Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari used his Independence Day address Tuesday to reiterate a call he made upon becoming president for Nigerians to abandon their “lawless habits,” and “exercise restraint” in complaining about politics.
Buhari also made a nationwide call to fight widespread corruption in the Nigerian government and its related industries, and applauded the military for having successfully “combatted the scourge” of Boko Haram.
Nigeria celebrates its Independence Day on October 1, leaving the orbit of British colonial rule on that day in 1960.
Buhari has claimed full defeat of Boko Haram on multiple occasions since he took office in 2015 on a mandate to destroy the jihadist terrorist group. He was reelected in 2019 and has since continued to insist that Boko Haram has been defeated despite the continuing prevalence of jihadist attacks. Buhari’s military leaders contend that those currently committing acts of terror are not Boko Haram members, but members of the Islamic State – somehow different despite the fact that Boko Haram pledged allegiance to Islamic State “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015.
“In the past four years, the majority of Nigerians have committed to change for the better,” Buhari said on Tuesday, applauding the country for re-electing him. “Indeed, this administration was re-elected by Nigerians on a mandate to deliver positive and enduring change – through maintaining our national security; restoring sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development; and fighting corruption against all internal and external threats.”
“As I stated four years ago, ‘Change does not just happen. We must change our lawless habits, our attitude to public office and public trust,” he noted. “Simply put, to bring about change, we must change ourselves by being law-abiding citizens.”
Buhari vowed to commit to “a culture of Good Governance,” and claimed his administration had done all it could to fight corruption in its ranks “by investigating and prosecuting those accused of embezzlement and the misuse of public resources.” He warned that the “blight of corruption is fighting back,” and he needed every Nigerian citizen to fight back by notifying police of any inappropriate activity.
Buhari also urged Nigerians to temper their criticism of the government, implying that political dissent could lead to violence.
“I reiterate my call for all to exercise restraint, tolerance and mutual respect in airing their grievances and frustrations,” he said. “Whilst the ongoing national discourse on various political and religious issues is healthy and welcome, we must not forget the lessons of our past – lessons that are most relevant on a day such as this.”
“The path of hatred and distrust only leads to hostility and destruction. I believe that the vast majority of Nigerians would rather tread the path of peace and prosperity, as we continue to uphold and cherish our unity,” Buhari said.
On Boko Haram, Buhari took a moment to thank “our gallant men and women in arms” and allies that have offered military aid. He did not reiterate his claim that Boko Haram no longer exists, which his spokesman Garba Shehu most recently made in August.
“The position of the Nigerian government is that the Boko Haram terrorism has been degraded and defeated. The real Boko Haram we know is defeated,” Shehu said then. “What we have now is a mixture of remnants of the Boko Haram, fugitive criminals…[and jihadis in Northern Africa’s Maghreb reigon] together with West African terrorists bonding together.”
Nigerian Army Chief of Staff Tukur Buratai has similarly claimed that Boko Haram attacks do not represent Boko Haram, but rather a wing of the Islamic State founded by Boko Haram terrorists. This more recent argument is more nuanced than the 2015 claim by Buhari on the BBC that Nigeria had “won the war” against the group.
Boko Haram once again burned down Chibok village – home to the nearly 300 girls abducted in 2014 – in September.
Buhari rounded out his speech with promises to invest in education, healthcare, and children’s programs, noting that Nigeria has one of the world’s highest birth rates.
The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) did not heed Buhari’s call to temper its criticism of his government. The speech, the party said in a statement, proved that Buhari is “in no position to deliver a credible, acceptable and satisfactory independence address.”
“The party regretted that President Buhari had no forceful reassurances on the challenge of escalated insecurity under his watch,” the PDP asserted. “He had no clear-cut and operable blueprint to revamp our economy, which his administration wrecked in a period of four years, resulting in so much hardship and despondency that Nigerians now resort to suicide and slavery abroad as options.”
The United States issued a statement supporting Buhari and all Nigerians on their independence day Tuesday.
“The United States and Nigeria are working together to advance our shared goals of strengthening governance, countering corruption, enhancing trade and investment, furthering development, increasing food security, and improving public health,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Together, we remain steadfast partners seeking to stop violent insurgencies and restore safe, secure livelihoods for those affected by the scourge of Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa. As Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria is a leader in the region, on the continent, and in the world.”