Nigeria on The Brink: Can Buhari, Elite End The Carnage? 

BEVERLY HILLS, May 02, (THEWILL) – Nigeria is right on the brink and the signs are very clear. The handwriting is clear everywhere. The general insecurity that started as a child’s play has blown into a full-scale nightmare. No one knows the likely outcome.

The Boko Haram crisis, which started in the North-East and spilled over right into the North Central region, has lingered for too long, with over 2 million Nigerians displaced since the crisis started more than 10 years ago, thousands killed and maimed by the radical Islamic terrorists.

The activities of other local terrorists, who abduct and kill their victims for ransom, have compounded the problems, with Nigeria now being regarded as one of the most dangerous place to live on earth.

Despite all the propaganda by the Federal Government that the war in the North-East is being won and the terrorists totally decimated, the insurgents successfully hoisted their flag in Niger State last week after occupying some communities, seizing women from their husbands and committing other atrocities without any resistance from security forces.

Sani Bello

The state governor, Sani Bello, saw the danger ahead and promptly raised the alarm about the reality that is dawning right under his watch, warning of the implications of the terrorists settling into communities just two hours away from the nation’s seat of power, Abuja.

“The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government,” says Section 14, sub- section 2 (b) of Chapter 11 of the 1999 Constitution on The Fundamental Principle and Direct Principles of State Policy. However, the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari has totally failed to ensure these as it now appears quite helpless.

For the first time in the modern era, the Nigerian elite have crossed the usually divisive religious, ethnic, partisan and sectarian fault lines and achieved national consensus on a burning national issue.

The national consensus on the worsening insecurity in the country now is that the Federal Government, as currently constituted, has been overwhelmed by terrorists and it should seek external help before the unthinkable, most likely an orgy of bloodletting that may sunder the country into an atomistic society perpetually at war with itself, happens.

EARLY WARNING SIGNS IGNORED

But the key question that is still festering and begging for an answer is:  Does the government truly know what to do about the near broken and failing state of the country?  Why did it ignore all the warning signs that were metaphorically as big as any letter of the alphabet on the wall for even the blind to see?

President Buhari

True, terrorism sprouted under late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s Administration and grew infantile wings under his successor, President Goodluck Jonathan, with the scandalous kidnap of over 230 secondary school girls in Chibok, Borno State in 2014 that drew global attention and the hashtag ‘#Bring Back Our Girls’. But there is no denying the fact that terrorism widely expanded under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari because the government parried or ignored all the warning signs that have inevitably led to the broken state in which Nigeria has found herself today. More so, for a government that won election on a three-point agenda of anti-corruption, anti- terrorism and economic development, all of which have been hobbled by the worsening insecurity.

The latest signal was the Tuesday, April 27, disclosure by Governor Bello of Niger State that for over a year, he had been calling on the Federal Government, without success, to help put an end to the activities of Boko Haram terrorists in his state.

“We have been calling on the Federal Government, but all our efforts were in vain. The Sambisa forest was thousands of kilometers away when I was calling on the government for help. Kaure in Niger State is less than two kilometres from Abuja. Boko Haram wants to use Niger as a new base to penetrate the North-Central geo-political zone,” Bello told journalists in Minna, the state capital, when he visited the Internally Displaced People’s Camp at the IBB Primary School near the Emir of Minna’s palace.

The result is that the terrorists have hoisted their flag in the communities and forced the people to pay taxes to them.

Sometime last year, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, Obadiah Mailafia, alerted the nation of the evil machinations of terrorists who had taken over the forests in the country with the sole aim of maiming, killing and looting across the country.

Also, last year, in November, the usually reticent and revered Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’ad Abukakar III, warned about the dire insecurity in northern Nigeria. He described the region as the “worst place” in the country to live in. He called on the Federal Government to “rise up to its responsibility and do well beyond the traditional condemnation, as lip service should stop…”

To underscore the importance of the Sultan’s alarm, elder statesman and leader of the Northern Elders Forum, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, told THEWILL at the time that once the supreme head of Muslims in the country had spoken on a grave issue as the Sultan did about insecurity in the North, it was like a stamp of authority on the matter.

