A Case of Missed Opportunities
Today, Nigeria is in disarray. Brothers are killing one another while some sections of the country feel completely alienated, no thanks to President Muhammadu Buhari who has failed in the past three years to show leadership when it mattered most. Tobi Soniyi, Segun James and Shola Oyeyipo report
In recent Nigerian history, President Muhammadu Buhari will go down in history as the most uncaring, unsympathetic and insensitive leader the country has produced.
Two separate events on Tuesday May 22 illustrate this assertion. On that day, the victims of the Mbalom Church massacre in Benue State were buried. The killings which claimed the lives of two Catholic priests and 17 parishioners sparked condemnation worldwide and was a subject of a nationwide protest by Catholics.
The two priests, Rev Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, and 17 members of the congregation while killed during an early morning mass at St. Ignatius Catholic Church at Ayar Mbalom in the Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State.
The 19 were given a mass burial last Tuesday at Se Sugh Maria Pilgrimage Centre, Ayati Ikpayongo in Benue State.
On that day, President Muhammadu Buhari, whose inability to protect the lives of the victims led to their death, was busy in his office hosting Buhari Support Organisation! The president was busy playing politics with the security of the people. The people of Benue can bury their dead, what is of paramount important to our president is how he would get reelected as president. Nothing else matters! Eventhough, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was there, that day was not a day for President Buhari to play politics. He is the one elected president and not Osinbajo. Buhari has simply declined to show leadership when that quality is needed.
â€ŽThat attitude should not surprise many. It has become a pattern. The president simply does not care about the people he governs. His conduct usually gives him out even though the Presidency sometimes issues statements to portray the president as someone who cares. He takes delight in pleasing a section of the Nigerian people and those he thinks will help him get reeleted.
To those who think that they are the president’s people, German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor Martin NiemÃ¶ller’s famous quote should be instructive- “When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat. Then they came for the Jews, And I didnâ€™t speak up because I wasnâ€™t a Jew. â€ŽWhen they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.â€Ž”
â€ŽEarly Warning Signal
At the beginning of his administration, the president made it abundantly cleared the direction in which his government would go. Despite the occasional pandering towards statesmanship, the president has consistently been true to his words.
Shortly after he was sworn in and precisely, on July 22nd, 2015, the president â€Žwas on an official visit to the United States where he had to speak at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
After the president had spoken, members of the audience were invited to ask questions in a session moderated by former Undersecretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.
Dr. Pauline Baker, the President Emeritus of The Fund for Peace, said to the president: “My question relates to another area of Nigeria that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention during this trip and that is the Niger Delta. It’s a challenge that you are going to face. I wonder if you would tell us how you intend to approach it with particular reference to the amnesty, bunkering, and inclusive development?”
Initially, President Buhari did not appear to understand the question. However, after some help from Mr. Carson. President Buhari looked at Mr. Carson and said, â€œinclusive?â€
â€œInclusive governmentâ€¦including women, youthâ€ Mr. Carson responded to President Buhari. â€œI see,â€ the President said.
Finally the prescient answered thus: â€œI hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, gave me 97% cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%.
â€œI think these are political reality.”
A scrutiny of the Buhari’s three years in office reveals that the president continues to govern in accordance with the statement he made during that visit to the US.
Given the fact that he emerged president from an election that showed that the nation had been divided along ethnic lines, the president’s first priority should have been to embark on measures that would unite the country. However, President Buhari failed to assure those who did not vote for him that he is a president for all. He had the opportunity to rally Nigerians behind him as a united people but the president failed in this regard. That is a lost opportunity. â€ŽThe president is still under the illusion that force can be used to hold Nigeria together. Perhaps, he is emboldened by his use of force to silence members of the Indegenous People of Biafra. If anything, the president has merely succeeded in postponing the evil days.
Having been elected as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he was expected to be president of all, not only of the people who gave him 97 per cent of the votes.
Failure to Stop Killings
Today,activists will gather at Unity Fountain in Abuja and elsewhere in Nigeria to hold a solemn service in remembrance of those who had lost their lives to the killing spree now taking place in Nigeria. It is part of the activities lined up for the National Day Mourning.
The group coordinating the event, Office of the Citizen, which is made up civil society organisations, has been crying out loud hoping that someone in government would take decisive steps and stop the killings but nobody listened.
