Buhari’s fragile pieces: More hardware, less safety (1)
In this four-part series, beginning with insecurity, The Guardian dissects the eight-year administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, and the ‘legacy’ he is bequeathing the country.
And if there is one sector that reflects in bold and gory images the success or failure of the outgoing government of President Muhammadu Buhari, it is that of security – an area he was touted to have the magic wand to conquer all challenges, being a former Head of State and retired general of the Nigerian Army.
Recall that towards the 2015 general elections, the most troubling security challenge in the country was the Boko Haram insurgency. Though localised in the Northeast, it exhibited the capacity to spread fast and wide beyond that theatre because it was propelled on religious sentiments. Their ideology was to counter Western education and all that it stands for.
It started out in Maiduguri, Borno State, around July 2009, during the administration of Umaru Yar’Adua. Some Islamists, who were originally patronised by the state administration of former governor Ali Modu Sheriff, fell out with their sponsors. The poor management of that soured relationship under Sheriff snowballed into hostilities that needed quick containment. Leader of the sect, one Mohammed Yusuf was to suffer grave harm in the hands of the military, died in custody. His disciples declared war on the Federal Republic and began to hoist flags of their caliphate.
After Yar’Adua passed in 2010, Goodluck Jonathan inherited the menace. At that time, Boko Haram had become uncontrollable. They took their war to Yobe and Adamawa states, burning police formations and public buildings. They used suicide bombers to inflict maximum fatality on churches, mosques, schools and other infrastructure. They found their way to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), where they inflicted wanton collateral damage. On June 16, 2011, a Boko Haram suicide bomber drove into the Police headquarters, Abuja, where over 20 people were killed. On August 21 that year, a car filled with explosives was driven into the United Nations Building in Abuja, killing 21, injuring over 60.
At that point, the country was on the edge, as efforts of the Jonathan government appeared feeble in containing the deadly aggression of the sect. The party of President Buhari, the All Progressives Congress (APC), was right on hand to cash in on that lethargy. It boasted Buhari would end the offensive in a matter of months.
One of the most gruesome activities on the calendar of Boko Haram was the invasion of Government Girls’ Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State. On that fateful night of April 14, 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the premises of the school. While some managed to escape on their own, the majority were transported to Sambisa forest. Anger and indignation was expressed at home and abroad and all eyes became fixed on Nigeria and the belated rescue efforts. The world chorused ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ and APC latched on to the challenge.
They announced Buhari as the messiah, who will tackle all security ailments in the country, including stamping out Boko Haram insurgents. To boost their campaign rhetoric, the party fraudulently dressed Buhari in the garb of Charles De Gaulle, the French General, who was lauded for his military exploits and later rewarded with election as the 18th president of France.
Upon his inauguration on May 29, 2015, Buhari announced the relocation of the Military Command centre from Abuja to Maiduguri, suggesting a determination to take the fight to the insurgents. And he promised to rescue the Chibok schoolgirls.
“The Command centre will be relocated to Maiduguri and remain there until Boko Haram is completely subdued. But we cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents,” Buhari thundered.
Fast forward to May 2023 and after eight years in the saddle, Buhari has earned a place in history as the most clueless leader in nation building and managing our multi-ethnic and multi-religious diversities. Buhari hasn’t been just clueless and vacuous; his very demeanour evokes insularity, an expression of his inner inferiority and insecurity. His resort to clannishness is expressed in his military and security appointments, which has hobbled his promise to deliver a safe country after the Jonathan-era. Conversely, Buhari is leaving behind a much unsafe and traumatised country, sharply divided and haemorrhaging on all sides.
Buhari failed to deliver on his promise to bring back the Chibok schoolgirls. Under Buhari, there was never a time a purpose built rescue mission was designed to rescue the girls, apart from piece-meal ‘return’ of abused and wasted remnants of those teenagers, with children sired by the demonic militants .
Another opportunity for Buhari to demonstrate gallantry in the war against insurgency was on the occasion of the abduction of 110 schoolgirls at Government Girls Science and Technical College in Bulabulin, Bursari Local Government area of Yobe State on February 19, 2018. Boko Haram later released the girls but kept Leah Sharibu, who is the only Christian among the girls. The young lady was asked to renounce Christianity to regain her freedom but she refused. She has remained with the insurgents ever since. Many had thought that Buhari would use every means available to bring Sharibu home, to make him a true leader and father of the nation.
