projects with attendant domestic pressure and soaring external debts, thus aggravating the propensity of the outgoing civilian administration to mismanage our financial resources.”
2015: “With depleted foreign reserves, falling oil prices, leakages and debts, the Nigerian economy is in deep trouble and will require careful management to bring it round and to tackle the immediate challenges confronting us, namely: Boko Haram, the Niger Delta situation, the power shortages and unemployment, especially among young people.”
But despite ample similarities in both speeches, there are a few distinctions.
Now in its third iteration of democracy, Nigeria seems to have figured out how to conduct reasonably free and fair elections. Buhari, who once destroyed the democratic process, is now a champion of democratic institutions.
2015: “I would like to thank President Goodluck Jonathan for his display of statesmanship in setting a precedent for us … we have today a truly democratically elected government in place.”
Responsible for over 4000 deaths in Nigeria and the displacement of almost 2 million Nigerians, many consider Boko Haram’s encroachment in Northern Nigeria, neighboring Chad and Cameroon to be the main obstacle facing Nigeria, and President Buhari.
2015: “The most immediate is Boko Haram’s insurgency. Progress has been made in recent weeks by our security forces but victory cannot be achieved by basing the Command and Control Centre in Abuja. The command centre will be relocated to Maiduguri and remain until Boko Haram is completely subdued. But we cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents. This government will do all it can to rescue them alive.”
The popular saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” might be the perfect example of Buhari’s two speeches. But if he must get it right, the President must realise he needs the positive followership of Nigerians. However, they can only be good followers if and only if they easily understand what the President is up to; which is why we endorse the position of many who argue that he must open up now. The days of keeping the governed guessing belong to the old school of thought on governance.

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