THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
The Buhari administration told its critics two days ago that “enough is enough” on the observations that Nigeria might have become a “failed state.”
A trend is emerging in the rhetorical war waged against opponents and critics by the Buhari administration: the muscular offensive is targeted at the critical voices instead of smashing the problem.
The other day, the President himself descended on “irresponsible activists” in a speech he made at a ministerial retreat.
In a stout defence of the federal government this time round, Information Minister Lai Mohammed called out The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), human rights bodies especially Amnesty International and “jaundiced analysts and their lapdogs,” accusing them of posing as a “fighting force” against Nigeria.
The minister put it like this: “Nigeria is fending off attacks on many fronts, not just from terrorists and bandits, but also from some human rights organisations and the International Criminal Court (ICC), which seem to have colluded to exacerbate the challenges facing the country in the area of security.”
In the books of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, these external organisations are, in some respects, guilty of working against the interest of Nigeria as the nation confronts its multi-dimensional crisis.
The administration seems ready for a duel with its traducers.
That’s a pointer to interesting days ahead.
The minister also blames “a section of the local media” that has allegedly “been parroting these organisations without weighing the impact of their constant threats on the security of the nation.”
It is, however, clear from the tone and tenor of the minister’s statement that the administration is actually feeling some external pressures.
After all, Nigeria is not an island unto itself, as they say.
Certainly, these are not easy times to defend a government in Nigeria. The situation of the reputation managers of an administration that is decidedly dysfunctional deserves some sympathy. Well, that is if you happen to be generous in passing a verdict on them. Unfortunately, many are understandably not charitable to them at all. This reality could rankle those whose job it is to defend what is happening in Nigeria today.
The Buhari administration may, therefore, wish to learn some lessons from history as it responds to these pressures and, more crucially, confronts the worsening crisis.
By the way, these lessons are not of ancient history. They are lessons of fairly recent history.
About a quarter of a century ago, Nigeria was in a profound crisis under the military regime of the maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha. That regime faced enormous external pressures. Nigeria was a pariah in the international arena.
At this point, it is very important to make some prefatory clarifications. This is by no means an attempt to draw an inappropriate historical parallel between the dark days of Abacha and the present Nigerian condition. The contexts are vastly different from each other. The Nigeria of the Abacha years was not the same as today’s Nigeria despite all the problems.
Abacha was a military dictator who incarcerated those who opposed him including the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Bashorun Moshood Abiola, while others were killed or forced into exile. Abacha staged a coup to become Head of State. In contradistinction, Buhari has been democratically elected as president twice since 2015. For all the present problems of Nigeria, the Buhari administration cannot be described as a military regime.
The memory of the Abacha days may not be as distant as it might seem to the younger generation of Nigerians for some intriguing reasons.
In the Buhari administration and the political party of the President, the All Progressives Congress (APC), you would, in fact, find some political figures who were part of the Abacha regime on the one hand and those implacably opposed to Abacha till the end on the other hand. It would be interesting to see how the inter-play of forces inherent in this veiled political admixture would play out in the nearest future. Meanwhile, it can be safely said that the Abacha story should still be fresh in the memory of some of those in power and some who are prominent in today’s politics.
One of the lessons of history to be learnt from the Abacha years is that a government should solve the problem rather than focus on attacking the critics.
For those who prefer to target the critics and opponents instead of the problems in launching their political offensives, a 1995 publication of the Kaduna State government is hereby recommended.
It is entitled “Not in Our Character: Proceedings of the National Seminar on the Appraisal of the Social and Moral Image of the Nigerian Society”. It was in response to those the Abacha administration would probably regard as a “fighting force” destroying the image of Nigeria at that critical time especially the Nigerian and foreign media.
Remarkably, Abacha himself wrote the forward to the book. The conference, in which the papers published in the book were presented, was organised jointly by the Kaduna State Government, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the New Nigerian Newspapers Ltd. The venue was the State House, Kaduna. The military governor of Kaduna at that time, Col. Lawal Ja’afar Isa, was the chief host. He wrote the preface and, in fact, edited the 297-page publication. The minister of information at the time, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, of course, gave the keynote address that is also embodied in the book.
Some of those who participated in the conference as paper presenters, discussants and sub-thematic committee members at the conference have played prominent roles in this civil dispensation since 1999. Participants were drawn from every part of the country. In fact, a number of them are still playing prominent roles in government (at various tiers) and in democratic institutions.
The preoccupation of the conferees was the image of Nigeria with the following sub-themes: “Nigeria’s image and Home and Abroad;” the Media and National Development;” Social and Moral Values;” and Media Imperialism, Nigeria and the International World.”