Even though the insurgency in the Northeast is greatly diminished, thanks to deployment of A-29 Super Tucano fighter jets procured from the United States, the war has not ended as promised. While Boko Haram appears less active, their former allies, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), remain highly lethal. Recently, the supremacy battle between the two groups has given the military an upper hand.
Meanwhile, in the Northwest, Fulani militants and bandits have taken over forests in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and parts of Kebbi states. While Boko Haram insurgency was inherited, the banditry in the Northwest developed and matured under the Buhari administration. Buhari’s intelligence operatives tried to keep a lead on the activities of the over 120 militant gangs operating in that zone. It was first profiled as a mere communal confrontation over land among notorious Fulani herders and Hausa farming communities. Buhari’s continuous refusal to call out the killer Fulani tribesmen for their atrocities delayed containment measures in the Northwest. The governors recommended a strafing of their hideouts but that did not happen early enough, until they spread to Niger State, en route Southern Nigeria.
Under Buhari, bandits went after soft targets in schools, where they kidnap students for ransom. They operated in Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State; Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State, and Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State, among others at different times between 2020 and 2021. According to SBM Intelligence, not less than 1,400 school children were kidnapped. That grim situation forced some states in the North to close 11,536 schools, housing about 1.3 million schoolchildren in the 2020/21 academic session.
The August 24, 2021 invasion of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna; the March 28, 2022 Abuja train attack in Katari, Kaduna; the domination of Kuje prison by insurgents on July 5, 2020, where hundreds of Boko Haram detainees were freed are testimonies to Buhari’s zero rating in fighting insecurity.
Under Buhari, poor and incompetent handling of political agitation for more representation in the Southeast morphed into armed struggle. Buhari actually stoked the embers when he characterised the region as a dot in a circle, alluding to it being inconsequential in his reckoning. Before then, Buhari openly chastised the zone for giving him little votes in 2015, promising that those who gave him more votes would enjoy more patronage.
Buhari made true that promise in his appointments, particularly in sensitive security postings. When the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) responded with civil disobedience, Buhari ordered highhanded military reprisals. Whereas he vacillated in naming his Fulani tribesmen terrorists for their atrocities, he was quick to declare IPOB a terrorist group. The escalation of unrest and killings in the Southeast is a direct consequence of Buhari’s mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity.
THE resort to the Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed Operation Amotekun, by governors of the Southwest, is a response to Buhari’s failure to govern according to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic, which recommends justice, equality, and fairness to all.
The constitution vests control of the army and police in the Federal Government. While previous governments tried to balance the command and control of the forces to reflect the country’s diversity and provide safety for all, Buhari makes no pretense that his mission was to hold other tribes down for the Fulani to dominate. The forests of the Southwest were invaded and farmlands destroyed. Former Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Olu Falae had to abandon his farm for Fulani herders after one of his workers was killed. Fulani bandits killed the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Funke Olakurin in 2019. The most gruesome was the invasion of Saint Francis Catholic Church, Owaluwa Street, Owo, Ondo State, by militants on June 5, 2022. Militants killed not less than 40 worshippers on that occasion.
In the North-central, villagers are still counting bodies after repeated rampage in Southern Kaduna, Benue State, Nasarawa and Plateau states. The attacks are always similar and well choreographed. The bandits come when unarmed villagers have gone to sleep. They hunt vulnerable women and children, who are most defenceless. Last week, 57 citizens were given mass burial in Fungzai and Kubwat villages in Kombun District of Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State, but the actual toll in that deadly attack has reached 85, according to National President of Mwaghavul Development Association, Joseph Gwankat.
In a lamentation note issued by a member of the House, representing Mangu/Bokkos Federal Constituency of Plateau State, Solomon Marren, he appealed to Buhari to order security agencies to secure lives and property in the area. According to him, 200 people were killed in a space of months. That’s the regular toll under Buhari.
Data from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa programme, says 63,111 Nigerians were killed on Buhari’s watch; 27,311 in his first term, and 35,800 in his second term and still counting. Meanwhile, in these eight years, the regime spent not less than N8 trillion on defence. In the latest Global Terrorism Index (GTI), Nigeria has moved up two steps up the ladder but is still floundering among the world’s least peaceful countries.
One thing is very clear and true: Buhari is leaving Nigeria more divided and unsafe than he met it!