By Ikechukwu Amaechi
WHY didn’t students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State – who were rustled, literally, like cows by terrorists on Friday, December 11 – get clearance from the military before going to school that fateful day?
That was the question I waited to hear from Garba Shehu, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Assistant on Media and Publicity, immediately the 333 lads were abducted from their dormitory and herded into one of the ungoverned spaces that dot all the nooks and crannies of this country where non-state actors hold sway.
Penultimate week when Boko Haram terrorists murdered rice farmers in Kwashabe village in Zabarmari, Jere Local Government Area of Borno State, Shehu, in an attempt to shield Buhari from blame, said the dumbest thing any presidential spokesman could ever say. Two days after the massacre, he told the BBC in an interview that the victims did not have military clearance to go to the farm. The statement was as tactless as it was preposterous.
But Shehu did not travel that route this time though he was yet again a guest of the BBC. Nevertheless, he made another jaw-dropping comment, announcing that only 10 students were abducted. His claim contradicts what Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, told a Federal Government delegation led by National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; and included Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; and Director-General, National Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Abubakar.
“Based on available record, we are still searching for 333 students …,” Masari told his guests. The governor had barely finished updating his guests dispatched from Abuja by a paternalistic and benevolent “Presidency” when Shehu, the de facto spokesperson of the Nigerian military, contradicted him.
Short of calling Masari, the chief security officer of the state, a liar, he tendentiously claimed that “only 10 children were remaining in the hands of the gunmen according to their colleagues who escaped from the gunmen.” So, which of the boys did Shehu talk to? Where? When? How? As if that was not bad enough, he told the BBC that Nigerian security forces had not only identified but also surrounded the location where the gunmen kept the abducted schoolchildren.
“Military commanders on the ground have the coordinates of where they believe the bandits are, and whoever they are holding. They have surrounded all of that area,” he boasted. Assuming, without conceding, that the military had indeed surrounded the location in what was an ongoing military operation, what was the idea of Shehu’s infantile boast? To reassure highly distraught parents that the military was on top of its game or that Buhari is in-charge?
Whatever was the goal, like the Zabarmari gaffe, what he said about the Kankara abductions was profoundly lacking in common sense. Yet, the Garba Shehu that I know is a highly intelligent journalist and communicator. Of course the idea of an intelligent journalist and communicator who spews garbage is an oxymoron. But that is what the Buhari presidency has done to Nigeria and Nigerians. You scratch your head when you hear the excuses given by those who still believe he is the messiah Nigeria desperately needs.
Nations rise and fall on the strength and quality of their leadership. Nigeria won’t be an exception. Buhari has reduced an entire country to a very mediocre level, reducing the serious business of leadership and governance to a kindergarten undertaking. How else can one explain the steps taken by the government since the Kankara abductions?
Buhari, a son-of-the-soil, to borrow a local lingo, arrived Daura, his ancestral home, a few hours before the abductions with all the security paraphernalia the Nigerian state can mobilise. Daura is about two-hour drive from Kankara on the 190.7 km Malunfashi-Jikamshi-Yashi Road.
Any other leader with an iota of emotional intelligence and empathy would have been in Kankara on Saturday morning to reassure the parents and, indeed, all Nigerians that the government has their back. The terrorists dared him. He would have deployed the entire state security infrastructure to ensure that wherever the children were, they were brought back within hours. Security presence in the forests would have been so overwhelming that the terrorists would be forced to flee. That is the least expected from a commander-in-chief who promised to lead from the front.
Buhari did none of that. Instead, he arranged for a delegation to visit from Abuja, a distance of 504.1 km, on Sunday, two days after the abductions, while he was busy visiting his cows in his lair. Rather than visit Kankara, he waited imperiously for Masari to come and brief him. And guess what? He did.
Meanwhile, trails are getting cold. Like the Chibok girls of 2014, some of the Kankara schoolboys that are back home are those who had the pluck of taking their destiny in their own hands by making a fateful dash for their freedom. The longer these boys stay in captivity, the more difficult it becomes to get all of them back alive.
So, why does the president not appreciate the urgency of the matter? Why is the import of the fact that this attack happened the same day he arrived his home state on a so-called week-long private visit, seemingly lost on him? Is he not aware that it is a terrible slap on his face, an affront no leader worth his onions should take?
It is sad that Buhari does not care that under his suzerainty, Nigeria has become a theatre of the absurd, which explains why hundreds of thugs would attack members of the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, and security experts who gathered at Arewa House Auditorium, Kaduna on Monday for a security summit. The CNG spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, in a statement, wondered how “a battalion of armed thugs can stroll free across the streets of central Kaduna wielding dangerous weapons without the intervention of the security.”
Only in Buhari’s Nigeria. There is no gain saying the fact that his presidency has become an existential threat to the country. The problem is his ethnic supremacist agenda, which is injurious to Nigeria. And it will only get worse unless the Northern political elite call him to order. For too long, the North has enabled Buhari in his transgressions. They share in his vision. They are his cheerleaders.
In September 2019, Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, granted a most illuminating interview to Channels Television where he insisted that the Federal Government-promoted National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP, must accommodate every Fulani herdsman including those from Chad, Niger, Mali and other neighbouring countries.
Mistrust and misconception
“I think there is a lot of mistrust and misconception as regards the Fulani man,” Mohammed said. “The Fulani man is a global or African person. He moves from The Gambia to Senegal and his nationality is Fulani. As a person I may have my relations in Cameroon but they are also Fulani. I am a Fulani man from my maternal side. We will just have to take this as our own heritage, something that is African. So, we cannot just close our borders and say the Fulani man is just a Nigerian.”
As if that is not provocative enough, he added: “In most cases, the crisis is precipitated by those outside Nigeria. When there is a reprisal, it is not the Fulani man within Nigeria that causes it. It is that culture of getting revenge which is embedded in the traditional Fulani man that attracts reprisal.”
This is the crux of the matter. Nigeria cannot be Fulani heritage, particularly when the Fulani in question is not a Nigerian. The insalubrious agenda of Buhari to make Nigeria home for every Fulani is the root cause of the crisis threatening not only to consume the North but the entire country. It is an agenda that is bound to fail. But it is an agenda that will wreak so much havoc before it fails.
The bandits that have taken over the forests in the Northwest and ancestral homes in the North Central are non-Nigerian Fulani who have abandoned animal husbandry for kidnapping for ransom and all manner of terrorist acts.
The attempt to forcefully alter the country’s demographics with a population that is not indigenous is the reason why Nigeria is in a mess right now. But it is an existential crisis which the Northern elite, particularly the indigenous Fulani population and their Hausa cousins, must lead the way in mitigating before it is too late.