By Okey Ndibe
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari took off on a visit to Liberia. Of course, presidents make foreign trips all the time. Yet, numerous critics carped about this particular presidential trip. These critics had two legitimate complaints.
The first had to do with timing. Buhari chose to travel out of Nigeria as the country continued to reel from one of its worst crises of insecurity.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most heinous and disturbing security breaches of 2022. Last March, a band of terrorists struck at the Kaduna railway station. They killed a handful of commuters, and then herded off dozens into captivity. Since that daring attack, only a few victims have been freed. The abduction appears to have been a cash cow for the perpetrators. They have reportedly netted hundreds of millions of naira in ransom payments.
It’s unlikely that some abductees were released without telephone or third-party negotiations with the members of their captors. Every mobile phone currently in use in Nigeria is linked to a certified national identity number. We can surmise, then, that the Nigerian state knows, a, the identity of some of the terrorists and, b, their location. At the very least, the technology exists.
Quite recently, a video made the rounds of the terrorists mercilessly flogging their captives. The viral video was wrenching to watch. One can hardly imagine the daily torment felt by the abductees’ loved ones. For months, they have languished in grim uncertainty. They have hoped that the Buhari administration would somehow awake from its slumber and attempt a rescue operation. So far, they have waited in vain.
So, too, have the residents of Owo, a town in Ondo State. On June 5, armed men stormed a Catholic church in the town during mass. They massacred at least forty worshipers and maimed dozens more, many of them children. Having accomplished their macabre deed in broad daylight, these human demons made their getaway. What was the administration’s response? It issued a statement blaming the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). Almost two months later, the government has done zilch to find and punish the perpetrators.
Buhari came to power touting his credentials as an ex-general. He pledged to eviscerate Islamist terrorists who had seized territories and made Nigeria’s northeastern plank into an ungovernable space. Yet, under his watch, there’s not a single inch of Nigerian territory that’s insulated from terrorist attacks. If you think this is hyperbole, consider this: in May of last year, criminals went into Aso Rock – the vast complex where the president works and resides – and robbed the home of Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari. And this: three weeks ago, an advance team of the president’s convoy came under gunfire attack in his home state, Katsina.
For years, the Nigerian state has crept toward an ever-graver state of insecurity. Far from stopping the slide or reversing it, Buhari has overseen acceleration to the country’s most calamitous phase of insecurity ever. At no time has Nigeria been more insecure than now. The man who beat his chest about being a tested officer has grandly flunked the assignment to neutralize Boko Haram. Worse, that failure is only half of the ghastly picture.
Buhari’s ineptitude was all the encouragement herdsmen needed as they sacked whole communities, raped women, and hijacked their victims’ land. His indecisive style and dereliction also fertilized the ground for the emergence of ISWAP as well as sundry groups that style themselves, simply, as “unknown gunmen.” These amorphous groups have transformed swaths of Nigeria into no-go areas.
In case anybody doubted their primacy in the Nigerian space, a band of militants last week attacked a military post on the outskirts of Abuja, the country’s capital. Sure, the military prevailed in the skirmish, but the insurgents had served notice of their ubiquitousness and capacity to wreak havoc at will.
Given this climate, Buhari’s junket to Liberia was ill timed. But timing was not the only reason he should have stayed back in Nigeria. The president’s spokesman revealed that Buhari was headed for Monrovia to weigh in on – among other subjects – the subject of security.
On reading that, I nearly burst out in laughter. Then, a moment later, I felt like weeping. Why would an expert in insecurity take the podium in a foreign country to lecture his much-luckier hosts on how to achieve security? The kindest thing to be said about Buhari’s intent to speak on the subject of security is that his choice betrayed a lack of self-awareness.
It’s telling that some Nigerian senators are so fed up with festering violence in the country that they want Buhari to resign or be impeached. Buhari’s years as president have been a waste to the country. His mismanagement of the economy has deepened poverty and concomitant social crises.
Still, he has not achieved this awful record all by himself. The broad class of Nigeria’s political elite is implicated in this harrowing narrative of national collapse. The members of the national assembly baying for Buhari’s ouster are, in their way, villains in the story. Can the case be made that the country’s legislators have tangibly contributed to the improvement of the lives of Nigerians?
For me, the larger import of Nigeria’s pervasive violence is the absence of any meaning or stability in the space called Nigeria. It’s impossible to point to any institution in the country that has not been devastated and rendered dysfunctional. That’s why I remain skeptical about the wisdom of holding elections in 2023. Nigeria is in a comatose state, a condition that calls for emergency action.
Ideally, then, the country should be placed in the care of a team of patriotic experts capable of envisioning its rebirth – and charting its course to greatness. In the hands of the usual set of parasitic politicians, it’s bound to be hollowed out, irreversibly damaged
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Okechukwu Ndibe, better known as Okey Ndibe, (born 1960) an acclaimed Nigerian novelist, political columnist and essayist was born in Yola, Nigeria. He is the author of Arrows of Rain and Foreign Gods, Inc.
Ndibe has worked as a professor at several colleges, including Connecticut College, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and Brown University.
We are honored that he brings his sharp intellectual depth and years of political activism to write for Life and Times.