Besides, in 2016, one year after President Buhari’s ascension to power, the Boko Haram had taken a bolder and dangerous step in consolidating its power. That year, it pledged allegiance to ISIS, three years after it had made a similar loyalty to al-Qaeda.

“When Boko Haram made those allegiances, Nigeria should have known that it was blending with international terrorism,” said Clement Mosindi, an international security expert based in Israel, at a recent international zoom meeting, organised by Nigerians in the diaspora over insecurity and attended by THEWILL.

“Since Boko Haram launched its war in the 2000’s it has not relented. So, when it is fighting ISIS has to assist. Nigeria is faced with international terrorism. Let’s call a spade a spade,” he said, adding, “We are running helter-skelter now because we have decided not to recognise the enormity of the situation. They come under the guise of herdsmen or bandits.”

Nigeria, alongside Afghanistan and Mali as the worst hit out of 169  countries, which recorded a substantial increase in deaths from terrorism in 2018. From that year, through 2020, Nigeria witnessed increased brutal farmer/ herder conflicts over grazing land leading to wanton loss of lives and properties.

Then in the wake of untamed anarchy, self-help apostles sprang up. Groups like the Eastern Security Network, set up by the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra in the South-East to a one- man riot squad known as ‘Sunday Igboho’ in the South-West and the regional Amotekun, and most recently EbubeAgu, gained prominence.

Even the #EndSARs protest by Nigerian youths against police brutality was, like other warning signals, a sign that things had got out of hand in Nigeria but, instead, the authorities treated all the insecurity indicators separately as symptoms rather than diseases of a decayed system. According to Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, the #End SARS protest shows that the security architecture of the country cannot guarantee policing and security in the country.

Speaking on Tuesday, April 27, at a virtual panel discussion on #EndSARS organised by the University of Notre Dame, as part of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies lecture series, Akeredolu, said; “The #EndSARS protest was not organised to loot and destroy. It was hijacked by hoodlums, particularly in Lagos. A situation where the policing of Nigeria is coordinated from a single centre in Abuja does not augur well for the country. The reason it cannot effectively tackle insecurity in Nigeria.”

SABOTAGE

The depth of sabotage within the lamentably faulty security architecture of the country can be understood in the light of the recently reported arrest of seven serving military officers said to be aiding bandits in Zamfara State, just few weeks after a retired Colonel and his girlfriend were identified as armourers of bandits terrorizing the state. Ibrahim Dosara, the state Commissioner of Information, who disclosed this to newsmen on Friday, April 16, said the suspects sabotaged military operations by sharing military intelligence, supplying uniforms, arms and ammunition and other facilities to armed bandits.

On April 28, a memo from the Office of the National Security Adviser on national security and intelligence meant for security agencies was leaked to the public.

According to the ONSA, “the correspondence was a routine threat assessment to ensure preparedness of agencies and not meant for public dissemination. In the period covered by the correspondence, threat analysis identified the need to advise airports management nationwide to upgrade existing security measures around the nation’s airports. Regrettably, the unauthorised release of this advisory is likely to raise fear among airport users home and abroad.”

The office thus was forced to release a statement to “reassure the public and all aviation stakeholders of the safety of our airports.”

A journalist with TV Continental, Babajide Kolade-Otitoju, captures the true picture of the act of sabotage in a report.

He said; “One of the most depressing things to watch is the Boko Haram video showing the looting of army weapons, including armoured tanks, Buffalo operational vehicles and MRAPs in Mainok. There are potentially grave implications when the enemy grabs these kinds of A grade weapons. This is just not right at all. It is now very clear there are saboteurs within the Armed Forces frustrating the efforts of decent officers and men. This is really deflating.”

ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS OF INSECURITY

The destruction of Nigeria’s economy, by extension the economic base, is one of the most gruesome effects of insecurity that has plagued the country in recent times.  No sector is spared as virtually all the productive channels are on their knees.  How and when the country will recover from the deep economic injury inflected by insecurity is yet to be imagined.

