In a tone heavily reflective of the mood of the nation and a seeming renewal of spirit, President Muhammadu Buhari, on Friday, during a nationwide address marking Nigeria’s 61st independence anniversary celebration, appealed to all Nigerians with legitimate grievances to embrace amicable settlement without spilling anyone’s blood.
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The president, who identified the reckless utterances of some people as the trigger for the increasing violence and loss of lives, insisted that the unity of the country was not negotiable, regardless of the misgivings of secessionists.
Buhari’s whose independence broadcast was hinged on unity and peace, however, charged the media to be responsible in their reportage and be mindful of the kind of people they give voice.
But in a sense, which showed the president was not taking any prisoners as far as separatist agitations were concerned, Buhari revealed that security operatives were already closing in on some of the sponsors of secessionist agitators, including a current member of the National Assembly, whom he claimed security has identified as funding Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu.
Relatedly, the president has ordered a conditional lifting of the suspension of Twitter, a micro-blogging giant, banned some months ago after it deleted a tweet by the president under circumstances considered impudent to the person and office of the president.
His words: “As a Government, we are ready to arrest and prosecute all persons inciting violence through words or action. Our resolve for a peaceful, united and one Nigeria remains resolute and unwavering. That said, our hope is not to fight for peace. We can always settle our grievances peacefully without spilling any blood.
“I will therefore take this opportunity, on this special day that symbolises the unity and oneness of our great nation, to ask all Nigerians to embrace peace and dialogue, whatever your grievances. The seeds of violence are planted in people’s heads through words. Reckless utterances of a few have led to losses of many innocent lives and destruction of properties.”
The president further appealed to Nigerians across the country to maintain a positive outlook, unified front and embrace peace and dialogue, to express legitimate grievances in the spirit of the nation’s independence celebrations.
In the lengthy anniversary speech, Buhari, who spoke on several issues bordering on insecurity, economy and COVID-19, among others, expressed his government’s readiness to take decisive actions against secessionist agitators and their sponsors, who threaten national security.
He described the discoveries by security as a clear example of how people abandon their national leadership positions for their selfish gains, saying, instead of preaching unity, they were funding and misleading the youth to conduct criminal acts that sometime led to unfortunate and unnecessary loss of lives and property.
According to him, the seeds of violence were planted in people’s heads through words and reckless utterances, leading to loss of many innocent lives and destruction of properties, adding that the so-called leaders run abroad to hide, while the innocent youths were misled and left in the streets to fight for their senseless and destructive causes.
“Such unfiltered and unsubstantiated lies and hate speeches by a few evil persons must be stopped. Our media houses and commentators must move away from just reporting irresponsible remarks to investigating the truth behind all statements and presenting the facts to readers.
“We must all come out and speak against the lies being peddled. At this point, I would want to sincerely appreciate the large number of our Traditional, Religious and Community leaders as well as other well-meaning Nigerians, who in their various for a, are openly spreading the message of peaceful co-existence and conflict settlement through dialogue in their respective communities.
“Nigeria is for all of us. Its unity is not negotiable. And its ultimate success can only be achieved if we all come together with a common goal of having peace and prosperity for our nation. We shall continue to work on dialogue-based solutions to address legitimate grievances. But we remain ready to take decisive actions against secessionist agitators and their sponsors, who threaten our national security.
“The recent arrests of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Adeyemo, and the ongoing investigations being conducted have revealed certain high-profile financiers behind these individuals. We are vigorously pursuing these financiers including one identified as a serving member of the National Assembly,” he said.
Buhari claimed his administration was gradually winning the war against insecurity, had noted that in the North East region alone, over 8,000 Boko Haram terrorists had laid down their arms.
He expressed optimism that acquired fighter jets, which have started to arrive in Nigeria, would positively impact the security operations in all parts of the country, stressing that his government would continue, in collaboration with international partners, to improve the security architecture, reduce enabling environment for criminality to thrive and eliminate opportunities for terrorism financing.
“As our economy continues to open after the COVID-19 related lockdowns, we have also seen the resurgence of insecurity in certain parts of the country. In the last four months, the gallant men and women of the military and security agencies have made tremendous progress in addressing these new security challenges. We are taking the fight to our enemies from all angles and we are winning. In the North East region alone, over eight thousand Boko Haram terrorists have surrendered.
