By Lillian Okenwa
“With all the happenings in Nigeria, if the president, his friends, and spokesmen believe that Nigeria is doing well, it’s either they do not live in Nigeria or perhaps reside in another realm.”
On the morning of Thursday, September 2, 2021, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina said Nigerians should be grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. The Presidential spokesman on a Channels Television morning show remarked that Buhari is on top of the security situation in the country and that things are a lot better under this government than they used to be.
Last year Adesina on the same station told Nigerians during the Sunday Politics programme to be grateful to President Buhari for his fight against insecurity in the country. He proclaimed that Buhari has done well in ensuring the security of lives and properties in Nigeria, despite evidence of widespread insecurity in the country. On account of the President’s goodness no doubt, Adesina on another occasion professed that Buhari is the most loved politician in Nigeria’s history— more popular than Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mallam Aminu Kano, and others.
Weeks ago, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed announced that terrorists could have achieved their aim of declaring an Islamic State in Nigeria if President Muhammadu Buhari had not acted decisively.
Totally ignorant of the President’s accomplishments, London-based news magazine, The Economist in its October 23, 2021, issue, described Buhari’s government as inept and high-handed, stressing that he, had also failed to tackle corruption. The 178-year-old magazine made this assertion in an editorial titled, ‘The Crime Scene at the Heart of Africa.’ The Economist noted that due to Buhari’s mismanagement of the economy, food prices had soared while life had become more difficult for Nigerians.
The Presidency did not hesitate to react. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, in a press statement declared that of all the country’s past leadership, his principal is the only one with the political will and determination to tackle all four threats of ISWAP/Boko Haram terrorism in the North-East; kidnapping and crime in the North-West; herder-farmer disputes in the central belt; and IPOB in the South-East concurrently.
Earlier, the Presidency warned the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), to stop what it described as divisive, irresponsible, and bare-faced publicity stunts and follow through with its legal claim in a Nigerian court of law. The Presidency in a Press Release signed by Garba Shehu told SERAP to challenge the federal government publicly, legally, and transparently. Part of the statement read: “Nigeria is comfortable that its record as Africa’s leading democracy and largest economy speaks for itself. Nigeria is amongst the top five countries in Africa for quality of life, and our ranking in the Human Development Index has steadily risen for a decade. This success is testament to the rights, rule of law, and strong, independent institutions enjoyed by all Nigerian citizens and others who live there.”
SERAP stoked the government’s anger by its lawsuit of November 26, 2021, in which it asked the court to “compel President Muhammadu Buhari to take immediate steps to ensure the arrest of soldiers and police officers indicted by the Lagos #EndSARS panel report for the shooting of peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate, and police brutality cases.” Prior to this action, SERAP unnerved the government with a different lawsuit over “[its] failure to publish the names of those indicted in the alleged misappropriation of over N6trn in the running of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) between 2000 and 2019, as documented in the recent Forensic Audit Report on NDDC.”
Notwithstanding the Presidency’s claim on security, bandits have continued to abduct, slaughter, and roast scores of travellers alive on various highways in northern Nigeria. Less than an hour to the arrival of President Buhari in Maiduguri, Borno state, last week, suspected Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists fired rockets into the city. The proximity of the attack was less than five kilometres away from Maiduguri International Airport and Air Force Base. Three persons were reportedly killed and the IGPhas expressed concern over the ability of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) to fire rockets in communities in Borno state.
Yet, sometime in May 2021, Alhaji Lai Mohammed in his usual ‘rousing’ speech assured that the government in the days ahead “will confront the challenges headlong and restore law and order, peace and security.”
As the storm raged unabated, rights activist and a former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu on December 1, 2021, tweeted via his Twitter handle (@ChidiOdinkalu): “In the last 13 weeks, @MBuhari has bn in 9 countries outside Nigeria, including Turkey, UAE, South Africa, France, Scotland, USA, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia. Over that period, over 1,000 #Nigerians have bn killed in #MassMurder. He is #NotAware.” But as Dele Momodu said in his article: “President Buhari and His Love of Global Stage”, President Buhari “loves the global stage and craves being under the spotlight of the klieg-lights and the flashing bulbs.” International matters are of more consequence.
Days ago some protesting youths, who came out en masse in Zaria, to demand an end to insecurity in Kaduna State and the entire Northern region were arrested and detained by the police and operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS). They had joined their counterparts in other parts of the region to protest the incessant killings, abductions, and other crimes in the North. The Kaduna State chapter of a rights group, Take It Back Movement, has demanded the release of eight #NorthIsBleeding protesters arrested by the security agents.
Similarly, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, condemned the continued detention of #EndSARS protesters who it said were rotting in jail. A statement signed by Executive Director EiE, Yemi Adamolekun read: “To find protesters being brutalised, illegally shot at, and arrested for exercising their fundamental right is a complete breach of their human rights.
“These were some of the disturbing encounters of Nigerians who participated in the October 2020 #EndSARS protest, where citizens came out en masse to bemoan the societal ills of police brutality, indiscriminate arrests, and the excesses of rogue police officers and operatives of different police units, especially the now-renamed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Peaceful protesters are not criminals; neither is peacefully protesting a criminal offence.”
In the meantime, Nigeria lost a whopping $1.22b in 203 days following the ban of Twitter which according to the federal government-sponsored the #EndSARS protest. Small businesses that depended on it for survival have since expired. Imagine an economy losing that much. But what does Nigeria’s government really care about these things or small people?
