There is an unwritten rule in the Nigerian Armed Forces that when there is a successful coup d’etat, the conspirators who put their lives on the line are rewarded.
The reward may be in the shape of juicy political appointments or money or enhanced ranks. Since there has been no successful coup in Nigeria since 1985 when General Muhammadu Buhari was toppled, we can assume that Lt. General Tukur Buratai earned his high rank through merit, not through compensation for coup conspiracy. From this analysis, we can say without any equivocation that he is probably a good soldier. However, his present assignment as Chief of Army Staff, whose duty it is to work along with other security operatives to eliminate insecurity in the country, has truly overwhelmed him. The Army has stated several times that the Boko Haram leader has been killed. Several times this has proved to be, let me not call it a lie, a way of being economical with the truth. The Army even brought a Koran, which was said to be his Koran. Not being an expert in these matters, I wondered in my naivety whether or not capturing his Koran would take us closer to the end of insurgency in the beleaguered states of northern-eastern Nigeria. That was many months ago. Insurgency has not receded. It has grown beyond our wildest imagination so much so that the immediate past governor of Borno State, Mr. Shettima, wept bitterly when he led a team of Borno heavy hitters to meet President Buhari sometime last year. Even at that point, we were still being told by the megaphones of the Federal Government that Boko Haram has been “defeated,” “technically defeated,” “degraded” and “technically degraded.” As a student of communication, I thoroughly enjoyed the vulgarity in the linguistic circumlocution employed by the spin doctors of the Army and the government. But as we speak today, Boko Haram has grown from strength to strength, causing the people of Borno State in particular sleepless nights. Lt. General Buratai has had, over the months, to revise, review and retool his theories of the Army’s grand failure to deal with the monster of insurgency and general insecurity not only in the North East but everywhere else in the country. Dealing with insecurity today is a daunting task because of the rapid obsolescence of security equipment in the face of rapid technological developments in the field. Sometime ago, the wives of some soldiers held a demonstration during which they complained that their husbands were thrown in the line of fire with obsolete equipment, far inferior to those wielded by the enemy. No one knows whether it was the case that the wife of a poor workman was eager to quarrel with the tools used by her husband to avoid the man being charged with mutiny if he protested directly. In more recent times, Buratai has accused soldiers on the front lines of low commitment to the job at hand. In actual fact, there has been no shortage of excuses from the general. This is good because we have something to chew on when we engage in our lamentation on the pathetic state of insecurity. On May 15, the general kindly gave us one more conspiracy theory when the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on the Army visited him in Maiduguri. He said that the military had strong evidence that politicians were sponsoring banditry, kidnapping and other criminal activities in the country. He said that they were sponsoring these criminal activities as a way of exacting their revenge on the nation. This is a wonderful theory, which we should all subject to a little bit of interrogation. One, I thought that banditry and kidnapping, etc, have been with us long before the elections in February and March 2019. The governor of Zamfara State, Mr. Abdulaziz Yari, who was also chairman of the Governors’ Forum, had actually pushed for state police as a way of tackling the menace root and branch. In fact, Mr. Yari offered to resign as chief security officer of his state, if that would lead to the elimination of these sundry crimes in his state. That happened several months before the elections. Maybe those who knew they would fail at the elections had started sponsoring these criminals even before they cast their ballots on election day, or what do you think?
Since Buratai knows these politicians who have been bringing pain and punishment to Nigerians and making him look incompetent in the discharge of his duties, why has he not caused them to be arrested and put on trial? When Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic was reduced to ashes in the 1970s, the Commission of Inquiry that General Olusegun Obasanjo’s government set up at the time came to the conclusion that the building was burnt by “unknown soldiers.” This time, the mayhem around the country is not caused by “unknown sponsors” because Buratai says that they are known; they are politicians who lost elections. We expect that, in the days ahead, these unpatriotic fellows will be rounded up so that the country can have a breather. That is a duty that the Chief of Army Staff owes the country and himself.
I don’t think anyone needs to be lectured on the pervasiveness and the audacity of these criminals today. Almost everyone knows someone who knows someone whose relation has been a victim. In the days of yore, criminals used to be hooded; they used to just tiptoe into their targeted places of invasion. Their equipment used to be hidden. Not anymore. Things are drastically different today. They walk around in broad daylight today, unhooded, with their AK-47 dangling on their neck like a necklace. Security men see them and take off faster than Usain Bolt, not to do battle with them but to save their own skins. They leave us all naked, neglected, unprotected as sheep without a shepherd. The truth is that these criminals have even taken the fight to the Army barracks and police stations, burning and bombing those facilities. When they do this, it is the soldiers and policemen who run for their dear lives, not the criminals. The criminals seem determined to beard the lions in their dens. What message does this state of affairs send to the rest of us? A message of helplessness and hopelessness. That is why leaders in several communities are telling their people to defend themselves with whatever means are available to them. But how many people are in a position to benefit from the advocacy of self-help? Pretty few because even the highways are no longer safe. On May 6, this year Olayinka Adegbehingbe, a professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, was kidnapped on the Ife-Ibadan highway on his way to the campus. The Ooni of Ife, Chief Adeyeye Ogunwusi, paid N5 million ransom before he was freed. A more pathetic case also occurred in the South West too a few days later. A family of three who visited Nigeria from the United States was kidnapped near the Federal University of Technology, Akure. They were forced to trek for nine kilometres into the bandits’ den in the forest. There they met other victims. The men, apparently sex-starved, allegedly raped the woman repeatedly for five days until a ransom of N8 million was paid for their release. The woman has vowed not to set foot on Nigerian soil ever again. These incidents indicate that no road is safe, no time is safe, in Nigeria today. Before now, armed robbers used to attack travellers at night. Now they are comfortable enough to operate during the day. At night, they sleep or go to parties dressed in designer suits or well-embroidered babanriga. When they return from these parties, they freshen up and take their equipment into the streets, their office, for duty. They make it seem like the new normal, the way many of us go to work in our offices. The streets and the forests are their own offices and we their unwilling clientele.
Now, a few things agitate the mind of all concerned persons. Why has President Buhari refused to tinker with the security personnel so that new personnel can bring new ideas on board? Is there anything he knows that we don’t? He has been reported as saying that it is unwise to change top security personnel in the middle of a war. Maybe, maybe not. But what new ideas have they put in the pot to convince us that some drastic improvement is on the way? None that I can see. The idea of state police has been proposed and pushed by various groups in the society but the President thinks that it is impracticable because of the apparent impecuniosity of some of the states. But the states have security votes. The idea that gun licences should be withdrawn from legitimate holders is by no means a solution. The guns held by the legitimate gun licence holders are not the guns that the bad boys are using. Illegal guns are all over the place and anyone who wants them can acquire them with relative ease.
Now the suspension of mining licences in Zamfara State and other states may do a little good, just a little good. But what will the government suspend in states where no mining is going on? The bandits have already put our lives on suspension. They have made our security operatives look like Boy Scouts before the hapless public. For how long are we going to go on like this?