Some nerves have been frayed over the statement credited to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, to the effect that a state of emergency will be declared in South East Nigeria, if South East governors allow members of IPOB attack security agencies again. I did not get to read the original statement, which Buratai was said to have made in this regard. For that reason, I am more inclined to see the statement attributed to him as hearsay. But it has become very tempting to believe the statement since the man being accused has not denied anything. His silence is suggestive of consent. We will, therefore, until the contrary is proved, proceed on the assumption that Buratai made that injurious interjection.
Unlike most commentators on the alleged threat to South East governors, and indeed to the entire zone, I prefer to situate the statement in the realm of a brainwave, which people occasionally suffer. Military officers can sometimes forget that they live in an environment where the civil populace hold sway and that any command you dish out, which directly or indirectly affects them, must be subjected to some kind of scrutiny. Military mentality, in whatever form it manifests, is usually displeasing to the ears and runs against the fine grains of decorum.
Did Buratai actually suffer a brainwave or was he merely displaying military mentality or both? We pose these questions considering the fact that the statement is purely provocative. It is both an insult to and an assault on the mentality of a people. It is braggadocio taken too far. So, did Buratai actually mean to say that? If he were a civilian, he would have stepped forward to deny the statement. Buratai has not done so, not because he is congratulating himself for the vexatious statement. He probably feels that whatever the civil populace thinks or does not think does not matter. He is also adamant because he knows that he cannot be brought to account for such recklessness. He knows that Nigeria has no abiding standard. It is a free world where anybody can act any role without being accused of trespass or impropriety. Were it not so, Buratai would have known that he was, by that statement, sounding a death knell for Nigeria. If we live in a proper human space, an army chief would not just throw down such a weighty statement and walk away as if nothing took place. The authorities that appointed him would have called him to order. He would have been sanctioned for toying with the country’s unity. Yes, he was toying with our corporate existence as a country. But he has moved on with swagger stick mentality because we live in a country where nothing matters.
Buratai’s haughty disdain for a people reminds me of my encounter with the former military administrator of Cross River State, Ibrahim Kefas, sometime in 1992. I had gone to interview the governor over his actions at the state-owned newspaper, Nigerian Chronicle, which culminated in the unceremonious dismissal of the editor of the newspaper. Kefas told his own side of the story. He denied what he needed to deny. But his denial was no denial in the real sense of the word. He sounded very patronising. His submissions dripped with military arrogance and haughtiness. He told me that he could do anything he wanted to do if he so wished. But he said he did not do some of the things he was accused of, not out of cowardice, but because he did not feel like doing them. Kefas did not speak like someone who could be held to account. He spoke as if he was the law itself. But the Kefas disposition was understandable in those years of military rule. Military mentality was one of conquest. But we must realise that things have changed. What worked in 1992 under the reign of the jackboots is not supposed to work in 2020, in a civilian dispensation.
But what really is the problem here? Are the governors to blame for security challenges in their domain? We would have answered this question in the affirmative if governors were truly the chief security officers of their states. But we know they are not. We call them chief security officers when we want to humour them. We know in actual fact that they are not in charge. So, why threaten governors who can do little or nothing over security in their domains? Beyond that, you cannot really say, comparatively speaking, that there is insecurity in the South East. There is no militancy or banditry in the territory. There is no insurgency, there is no terrorism. As a matter of fact, if every other zone of Nigeria were as peaceful as the South East, we would not say that the country had security challenges. Therefore, if there is any zone whose governors should be threatened over insecurity, the South East is certainly not that zone. Buratai’s statement is, therefore, misplaced. His anger, if that was what he suffered from at the time of making the statement, was misdirected. In his saner moments, the army chief will readily agree that IPOB is not a threat to national security. The Biafran agitators are not armed. They do not disturb public peace. What makes the authorities quake whenever IPOB is mentioned is the ultimate objective of the group. They say they want a return to Biafra. But that is only an agitation. They are not enforcing it. They are only exercising their right to freedom of association and assembly. The authorities will lose nothing by ignoring them.
Buratai has been told, and it bears repeating here, that he should focus his attention on zones or regions of Nigeria where life has become hugely unsafe owing to banditry, insurgency and outright terrorism. We have a surfeit of this in northern Nigeria. But I do not expect anybody to, on account of this, suggest that a state of emergency be declared in the terrorism-infested territories. It is not the fault of the governors of these states. Instead, we expect that our security forces should step up their efforts at stamping out the malaise. To seek to demonise the governors of the affected states is to lose track of the solution to the problem.
Beyond the attempt to make any group or section of the country look culpable in the insecurity problem in the land, the fact remains that uncritical stigmatisation will not help our cause. We must admit that terrorism has come to stay in Nigeria. Andrew Owoeye Azazi, the former National Security Adviser (NSA), said that much while he was in office. After the lethal attack on the United Nations building in Abuja by Boko Haram, the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, quickly summoned a meeting of the National Council of State (NCS). That was in September 2011. At the end of the meeting, the council submitted that Boko Haram was succeeding because the country’s security agencies were not prepared for the method that the terrorist organisation had brought to bear on terrorism. The council, which spoke through Azazi, made a number of recommendations but submitted that terrorism had come to stay in Nigeria.
Nine years after, we appear to be stuck in the mesh of confusion which Boko Haram threw the country into. We may have undertaken all that the NCS recommended in 2011, but we appear to be ending up with the same results. This situation should be a source of concern to our security agencies. They have to be creative and reflective. They need to employ uncommon tactics. This is what Buratai and his counterparts in other security agencies should concern themselves with. Seeking solutions where the problem does not exist will be an exercise in futility. South East Nigeria, as we all know, is not a security flashpoint in Nigeria today. To make it the focus of our fight against insecurity is tantamount to chasing shadows.