Home News How One Bandit Ronaldo’ed Team Buhari By Okey Ndibe

How One Bandit Ronaldo’ed Team Buhari By Okey Ndibe

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Buhari meets Dutch queen, speaks on agric reformIf you paid attention last week to Nigerian news, you should easily give the correct answer to the question I’m about to ask. Here’s the question: Name the two acts by President Muhammadu Buhari and his team that proved beyond any doubt that Nigeria is absolutely bereft of leadership.

If your answer is, a, President Buhari’s meeting with relatives of the Kaduna train abductions and, b, a BBC interview by the president’s spokesman – bingo! For a presidency versed in wrong moves, terrible timing and verbal gaffes, last week was a master class in ghastly statecraft.

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It was as if Buhari and his team intended to disabuse those Nigerians who still clung stubbornly to the hope that there was some redeeming feature, however thin, to the administration that has run their country for more than seven years.

Let’s begin with Buhari’s meeting with those whose relatives were abducted from the Kaduna train station. Everything about it advertised the government’s incompetence and cold indifference. First, how about the timing? It was on March 28 that armed bandits besieged a train, killed and wounded some commuters, and then herded off dozens more into captivity. Since then, the abductors have released a trickle of victims – reportedly after extracting handsome ransoms from desperate relatives. Most of the captives – women, men, and children – remain in bondage, held in some expanse of bush.

President Buhari has assured families of Kaduna train attack victims of his commitment to rescuing their loved ones. Photo: State House

Imagine the harshness of their existence, to be subject for close to five months to nature’s inclement moods. Consider their shattering grief, their days haunted by heat and hunger, their nights sleepless, menaced by mosquitoes, a terror of snakes, scorpions and other perils. And the most harrowing of all – the specter of being cut off from the affection of loved ones, denied ties to other humans, and removed from the sustaining routines of everyday life.

In other words, these abducted Nigerians have known hell for months. If Nigeria had a government worthy of the name, the president and members of his security team would have little sleep until every single victim was set free or rescued. But Buhari has been nothing if not nonchalant. He’s gallivanted to several domestic and foreign destinations while Nigerians groaned and moaned in despair.

It took him four months and counting to find an opening in his calendar to see the beset relatives of abductees. In countries that take their citizens seriously, where the meaning of leadership is understood, leaders act with alacrity.

Buhari’s memo to Nigerians might as well read – “You’re on your own, buddy!” And so it is. The Kaduna train captives are a far from an isolated case. Last week, the Nigerian Business Day ran a telling headline: “Nigeria: Over 3000 people abducted, N654m ransom paid in one year – Report”. Here’s the opening paragraph: “Between the period of July 2021 and June 2022, no fewer than 3,420 people were abducted across Nigeria, with 564 others killed in violence associated with abductions, according to a new report by SBM Intelligence.” That’s a somber, sobering revelation.

Timing was not Buhari’s only misstep in his meeting with relatives of the Kaduna train victims. The president’s language came across as scripted rather than heartfelt. It was wooden and rife with clichés. Here’s a taste: “It is understandable that emotions typically run high, we have received several suggestions about the deployment of lethal military force in extracting those still being held in captivity. This option has, indeed, been considered and evaluated. However, the condition to guarantee a successful outcome and minimize potential collateral damage could not be assured and, therefore, that course of action had to be reluctantly discarded. My primary concern is to get everyone released safe and unhurt.”

For months, the president’s audience had been racked by distress. At the very least, they deserved to hear comforting words straight from Buhari’s heart, not the cold, unfelt tongue of jaded speechwriters.

The president’s outing was clearly uninspiring. Yet, it was his spokesman, Garba Shehu, who offered more dispiriting and scandalous evidence of an administration cast adrift in a storm-tossed sea.

Presidential Spokesman Garba Shehu

In an interview with the BBC Hausa service, Shehu revealed that the mastermind of the Kaduna train assault had made a total fool of the Buhari administration. According to Shehu, the terrorist first demanded that the government free his pregnant wife from detention as a condition for his release of abducted commuters. The government complied. They took the woman to a hospital where she gave birth to twins. Then she and her babies were handed to the terrorist’s parents.

The emboldened terrorist did not free his captives. Instead, he asked for the release of the children of six or seven other militants’ children. The government did so. Even so, the terrorist would not let go of his prey.

Shehu had sense of the story’s import. He told his BBC interviewer, “Anyone who says government is not doing anything about their release might be unaware of efforts government is making to rescue the abductees. The important thing is that the government, since the occurrence of the incident, has been working very hard.” For him, the whole narrative underscored the administration’s hard work.

Victim’s family members at State House during the visit

That, I am afraid, is a terrible misreading. The reality is far less flattering. Without knowing it, Shehu had offered Nigerians and the world damning evidence of the government’s ineptitude. The president has a battalion of security and law enforcement officials at his service. Yet, all that brainpower could not design a plan to ensure that a terrorist commander would keep his word once the government met his condition? The government gave its quid, and gave it again, but never received its quo!

Here’s what transpired. A lone individual, with his wits about him, had dribbled an entire field of the president’s team and then scored twice. The terrorist had brought to the game a sense of artistry worthy of football maestro Cristiano Ronaldo. Team Buhari had come flatfooted, with no game plan, no attention to due diligence. It’s no wonder that their opponent had effortlessly Ronaldo’ed them!

Let’s think about it for a moment. One bush terrorist managed so easily to outwit the entire infrastructure of Nigeria’s security. Yet, Buhari never saw fit to fire any member of his team for sloppiness. And here’s a more troubling question: If one ragged guy could so roundly outsmart the Nigerian government, then what chance do Nigerian officials stand when they negotiate with counterparts from such countries or groups as China, South Africa, the European Union, or the IMF?

To follow Prof. Okey Ndibe on his powerful weekly exposés and other interesting political and entertainment news from Nigeria, click HERE to subscribe to the Life and Times newsletter…


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 CollegeBard 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.



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