Former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd.), has a reputation behind him. He shunned the allure of doublespeak after circumstances thrust him up as head of state. Like others before him, Nigerians thought that he would play games. But he belied the impressions of bookmakers by settling for the unexpected. He handed over power to civilians within the shortest time possible, contrary to the expectations of a wide spectrum of Nigerians. With that singular act, Abdulsalami wormed his way into the hearts of many Nigerians. He remains a model in leadership more than 20 years after his dignified exit from office.
That explains the goodwill he enjoys. His interventions on national issues are usually taken seriously. When the cloud of uncertainty enveloped the country in 2015 over the keenly contested presidential election, Abdulsalami was on hand to play a stabilising role. With quiet diplomacy and adroitness, he and a few other patriots weighed in on the situation. At the end of the day, Nigerians had no reason to lose sleep over the outcome of that election. People hardly read partisanship into his actions. That has remained the case until now.
In a situation such as ours, where the government of the day has displayed embarrassing ineptitude in matters of security, Abdulsalami has stepped forward to be counted among the concerned. He will not allow the country to descend into anarchy. He is not going to wait for a government that has failed in its primary responsibility to the people, that of protection of life and property. That is why he has set sail again.
But his legendary interventions on testy national issues suffered a setback a few days ago. In seeking ways to arrest the slide in the country, Abdulsalami had decided to invite major stakeholders to a roundtable. He wanted groups and individuals to look one another in the face and tell themselves some home truths. The overall objective was for Nigerians to dispassionately deal with the nagging issue of insecurity and ethno-religious cleavages that daily threaten the corporate existence of the country. But the effort, regrettably, failed. Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) was the spoilsport. The former head of state fell into the unfortunate error of thinking that Miyetti Allah has grown up. He thought that MACBAN measures up to Ohanaeze, Afenifere or Arewa Consultative Forum. Owing to the power and might it wields, some are beginning to imagine that Miyetti Allah can dine with kings. But that is hardly the case. That is why the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) decided to put MACBAN in its proper place when it declined to participate in a meeting where the cattlemen’s association was in attendance. SMBLF drew the attention of Abdulsalami to the significant omission of inviting one trade group to the exclusion of others. Where are the fishermen? Where are goat sellers and poultry farmers? Perhaps what marks Miyetti Allah out from the others is its power of coercion and suppression. Whereas the other unions are concerned about the buying and selling of their articles of trade, MACBAN does more than that. It has transformed into a fighting force that has stopped at nothing in unsettling every part of the country where it plies its trade. If this were not the selling point of MACBAN, it would not have been elevated by whoever to the level of Ohanaeze, Arewa or Afenifere. But the error of omission or commission is being challenged by those who know.
Beyond the rejection of the lionisation of MACBAN by SMBLF, we are yet to toe the right path in our quest to get out of our security quagmire. General Abdulsalami’s effort is commendable. It is a patriotic engagement. Dialogue, which was what Abdulsalami’s roundtable came up with as the way out, makes sense. But the issue we have on our hands goes beyond platitudes. If we drop platitudes and the passionate intensity that we usually bring to bear on matters of statehood, we will easily get out of the woods.
The way to go in this matter is that government should take over where Abdulsalami’s roundtable stops. And what should government be saying? Government must, as a first step, show commitment and fairness. It must resist the temptation of unequal treatment for its citizens. A partial government will always reap the kind of resentment that we experience in certain segments of the country. MACBAN, whose duty it is to breed cows, has been aided unduly by government to the extent that it now struts about with swagger-stick mentality. It is disturbing that an organisation whose members openly wield arms is not being stigmatised or hunted down by government. Miyetti Allah kills and accepts responsibility for its actions, yet there is no consequence for its actions. Government does not go after the killers. This is strange, considering the fact that Miyetti Allah is not a guerrilla group. It operates in the open. Yet it is allowed to get away with blue murder. No meaningful dialogue on security will take place in the land if Miyetti Allah continues to enjoy the privilege of killing and maiming while government looks the other way.
The fact of the matter is that the problem of insecurity has become hydra-headed under a government that came into office on the assumption that it would do well in securing the country. The Boko Haram insurgency, which government said it would put an end to, has remained a scourge. The insurgents are getting stronger by the day and government is merely fighting to keep them at bay. Government has no strategy anymore. It has no solution to the abductions perpetrated by Boko Haram. The Chibok girls remain missing. Government has given up on them and Nigerians have got tired of asking it to do something. Leah Sharibu has become history. Government claims to be doing something to secure her release. But we know that it is just entertaining us with histrionics. Government simply does not know what to do.
That is not all. Government has continued to invite more trouble to itself. Its refusal to obey court orders has thrown up a group known as Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN). Government’s refusal to release IMN leader, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, in disregard of court orders, has thrown Abuja into a paroxysm of violence. Rather than toe the path of peace, government has decided to ban IMN and has gone ahead to declare it a terrorist organisation. Government must realise the grave implications of these grave actions. The other time it was the Indigenous People of Biafra. Now it is IMN. With all these, government is just increasing the number of flashpoints that it has to deal with. But it is heart-warming that some individuals are helping out where government seems to be failing. This is where Abdulsalami’s roundtable comes in. However, we must look beyond the roundtable at this time. The roundtable option will succeed when government has played its own role. Having done that, we can then sit around the roundtable to tie up whatever loose ends that may exist.