According to the Office of the Citizen, the level of impunity and frequency of killings in Nigeria in recent times is a source of grave concern to citizens.
It said: “We demand that this dehumanization of Nigeria lives must stop.”
Under Buhari, Nigeria has become a killing field. For so long, the president was in denial. Later, the attitude was that it was not a big deal. When the burial of 57 people killed in one fell swoop in Benue became a national embarrassment, the presidency shocked Nigerians by saying that they had killed more people in Zamfara State. Meaning that the presidency could not understand why the nation was making a fuse over the killing of 57 people in Benue after all more people had died in Zamfara State without anyone shouting about it. That is the absurd level to which governance has been elevated in the past three years.
Instead of campaigning to get reeleted, the president should work extremely hard to justify the four-year mandate already given to him. Trust Nigerians, if Buhari has ruled well, they would have been more than happy to give him a second term. He will not even need to campaign for it. He would have earned it on a platter of gold.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) made the point when it called on the president to suspend his campaign for a second term till he had addressed and stopped the killings by herdsmen.
CAN, in a statement by its spokesman, Pastor Bayo Oladeji, said, â€œWhile CAN is not opposed to the Presidentâ€™s exercise of his civic right by seeking re-election for the second time, we urge him to halt it for now and attend to the security problems occasioned by the criminal activities of the terrorists, herdsmen and bandits.
â€œCAN asks President Buhari to suspend his re-election bid until he restores sanity to the country while ensuring the release of Leah Sharibu, the remaining Chibok girls and other hostages from the captivity of the Boko Haram terrorists.â€
The brazeness with which herdsmen, bandits and militias killed people across the country and the government’s lacklustre response forced many to allege that the killings were being sponsored by those in authorities. A tough response from government would have served as an assurance for the people. But the government of Muhammadu Buhari failed to reassure people. Those he delegated powers to such as the Inspector General of Police were simply overwhelmed.
As if to add salt to the injury of those who have lost loved ones to killer herdsmen, those in authority were defending the killers and justifying the killings. For instance, the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali provided justification for the attacks by suspected armed herdsmen when he attributed their nefarious activities to the enactment of anti-open grazing laws in some states.
Recently, President Buhari blamed former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who was killed in October 2011, almost seven years ago, for the ongoing herdsmen carnage in Nigeria.
He told Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who visited him at the Nigerian House that Gaddafi supporters found their way into Nigeria and that they are being used to slaughter innocent Nigerians.
A government that can not protect lives and properties has no reason to remain in power a day longer.
Nigeria’s Unity Threatened
Since the return of democracy in 1999, no time has the unity of the country been threatened as much as it is under â€ŽPresident Buhari. His actions and inaction forced people to seek protection under their regional or tribal associations. The South-east and the South-south felt completely isolated. IPOB threatened secession. Calls for the country to be restructured became strident.
Before Buhari came, policing the country, which is the legitimate duty of the police, had been outsourced to the armed forces. There has been no strategy to return the task to the police. A government that promised change was expected to do things differently. But not Buhari. He dispatched military to the Niger Delta and lately to the South-east. The military failed woefully in the Niger Delta and took the adoption of dialogue to resolve the dispute there.
As instructive as the success of dialogue in the Niger Delta is, the government of the day failed to adopt dialogue in resolving the IPOB crisis. Buhari sent in the military. A democratic country that routinely resorts to the use of the military to resolve agitation of marginalisation and other domestics issues will not allow democracy to be well entrenched. The present administration failed to use the agitation for restructuring to deepen the nation’s democracy. It is another missed opportunity.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan is known to be an orator. However, there are two statements credited to him that, in our view, make him stand out as an icon of democracy. During the 2015 presidential election campaign, Jonathan reportedly said that his ambition to get reelected was not worth the blood of any Nigerian.
The president once wrote on his Facebook wall: â€œMy dear friends on Facebook, “I have said it before and I will continue to say and live by the fact that my ambition, and indeed the ambition of anybody, is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. Therefore, I urge all Nigerians to look forward in hope as we fulfil the dreams of our founding fathers to â€˜build a nation where peace and Justice reign'”.
This statement is commended to President Buhari.
Last Friday, Jonathan was in Ekiti State for the inauguration of a flyover built by the administration of Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose in Ado Ekiti.
