President Buhari’s Tweets: An Explainer

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Over the last couple of months, it has felt like there’s an impending sense of doom. The wave of insecurity as embodied by the rise of kidnapping, vandalism and terrorism have contributed to this wave. This took a new life when President Buhari made use of his Twitter account to make disconcerting remarks.

What’s the cause of the alarm?
President Muhammadu Buhari took to his Twitter yesterday, Tuesday, to issue a warning to anyone or group taking a violent stance against his administration. He warned those responsible for the various attacks on the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that they’ll “soon have the shock of their lives.” However, that was just the appetizer.

The real cause of the current alarm is contained in the final tweet in the president’s thread. It reads: “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”

Nigerians read the above statement as a not-so-subtle threat to carry out the same genocidal violence that took place during the Civil War. It is perceived as a declaration of war on the Igbo people, and an effort to frighten other groups that might attempt to antagonize Buhari’s government.

Why do Nigerians feel threatened?
Week after week, at least one major report of insecurity surfaces in the Nigerian media. Nigerians have called for the government to rise to the occasion and combat these issues. Finally, the President spoke yesterday. His remarks, seemed targeted at the Southeast region. Crossed with the context of a President who pleaded with terrorists who abducted university students and has failed to muster any solution to the herdsmen crisis, his messaging can be viewed as discriminatory on ethnic grounds. This messaging also aligns with his government’s response to the #EndSARS protests where the government had no issues setting fire on peaceful protesters seeking an end to police brutality. It suggests that those tasked with providing intelligence reports to the administration do so in manipulative fashion channelling the coups that form the legacy of military rule presenting any dissent as being indicative of an attempt to overthrow his administration. 

President Buhari’s tweet comes shortly after the launch of Operation Restore Peace, a police and military effort to combat insurgency in the Southeast, from IPOB and ESN. The newly appointed acting Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba Alkali, has orders to do as he pleases to stop the so-called insurgents. Troops are being moved from Borno State to the Southeast for this purpose, and there are suggestions of the use of helicopters for the operation.

In all, it appears that the government is going all out in its battle against the separationist groups in the Southeast, than it ever has against terrorist organizations like Boko Haram. This fear is made more valid by the fact that the president also said: “In the area of security, we have changed the Service Chiefs and the Inspector-General, and we are demanding that they rise fully to the challenges confronting us.”

How have Nigerians reacted?
Nigerians on Twitter have been reporting the tweet to the platform, as a violation of one of its rules. Reporting the tweet has become a patriotic act to many people, who reminded Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, of the suspension of the former American president, Donald Trump, for less than what Buhari said.

What can we expect?
Whether or not Twitter suspends President Muhammadu Buhari’s account, he remains president of the country and his influence abounds. However, if there’s a breakout of state sanctioned violence particularly in the South East, the President’s words could be viewed as foreshadowing it. It also reinforces the feeling that there’s a larger inconsistency in enforcement of laws and that certain laws only apply to people from a certain part of the country.