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Seething anger and despair in the land

By Dan Agbese
21 February 2020   |   3:03 am
President Buhari did a wonderful thing when he flew from Addis Ababa to Maiduguri February 12 after the AU summit, to condole the government and the people of Borno State for one of the worst Boko Haram killings

Internally displaced children from Niger, who fled Boko Haram incursions, sits on a trailer loaded with food supplies handed out during a food distribution at the Asanga refugee camp near Diffa on June 16, 2016. (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

President Buhari did a wonderful thing when he flew from Addis Ababa to Maiduguri February 12 after the AU summit, to condole the government and the people of Borno State for one of the worst Boko Haram killings, destruction and kidnapping in the state in recent times. How nice that the president chose to be empathic, sharing the pain of a nation under siege by Boko Haram, armed robbers, kidnappers and murderous bandits.

Boko Haram killed some 30 people, burnt down their vehicles and took many more away at Auno village February 10. The president promptly issued a statement from Addis Ababa condemning the attack and promising to rescue those who had been kidnapped. He wanted his condolence to demonstrate that he is not detached from the people. He must have been truly shocked then, that he did not drive into the deafening applause of the people in Maiduguri. He drove into an uncharacteristically hostile welcome by the people who booed him on his way from the airport to the city. How sad.

Buhari’s spin doctors tried to explain the booing away as the handwork of the opposition who put students and some miscreants up to it to embarrass the president. I am afraid it failed to wash. Borno is an APC state. In 2019, the president received about 90 per cent of the people’s support in his second term bid. The booing gave a voice to the seething anger, despair and frustration of the people and their disappointment that their soldier president appears to be failing in the discharge of his first constitutional duty to the nation and its people – the security of lives and property. Buhari actually put his foot in it when he was quoted as saying, “I am surprised that Boko Haram is still alive.” That was heavy. Did someone tell him the insurgency had become history? If Boko Haram had been dead or defeated, the nation would have celebrated it loud enough for even the deaf to hear.

Something appears to have gone badly wrong here. The president recently confessed he did not know that the security situation was this bad when he met with a delegation from Niger State met him who told him that their state was under siege by bandits who were killing, maiming and destroying the property of innocent men and women whose right to personal safety was being increasingly abridged by criminals running riot. It is either that the president is denied the right to know by those who should properly inform him or he chooses to live in denial. Either scenario does not do him much credit.

It has been more than a week since the Auno attack took place but so far, we have heard of no steps taken by the authorities to fully investigate it and hold person or persons responsible for a decision that directly led to the killings. The village is 25 km from Maiduguri. From what has emerged so far, the travellers were stranded there because the army locked the city gate as early as 4.30 pm and vanished into thin air. The travellers became sitting ducks for Boko Haram. They moved in unchallenged and carried out their murderous activities. Certain facts are worrisomely indisputable. An officer ordered the closure of the gate so early in the day. The same officer most probably ordered out the troops from the village. He must have had his reasons for giving these orders. It could not be that he wanted the travellers not to be caught on the wrong side of the curfew because the travellers would have clearly made it into the city before the curfew kicked in for the day. If the officer who gave the orders thought it necessary to lock the city gate, he must have known that the Damaturu-Maiduguri highway needed to be secured with the visible presence of troops. He did not. It is difficult to see how an officer would act the way he did in an area that has repeatedly witnessed surprise attacks by Boko Haram.

This incident will follow the well-beaten track. No one will be blamed. Expect no heads to roll. And this against the advice of the senate president, Dr Ahmad Lawan, that in tackling insecurity, “people must be sacked for their failure.”

I have had occasion to observe in this column a few times that people entrusted with positions of responsibility must be held accountable for what goes wrong under their watch. I am told that in other armies, the commander of the troops at Auno would be singing to the authorities now at a court-marshal. The idea is not merely to punish him but more importantly to find out what happened, why and how a similar situation could be avoided in the future. Holding persons accountable for their decisions and actions is part of the process of learning from our mistakes. It is safe to assume that the commander is not being tried because, in past incidents involving Boko Haram, mum was the word. And mum will be the word.

I do sympathise with the president. The security challenges are horrendous, the worst since the 30-month civil war threatened our corporate existence as a nation. General Yakubu Gowon faced and contained that existential threat – and our country emerged from it the same one nation, one destiny. Like Gowon, only Buhari can pull us through these rough and tough times. He, like the rest of us, would wish that these killings were not happening in our country. But life serves oranges and it serves lemons.

He would do well to occasionally discountenance the opinions of those who claim to love him more than the rest of us and believe that anyone criticising the handling of the security situation by him and the security forces is his enemy. This is not about the president as a person. It is about the president as the man who twice convinced the electorate that he has the will and the capacity to fix what was broken and what could be broken in our country. A critic offers alternative views to expand options in the decision-making process. He is not an enemy, even if his views are robust and trenchant. It is the message rather than how it is delivered that matters much more. Praises are not of much use to a leader because praise-singers are not always the most honest people in any community. Leadership is a lonely road and only the leader takes either the credit or carries the watering can.

In its conclusion to its editorial of February 16, the Daily Trust wrote: “Widespread or not, the booing in Maiduguri should be a warning to President Buhari that he has not delivered on his most important election promise, which is to wipe out Boko Haram once and for all and enable millions of IDPs to return to their homes. If the president does not want to heed the widespread calls to change the service chiefs, that is his choice. He must, however, sit down with all his key adviser, work out the right formula to end Boko Haram, obtain the necessary weapons and neighbours’ support, re-energise and re-motivate the military and security agencies to finish the job once and for all, and as soon as possible. Otherwise, the booing can become more widespread down the road.”

I rest my case too.