“To support our surge approach to fighting banditry, the Nigerian Armed Forces have recruited over 17,000 personnel across all ranks. Furthermore, I have also approved for the Nigerian Police Force to recruit 10,000 police officers annually over the next six years. I am also pleased to note that most of the Air Force platforms we acquired over the past three years have started to arrive in Nigeria. These will positively impact our security operations in all parts of the country.
“That said, our hope is not to fight for peace. We can always settle our grievances peacefully without spilling any blood. We must all come out and speak against the lies being peddled. At this point, I would want to sincerely appreciate the large number of our Traditional, Religious and Community leaders as well as other well-meaning Nigerians who, in their various fora are openly spreading the message of peaceful co-existence and conflict settlement through dialogue in their respective communities.
“Nigeria is for all of us. Its unity is not negotiable. And its ultimate success can only be achieved if we all come together with a common goal of having peace and prosperity for our nation,” he said.
On the controversial ban of Twitter, the President disclosed that he has directed that the ban be conditionally lifted.
He said following the suspension of Twitter operations, Twitter Inc. had reached out to the Federal Government of Nigeria to resolve the impasse.
Buhari explained that the presidential committee set up to interface with Twitter had addressed a number of key issues, including National Security and Cohesion, Registration, Physical presence and Representation; Fair Taxation, Dispute Resolution; and Local Content.
He further said, “As we embrace the digital economy in Nigeria, we are fully aware of the prospects and the perils. Our policies have been developed to enable Nigerians to take advantage of the prospects and avoid the perils of digital technologies. Social media is a very useful platform that has enabled millions of Nigerians to connect with loved ones, promote their businesses, socialise, and access news and other information.
“However, recent events have shown that the platform is not just an innocuous platform for information dissemination. Rather, some users have misused the platform to organise, coordinate, and execute criminal activities, propagate fake news, and promote ethnic and religious sentiments.
“To address these negative trends, the Federal Government of Nigeria suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria on June 5, 2021 to allow the government put measures in place to address these challenges. Following the extensive engagements, the issues are being addressed and I have directed that the suspension be lifted but only if the conditions are met to allow our citizens continue the use of the platform for business and positive engagements.
“As a country, we are committed to ensuring that digital companies use their platform to enhance the lives of our citizens, respect Nigeria’s sovereignty, cultural values and promote online safety.”
Buhari, who chided his critics on the issue of performance, said they misdiagnose incremental progress as stagnation, noting that, despite having meagre resources, his government has achieved a lot in the last six years on many fronts such as infrastructure, social care, governance, Nigeria’s image and influence in Africa and the international community.
His said, “It is with full gratitude to God that today, we celebrate Nigeria’s sixty first Independence Anniversary. For 1st of October 1960 to happen, all hands were on deck. East, West, North – all came together to celebrate freedom. Today, should not only serve as a reminder of the day the British handed over the reins of power to Nigerians, but also unified Nigerians from all ethnic groups, religions and regions.
“Today, despite the challenges we face, most Nigerians still maintain the spirit of 1st October. That positive outlook and determination to make Nigeria a peaceful and prosperous nation. It is due to this collective attitude that Nigeria doggedly continues to remain a united and indivisible nation.
“Fellow Nigerians, the past eighteen months have been some of the most difficult periods in the history of Nigeria. Since the civil war, I doubt whether we have seen a period of more heightened challenges than what we have witnessed in this period. As we begin to celebrate our sixty one years as a nation, we need to be conscious that Nigeria does not start and end with the federal government.
“This country is a great collective, where government at all arms and levels as well as the private sector, and more importantly individuals, have a role to play. In particular, security is a bottom to top undertaking. Joining hands and hearts together would enable us to secure ourselves and our country.
“I fully understand the anxiety of many Nigerians on the inability of this country to go beyond a never-ending potential for becoming a great nation to an actually great one. A lot has been achieved in the last six years on many fronts: in infrastructure, social care, governance, Nigeria’s image and influence in Africa and the international community.
“But critics misdiagnose incremental progress as stagnation. Since coming to power, this administration has tackled our problems head-on in spite of the meagre resources. No government since 1999 has done what we have done in six years to put Nigeria back on track. We shall continue to serve the country, listen to all and protect our democracy and country.”
Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu in Abuja