However, there must be something the government is not telling Nigerians. If citizens who are protesting troublesome situations in the country are arrested, shot at, killed, and detained by security operatives while criminals are running amok, then something is wrong. If, with all the happenings in Nigeria, the president, his friends and spokesmen believe, nay insist that Nigeria is doing well, then it’s either they do not live in Nigeria or perhaps reside in another realm.
Meanwhile, farmers and communities in different Northern states including Katsina, the President’s home state are groaning under the burden of terrorists. Farmers in Niger State claim that bandits storm their farms to kill, abduct, or tax them before they could cultivate their farms. In response, the Niger state government told the grieving communities not to pay levies and taxes to the gunmen before harvesting their crops. The meaning of that directive is not clear in the absence of any protection for the villagers.
Olalekan Bilesanmi shared the situation in neighbouring Zamfara State in an article in the Vanguard Newspaper ofSeptember 26, 2021. “It isn’t a list anyone would be proud of,” he said. “In plain terms, it is a frightening list. But here it is in black and white: 6,319 persons arbitrarily and wilfully killed; 3,672 kidnapped; N2,805,049,748 paid as ransom; 6,483 widows and 25,050 orphans left behind by slain victims; 215,241 cows, 141,404 sheep, 20,600 of other animals (such as camels and donkeys) rustled; and 3,587 houses, 1,487 motor vehicles and motorcycles burnt. Then a footnote to the list: Bandits operated 105 camps from which they launched deadly attacks on Zamfara, killing and stealing the people’s properties at will; their leaders identified. Grim figures, no doubt.”
The best Nigeria’s Information and Culture minister could muster about the tax collecting bandits was that bandits are like thugs known as ‘area boys’ who collect taxes in the South.
Another shocking revelation came from the coordinator of Sector 4 Command, Joint Border Patrol Team of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in the northwest, Mr. Aliyu Mohammed. Mohammed told newsmen in the full glare of television cameras that he had to offer seven bags of seized rice to bandits in exchange for freedom. Narrating one of his encounters with bandits in a bush in Katsina, he said the gunmen asked for seven out of the 37 bags of rice they seized at the time if the officers wanted to be released alive and he complied. Even the Nigeria Customs Service pays homage to them.
Earlier in the year, while delivering his Easter message, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, condemned the spate of insecurity under the Buhari-led federal administration. Kukah in the message titled “Nigeria: Before our glory departs,” said: “Taunted by Boko Haram, ravaged by bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, and other merchants of death across the nation, there is collective fear as to whether Nigeria’s glory is about to depart…” The presidency as usual launched a salvo against Kukah, tore him to shreds, and ignored his message.
Countless times, bandits have decimated thousands of Nigerian soldiers, overran military bases including the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) where they took soldiers captive. Boko Haram continually routs soldiers in North-Eastern Nigeria. They’re even believed to have superior weapons and equipment. After wasting public assets and more, the government is seeking amnesty for them.
In a recent interview with Vanguard Newspapers, Alhaji Buba Galadima, a former ally of the president said: “The highest the authorities could have done is to propagate an act or law saying that anyone caught doing banditry would face public execution or firing squad…” Galadima however turned round to say: “…you can’t declare somebody without an address, without name an outlaw,” thereby suggesting bandits/terrorists are faceless. But Islamic cleric and mediator Sheik Ahmad Gumi has been openly visiting, negotiating, and speaking on their behalf. He has even advised Federal Government to not only give blanket amnesty to bandits but use security budget for their amnesty. At some point, he said banditry will not stop unless they are granted amnesty. Also, the picture of Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina state with bandits wielding AK 47 in 2019 was viral. They were given red carpet treatment in the full glare of the cameras.
In August, the federal government announced that the reason it stopped negotiating with kidnappers of students in some parts of the north was that the bandits were using parts of the ransom to equip and re-arm themselves. At the time they considered paying ransoms, the government didn’t realise they were empowering the killers of those that brought them into office? How about re-absorbing them into the military? The government also didn’t consider the security implications? Something is off.
Conversely, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) which began their activities peacefully were hounded like criminals for demanding an independent state of Biafra in the South East of Nigeria through a referendum until they turned violent. An Amnesty International (AI) report revealed how extrajudicial execution and torture by Nigerian security forces, especially the Nigerian Army, led to the death of at least 150 pro-Biafra protesters across Nigeria’s south-east, between August 2015 and August 2016. The report titled: “Bullets Were Raining Everywhere”: Deadly Repression of Pro-Biafra Activists, relied on the analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs, and 146 eye witness testimonies which showed soldiers of the Nigeria military firing live ammunition to disperse protesters, most of them members of the separatist group, IPOB, without warning.
Months ago following the activities of unknown gunmen purported to be IPOB members, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Usman Baba gave an order for IPOB members to be shot at sight. This was followed by the president’s threat to clamp down on individuals perpetrating violence in the southeast region of the country. Not long after, there was a massive deployment of soldiers to the region. Next was indiscriminate mass raids, arresting and shooting innocent unarmed young men. It is doubtful that the actual ‘unknown gunmen’ are unknown. Why the situation in northern Nigeria has not been declared a national emergency begs for answers.
When the public hearings of the famous Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) popularly Oputa Panel wound up on Thursday, October 18, 2001, Chairman of the panel, Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa in his keynote address warned that the “simmering discontent” among the nationalities must not be allowed to fester. “Each ethnic group feels marginalized. From the memoranda and evidence from these groups, it became apparent that there exists a simmering discontent which should not ever be allowed to boil over. The challenge then is to find an answer to this dreadful fiend called marginalisation. And find an answer Nigeria must…” It’s been 20 years since…and the situation has festered.
▪︎ Ms. Okenwa is the publisher of Law and and Society Magazine, an online publication.