Nigeria, the drifting ship

In the midst of the frightening state of insecurity in the country, there seems to be a widespread expression of helpless and frustration by the major stakeholders Nigerians look up to for succour, writes KUNLE ODEREMI.

What has gone wrong with Nigeria? One of Nigeria’s greatest contributions to the literary world, the late Professor Chinua Achebe, endeavoured to provide an insightful answer to the teaser. In his classic 333-page book aptly entitled: There was a country, he wrote: “Most members of my generation, who were born before Nigeria’s independence, remember a time when things were very different. Nigeria was once a land of great hope and progress, a nation with immense resources at its disposal—natural resources, yes, but even so, human resources.”  Achebe probably underplayed the chain of factors that have continuously-from pre-independence era till date-placed the country on the tethers, when he opined that the civil war “changed the course of Nigeria.”

The awesome dimension the insecurity culminating in the latest massacre of 43 rice farmers in Borno State, coupled with the seizure of the nation by the jugular by criminals across the country amplifies the underlining factors beyond what Achebe claimed changed the course of Nigeria, with the nation’s current dreadful drift towards the precinct of the precipice. The outrage by the high and low in the society over the siege to the country generally by criminals reflects the growing frustration among the citizens, including members of the ruling class on the reactionary rather than preemptive measures of the authorities. The rule of the thumb still holds sway.  Utterances of both appointed and elected government functionaries on the state of insecurity in the wake of the gruesome murder of the Borno farmers, according to some, suggest beyond a setback for the battle against insurgency, terror and other violent crimes currently ravaging the country. The outcry and excuses from the main corridors of power to the top hierarchy of the security architecture, National Assembly and governors, some believe, create the impression that the ship of state is, peradventure, on auto pilot, a tenuous path imperils political stability; that the authorities have been overwhelmed.

Last July, the Chief of Army Staff (CAS), Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, literally passed the buck to the citizens on menace of insurgency. He claimed that any successful end to insurgency and other forms of insecurity rested with Nigerians.  Emerging from Aso Villa, where he had gone to brief President Muhammadu Bahari on military operations against insecurity, especially in the North, the CAS said his men were on top of the situation. “If Nigerians want it to end today, I can assure you it will end today if everybody joins hands because these bandits are not outside Nigeria; they are not from foreign land.”

He noted that 99 per cent of the terrorists are Nigerians, likewise 100 per cent of the kidnappers. “So it’s not just a military, security agency’s task to end the insecurity in this country. It’s only when it goes bad that we are called in, but everybody has the responsibility to handle that. Some of the insecurities are as old as history itself and it all depends on what you are doing to contain or defeat it at a particular time.”

So far, the CAS has not disowned media reports in which he reportedly claimed that insurgency and terrorism could persist in Nigeria till 2040. Quoting his verified Facebook handle, the reports claimed that Buratai spoke against the background of the Boko Haram massacre of rice farmers in Borno: “There is general misunderstanding of what insurgency and terrorism entail. There is likelihood of terrorism persisting in Nigeria for another 20 years. Citizens’ responsibility is equally important and imperative. All must cooperate to contain the lingering insecurity. Let there be collective action and responsibility.” The statement elicited a spontaneous remark from a former senator representing Kaduna Central senatorial district, Shehu Sani that such utterance was an evidence of “bankruptcy of new ideas and strategies” on the ongoing battle against terror. Sani said: “Telling our people that the insurgency will last 20 years after repeatedly misleading claims of victories attest to the failure of those saddled with the responsibility of leading the fight. It also signifies the resignation and bankruptcy of new ideas and strategies.”

 

Frustration of state actors

The cacophonies on the issues surrounding the worrisome twits in the wave of insecurity in the land cut across the ranks of other top federal authorities. One official blamed the ugly situation on alleged refusal of some advanced countries to allow Nigeria access to necessary weapons capable of prosecuting the war on terror more logically. Another official claimed that the insurgents were being sponsored by a section of the international community to destabilise Nigeria, just as another official alleged politicisation of the fight against insurgency, ostensibly by the opposition to make capital gains. Also, President Buhari blamed the insurgency on the crises in the Sahel Region, especially in Libya, accusing the late Muammar Gaddafi of training and arming youths that have since infiltrated Nigeria, Niger and Chad to destablise the West African sub-region. Buhari said: “Gaddafi, for 43 years in Libya, at some stage, he decided to recruit people from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and the Central African Republic and these young chaps are not taught to be bricklayers, electricians, plumbers or any trade but to shoot and kill. So, when the opposition in Libya succeeded in killing him, they arrested some and they did what they did to them. The rest escaped with their orphans and we encountered some of them in the North-East and they are all over the place now organizing attacks.”

The general frustration of the citizenry arising from the insecurity and the domino effects on governance is also being captured by other critical stakeholders in the country such as state governors. While Professor Babagana Umara Zulum of Borno appears to be the worst-hit by the demonic appetite of the terrorists, his colleague in the remaining 35 states are constantly gripped by the torrents of activities by bandits, abductors, kidnappers and other violent crimes.

