The ordinary Nigerian may not be a soldier or military strategist; but it is logical to question the innocuous merry-go-round by President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been holding endless and useless meetings with governors and the service chiefs amid the recent spike of attacks by bandits and Boko Haram insurgents that continues to claim the lives of many innocent Nigerians. These meetings have a peculiar crescendo as they come out with empty pontifications and sermons on how the military is winning the war against insurgents; only for the criminals to strike again. This kind of glib talk is laughable where it not pathetic. The president obviously wants to put a spin on what appears to be an embarrassing and shocking inadequacy by security forces, to end the orgy of violence that has claimed thousands of lives since May 29, 2015 when he took office. It is reckoned that Mr. President was aware of the dire security situation and the expectation was that the killing, maiming and terror would at least have been contained. Five years later, this has not happened. Indeed things seem to have gotten worse. As commander-in-chief, Buhari should note that he has spent more than five years in office without abatement. This is curious! It is therefore time to get serious about action not rhetoric. Therefore, the reality must be recognized and addressed very urgently and honestly, and the President needs to do more to reassure Nigerians of their safety and security.
It appears the Buhari administration is still trying to work out the details of its counter-insurgency strategy, but Nigerians are tired of the bloodletting and the people need a respite; yet Buhari spends his time holding meetings. Yesterday, the President began another round of meetings with members of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and Security Council in the State House, Abuja. Present at the meeting are Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd.), and the Chief of Staff, Prof Ibrahim Gambari. Governors Yahaya Bello (Kogi), Senator Douye Diri (Bayelsa), Babagana Zulum (Borno), David Umahi (Ebonyi), and Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos) joined the meeting virtually.
Security chiefs at the meeting were: Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Gabriel Olonisakin, Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, and the Director General, Department of State Services (DSS), Yusuf Bichi. Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-General Tukur Buratai was represented at the meeting. Also present were the Director- General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufa’i, Chief of Defence Military Intelligence, Air vice-Marshall Muhammed Salihu Usman, Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, and the Minister of Police Affairs, Maigari Dingyadi.
Tuesday’s meeting comes barely 24 hours after the president and the same service chiefs and heads of security agencies met with Northeastern governors, over the worsening insecurity in the country. Amidst the ongoing carnage, it is evident the president has been less than forthcoming in his assessment of the situation. Regardless of what might have informed the president’s state of denial, false hopes are unhelpful in this dreadful matter of insecurity and Nigerians listen to Buhari’s statements with an admixture of cynicism and genuine apprehension; given Buhari’s proclivity to pass the buck and blame the previous administration. Needless to remind the president that he has been in office for five years and counting and the buck stops at his desk!
Against the failure of the Buhari administration to provide security as a basic ingredient of national governance, the question must be asked on behalf of Nigerians: is there something in the counter-insurgency effort that Nigerians need to know and no one is telling them? Obviously, this indolence explains the lack of urgency, or modicum of seriousness, to match the bravado of the insurgents, but is this attitude an affirmation of the kind of Nigeria that Buhari really desires? Was Mr. President just displaying in the most shameless manner his helplessness? Surely, no government with the resources available to Nigeria would respond so feebly to the tenacious effrontery of criminal elements and a rag-tag terrorist group wantonly violating its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Unconventional war may be new to Nigeria, but the intelligence apparatus ought to, by now, have overcome initial setbacks and become proactive in operations to stave off senseless attacks on hapless Nigerians. The toll of insecurity and rising criminality and kidnappings is unquantifiable. If the President can afford to put a bold face on the precarious security situation, then it is pertinent to question his willingness to frontally address the insurgency, beyond mere lip-service.
Irrespective of what Buhari thinks or believe, the fact is that terrorists and bandits have declared war on the Nigerian state and that war has been raging and the insurgents and criminals are not losing; rather they seem to be winning. Not only have people been massacred and villages sacked and razed, civilians and soldiers are being killed every day by terrorists, armed bandits and other defiant sects. Churches, schools and mosques are no longer safe as they’ve become killing stations. Some Nigerians in the North have fled to neighboring countries to seek refuge. Nowhere is safe in Nigeria; soldiers who are supposed to be at the war front are resigning over lack of motivations and poor equipment from the service chiefs. This is the simplest understanding of winning. So, five years after taking office with a promise to end the insurgency, Buhari should not be deluded that he is grappling with a mop-up operation; rather the country is contending with a murderous band of hardened criminals and religious bigots and fanatics. This, by all means, demands whatever resolve Nigeria can muster to confront it.
While the efforts of the Nigerian security forces on the frontlines are commendable, the security forces ought to assume more offensive posture in engaging insurgents and armed robbers. Why would soldiers wait to be attacked before reacting? Much as the men in the trenches are doing their best in the present dire circumstances, the ease with which the criminals have operated is worrisome. The standing view is that Nigeria is not asserting with the necessary force, the full authority and power of the state in dealing with the rising criminality and insecurity challenge. How can anyone claim the terrorists are “losing” to the army only for the insurgents to thumb their nose at government by more sustained acts of violence?
To extricate himself from this debacle of denial, the president must face the painful truth about the nation in crisis and be realistic and should stop playing the ostrich. He must be humble enough to realize that all is not well with the polity; and that leadership has a lot to do with the problem. The President must also face the shameful situation that given its resources, the government has not acted as sagaciously as a country of right thinking leaders. Above all, the president should be under no illusions that the insecurity can be handled by the current under-performing service chiefs who ought to have been sacked long ago. In response to calls for their departure, Buhari through his media aide, Femi Adesina, said it is his prerogative to sack or replace service chiefs. Of course, but it is also his duty to protect the life and property of every Nigerian citizen which are being terrorized by criminals. Nigeria is now a nation in free fall, where bloodletting has become a daily occurrence. Presently, every part of the country; from Northeast to Northwest, Southeast to Southwest and Middle Belt is a free zone for agents of destruction, that is non-state armed bandits who are in the orgy of bloodletting. This is unacceptable!
With all the soft and hard power available to it, the Nigerian state cannot continue to face the challenge of insecurity from a position of weakness. It is not done. It must not happen. In any event, the criminals have been vigorously pursuing their grotesque campaign of human savagery and barbarism with remarkable success. The worst is already happening, and the President cannot continue to treat the unending bloodbath flippantly, let alone pretend about it. Only Buhari can say why in Nigeria, human blood is spilled every day and he cannot be bothered except commiserate with bereaved communities. What is now required is the political dexterity and strategy to prosecute the war against insecurity. In this regard, the President must rise up to his responsibility as commander-in chief.