A Government’s Aversion to Criticisms

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Adeshina and Shehu.

Last week’s attack on Prof. Ango Abdullahi by presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina and the arrest of Nastura Sharif over a protest in Katsina have further exposed the presidency’s aversion to criticisms, writes Davidson Iriekpen

After about 48 hours in detention, Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), Nastura Sharif, was on Thursday released from detention. His offence was that he led a peaceful protest on Tuesday to draw attention of President Muhammadu Buhari to the incessant killings by bandits in the state and other northern states.

Sharif, who was arrested by the police and later moved to Abuja, during the protest, had demanded the immediate resignation of Governor Aminu Masari, if he could not guarantee the security of lives in the state. He and his group also demanded action from the government of President Buhari.

Narrating how Sharif was arrested, the group’s Director of Operations, Aminu Adam, said after the protest, the state Commissioner of Police, Sanusi Buba, invited leaders of the group for an interactive session in his office.

He said five member of the group, including himself and Sharif, had honoured a police invitation after which the group’s leader was detained.

The group added that following the intervention of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and other prominent well-meaning Nigerians and groups, Sharif was released on Thursday.

Sharif’s ordeal in the hands of the police is not new in recent times. It is gradually becoming a norm for the federal government to tag those who have had the courage to speak out against any of its inactions instead of learning from it. It is either the person is silenced by verbal attacks, arrests or detention.
In the last two weeks, over 160 people had been killed in armed violence across the North. In Katsina alone, 76 people had died and houses and other means of life destroyed. Late last month, over 76 people were reportedly killed in Sokoto.

This has been the pattern since 2017. There’s death every week. Nigeria has become a jungle. It is hard to convince many Nigerians that there is government in place in the country anymore.
In Borno, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara, Plateau and Benue States, it has been one agony of bloodletting or the other as over 3,000 lives have been wasted and thousands of homes destroyed since 2015, when Buhari came to power.

At the time protesters were planning to hit the streets, the Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in a statement titled, “Stop the Mass Killings in the North”, said it was sad and upset with the mass killings and increasing insecurity in the North.

The Christian body lamented that the development showed that Nigerian security agencies lack new tactics to handle banditry and other forms of criminalities in the country.

The association, which frowned at the mass killings and the increasing insecurity in the north, especially in Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Borno States, explained that in the last few weeks, hundreds of people had been killed by the Boko Haram sect and bandits.

Rev John Joseph Hayab, who signed the statement, stressed that the security agencies appear to be overwhelmed by the activities of the criminal elements in the country. He accused Nigerians of shying away from the reality of the problem and living in self-denial, while people are massacred by criminals, adding that people now live in perpetual fear as they are not safe on the highways and even in their homes.
Hayab stated that the insecurity in Nigeria has reached a level that rural communities are being invaded by bandits and farmers can longer go to their farms for fear of being killed or being abducted for ransom by gunmen.

“For us as a religious body, this country belongs to all Nigerians and our leaders must listen to the cries of Nigerians about the continuous declining security situation. The protection of lives and property of the citizenry is a constitutional responsibility of governments all over the world.
“Our government must therefore live up to this responsibility by tackling the present state of insecurity across the country. There is need for our leaders to do an honest stocktaking of the situation in our country.

“We need to check where we have gone wrong and what are those things we are doing that we need to do better. Many lives are being wasted almost on a daily basis by Boko Haram and bandit; people are being abducted and killed by kidnappers, because they could not pay the huge ransom demanded by the hoodlums.”
To paint how deplorable the situation has become, Governor Masari recently declared that his government had disappointed the people of Katsina State following its failure to ward off bandits and ensure protection of the residents.

“I don’t know what to tell them (referring to the people of the state). I cannot look at them in the face, because we have failed to protect them, contrary to our pledge to ensure the security of lives and property throughout the state.

“I am a very unhappy person, because we have never had any moment of respite in the last five years that the leadership of this state can describe as comfortable. I never expected the behaviour and the attitude of the people living in the forests, the bandits, whose behaviour is worse than that of animals.
“In the forest, a lion or a tiger kills only when it is hungry and it doesn’t kill all the animals; it only kills the one it can eat at a time. But what we see here is that the bandits come to town, spray bullets, kill indiscriminately for no purpose and no reasons whatsoever,” the governor said.

A cross-section of people in the North is angry with President Muhammadu Buhar-led government for not doing enough to protect them. Many cannot understand the rationale for constantly ignoring calls, including those of the National Assembly for President Buhari to sack the service chiefs.

The calls are hinged on the fact that the security heads, appointed in 2015, had outlived their usefulness. Many have also wondered the rationale for keeping the service chiefs, when people are dying almost on a daily basis without efforts from them.

For a government that touted security, tackling corruption and enhancing the economy as three of its cardinal objectives at inception, many cannot understand why President Buhari would allow the masses to continue to suffer.

Last Monday, a coalition of northern youth groups reiterated their calls on President Buhari to sack the service chiefs over the rising insecurity in the North, saying they have lost focus on how to tackle the criminals perpetrating the heinous crime.

Even the usually quiet Northern Elders Forum (NEF), last week, spoke out against the high rate of insecurity in the North, accusing President Buhari of failing to address the security challenges in the region.

The Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar lll also could not hold back his feeling on how people are dying indiscriminately in the hands of bandits and Boko Haram insurgents across the country.
The sultan, who is the spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims, also blamed the spate of killings, kidnappings and banditry on governments’ inability to stop the carnage.

In a statement, he urged both the federal and state governments to wake up to their responsibilities of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians as enshrined in the constitution.

“We implore the government to take all genuine calls, concerns so raised and recommendations proffered so far, even from perceived and/or alleged antagonists in good faith, in order to move the country on the path of glory – human security, as development in whatever guise, is utterly incomplete without security,” part of the statement released by the Secretary General of the JNI, Dr. Khalid Abubakar-Aliyu, said.

To show that the pressures on the president to act paid off, last Thursday, President Buhari summoned an emergency meeting of the security chiefs, where he pointedly warned that he would no longer condone further deteriorating security condition in the country. He further told the service that whatever they were doing was not good enough.

This is why many are wondering what was the reason for arresting Sharif in the first place? All over the world, peaceful protests and criticisms are meant to make the government rise up to its responsibilities.
This is not the case in Nigeria, where many of those who have had the courage to speak out have been silenced by the presidency. Rather than see the criticisms as a way of calling the government to order, they see it as discrediting it.

Last August, the publisher of Saharareporters, Omoyele Sowore, was arrested by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) for calling a protest against incessant killings and corruption in the country. Not only was he detained for 125 days despite two court orders mandating his release, he was later arraigned in court for treason.

For merely calling on the Buhari administration to tackle the constant attacks by bandits and Boko Haram insurgents, last week, Adesina descended heavily on former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Prof. Abdullahi, describing his Northern Elders Forum as a one-man show and “a mere irritant.” He added that the NEF is not a conglomeration of true elders but that of just Ango Abdullahi.

The revered Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has on many occasions in recent times received stern attacks from the presidency over his call on the government to address the problems in the country.
One of such was when he faulted the lockdown order of the federal government that Nigeria was not in a “war emergency”, another presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, mocked the playwright, saying he had no specialty in medicine but may choose to write a play on the pandemic after the emergency was over. The president’s spokesman advised Nigerians to trust science and not fiction.