At the event, Jonathan urged leaders to always strive to resist the pressure from unpatriotic elements wishing to subjugate democracy to attain selfish ends.
He said: â€œI use this opportunity to call on Mr. President because I was there before, and I know that when you are there, there is so much pressure on you to use all the powers at your disposal to subjugate democracy.
â€œDonâ€™t do that because what you go with, at the end of the day, is the good name you leave behind. If you use your powers negatively, posterity will haunt you. I call on Mr. President to use his power to strengthen democracy because all the great democracies we see in the world today were built by people. People make sacrifices to make their country great.â€
Making a case for good leadership, the former President stated further that he always felt sad each time people said negative things about Nigeria, noting that it has got to a stage where the nationâ€™s neighbours cite the country as a bad example.
He said: â€œA President of a neighbouring country, Ghana, recently made two negative remarks about Nigeria. First, the current Ghanaian President was addressing Ghanaians about the movement of cattle within their shores and he said openly that Ghana is not like Nigeria where cattle roam freely. That was quite uncomplimentary.
He added that recently the same President was speaking in the United Kingdom when he made disparaging remarks about Nigeriaâ€™s currency.
â€œIf it has got to a level when the Presidents of neighbouring countries will cite Nigeria as a negative example, then we must know as leaders of this country that certain things are not going well, and we must change the way we do things.â€
Rule of Law Takes Back Seat
Although President Buhari, during the campaign claimed that he had become a democratic, many did not believe him. They chose to doubt him because of the iron fist with which he exercised powers as a military head of state. Still, many were willing to trust. But as it turned out, old habit dies hard.
In the past three years, Nigerians watched helplessly as government relegated rule of to the background. You need not look far to find instances where the government of the day had substituted rule of law with its own rules. Former National Security Adviser to ex-president Jonathan, Ibrahim Dasuki remains in custody even though he was granted bail by the courts. Leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibraheem El’Zakzaky remains in custody after his followers were massacred by the army. The court had ordered that he be released but the authorities refused and have now charged him with some criminal offences while those who killed his followers are enjoying life their freedom.
Members of the opposition are being hounded on the pretext that government is fighting corruption. But loyalists of the president are free to steal. The long arm of the law is too short to catch corrupt friends of the president.
In October 2016, operatives of the Department of State Security Services, like armed robbers in the night broke into judges house under what they called sting operation. Shockingly, the Vice President, a professor of law defended the indefensible and justified the ignominious act. When rule of law is entrenched everyone benefits, but its absence means that no one is really safe. The argument, which they conveniently ignored is that: it is not whether the judges are corrupt or not it is whether the way and manner they were attacked was justifiable in a democracy. The good thing is that what goes around comes around. There is no guarantee that the house of former vice presidents can not be broken into at night in the future. It will not matter then, as it does not matter now whether the former vice presidents are corrupt or not.
Some of the affected judges made allegations of attempting to perverse the cause of justice against the president’s men. But because they are president’s men, they are untouchable. They were not investigated. Those who corruptly escorted Abdulrasheed Maina into the country and gave him double promotion are keeping their job. Yet we are fighting corruption. We also want Transparency International to rate us better. President Buhari has three years to prove himself a democrat but bungled it. It is another missed opportunity to make Nigeria a better place for all.
Another aspect of the concept of rule of law is accountability. How come is it that thousands of people have been killed but not a single person has been convicted for the killings? That in itself is an incentive to continue the killings. Nigeria, as a country can’t protect people from being killed and can’t arrest and prosecute those who killed others.
One Year Remaining
Can the president take advantage of the remaining one year of his term to turn a new leaf? Yes, he can. However, the signs are not looking good. For this to happen, the president must first convince himself that he has failed the people. The people are suffering. In some states, farmers can no longer go to their farms.
Another sign that this government in not likely to repent is its attitudes to criticisms. The idea of picking up a fight with anyone who criticises the government is a pathway to destruction. Goodluck Jonathan, Olusegun Oasanjo, Theophilus Danjuma, Ibrahim Babangida, Abbdulsalam Abubakar, Mathew Kukah can not all be wrong. These are people who have nothing to lose or gain by speaking truth to power. Directly or indirectly, they have spoken. A good president should listen.