SIMONKOLAWOLE! BY SIMON KOLAWOLE
Dear President Muhammadu Buhari, what a hell of a week it was! Again, undergraduates kidnapped in Kaduna were slain while the ransom was still being negotiated. More bloodbaths in Zamfara claimed over 100 lives. Over 50 villages were deserted in Niger after attacks by Boko Haram, who cheekily hoisted their dark flag in one of them. Our soldiers were killed in Borno. Nine police officers, including a DPO, were killed in Kebbi. Northerners were murdered and mutilated in Anambra. Gunmen razed a police command in Imo and killed five officers. In Akwa Ibom, police stations were attacked and officers, including a female, were killed. Et cetera et cetera and so on and so on.
Your Excellency, I wrote an article on July 19, 2009 entitled ‘Mr. President, Nigeria Is Going Down’. It was an open letter to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, whom I accused of sleeping on duty. I recall, and repeat, the opening salvo: “Mr President, I don’t know how you would take this, but there is no nicer way of putting it – Nigeria is going down. I have watched, helplessly, in the last few months as things appear to be spinning out of control on all fronts. What are you up to? At times, I wonder if you’re deliberately quiet or you are just too overwhelmed with the circumstances in which you have found yourself. The simplest of things appear to be too difficult for your administration to handle…”
Mind you, Mr President, this was in 2009 before Boko Haram became a thing, before insurgency was ever a possibility much less a probability, before bandits left our borders with Chad and came inland, before kidnapping leapfrogged armed robbery in crime statistics, before students were being routinely kidnapped, before police stations were targeted by arsonists, before the perennial herders/farmers clashes escalated and became framed as Fulani jihad — and long before the entire country became drenched in blood. I was only complaining about Yar’Adua’s foot-dragging on amnesty for Niger Delta militants and power projects. It now sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?
I will tell you a very short story, Mr President. In 2008, I travelled to the US for a conference. In my hand was a book, ‘The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States’ by Terry Lynn Karl. The immigration official, knowing I was from Nigeria, started to chat me up on the book. He asked: “What would you consider as Nigeria’s biggest problem?” I was not in the mood for a seminar. I was jetlagged. All I wanted was for him to stamp my passport and wave me on. I gave him the global template answer on Nigeria: corruption. But he offered a different perspective: “Some countries have political problems, others economic. Nigeria has both political and economic problems.”
Mr President, you came into office in 2015 declaring that Nigeria’s biggest problem was corruption — which you argued was responsible for the insecurity. You promised to tackle both. While the jury is still out on your anti-corruption war, the consensus, even among your diehard fans, is that the insecurity is getting out of hand. It is not limited to a few parts, as the case was in 2015, but spread across the country in an uncanny semblance of federal character. More so, the economy has been on a downward spiral and our political challenges are getting more complicated. So, we are battling with insecurity, in addition to economic and political crises. We are in a fix, urgently needing a fix.
I understand, Mr President, that some of your team members are of the opinion that the current insecurity is politically orchestrated ahead of the 2023 elections. But haven’t we heard this before? Some in the Goodluck Jonathan administration believed Boko Haram terrorism was politically motivated, geared towards the 2015 elections. I will tell your government exactly what I told the Jonathan administration: whether it is politics or not, it is the job of government to secure the country. The 1999 constitution does not say that if insecurity is politically motivated, we should sit down, twiddle with our fingers, watch criminals take over, and throw up our hands in surrender.
Before I proceed, Your Excellency, I want to be clear on this: I agree that there are those who criticise and hate you mainly because of religion, ethnicity and politics, not really because of what you have done or not done right. It appears this irritates you and makes you ignore or even dare your critics. But be assured, Your Excellency, that it is not peculiar to you. There were those who hated President Goodluck Jonathan because of his religion and ethnic identity too. Other former presidents had similar experiences. It is nothing new: that is the way we are wired in Nigeria and that cannot be an excuse not to do the needful in the interest of national peace and progress.
It may also interest you, Your Excellency, that there are those who support you blindly because they share your religion and ethnic identity — and even your politics. Nothing else matters to them. To this group, you can never be wrong. You are infallible. It is an emotional thing. They may be asking you to ignore criticism and treat your critics with scorn. Maybe it would also be of comfort to state that this is not limited to you: Jonathan also had his blind supporters who did not — and can still not — see that he did anything wrong in office. They even paint the picture that Nigeria was almost becoming as advanced as Singapore under Jonathan before he was “unjustly” voted out. So it goes.
Having said that, Mr President, I now want to make my point: Nigeria is going down, and very fast. I wish I could put it in a milder form, but no amount of honey can make my words sweet. Boko Haram, said to have been technically defeated since 2016, remains deadly; bandits are shedding blood in the north every day; kidnappers are behind, beside and in front of us; police stations are being attacked and police officers killed for fun in the south-east and south-south; Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB is revving up the campaign for Biafra by the minute; Sunday Igboho is leading the Yoruba in a war of independence; and some Niger Delta militants have announced a return to the trenches.
