I would like to thank my colleague, Professor Tam David-West for considering me worthy of writing a book on. Let me tell this audience quite honestly that the publication of this book has come to me as a bolt from the blue.
Somehow I missed the potted version serialized in The Sun newspapers in April 2007 until last week. I have not had any input and I have not seen an advanced copy. This must be unusual in biography writing, but then Professor David-West is an unusual person-in the best sense of the term.
I first came to know Professor David-West when I discussed with a former Military Governor of Rivers State General Zamani Lekwot looking for a suitable person for a cabinet appointment. I was impressed when told about his performance as Commissioner of Education in Rivers State. We made him Minister of Petroleum Resources, a job he retained even after I myself was removed from office. My impression of him at the Federal Executive Council meetings was a man who was outspoken and fearless. He spoke his mind and contributed to the best of his ability.
Since then I have never lost touch with Professor David-West and over the years I have come to regard him as a close friend and a public officer with whom I share broadly an outlook of public service and social responsibility. Thank you Tam!
Chairman of the occasion, Your Highness, the Alaafin of Oyo since I cannot speak about myself or about the book, I would like, with your permission; to speak briefly, about two very current topics of discussion among all responsible Nigerians, namely free and fair elections and about opposition in a democracy.
In 2007, the government set up an Electoral Reforms Committee. Many people doubted the sincerity of government and saw the exercise as a ploy to deflect criticism of the deeply flawed exercise – an election that brought it to office. The cynics may be proved right. The committee has submitted its report to the government. The government set a White Paper drafting Committee headed by a Cabinet Minister. According to reports, the draft white paper, endorsed the Panel’s proposal. Curiously, another Committee under another Cabinet Minister, significantly the Justice Minister was set up to yet undertake another review of the draft white paper. This review asked for the return of the status quo. In plain language, the government is set to reject the recommendations of the Electoral Reform Committee!!
Last week, the Federal Executive Council was split and no decision could be made. The White Paper is about to be rigged!!! This puts to rest the sincerity of the government.
In the course of the tortuous court process spanning 20 months overwhelming evidence was presented before the courts – evidence that had convinced three Supreme Court justices to rule the election as invalid – that the Constitution and the Electoral Laws were violated with reckless impunity. The Electoral Act 2006 was honoured more in the breach than in the observance. The infamous INEC simply ignored the Constitution, the Electoral Act and all propriety and decency.
Your Excellencies, Your Highnesses how can you reform what you have not tested and tried?
Does anyone think with the kind of INEC we have reform of any law is the solution to the problem? It is the reform of the people in Government and in INEC which the country requires not any new law, act or regulation.
At the same time and by the same token there have lately been rumblings from prominent PDP members making grave threats against the opposition. Chairman of the PDP was reported to have said repeatedly that his Party would rule Nigeria for 60 years! The Governor of Jigawa State was quoted by newspapers as saying they will crush the opposition! A Minister of State chipped in with a threat to deal with the opposition! Such raucous language is entirely un-called for and shows that spokesmen for the PDP are ignorant of the system of government the country is running.
The right to opposition is as central to a democracy as the right to free expression, free association, free and fair elections and separation of powers. It is not a crime to be in opposition but it is a crime to threaten to “crush” dissent.
Mr. Chairman, phrases like “No vacancy in Aso Rock”, “We will rule Nigeria for 60 years”, “we will crush the opposition”, “We will deal with the opposition” are building blocks of a house which will surely collapse.
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Your Highnesses, all of us in public life whether office holders or not have a duty to preserve peace and the legacy left by our great leaders. These outstanding men and women worked day and night to build this country.
If we cannot build on what they have achieved, we have a duty, at least, to try to preserve what they have left behind. Our country’s progress, evolution and integration is more important than a single person’s ambition or a group’s desire to hold on to power.
Mr. Chairman, I appeal to Nigerian politicians to change our ways: let us resolve to work the democratic system. INEC should be efficient and impartial; the Armed Forces and Police should be neutral in discharging their duties; political parties should ensure internal democracy within the parties with primary elections free, fair and transparent; the judiciary should avoid corruption and unprofessional conduct. That way our democracy will thrive and Nigeria will return to the path of greatness.
I raise these issues, not because I am involved. Or that simply I am partisan. I raise them because I fought for the unity and progress of this our great but unfortunate country. At the root of democracy is liberty. The denial of liberty is the most fundamental denial of justice. Let me quote the opt repeated but an apt saying of the social reformer Shehu Usman Dan Fodio: “a kingdom can endure with unbelief but it cannot endure with injustice”. The battle for social justice is not just for me, or the opposition, but a challenge to all Nigerians. Each and everyone of us has a duty to stand up and speak for justice. The first principle of justice in a democracy is the right of the citizens to freely choose their leaders. This can only happen if elections are free and fair, not according to INEC or a bare majority of the Supreme Court. They must be free and fair by all counts and in all senses.
SPEECH BY GENERAL MUHAMMADU BUHARI ON THE OCCASION OF LAUNCHING OF THE BOOK “WHO REALLY IS GENERAL BUHARI?” BY PROFESSOR T. DAVID-WEST, INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, VICTORIA ISLAND, LAGOS ON 9TH MARCH 2009