The big boys of Borno are fighting over contracts and the family head is slumbering away in his castle. Emperor Nero did exactly the same when the great fire of 64 AD swept through Rome. For six days, the fire raged without control, sparing only four of Rome’s fourteen districts. But while the blaze was having its way and devastating the people, the leader had no time for his duties; he was busy playing music in a villa of insouciance 35 miles away. Today again, Nigeria’s Rome is burning and our strongman is fiddling on his American rocking chair, picking his teeth.
Borno, where the Villa combatants hail from, is the luckiest state in Nigeria– forget the ten-year-old Boko Haram war there. That war is not a problem; it will end one day. Apart from producing all the powerful men in Muhammadu Buhari’s Nigeria, Borno is also the ancestral home of the president himself. This is not just about Buhari’s mum, Zulaihat, being directly from Kukawa, close to Lake Chad. You remember how Fatima, daughter of Alhaji Mamman Daura, put the paternal roots last year? She wrote about President Buhari’s brother, who was her own grandad: “Alhaji Dauda Daura (Alhaji Babba), the first Durɓin Daura …was of Kanuri ancestry; after an infamous family feud, his great grandparents and other family members migrated from Kukawa in northern Borno to Mirriah in Niger Republic, with some of them finally settling in Daura.»
This should give you a clue as to why our president stocks his regime with Borno strongmen and trusts them absolutely. Whatever they do, they can never be wrong — because blood is very obviously thicker than water.
We should be worried. Why? When the de facto pilot is deeply asleep and very ambitious flight officers struggle midair for the control of the cockpit, their passengers should learn to say their last prayers. I have in mind the leaked tragic memos from the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno. In the first leaked memo, the author accused the president›s Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, of usurping the security and defence powers of President Muhammadu Buhari. The memo, its leakage, references, form, content and context tell us that on this plane, the pilot is absent in body and soul, capacity and competence. Because the crew members are aware of the dreamland trance the pilot is, and because they know the benefits of exercising abdicated presidential powers, the cockpit is in turmoil. There is a deadly struggle for control and influence — and for the consequential benefits.
I pay particular attention to paragraph one of the memo: «References A and B were sent in response to the request for presidential intervention to sustain internal security operations of the police within the shortest possible time. However, the contents of the two references were at variance with Mr President’s verbal directives. Consequently, ONSA scrutinized the documents further and sought clarification from Mr President who has directed that Reference B be disregarded by all parties as it was sent without his endorsement.»
The ‹Reference B› here is a State House memo reference number «SH/COS/26/5/A/2609 dated 26 November 2019.» I pay more particular attention to the last sentence of the first paragraph above: «Mr President …has directed that Reference B be disregarded by all parties as it was sent without his endorsement.» What this means is that a security order was given by someone in the name of the Commander-in-Chief, who did not give such an order and who has found out that such an infraction occurred and has done nothing other than asking that the commanded should ignore the illegal order. And that was two months ago — the memo was written on December 9, 2019 and leaked on February 17, 2020. Today is February 24, 2020. There has been no consequences for whoever took over the presidential powers invested in the Commander-in-Chief by the Nigerian people. There will be none. It is a family feud, a regime of anything goes.
This government of hemorrhage endangers all. We complain that everyday our military loses to terrorists. Why won›t it? War historian, Rupert Mathews, would throw his ruthless quote at the idiocy of our system. «Any fool can lose a battle. All you need to have is a weaker army than your opponent,» he said. And what faster way can an army lose its strength than having infighting as its operational strategy? You know that a house has ceased to be a home of safety when it soaks everywhere with leaks. How did that NSA memo get out? The National Security Adviser is not one of the ten-a-kobo ‹special advisers› to the president. His mandate is wider than even those of all other security chiefs put together. He is the keeper of national security secrets. He «serves as the chief adviser to the president on national security issues…and participates in the meetings of the National Security Council, and other deliberations on security matters.» That is the man whose secret memos flew about last week and were read everywhere, including possibly in Sambisa forest. And everywhere is calm as if it is normal to fight naked in the marketplace. We are not a normal people.
