That Senate resolution
In apparent frustration, the Senate on April 17 passed a resolution asking President Muhammadu Buhari to fire his service chiefs over the killings by the herdsmen and the darkening climate of insecurity in the country. It is significant that the Senate made its demand in the week marking four years of the abduction of 260 students from their school at Chibok, Borno State, April 14, 2014. So far negotiation with Boko Haram yielded freedom for 107 of them. The fate of the rest is still uncertain.
In a cruel twist to our hope, albeit a forlorn one at that, for the safe return of the girls to their families, a Nigerian journalist, Ahmed Salkida, said that only 15 of the 112 girls still in the hands of Boko Haram are alive today. Both the presidency and the security agencies have disputed this. Let us hope the man was wrong and the administration was right. Their fourth year in captivity is a source of our national shame.
It is not likely that the president would bother about the concern of all Nigerians expressed so forcefully on the floor of the Senate, although his senior media spokesman, Femi Adesina, quoted him as having told the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in London, that he bothered less about the 2019 elections and “more about security and the economy.”
Don’t expect anything dramatic from the president on that front any time soon. This was not the first time the senators had expressed their anger and disappointment with the security chiefs. I would welcome the senators’ threat to shut down the Senate chambers until Buhari takes some definite and concrete actions to silence the AK-47 in the hands of the herdsmen. Still, the significance of the resolution is that it serves to remind the president that the road to his second term in office is strewn with enormous security and other challenges he could only ignore at the peril of the country. This is not about liking or not liking Buhari. It is about saving Nigeria and the safety of its citizens. There just has to be a country for the politicians to strut the stage of political power. I thought that was pretty commonsensical.
I find it encouraging that the redoubtable men and women who have been courageously needling the government since the abduction of the girls are keeping the pressure on. They have not given hope on the return of the girls. At the second Annual Chibok Girls Lecture in Abuja April 14, Pastor Tunde Bakare spoke emotionally on the fate of the girls. He said, “If any of the Dapchi or Chibok girls were their daughters, would they not have done more than they have to ensure their freedom? If they feel what we feel, they will empathise much more with and go the extra mile in ensuring that everyone connected to their captivity today is brought to book.”
Dr. Obi Ezekwesili, the co-convener of #BringBackOurGirls, threatened to sue the Federal Government if Lea Sharibu, the lone Dapchi girl, is not rescued and re-united with her family soon.
The mindless killings by the herdsmen are even more intractable for the security chiefs. Since they turned particularly the Middle Belt region and Taraba into their killing fields, there has been no strong evidence of a strong response to them by the Nigerian state. They beat our security forces, kill and simply go, leaving death and wailing in the wake of their murderous activities. Boko Haram and the herdsmen have given our security chiefs the black eyes. The more some of us try to understand what is happening to our country, the opaque and impenetrable it becomes, forcing us sadly to throw up our hands in despair.
On this fourth anniversary of the abduction of the Chibok girls, and this being the election season, I had expected the administration to talk to us in words of hope. After all, the primary business of government is to market hope to the people. That did not happen, leading Bakare to suspect that this is simply a case of the privileged versus the under-privileged.
I try to spare a thought for our country’s standing among the West African countries. What is happening in our country is not happening in any other West African country. Our country is the sad repository of the worst news in Africa, a continent once famous for bad news. Nothing good seems to come from here anymore. Corruption alone remains a frustrating battle. The more we fight it, the more it takes hold on the country and our number in the corruption index puts a dampener on the success of the anti-graft war. Armed robberies began here after the civil war. It has not been contained up till now. It is significant to note that no other African country – west, south, east or central – has had this blight on its name as a nation.
Four-one-nine enlarged the image of our country on the world map for the wrong reasons. The result, of course, is that the green passport arouses suspicion in all airports throughout the world. We are regarded as the kingpins of crimes. Boko Haram, an insurgency that has been difficult to classify in religious or political terms, is a cruel twist in the problems that we face as a nation. No one knows for sure how many people have been killed by the insurgents. In 2105, President Goodluck Jonathan put the number at some 15,000. And the killings go on. The killings by the Fulani herdsmen push Boko Haram insurgents more or less to the back burner in their cruelty and senselessness. No one is keeping count.
Why are these problems seemingly unresolvable? Is it the failure of leadership? And I wonder, are the other African countries laughing at us? Why has our country not been able to secure the co-operation of its neighbours to solve its security problems? Given its assumed influence in the West African sub-region, I thought our country had the muscle to bring pressure to bear on the leaders of Chad, Niger and Cameroun to make them willing partners with us in making the entire sub-region unsafe for Boko Haram, the herdsmen and other criminal elements.
Perhaps we do not have the kind of leverage among these countries that we tend to believe we do. The fact that Boko Haram, for instance, has not spread beyond our borders with these countries is a telling evidence that these countries have shown a greater capacity to contain them and make them remain in Nigeria. Why, I ask again and again, does our country with 198 million people with the largest fighting forces in West Africa look so pathetic in the face of its serious security challenges? Why have our politicians not shown enough concern about the situation to hunker down together to find solutions to these problems? Why is the ambition to remain in office more important to them than the need to save the country and make it peaceful for all who live within its territory? Questions, questions. No answers, of course.
Our current situation reminds me of a story President Shehu Shagari told us at one of the quarterly press briefings he usually attended. Three of us, the late Dele Giwa, editor of the Sunday Concord, myself, editor of the New Nigerian and one other editor whose name I cannot now recall, were selected to keep the president’s company after his address to the editors. This was a few days or so after President Muammar Gaddafi, the late Libyan president, visited Nigeria. Shagari said he asked Gaddafi if it was true that he was training some Nigerians to return home and cause problems in the country. Gaddafi, according to him, admitted that some such persons came for a possible assistance but that he found them not to be genuine potential revolutionaries and dismissed them.Gaddafi, according to the president, then told Shagari: “You know, some African countries are big for nothing.”
President Shagari did not need to ask him to name names.