By Azuka Onwuka
Even though the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has never been known to be assertive or forceful or in a hurry to achieve results, the impression one gets these days from him is that he has either given up on most challenges facing Nigeria or is not concerned about them. There is also the possibility that he has no clue about what to do to change the situation.
Last week, Boko Haram released a video of the killing of some aid workers captured in Borno State. While that was on, the Kaduna State Government and the Presidency were appealing to the Christians in Southern Kaduna not to retaliate the killings against them. In Katsina State, the home state of the President, the killings continued like in some other states. It is estimated that about 22 out of Nigeria’s 36 states are experiencing one form of insecurity or the other.
One cannot see any new approach from the President or his security chiefs. One cannot see any change in communication. One cannot see any change in the personnel used. One cannot see any sign that any change has started.
The feeling one gets is that the President is simply waiting for the end of his tenure. But the problem is that the official end of Buhari’s tenure is still far away. That is May 29, 2023 – almost three years from now.
Last week, I listened again to the speech Buhari delivered at Chatham House, London in February 2015. I noticed how he lamented the insecurity in the nation (caused by Boko Haram) and promised, as a military general, to lead from the front and not allow Boko Haram to control an inch of Nigeria’s territory. Most of his listeners in Nigeria and elsewhere surely believed that he would achieve that, given his military background. It was taken for granted that even if Buhari would not excel at any other thing, he would excel on security.
However, if one compares that to what is happening today, one simply feels weak. Where should one start from? Before the entry of Buhari in May 2015 as Nigeria’s president, Boko Haram was the major security challenge in the country. Since his entrance, Boko Haram has been chased back from attacking Abuja, Kano and other locations outside the North-East. That is a plus to him. But that has not reduced the casualty figures from Boko Haram. Unlike before when Boko Haram was known to attack the so-called soft targets – churches, mosques, shopping malls, schools, open markets and the like – the insurgents now have become emboldened to consistently attack military formations, killing soldiers, videoing the attacks and releasing such videos to the public, to show off their invincibility. If armed and trained soldiers can be regularly killed by Boko Haram, what then is the fate of unarmed and unprotected civilians?
In addition, since Buhari’s entrance as president, herdsmen and bandits have been added to the security concern of the North in frightening dimensions. In some North-West states, the so-called bandits have taken over many communities. Some communities now pay protection money to these criminals to avoid being attacked. The governors of the states are overwhelmed. They simply appeal to them to take things easy with the people. Some are alleged to even pay some money to the bandits to reduce their attacks on the people.
Most highways in the North are not safe because these criminals intermittently waylay road users, kidnap them and demand huge ransoms. They also engage in rape and killing of some victims. That has made travelling by road a high-risk venture.
Sadly, what is heard from the presidency after every bout of killings is: “President Buhari is shocked at the killing at XYZ place.” The nation then carries on as if nothing happened, until the next attack occurs, and a statement from the presidency yet again tells the nation that President Buhari is shocked at the killing.
In June, residents of Katsina State protested the high level of insecurity in their state. It was something that was unimaginable – that residents of the home state of Buhari would demonstrate against insecurity in a government led by their kinsman! Last week, the Senate moved a motion asking the service chiefs to resign for failing in their duty to protect the nation. If it is understood that the leadership of the Senate was chosen by Buhari, then one would appreciate the import of that message to the service chiefs. Even though the Senate did not want to directly condemn the President for failing in his duty to protect the nation as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, it still wanted to register its displeasure with the regular killing of Nigerians by Boko Haram.
In the North-Central states the herdsmen hold sway. Community after community is attacked. Government authorities carefully describe such as “farmer-herder clash” to make them look like simple cases of communal clashes. But these are well-planned, well-coordinated, large-scale attacks meant to wipe out different communities.
In the South, the same herdsmen also attack some villages and highways. Other local criminals also kidnap people across the South. When one looks at the insecurity in the nation, one does not see any sign that something is being done against it.
In spite of all the weekly killings in different states in Nigeria, Buhari did not visit Katsina or Kaduna or Zamfara or Sokoto to commiserate with them or find a solution to the killings. But shockingly, he jetted out last week to Mali on a peace mission, making himself one of the few presidents in the world that have left their countries for any reason since late March when most countries closed their borders because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The same thing goes for corruption. Before the 2015 elections, most Nigerians believed that in addition to fighting security, Buhari would perform well in stemming the tide of corruption. The belief was that corruption was Nigeria’s biggest problem, and once it was curbed, the nation would start recovering and progressing.
Shockingly, Buhari has seemed flat-footed and tongue-tied on that too. Under Buhari’s regime, public workers are completely relaxed in corruption in Nigeria. The message has sunk into his aides that their principal hardly ever reprimands or sacks his appointees. Therefore, they act with impunity, speak with impunity, quarrel among themselves like little children on national TV. And true to their belief, they hardly ever get penalised for any errant behaviour. It is as if they are not under any boss.
Consequently, every agency that is probed a little starts emitting unbearable stench of mind-boggling corruption. The accused even jokes about it. The masses who watch them on TV also joke about it. The reason is that it is believed that corruption is now a way of life in which everybody in government indulges, while those outside government are praying to get an opportunity to get it and get their share of the largesse.
Even though Buhari was never believed to understand the economy, yet, it was assumed that if he crippled corruption and insecurity, public servants would sit up and play their roles well, leading to a boost in the economy and the welfare of the people. But that has not happened. The poverty rate has continued to grow. In the last month, the exchange rate of the naira has been falling virtually every day. Even though the official exchange rate is 386.66 naira per American dollar, the unofficial exchange rate on Monday was N472 per dollar. That is almost N100 difference, making it easy for those who are officially given access to dollars to become multi-millionaires, simply because of the laxity of public officers.
As usual, Buhari looks on, not talking, not acting, and not even reacting. He has made himself a referee in charge of a football match, who has a whistle but neither blows it nor penalises any player for any infringement. The players play with their feet and even hands; they attack and injure other players; they even score goals with their hands. Buhari, the referee, just watches on unperturbed.