When our Fulani president was stocking his Villa and his security house with ‹his› people, the argument was that competence and loyalty were the sole issues he considered. And so, his Chief of Staff, the NSA and the Chief of Army Staff – with several others – were drawn from the same state. These are the men running our affairs today the way Fuji House of Commotion is run. They are at war with one another over powers and resources that are not theirs. Of course, they are free to fight raw and put themselves to shame exactly like the pugilist oba and his land-selling brothers in Osun State did last week. But are the president’s men also free to endanger others who share the Nigerian space with them? My people have some very cavalier, offhand sayings on ethnic relations in Nigeria: Gàmbàrí pa Fulani, kò l’éjó ní’nú (that a Gambari/Hausa man kills a Fulani man should not attract a case/trial). They also say that they have no objection to a Gambari singing waka as long as he does not attempt to use his songs to praise their mothers. But the nation is at war and people of all states die daily while Nero drools and his courtiers bicker over who among them sits on his cold throne. The enormous human and material cost of insecurity, and particularly of the Boko Haram war, to all of us won’t permit us to dismiss this feud as one between a Kanuri and a Kanuri or a sibling rivalry, a battle between errant Villa siblings struggling to inherit the cows of an absent father.
We have seen the competence of the president in the team he assembled. We have felt the proficiency and loyalty of the president’s men clearly in the collapse of the system. Or, maybe we should ask ‘them’ to define those terms for us so that they are not misjudged. Maybe we are not even being fair to these gentlemen. They may actually be doing us a favour by filling the gaps in the hollow life of our nation. The rarity of an incipient void, Aristotle argues, attracts that which fills it immediately. Indeed, as held by François Rabelais, nature abhors vacuum — Natura abhorret vacuum. Should we not rather direct our anger (and query) at a president who draws the benefits of his office without corresponding performance of his duties? Maybe we should not even blame the president for not being here or there at all. We should rather blame ourselves for condoning absenteeism and for giving criminal, suicidal excuses for failure.
Civil servants, including soldiers and other security operatives, have periodic performance evaluation reports. The reports are the basis upon which their promotion and continued stay in service are based. Now, how do we evaluate the performance of a president who picks his teeth while his team of rivals tears the national fabric of honour? I pity his media aides. They are silent and quiet. Or how would they manage this tragedy? Will they say the other memos referenced in the leaked memos never existed? Or that the NSA never wrote his own memos? Or that the NSA has joined the wailers? Or that the president was (is) simply not aware of this cyclone in his office?
We won’t hear anything from the person who hired these feuding guys. He is looking away because he is not here or because they are his boys and the issue is a family matter. Everyone will soon forget this. The nation is speedily moving away from the NSA and his weeping memos.
We are already out, engaging our lives with other morbid distractions. I should move too because things are happening in public and in secret. We can only talk of the ones that are flashed in our bemused faces. From the same Boko Haram corner where the bickering Buhari boys come from, a bill last week sauntered into the senate to create an agency for ‘repentant Boko Haram members’ Someone said one day, this strange government would create a ministry for (or of) Boko Haram and Abubakar Shekau would be the ‘permanent’ permanent secretary. I grinned and said that is precisely what that Yobe Senator Ibrahim Geidam and his enablers are brewing with that bill. In Nigeria, an agency is a ministry in infancy. There was an agency in charge of Internally Displaced Persons before 2019; today it has become a fully-kitted milk-and-honey ministry, more juicy than the juiciest. Those seeking to create this Boko Haram agency, what are they thinking? Are they praying that terrorism shall be permanent in their lives? The Buhari senate won’t surely be dissuaded from creating that agency complete with homicidal freeways and balconies of blood. Even if the heavens fall, it will pass that bill and our president will sign it into law — either because he is not here or because blood is thicker than water.