The conference took place three months after the arrest of a former Head of state at the time, General Olusegun Obasanjo, his deputy ,General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, and a host of other officers on allegations of coup plotting.
Before then, the winner of the June 12 presidential election, Abiola, and a number of those fighting for the revalidation of the election had also been incarcerated.
There was clearly a political impasse in the country known to the whole world.
The conferees ignored the gravity of the crisis while lampooning Nigerian and foreign media for damaging the image of the country.
The communique did not address the political crisis that defined Nigeria at the time.
The conference only recommended that the Abacha regime should make “known its intention towards the nation to democratic governance early.”
No mention was made of the unjust detentions, killings and threats to the lives of critics. The communique did not call for the release of those incarcerated.
This was despite the fact that former agriculture minister, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, offered his own conflict resolution formular in his paper on “Western Media and the Nigerian Image.” He called on Abacha to release of Abiola. He also asked Abiola to renounce the June 12 mandate with the freedom to contest subsequent elections.
Reverend Father Hassan Mathew Kukah (as he then was) said : “The resolution of June 12 is not going happen when one side believes it has won the lingering impasse… We must find other ways of resolving the crisis of June 12. Whatever victories we may win now may just be pyrrhic victories.” He called for the “courage to be sincere in our pursuit of righteousness and justice.”
Kukah did not mention Abiola in name in his paper entitled “Political Stability, the Leadership Question and the Inevitability of Instability.” He only made a veiled reference to Abacha and Abiola when he said : “In fact, President de Klerk did not have to go back to the courts to set Mr. Nelson Mandela free. He realised that his freedom and that of his nation was tied to the imprisonment of Mr. Mandela”
On human rights, the conference concluded as follows : “There is the danger that the adoption of accusations of constant abuses of human rights in Nigeria amongst its anti-Nigerian war arsenal by hostile western interests will further complicate efforts to genuinely protect the concept and protection of human rights.” The human rights climate in the country was whitewashed.
Other snippets in the book could also be instructive.
For instance former minister of communication, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, spoke on the “Transformation of Nigerian Social and Moral Values.” Tahir was unsparing of the political class, business class, media elite and the intellectual elite. However, he was soft on the military in power at the time. Here is what he said of the military: “… Better educated about the state and better prepared professionally for its duties than almost any class, loosing cohesion due to stresses brought about by nascent and overt prytonianism, cliquism, cohortism… Benefitted from a return to esteem after Nov 17, 1993 (the date of the infamous Abacha coup) and the success at stabilising the country thereafter but risk being identified with the excessive hardship now plaguing ordinary people.” Tahir, a very brilliant sociologist, praised Abacha for stability while the country was at the risk of disintegration.
Instead of attacking the crisis facing the regime at the time, those who took up the task of the image-laundering were flaunting the achievements of the Abacha regime. They told the world that the criticisms against the regime were “not in our character” and that Nigeria was solving its problems in its own way.
Until Abacha died three years after the publication of “Not in Our Character,” Nigerians and the rest of the world saw that the socio-political and economic crisis defined the national character of Nigeria.
However, with the restoration of civil rule in 1999, the political crisis was resolved in a way. Consequently, the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo did not have to contend with any image problem or foreign bodies constituting a “a fighting force” against Nigeria.
The lesson of history here is obvious: managing the reputation of a country without solving the underlying problem causing the poor image is ultimately futile.
The ICC, human rights bodies including Amnesty International and the media are not the enemies of Nigeria. The issues are worsening insecurity, mass poverty and inequality.
Nigerians would, perhaps, not bother about what any foreign body or power says if the armed forces, police and other security agencies could keep their country secure. In fact, there would be no report for ICC to work upon or Amnesty International to spread if Buhari had fulfilled his electoral promise of securing the nation.
It’s insensitive to be telling a nation in which farmers are slaughtered on their farms and children abducted from schools that security is improving because bombs have not been exploded by mass murderers in recent times.
For instance, the image makers would find it difficult to convince the people of Zabarmari and Kankara that the security situation has improved in recent years. Dwelling on the relativity of disasters before the victims of insecurity does not show enough emotional intelligence.
The government should stop aiming at the wrong targets in launching its offensives. Instead the government should attack hunger, ignorance and disease. It should wage war against terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery.
The crisis of Nigeria is primarily that of governance. This should be the right target of any offensive.
The offensive could be launched in the right direction by means of running a functional and cohesive administration and managing the economy in a more competent manner. The atmosphere for this would, of course, be created by tackling insecurity with greater accountability and honesty of purpose.
“The ICC, human rights bodies including Amnesty International and the media are not the enemies of Nigeria. The issues are worsening insecurity, mass poverty and inequality”