All the factors of production are in bad shape.  The human capital development which the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund urged the Nigerian Government to give priority attention has suffered a huge setback.  Schools are being closed down in many parts of the country, thereby worsening the already state of out-of-school children in which Nigeria comes tops amongst key global players.

The youths in secondary and post-secondary schools whose institutions have been shut to avert terrorists or bandits attacks will suffer a huge setback in their quest to acquire education or relevant skills that will make them productive.  The quality of teaching in most schools is bound to drop as teachers stay away from classes or prefer other trades that would not easily expose them to the reach of kidnappers and bandits.

A rise in the unemployment rate becomes unavoidable as has been the trend since Q4 2015 when it jumped from 10.4 percent to 33.28 percent as of Q4 2020, according to data by the National Bureau of Statistics.

Insecurity accounts for the continued rise in inflation with food driving the trend. According to the NBS, an increase in food prices at 20.6 percent has become worrisome as farmers in predominantly agricultural communities affected by insecurity have abandoned their farms. Many now live in the IDP camps where shortage of food, drugs and other basic necessities add to their misery.

Transportation of goods and services are under siege across the country with the kidnapping of travellers becoming rampant.

The increasing budgetary allocation to defence means an opportunity cost to basic infrastructure needs such as roads, education, health, electricity and others.

Experts say that huge parts of the defence budget are misappropriated, thereby creating double economic tragedy for the people.

“The amount of expenditure on the budget that is used for ‘security’ both at the federal and state levels is huge, “ Dr Obadiah Mailafia, a developmental economist and former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria said.

“This money, which is now voted for ‘insecurity’ could have been used for infrastructure and other development. So, we are ploughing money that could have been invested in infrastructure and human capital development into ‘security’. The most tragic is this … you will find out that most of that money was never used for security. It is pilfered and stolen away,” Obadiah said in an interview with THEWILL.

Uche Uwaleke, professor of Finance and Capital Market at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi agrees that the economic consequences of the rampaging insecurity is severe from all aspects.  He says it is all-encompassing and touches the key aspects of our lives.

These include “rising poverty level, weak economic growth, rising food inflation, unemployment, capital flight, declining foreign investments, bad PR for the country leading to high country risk, poor credit rating by Rating Services”, Uwaleke stated in a note to THEWILL.

To finance its expanding recurrent budgets and tackle insecurity amid sharp decline in revenue, the government has embarked on massive borrowing. Today, the nation’s debt stock has risen from N12.6 trillion in 2015 to N33 trillion as of December 31, 2021.

THE WAY FORWARD

In a meeting with the British Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, on Tuesday, April 26, at his office in Abuja, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, gave part of the government’s answer to the situation. He said there were may issues to address. They include deradicalisation, education, jobs, girl-child education to resolve the challenges of terrorism.

Apart from the sharing of intelligence with foreign partners, Professor Bola Akinterinwa, a former Director-General of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs thinks the Nigeria Armed Forces can do the job.

He said: “The best approach is to give capacity to the military, special financial muscle to fund training, buy the necessary weapons so that we will be able to fight independently.”

Mosindi said: “No country does it alone when it comes to international terrorism. Even Israel, despite its sophistication militarily, still seeks help from the US. But we must be able to articulate our position clearly to be able to get international support and also galvanize the citizenry.

“Our borders are porous. Countries are defined by borders. Borders are the first line of defense. There are over 3,000 illegal entry points into Nigeria, causing problems for policing in strategic alliance with our neighbours, namely Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Mali.

“There is need for inter-agency cooperation on intelligence gathering and sharing along the major levels of the DSS, NPF, NIA and IMM.”

A retired colonel, Hassan Labo, who was a guest at the Diaspora Conference, suggested funding, training and welfare for all security personnel. He canvassed the establishment of a military-industrial complex to produce weapons and a security trust fund that should be funded with a wide scope of participation on the basis of percentages determined by the income or profit of the participants such as companies in the oil sector, banking, manufacturing and civil servants.