Accompanied to Maiduguri by the Governor of Sokoto State and the vice-chairman of the forum, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal, Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Abubakar Bagudu and that of Niger State, Abubakar Bello on a visit to Zulum following the massacre of the rice farmers, the NGF chairman and governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, ventilated how he and his colleagues were confounded by tide of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery across the country.

Fayemi declared: “This is not a visit to gratify ourselves that we have come to you; no, it is expression also of our own frustration that we have not been able to make changes because we have held series of meetings. You have been present at these meetings; some with Mr. President, meetings with security chiefs. We have highlighted all the issues. You have spoken frankly on all those occasions, but we are still where we are. We can’t bring back the people we have lost in the last couple of days, but if we do not take the necessary steps the entire nation will be consumed by this insurgency.”

Their host, Zulum was equally poignant and picturesque in conveying his frustration as the man in the main theatre of the vicious attacks and killings by insurgents and other criminals in the state. “We need to address the underlying causes of the insurgency. While appreciating the efforts of the Federal Government in implementing some policies that are geared towards addressing poverty in the entire nation, Borno State deserves more. We have said all; there is nothing new that I can say. But when shall we end this insurgency? That’s something very important.”

The disturbing trend of events is unveiling the frustration other senior citizens, especially leading traditional rulers to speak truth more eloquently and repeatedly to the powers-that-be. They are awed by paralyzing effects of insecurity, with the curtailment of the statutory duty of the government to the citizens as enshrined in Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution titled fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.

It is one of the issues that engage a foremost traditional ruler in the North. With the benefit of professional background and experience before becoming a traditional ruler, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, has repeatedly raised the alarm on the worsening insecurity in the country and the frustration of the citizens.

At the fourth quarterly meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council in Abuja, he was unequivocal on the high rate of insecurity in the North. He was also blunt on the Borno massacre. In a statement signed by the apex Islamic body, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), secretary-general, Dr. Khalid Aliyu, said: “Wanton killings, acts of banditry, kidnapping for ransom, high rate of unemployment amongst the youths, rape and all forms of terrorisms have now become the ‘New Trend’ in our communities. Nigerians have become so much terrified, as nowhere is safe; the home, the farms, and the roads.

Bandits now rule in many communities, they set rules that must be obeyed.” According to the sultan, “Unfortunately, the common man is now caught in-between two contending phenomenon; when he goes to the farm, he gets killed; and when he stays at home, he dies of hunger. It should be known that this singular act of Zabarmari was a calculated attempt to instill fears among farmers and jeopardise the frantic efforts of returning Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their localities by the Borno State government under the leadership of Governor Babagana Umar Zulum. For how long, would we continue to live a life in fear? For how long, can we continue to wait in vain? For how long, shall we continue to condemn acts of terrorism without any concerted efforts in ending it? For how long, would we continue to remain indolent? And for how long can we continue to remain hopeless in a precarious situation such as what we are in presently?”

 

Case of Service Chiefs

At a meeting convened by the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), the Sultan also painted a grim picture of the security situation prevalent in the country. He cited the case of his domain, Sokoto State, as well as the North-central to buttress his argument.

“Few weeks ago, over 76 persons were killed in a community in Sokoto in a day. I was there alongside the governor to commiserate with the affected community. Unfortunately, you don’t hear these stories in the media because it’s in the North. We have accepted the fact that the North doesn’t have strong media to report the atrocities of these bandits.”

He alleged that there was gross impunity security-wise in the area, adding: “People think the North is safe, but that assumption is not true. In fact, it’s the worst place to be in this country. Bandits go around villages, households, and markets with AK47 rifles and nobody is challenging them. They stop at the market, buy things, pay and collect change, with their weapons openly displayed. These are facts I know because I am at the centre of it. I am not only a traditional ruler; I am also a religious leader… We have to sincerely and seriously find solutions to the problem; otherwise, we will find ourselves soon, in a situation where we will be losing sleep over insecurity. As religious leaders, we must promote peace, love, unity, and tolerance among our followers…”

While some concerned stakeholders have raised question over the management of resources so far deployed to the fight on insurgency, majority of the others are insisting on a total shakeup in the top echelon of the security architecture. In his position as the chairman of Senate Committee on Army Ali Ndume lamented that soldiers lacked modern weapons critical in combating the insurgency. Immediate past governor of Borno and incumbent Senator Kashim Shettima representing Borno Central senatorial district, in a motion he moved in the Senate with the title: Beheading of 67 farmers in Borno by Boko Haram insurgents: Need for urgent decisive action, said that laset massacre in the state was the fifth of such mass killings this year. He said: “This attack is one of the major attacks perpetrated by this devilish group in addition to the February in Auno that killed 40 people, the assault in Forum Kolo am village of Guber that killed almost 100 civilians in June last year, while another attack in Usman Lawanti left another 40 dead.”

The Senate, eminent individuals and prominent groups spread across the country are resolute in their clamour for a change of guard at the level of Service Chiefs. Will the president this time bow to pressure? If he does, will the new leadership structure herald a new dawn in the land?

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