First speech on returning from his medical trip to London, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday expressed strong views on the country’s corporate existence and vowed zero tolerance for separatist movements and inflammatory statements as well as actions that threaten the unity and stability of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.
The president said that comments against the continued existence of Nigeria’s continued existence as one nation were “steps taken too far” and had “crossed our national red lines”.
President Buhari who spoke in a nationwide broadcast Monday morning, said “Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable,” declared Mr. Buhari. “We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood.”
The president’s remarks came amid secessionist struggle in the country’s east by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and the call for the Igbo living in the North to leave the region by some Northern groups.
Nigeria is a plural federal state, amalgamated by British fiat in 1914. But since gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria has continued to grapple with the challenge of nationhood and evolving common “Nigerianess” out of the various ethnic groups which constitute the country.
In an apparent move to reassure Nigerians living in places removed from their states of origin, Mr. Buhari stressed the right of every Nigerian to reside and conduct business anywhere within the country.
“Every Nigerian has the right to live and pursue his business anywhere in Nigeria without let or hindrance. I believe the very vast majority of Nigerians share this view.
“Nigerians are robust and lively in discussing their affairs, but I was distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation. This is a step too far,” said the president.
Apart from groups seeking outright disintegration and forced ejection of other groups, there are also wide calls to restructure Nigeria’s federalism to devolve more powers to the states and allow them greater access to revenues and control of resources.
Pro-restructuring campaigners say the federal government has more powers than necessary, domineering control of resources as well as share of national revenue.
The current system, they argue, apart from affecting the efficiency of the federal government, given that it has too much powers, is also skewed against the states in terms of resources within their control and revenue accessible.
The ruling All Progressives Congress recently constituted a committee led by Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, to advise the party on “restructuring and true federalism.”
Although Mr. Buhari acknowledged concerns and grievances nursed by various groups, he stated that national discourse could only be entertained by two “legitimate and appropriate bodies” – the National Assembly and the Council of State.
“This is not to deny that there are legitimate concerns. Every group has a grievance. But the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of co-existence.
“The National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse. The national consensus is that, it is better to live together than to live apart.”
The National Assembly in July voted against a proposal to devolve more powers to the states.
On Boko Haram and other security threats, Mr. Buhari charged security and military agencies to work harder to ensure the country is safe.
“I am charging the Security Agencies not to let the successes achieved in the last 18 months be a sign to relax. Terrorists and criminals must be fought and destroyed relentlessly so that the majority of us can live in peace and safety.
“Therefore, we are going to reinforce and reinvigorate the fight not only against elements of Boko Haram which are attempting a new series of attacks on soft targets; kidnappings, farmers versus herdsmen clashes, in addition to ethnic violence fuelled by political mischief makers. We shall tackle them all.”
He continued: “Finally, dear Nigerians, our collective interest now is to eschew petty differences and come together to face common challenges of economic security, political evolution and integration as well as lasting peace among all Nigerians.
“I remain resolutely committed to ensuring that these goals are achieved and maintained. I am so glad to be home.”
Mr. Buhari did not volunteer a statement on the condition of his health while the broadcast lasted. Many Nigerians have asked him to disclose his true state of health and what it cost the public to treat him abroad.
Since he came to power in 2015, Mr. Buhari has handed over power to his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, four times, while traveling to treat himself.