Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari broke his nine-day silence on Thursday night with an address to the nation that made no reference to Tuesday’s deadly military attack on peaceful anti police-brutality protesters.
Instead, Buhari, a former 1980s military dictator who was elected into office in 2015, threatened any further protests and denounced activists for spreading “deliberate falsehood and misinformation through the social media.”
“I must warn those who have hijacked and misdirected the initial, genuine and well-intended protest of some of our youths in parts of the country, against the excesses of some members of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS),” he said without offering any evidence to support this claim.
He continued: “In the circumstances, I would like to appeal to protesters to note and take advantage of the various well-thought-out initiatives of this administration designed to make their lives better and more meaningful, and resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy. For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and the law and order situation. Under no circumstances will this be tolerated.”
The president devoted most of his address to listing what he saw as his government’s achievements in tackling poverty. (According to Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics, unemployment in the country has tripled under Buhari’s administration.) He also claimed that the ongoing protests were a “play to mislead the unwary within and outside Nigeria into unfair judgement and disruptive behaviour,” before insisting that he had already met the demands of the demonstrators and implying that his administration's kindness was being taken for granted.
“Both our deeds and words have shown how committed this administration has been to the wellbeing and welfare of citizens, even with the steadily dwindling revenues, and the added responsibilities and restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “The promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests.”
The president also used his address to caution foreign governments not to rush to any judgements, in a sign that Buhari is feeling pressure from the international community.
“To our neighbours in particular, and members of the international community, many of whom have expressed concern about the ongoing development in Nigeria, we thank you and urge you all to seek to know all the facts available before taking a position,” Buhari said.
For almost two weeks, millions of protesters across Nigeria have taken part in peaceful demonstrations against Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)—a unit of the Nigerian police force that has been accused of alleged extrajudicial killings and the indiscriminate extortion of young people. Now, they have transformed into broader demonstrations against general police brutality and the Nigerian government.
The protests turned deadly on Tuesday night when the Nigerian military opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in Lagos, and videos showed protestors singing the national anthem while being shot at by security forces.
In his final statement, Buhari added that “This government respects and will continue to respect all the democratic rights and civil liberties of the people, but it will not allow anybody or groups to disrupt the peace of our nation.”