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A slap in the face for Mr President

BY Ayodele AKINKUOTU

AFTER a seven-day retreat on his farm in Daura, Katsina State, President Muhammadu Buhari must be back in Abuja by now. The one week holiday should have given him some respite from the hurly burly of governance. Certainly, even in the best of times, running the affairs of Nigeria is an onerous task.
There is no doubt the job must have become more daunting, especially this year which has been laid prostrate globally on the socio-economic sphere by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. For our country, the challenges are more grave because they have been compounded by criminalities of all kinds, insurgency in the Northeast, banditry in the Northwest, kidnappings and robberies in the South.
That is aside the restiveness in the Niger Delta., which is the goose that lays the country’s golden eggs. Yet, while leaving Abuja for his home state, Buhari could not have believed that his government was about to be confronted by another security challenge from Boko Haram right in his backyard.
The nation woke up on the morning of Saturday, December 12 to learn that some students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara had been kidnapped. For a country where transparency in governance is an aberration, there is already confusion as to the number of students that were abducted. While the federal government claims 10, Katsina State government says it is 333, but the abductors put their own number at 523. It is a repetition of the dispute in figures that happened late November, when the same insurgents murdered farmers in Borno State. The official figure was 48; one of the survivors put the number at 78, because, according to him, there were still many bodies yet to be retrieved from the forest as at the time of the burial of his colleagues; but a United Nations agency said at least 110 farmers were killed.
In the 10 years of the insurgency, about 30,000 civilians are believed to have been killed by the insurgents. And hundreds of soldiers have paid the supreme sacrifice. Over two million people have been displaced. Many are in refugee camps, while a substantial number have become beggars in the Nation’s urban areas. The rising prices in foodstuffs have been attributed to farmers’ inability to cultivate their lands in peace because of insurgency.
What is amazing about the Kankara kidnapping is its brazenness. That the bandits could decide to strike on a weekend the Commander-in-Chief was enjoying his sleep some kilometres away from their target speaks loudly not only of their dare-devilry, but that the country’s security architecture has become impotent. This is not the first time they are giving Mr. President a slap in the face.
In the same Katsina, someone close to him was kidnapped not too long ago. So, as they get bolder by the day, the bandits are simply telling us that anybody is game in this business for ransom. They showed us a definitive example of this when they attacked the convoy of Governor Babagana Umara Zulum of Borno State twice within three days last September. Many people in the convoy, including policemen and soldiers, lost their lives in the encounters. If they had succeeded in overwhelming the security men guarding the governor, would they not have abducted him?
What the insurgents’ effrontery clearly indicates is that the 10-year war against insurgency seems to have become grounded. Rather than being on the offensive, the Nation’s gallant soldiers are now on the defensive. And for a Nation’s military to be in that stage in an unconventional war leaves much to be desired.
The impasse the nation is in today is not new. Under President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari’s predecessor in office, a large swathe of Borno State was captured by Boko Haram. Led by Abubakar Shekau, they even made Gwoza, a popular town in the state, the capital of their Caliphate. They were emboldened by the ease with which they kidnapped 276 female students of Chibok Secondary School. That was in April 2014. Six years later, while some of the students had regained their freedom, about a hundred of them are still with their abductors.
In fact the terrible insecurity in the land was the major albatross of the Jonathan administration. Buhari was in the forefront of the call for Jonathan’s resignation if he could not guarantee the security of Nigerians. And when Buhari decided to contest for President in 2015, his third attempt, his campaign was hinged on the promise to put an end to the crippling insecurity in the land.
Shortly after he assumed office, true to his words, the insurgents were flushed out of the 15 local governments in Borno where their word had become law. However, since those initial gains, the country has slipped back into that climate of fear, where kidnappings, robberies, and cold-blooded murder of innocent and law-abiding citizens have become the norm.
This state of perpetual siege has given rise to calls from all over the country for an overhaul of the security architecture. Top on the list of that overhauling is the demand from both laymen and security experts for the chiefs of staffs of the army, navy and airforce to be replaced. The incumbents in those positions have been there for five years. In the 15 years, 1999 -2015, that’s beginning from May 29, 1999, there were eight chiefs of army staff. But the incumbent, General Yusuf Buratai, and his colleagues, have been in office for five years, and still counting, thus becoming the longest serving service chiefs since 1999. Many of their juniors, some of who should have succeeded them, have retired from service.
One prominent Nigerian, who lately called the government’s attention to the deteriorating security situation in the country is the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar. At the quarterly meeting of the Nigeria Inter Religious Council, the Sultan highlighted the need for a serious dialogue to discuss insecurity in the country. According to him, “we have not run out of patriotic, distinguished Nigerians who can proffer solutions to the problem”. And Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State is of the view that the current military chiefs have been overwhelmed. Thus they are unable to bring something new to the table in the bid to revamp the war against Boko Haram.
Shortly after the massacres of the farmers in Borno, the House of Representatives requested the President to come to the National Assembly to brief the nation on what was happening. Initially, the President agreed. Twenty-four hours before he was due to appear, however, he changed his mind. Abubakar Malami, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, claimed that the lawmakers cannot summon the President.
With that development, many Nigerians could not but raise their eyebrows as to what is going on. Why would the President remain silent while criminals are on the rampage? Even if the lawmakers did not request him to brief the nation, why does he and his aides not deem it fit for him to so do to assuage the apprehension that has held the country by the jugular.
Buhari was elected in 2015 on his promise to change the poor security narrative, by rescuing Nigeria from the abysmal depth of despair it had found itself. While not a few thought that he performed poorly in his first term, his second term which is 19 months old is looking gloomier. Thus his two-term presidency, without any significant achievement to show for the eight years, may end up as a mere footnote in the Nation’s history.
What is amazing is the kind of asinine reasons given for the failures of the military in the war against insurgency. We have been treated to laughable postulations by government spokesmen on the inability of the military to procure equipment and arms. This is because some countries have allegedly refused to sell arms to Nigeria. So, if the West is hostile to us on the issue of arms, why not look elsewhere? Are Russia and China also our “enemies”? It is curious that insurgent groups like Boko Haram are able to purchase high-grade weapons, and a legitimate government with all the money budgeted for defence yearly is unable to do so.
What is not in doubt is that some people are certainly profiting from the chaos that has become second nature in the Nation’s security architecture. Or how do we explain what transpired in Abuja on Wednesday, December 16? Some groups, consisting of several social and religious groups from the 19 Northern states had gathered to deliberate on the insecurity situation in the country. Shortly before their deliberations started, some hoodlums stormed the venue and chased them out. Certainly, the godfathers of these thugs are part of the reasons why the Nation’s security architecture is comatose. So, where do we go from here? As he returns from his not so restful retreat, President Buhari needs to find the answers to the security challenges because the buck stops on his desk.
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