Another Presidential Gaffe

Another Presidential Gaffe

MR. President appears to have switched off virtually on everything about the nation; almost absent-minded.  The duties and responsibilities of running the country have been abdicated to proxies and unelected SAs (Special Assistants) like the presidential aides and the minister of justice who have almost become de facto presidents. The president appears oblivious of the fact that the country is losing grounds on our territorial integrity to non-state actors; insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, “unknown gunmen” and cultists who have taken over ungovernable areas. The defining features and signature tune of the ruling APC government is insecurity and anarchy all over the land.  Nothing appears capable of jolting the president into a state of consciousness; not even the tragic death of the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru in a fatal air crash while on active service.

May 21 was a black Friday of a raging inferno like the pyre of cremation as the Nigerian Air Force aircraft crash-landed, killing all passengers on board. There was initial apprehension and fear as people tune to foreign channels like Al Jazeera and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), anxiously scouting for news and confirmation of the fate of the passengers on board.   True to the speculations, news filtered out that the Chief of Army Staff, General Attahiru has been killed in the ill-fated crash along with some of his aides.

This was a national tragedy and an appropriate occasion for the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces himself to seize the moment to address the state of the nation.

It was the expectation that none other than president should break the news to a grieving anxious nation in a live telecast or broadcast. But that was never to be and worst still, when news and information filtered from the presidency, it was a most demoralising response adding to the agony of the tragedy.   The reaction from the presidency through the media aides came only after the lampoons on the social media decrying the dithering attitude of Mr President on such national calamity.  It came only as a thoughtless declaration of one-day holiday for members of the armed forces and flying official flags at half-mast.

At a time when security of lives and property is of grave concern, one wonders the propriety and wisdom of declaration of public holiday for members of the armed forces in honour and respect for the head of the Nigerian Army and other fallen heroes in a plane crash.  One would have thought that the most fitting honour would have been for Mr President to use the occasion to address comprehensively the state of insecurity and to reassure Nigerians of a renewed vigour and strategy his government would bring into the fight notwithstanding the sudden demise of the COAS on active service.

The president missed a life-time opportunity to galvanize the support of every Nigerian towards the fight against insecurity when he failed to attend the burial of the COAS as the chief mourner.  Whatever the situation and circumstances, even if he had to be there on a wheelchair, the president ought to have been at the grave side to pay tribute and to use the moment to reinvigorate the government resolve in bringing peace to the country.  The vice president who has not been so visible to speak on any national issue was also absent; not surprisingly.   There have been calls for the president to address the nation on the agony and depressing state of insecurity in the country where there is daily harvest of students for ransom by bandits and kidnappers; whatever the difference!

Now, insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, cultists and unknown gunmen have laid total siege to nation and taken over the ungovernable space in the country.  Not much is expected from the Nigeria Police Force which has never been able to police Nigeria due to bad leadership, incompetence and corruption not to mention poor state of equipment and welfare of personnel.   Where the police has intervened, it is only to help facilitate and funnel the ransom money and to come and declare that they have secured the release of the victims denying the payment of ransom.

The pervading insecurity in the country today has a shade and shadow of political cover making it practically difficult for the armed forces to rein in the criminals behind it. Way back in the early 1980s up to the 1990s and going into the millennium, we had challenges of religious and ethnic militias who tried to challenge the authority of the state.  There was the Maitasine group in the northwest, the Niger Delta militants in the south, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in the southeast, and the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) in the southwest.  The Maitasine which was a religious group started the same way Boko Haram came up later.

The military was able to crush the group because we had an Armed Forces in the 1980s up to 1990s that was relatively well organized, motivated, professional, patriotic and free from political meddlesomeness.   The same is true of the Niger Delta militants, OPC and MASSOB that withdrew to their shells because of the even-handed government approach to dealing with the problems.  The elites did not go on media campaign that their people were being unfairly targeted by the security forces as is the case with Boko Haram insurgents and bandits that government prefers to do deals with.  Again, today, the military appears disoriented and fractious and fast losing its pristine tradition of respect for hierarchy and discipline due to perhaps decline in content of their training, godfatherism and eye-service that is destroying its once cherished ethics, customs and tradition.

If we want an effective military for the defence of our territorial integrity, it must by all means be insulated from partisanship and remain in its turf.   The political elite should not be seen to extend their sphere of control and influence to the armed forces so as to preserve its time-honoured principle of discipline.

The president has suddenly woken up to issue threat to deal with people “misbehaving in the language they understand”, referring ostensibly to “unknown gunmen” in the southeast as probably being the ones threatening his government because of the resurgence of campaign of violence by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

The bloody campaign in the southeast no doubt deserves attention by the government but not just a raw threat after all, the agitators have grievances that deserve to be addressed.  What is intriguing is the fact that in spite of the calls for the president to address the rising insecurity across the country, this is the only time Mr President has summoned all the strength he has to address the nation on the media and telecast.  The crises of the secessionists campaign in the southeast is part of the larger insecurity across the whole country like insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and cultism.  Whatever the view we hold, the violence in the southeast is a response to the nagging problem of non-inclusiveness by the government and discontent to what appears to be barefaced nepotism by President Buhari.

We expect the president to address the nation comprehensively on insecurity and not to single out one group “misbehaving” as if others do not deserve his attention.  We expect the government to bare its fang on the insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, marauding armed herdsmen, and cultists also.  The government should be seen to treat every Nigerian equally irrespective of religion and ethnicity. Invoking the ghost of 1967–1970 is not a magic bullet to shoot down discontent where there is perceived injustice.  Where there is perceived nepotism and arrogance, it can only alienate the people the more.

Members of the National Assembly are not helping matters as they have lost every sense of direction in dealing with the problems in the country.  We hear they are debating on a bill criminalizing payment of ransom to bandits and kidnappers without consideration on how to make kidnapping unattractive to the criminals.  They are not aware that besides monetary ransom, the kidnappers and bandits now demand for logistics like motorcycles to facilitate their trade.

The bandits use phone and social media to contact relations of victims and yet the security agents cannot track them to their dens and apprehend or neutralize them.  There is a complete security failure in the fight against insecurity.  It is time for the government to probe the activities of the security agents and why they cannot trail, track and apprehend the criminals with modern technology which is freely available to any serious organization not to talk of a nation.

It is time for Mr President to demonstrate to the nation that he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody, and stop viewing the country on the basis of the percentage of vote cast during elections, ethnicity or religion.  Going ahead to ban Twitter in the broil is misconceived and ill-advised as it shows every manifestation of totalitarianism, dictatorship and denial of citizens’ right of expression.  This is another presidential gaffe.

  • Kebonkwu Esq writes from Abuja.

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