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Is President Buhari Living in This Same Country?

Austyn Ogannah Column
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On this very page, in the July 10 edition of THEWILL newspaper, I questioned the absence of accountability after the attacks on Kuje Correctional Centre and St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State and warned about the multiple security threats facing the country.

I wrote that Kuje was neither that far from the National Assembly nor a long distance from the seat of power in Aso Rock. These two hallowed locations were within striking distance of a now much-emboldened group of dare-devil terrorists that perceive President Muhammadu Buhari as weak and indecisive, especially on very serious issues that require shift and timely responses.

This same weakness, which characterised the worst parts of the Goodluck Jonathan government and made him come across as clueless, is once again rearing its head in the incumbent. We are again in the hands of a President, a retired Army General for that matter, who appears aloof, nonchalant, unconcerned, overwhelmed and weak and seems to not exist in the same space as the rest of us. And, it leads me to ask if truly our President, Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, is really living in this same country.

My question gets even more worrying when it is taken alongside the fact that on Wednesday, July 27, last week, the country read that the typical aloofness of the President had reached new dizzying levels as it took the intervention of Governor Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna State, according to the evidence suggested by the governor himself, to alert Buhari of the threat to his life from terrorists operating cells within and around the nation’s capital city.

The governor’s warning to the allegedly uninformed President came after the latest episode of brazen confidence from the terrorists who seized people from a train travelling between Kaduna and Abuja on March 28, 2022. They threatened to kidnap the President and El-rufai if their demands were not met.

The terrorists, believed to be of the Ansaru Islamic radical sect, also threatened to kidnap other well-known Nigerians and wreak havoc across the country.

A video released from the terrorists’ den, which quickly went viral, showed some of them beating the last few male kidnap victims of the tragic train attack and ordering the women to line up in front of the men.

In the video, which lasted over three minutes, a bearded captive was forced to speak on their behalf. He claimed that the terrorists had assured them that they did not intend to hold them hostage for more than a week, but they were still in captivity because of the Federal Government’s lax attitude. He therefore pleaded with the international community and the United Nations to intervene on their behalf because the government had failed to guarantee their freedom.

In the background, an elderly woman, who was well advanced in age, could be heard denouncing the Federal Government in Hausa, while repeating, “Allah ya isa” (loosely translated in English as “We leave you with God”).

The woman bemoaned the fact that they had chosen the All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Buhari in the futile belief that the North and the entire nation would be secure only to be victims of the terrorism he was supposed to tackle head-long upon assumption of office in May, 2015.

The terrorists wanted to deliver a message for the world to see, but they directed it at the Buhari administration: “This is our message to the government of Nigeria and just as you have seen these people here, by God’s grace, you will see your leaders; your senators and state governors will come before us.

“These ones you are seeing here, we will keep some as our slaves and sell them off just as our Imam told you in the past. Just like the Chibok girls that were sold off, we will equally sell these ones as slaves. If you don’t adhere to our demands, we will kill the ones we need to kill and sell the remaining. By God’s grace, El-rufai, Buhari, we will bring you here.”

Nothing demonstrated the daredevilry that these terrorists currently boast of more than their confidence in bringing up one of them that they freed from the Kuje prison break and he had the effrontery to issue his own threats. He said: “Let the government know I am one of the Kuje prison escapees. I am here, God has rescued me. I am now once again bearing arms. We are going to destroy this country. Come and follow us, we will not change our stand. (sic) We are going to bring (kidnap) Governor El-rufai into this forest and belittle him the way we do to these people (victims of the train attack). You people know me, you declared me wanted to the world. I have declared you (government officials) wanted, too. I will kill you.”

It was this message that El-rufai brought to Buhari and which he later revealed came as news to the President. Speaking on a radio programme, El-rufai said: “I told him and the following day, Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle also confirmed to him that he saw the video too, to take action,” before adding that he hoped that the Federal Government would “do the right thing.”

The shocking revelation that the President was unaware of the viral video that contained an unveiled threat to his life flies at the face of the fact that he is supposed to be the Chief Security Officer of the country with the highest level of security apparatus and he is supposed to have daily security briefings on every aspect of the country’s welfare, most especially his own safety, which ranks highest in the concerns of the security agencies. This should leave every Nigerian worried, the same way it keeps me up at night and disturbs my day.

The fact that the July 5 attack on President Buhari’s advance convoy in Katsina nor the ambush and killing of at least eight soldiers of the Presidential Guard Brigade did not merit enough to jolt him into transforming the threats that Nigerians face daily across the country in the hands of armed bandits and marauding terrorists into an aggressive nationwide manhunt for these terrifying groups is unnerving.

It is shocking that such a clear and present danger came knocking on the President’s front door and a national emergency on insecurity was not declared to drive the fear of the nation’s military might straight in the heart of every individual that self-identifies as a terrorist across the length and breadth of the country.

There was no immediate deployment of every possible mechanism at the behest of Africa’s most populous black nation to fight this monstrosity to a standstill. How is it that the angry reactions of every concerned Nigerian to the frequency of these attacks is not matched by the Office of the President, constitutionally charged, as it is, with the welfare of the citizens and the security of every Nigerian, if it is possible that President Buhari exists in the same space as the rest of us?

The issue of security threats is competing for honours against the downturn of the economy and continuous decline in the value of the naira mainly due to the loss of more than USD$2 billion to unchecked crude oil theft and a wasteful fraudulent fuel subsidy programme that will gulp about N6.7 trillion this year.

In my column last week, I highlighted that due to the inseverable relationship between a country’s productivity output and the value of the country’s currency, the continued lack of capacity to be a productive country has stymied any chance for the naira to appreciate against other major currencies and the vexatious nose-dive in value of the naira currently cannot be avoided only for it to plunge further downward.

At some point last week, the USD$1 dollar exchanged for a record N715, a mind boggling development. As we have not grown the capacity to be a manufacturing country for the most mundane and easy-to to-manufacture daily use items like toothpicks and matches, this will only worsen. Our over-reliance on imports for almost everything that we consume, implies that we cannot have a strong economy and by implication, a strong currency.

Yet, there is no urgency on the part of the fiscal side of the government to arrest this slide. There is no aggressive push to make the situation better, if for nothing else, but to keep industries and companies currently in operation alive.

When this is juxtaposed with the disturbing waste of billions of dollars that have been buried into previous and current subsidies on petroleum products, the fraud that is the country’s bane is clear. No fewer than 500 thousand barrels of crude oil are lost on a daily basis in the Niger Delta, with crude trading above $100pd. This is putting a knife at the country’s jugular and threatening to hold the country to ransom and we are yet to see a fire brigade push to bring this under control. There is nothing aggressive to show it is a most serious crisis deserving the most serious response. There is no hope for solutions to the myriad of problems facing the Nigerian State as the President appears as unconcerned and unbothered as the social media meme of him picking his tooth while the country burns. He has not paid a visit to the oil-rich Niger Delta region for an on-the spot assessment of the problem and to engage the stakeholders of the area to put an end to this indiscriminate sabotage of the nation’s largest source of revenue.

Now, Nigerians live in fear of terrorists and bandit attacks with another Owo incident last week and incidents in Abuja that forced the closure of schools and compelled members of the National Assembly to begin calls for the impeachment of the president.

This is a clarion call to the urgency of the moment. It will be beneficial for everyone and President Muhammadu Buhari to wake up, be both proactive and reactive to the existential threats facing the Nigerian state and take very bold and decisive actions that is required of the elected leader of the biggest economy in Africa and the most populous black nation in the world.