If you go down memory lane, Mr President, you would recall that one of your greatest campaign pitches in 2015 was to fight insecurity. Boko Haram was bombing mosques, churches, motor parks and shopping plazas with ease in FCT, Borno, Kaduna, Niger and Kano states, while bandits were terrorising Zamfara villagers without let or hinderance. I acknowledge that within your first year in office, you made tremendous progress against Boko Haram: they were truly beaten back at some point. Unfortunately, for reasons I would really love to know or understand, the insurgents staged a resurgence and many other areas of insecurity opened up. What exactly went wrong, Mr President?
Your Excellency, I know we are bedevilled by serious economic problems as a result of our usual ailments — low crude oil prices, low FX inflow and the inevitable devaluation of the naira — but I would not even put that at the same level with insecurity. We need to be alive first to spend the naira. While individuals and businesses can cope with rising inflation, unemployment, high interest rates and such like, only the state can tackle the insecurity that has taken hold of the land. This is not an Amotekun, civilian JTF or Arksego matter. We are not talking about pickpockets and armed robbers. How do we protect ourselves against kidnappers and terrorists bearing AK-47?
At this stage, Your Excellency, we want to see a president who is clearly on top of things and connects with our emotions. You appear too detached. A leader must be present with his people in good and bad times. There is a level of reassurance that comes with it. You were all over the country during the two electioneering cycles but withdrew thereafter as if talking to the people you lead is a burden or something beneath you. Even your most ardent supporters cannot defend this. I know some tasks can be delegated, and, yes, not all the things you are doing to combat the insecurity can be discussed openly, but we urgently need you, not just your aides, to communicate with us.
Speed is also of essence, Mr President. I have noticed that consistently, things are allowed to drag unattended to. When responses come, they are either too little, too late or they come with discordant tunes altogether. Not good, Mr President, not good. That is why many Nigerians have been questioning if anyone is really in charge. Nigerians have every reason to be sceptical or even cynical. Failure to act on time — with efficiency and the needed sensitivity — has put the country on a dangerous edge where insecurity collides with economic and political challenges. Even those who normally remain calm are now more than worried about how things could degenerate further.
I do not for a minute, Mr President, underestimate some of your strides. I do not support the view that you have achieved nothing in office as some of your dyed-in-the-wool critics would want us to believe. Those who are mocking your infrastructural projects and agricultural policies today would most likely eat their words in another five to 10 years when we begin to derive the benefits. I keep wondering what might have been if you met crude oil at $100/barrel. Oil made many Nigerian presidents shine in the past, so you have to bemoan your luck. But, Your Excellency, we need to be alive first to be able use the roads and eat the rice. At this rate of bloodshed, that is not guaranteed.
Mr President, Nigerians feel besieged. The condition is critical. They need the commander-in-chief to be the reassurer-in-chief. I know you have been taking some steps and holding several meetings, but whatever you are doing needs more firepower. It appears the criminals are this bold partly because they think they can get away with anything. I request that you begin to act in a way that even the criminals will say: “Baba is not playing o.” May I respectfully remind Your Excellency that you have only two years more in office, God willing. How you handle this delicate and defining period may eventually define your entire public service. Nigeria must not go down under your watch!
Please accept, Mr President, the assurances of my highest esteem.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
ADENUGA AT 68
Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr, chairman of Conoil Plc, Conoil Producing and Globacom, marked his 68th birthday on Thursday. He has a unique place in history. Many young Nigerians may not know that we used to pay N50 per minute for mobile calls, even if we spoke for just one second. Glo liberated us in 2003 with per second billing. Other telcos had said it was impossible but quickly followed suit. Glo also became the first “solo” company to build a high-capacity submarine fibre-optic cable from UK to Nigeria. Adenuga, who holds the French highest order of merit, the Commander of the Legion of Honour, has more grounds to conquer: Glo should become dominant across Africa. Felicitations!
With the failed attempt of the now sacked board of First Bank to oust Mr Adesola Kazeem Adeduntan as the MD/CEO, we are getting to know more sickening details of the unrelenting corporate banditry in Nigeria. Insiders use their vantage position to abuse processes and break the rules. While I don’t know all the inside details of First Bank boardroom politics, I have heard enough to make me puke. I must commend the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for stepping in decisively. We are just a step away from another banking crisis if the CBN does not become stricter. We have been through this path before and we have not fully recovered. AMCON is my witness. Ominous.
A lot of drama has played out in the reported case of sexual assault on an underage girl allegedly by Yoruba actor, Olanrewaju Omiyinka aka Baba Ijesha. I think there are some loopholes in the law which this saga has brought to the fore. We should use this opportunity to tighten them. For one, rape should not be statute-barred — definitely not by three months. I also think Omiyinka’s colleagues who tried to defend him need to apply wisdom. While it is true that the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty, rape is so repulsive that we should keep quiet and allow the police do their work rather than be seen as trying to paper over the allegation. Sensitive.
Thursday marked the seventh anniversary of TheCable, the “newspaper without newsprint” that I founded on April 29, 2014 “to deliver knowledge-driven journalism in the pursuit of Nigeria’s progress”. When I said I was going online, people asked: there are over 10,000 Nigerian websites offering news, so how would yours be different? Don’t you know online is dominated by blackmailers, hustlers, plagiarists and quacks? I promised we would be “professional”. I said we would deliver news with “speed and simplicity”. Seven years on, we are staying the course, thanks be to God. My special appreciation to all our friends and supporters over the years. Grateful!