Hon Ade Adeogun, a security expert and Vice Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on National Security, told THEWILL: “We must address the issue of good governance. Poor governance is the foundation of our situation. We need to reverse the trend so that the government is able to provide for the welfare and security of the citizens. We also need to build the capacity of our law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order. Lastly, as a nation, our leaders have not been acting and speaking in ways that discourage criminal tendencies.”

Colonel Labo said; “I am not a politician, but I know if we think outside the box and together find solutions to the problem of insecurity, we would be able to stop clear attempts to degenerate the country into anarchy with all these herdsmen conflict, banditry and terrorism.”

‘PROFOUND’ MEASURES UNDERWAY — NSA

Unfortunately for Nigerians who were expecting a swift and firm reaction to the scary situation that could obliterate Africa’s most populous country, President Buhari, in his uninspiring yet characteristic style, adjourned a key security meeting called on Friday, April 30 to Tuesday, May 3.

Alli Monguno.

The National Security Adviser, Alli Monguno, who explained what transpired at the meeting, said, “Concerned about the persisting security challenges in parts of the country, Mr President summoned a crucial meeting of the National Security Council today (Friday) as he continues to frontally confront the situation in the country.

“At today’s meeting, the President made it abundantly clear that while the insurgents, bandits and criminals are still at it, he has no doubt that the Nigerian security agencies and all of us as a nation will certainly overcome all the current security problems and defeat the forces of evil marauding about in different parts of the country.

“While the criminals continue to test the will of the Nigerian government, the President and the council which adjourned today’s critical meeting until Tuesday morning to receive further briefings from the security chiefs, are set and determined to decisively end the assault on the nation and will do all that it takes.

“Mr President is very prepared to take profound measures in the wider interest of the people and the Nigerian nation. There shall be no relenting until peace and security are significantly restored in our communities.”

ALL MOTION, NO MOVEMENT

However, Nigerians appear mostly frustrated and seem to have given up on the government’s ability and sincerity in ending this onslaught by radical Islamic terrorists.

All the meetings and consultations of the past have come to naught. Faced with a looming threat of war as bandits, insurgents, unknown gunmen, self-appointed messiahs carve up the country into territories amid a collapsed national security infrastructure with outnumbered, outgunned and unmotivated armed forces and policemen, the Nigerian ruling and thieving elite appear ready to talk to each other to resolve the challenge.

Senators, governors, scholars, amongst several key stakeholders, have joined the get-foreign-support bandwagon.

WHAT THEY SAID

On Tuesday, April 27, Senators at a plenary and four governors, namely, Babagana Zulum of Borno State, APC; Sani Bello of Niger State, APC; Samuel Ortom of Benue and Delta Ifeanyi Okowa, both of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party,  separately expressed concern over the continued killings and abductions nationwide and called on President Buhari to seek foreign help.

The senators who were debating a motion on insecurity in Niger State brought before the Senate on Tuesday by Senator Musa in support of Governor Bello’s disclosure that many communities in the state were under the control of Boko Haram, said the situation had gone out of the control of the Federal Government.

His colleague from the state, Bima Enagi (APC, Niger North), while contributing to the motion, said Nigerians could not continue to bear the pain of women being raped and forcibly married to Boko Haram terrorists.

Enagi, who said insecurity in the country was terrible, stated, “We cannot continue to allow Boko Haram to hoist flags in Nigerian territories. What is our army doing? What are all security agencies doing?

“It has become so shameful that a great country like Nigeria will be in this type of terrible situation. It seems the Federal Government is handling this insecurity with kid gloves. People are dying every day and nothing is being done. No serious, concrete situation on ground to confront these people (insurgents and bandits). I don’t know what else this Senate can do other than appeal to the government.”

Ike Ekweremadu, (PDP, Enugu West,) said; “Any government that cannot protect its citizens has lost legitimacy. We should not be ashamed to seek support.”

Senator Smart Adeyemi (APC, Kogi West), who shed tears while making his contribution, said, it is only ego that is preventing Nigeria from seeking foreign help.

“What is ego when Nigerians cannot sleep with two eyes closed?  What is ego when Nigerians are dying every day of hunger and are being killed with no help from anywhere? This Senate has to meet the President and make him see why he must seek foreign help. Our security architecture has collapsed, let us tell ourselves the truth…,” Adeyemi had lamented on the floor of the Senate.

For Governor Zulum, who spoke with State House correspondents last Monday night, after a meeting he had with Buhari at the Presidential Villa, he said the President should be told the truth about insecurity in the country.

“Few days ago, Damasak was attacked, hundreds of people started fleeing Damasak and now Geidam (in Yobe State) is almost deserted, many people have left Geidam. I think there is the need for us to get support for us to succeed in this war against insurgents. It is very pathetic,” he said.

Benue State governor, Ortom lamented the killing of seven citizens in Abegana area of the state.

For Okowa, “It is either there is a total rejig of the security architecture which cannot be in the immediate or declare a state of emergency, which, of course, is to ask for foreign help and no nation will because of ego, because of pride, because of wealth not seek help when it is dying. The way it is now, it is no longer partisanship, all political parties are saying the same thing.”

Professor Wole Soyinka had been saying virtually the same thing for the past one year, saying in the face of the government’s helplessness to deal with the anarchy, the assistance of foreign help should be sought. In a grave statement Monday, April 26, the Nobel laureate who said “Nigeria is at war” called on the president to “Seek help. Stop improvising with human lives. Youth – that is, the future – should not serve as a ritual offering on the altar of a failing state.”

On Tuesday, April 26, while meeting virtually with American Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, Buhari urged the United States Government, among other things, to consider re-locating the AFRICOM HQ from Germany to Africa—near the Theatre of Operation, against the backdrop of growing security challenges in West & Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region & the Sahel.

“Nigeria and her security forces remain resolutely committed to containing security challenges in our nation and region, and addressing their root causes.  The support of important and strategic partners like the United States of course cannot be overstated,” Buhari said.

The United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM, U.S. AFRICOM, and AFRICOM), is one of ten unified combatant commands of the United States Armed Forces, headquartered at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart , Germany. It is responsible for U.S. military operations, including fighting regional conflicts and maintaining military relations with 53 African nations.

NIGERIANS REACT

That first attempt by the President to seek foreign help, desperate as it is, may be fraught with sovereignty issues akin to jumping from the proverbial frying pan to fire.

But unlike the present consensus among the Nigerian ruling elite to seek external help, opinions are divided on how, who or what form that help should take.

Prof Bola Akinterinw

Prof Bola Akinterinwa, Foreign relations expert, thinks that going to the USA with the AFRICOM request is unadvisable, he told THEWILL in an interview.

He said: “AFRICOM must be well understood. If people say we should be asking for foreign help that should not be confused with the call on AFRICOM. That same call was made by late President Umaru Yar’Adua during a visit to the United States in 2007, saying that Nigeria will partner with the US on AFRICOM. Before he left the US, Nigerians were vehemently opposed to it. That was why the US had to re-present the idea 10 years later. Even the African Union opposed the concept when the organisation said it did not want a foreign military base on African soil.”

President Buhari, he said, may be well-intentioned in making the request, “but with all due respect, he does not know the implications.” He said the same hostile environment that greeted Yar’Adua remains unchanged.

Tracing the frosty relationship between the US government and Nigeria over security issues right from America’s refusal to sell missiles or allow Israel to do so to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram, and even going as far as blocking a private arms company, Akinterinwa warned that, “America will want to help you on its own terms.”

So what kind of help should Nigeria seek? “If they want to help,” he replied, “they can provide intelligence. They have the satellite to do all that.”

Also opposed to the presidential move is the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.

Speaking on Thursday in Abuja at the 2nd national security summit organised by the union, president of the organisation, Ayuba Wabba, said the idea to bring AFRICOM to Nigeria would be counter-productive.

He rather called on the Federal Government to provide all the necessary support for the Nigerian military to combat the various forms of insecurity.

According to him: “We are concerned about recent plans to relocate the U.S. African Command from Germany to Nigeria. While we welcome intelligence sharing and ammunition to support our Armed Forces, we warn that it will be counter-productive to replace our army with foreign soldiers.”

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