Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Edo State, and a newcomer to the club of governors, is not about to inherit the inglorious indulgences of his garrulous predecessor. The new governor has comportment. He is not brash. He also, unlike his predecessor, does not hanker after headlines. He looks to me like a man who weighs his words before delivering them. But public office has a way of corrupting the innocent. It can drag you into the fray even when you hardly know the undercurrents of the issue at stake.
Obaseki has just suffered this fate. He has been cornered into carrying out an odd assignment. They chose him, for whatever reason, to speak on behalf of the governors, even when the Governors Forum has a chairman. Obaseki was drafted to tell Nigerians that the governors of the 36 states of the federation have permitted President Muhammadu Buhari to withdraw a whopping $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the prosecution of the Boko Haram war in the North East. That is how they do it. When there is an odd job to do, they look for innocent men to carry it out. They want to imbue the issue with a veneer of acceptability. That is why they will not choose a Nasir el-Rufai to do the job. That was why the announcement was not made by a Kashim Shettima. It has to be done by a man without stigma. Someone who has no history of controversy. They want the message to look as acceptable as the messenger.
Nigerians will certainly leave Obaseki out of this matter. They know that he acted innocently. But they will not ignore his vexatious message. And the message bears repeating. The Buhari government has been mandated by governors to withdraw $1 billion from the ECA to step up the fight against insurgency. That is the big story. It is developing by the day. Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State has given a lie to its authenticity. He has dissociated himself from the plan. He said he was not part of the decision. He does not support it. A good number of opposition governors who, ordinarily, should see through the plot have gone reticent. They are agonising inwardly. They do not have the courage of an Ayo Fayose.
Then to preempt a possible umbrage from the National Assembly, Femi Gbajabiamila, a stalwart of the ruling All Progressives Congress and a vocal member of the House of Representatives, has put a caveat on the unfolding drama. He said the National Assembly does not have powers to look into the way the ECA is being managed. Only state Houses of Assembly, according to him, can raise questions on the matter. If the national legislature is persuaded by Gbajabiamila’s argument, it will mean that the legislature has rubber-stamped the approval given to Buhari by the governors. There is nothing to expect from state legislatures. They are mere extensions of the executive branch of government across the states. Given this set-up, it becomes incumbent on we, the people of Nigeria, to deal with the issue. But we should not be surprised if those who may not be comfortable with our interventions argue also that we do not have the powers to go against what the governors have said. We elected them into office. So we hear and see through them. That may be the cheapest piece of blackmail. But we can hardly rise above it. Perhaps the only weapon we have is the one we are trying to wield here. We have to hold government to account. We need to raise critical points of order. We need to raise questions in the hope that government would, in the process, illuminate the issue.
Anybody who has been following government’s claims concerning the Boko Haram war cannot but shudder at the latest development. Winning the war against insurgency was a major campaign issue for Buhari. He posed as a war general who knew what to do about matters of warfare. Many believed him, including the London-based The Economist. Let us recall that assumed capacity to win the war against terror was one of the reasons why the magazine endorsed Buhari for the 2015 presidential election. The magazine has since made a volte face after Buhari’s serial failings.
Having grabbed power partly on the strength of its bogus promises, the Buhari government was quick in telling its story and even exaggerated it. Shortly after assumption of office, Buhari relocated the command and control unit of the Nigerian Army to Maiduguri. Many considered the move a smart one. A General is in the saddle. He knows what it means to wage war. He was given a stamp of approval. With new service chiefs in place, the President looked set to deal a devastating blow on Boko Haram. And so he set sail. Soon after, Lai Mohammed, the man who is never tired of twisting facts, went to town. Six months into the life of the administration, he declared triumphantly that government had defeated Boko Haram. Mohammed had a clear objective. He wanted the world to believe that the government of the day had achieved what its predecessor could not achieve. He was not interested in the actual defeat of Boko Haram. He merely played to the gallery. But his claim did not stick. No sooner had Mohammed declared Boko Haram defeated than the terrorists struck. They sacked Dalori, a town in Borno State, in broad daylight. At the end of the attack, over 100 people lay dead. Our fighting forces were caught off guard. That was a clear indication that Boko Haram was far from being defeated. Since then, the terrorists have never ceased to strike at any turn. The North East remains under siege. Government has always defended the unceasing attacks from Boko Haram. It tells us that we are fighting an asymmetric warfare. That such wars do not admit of complete elimination of the enemy. We have since reluctantly accepted that. But we are saying that we need to see a drastic reduction in the terrorist activities of the insurgents. At the moment, we are yet to see that. Boko Haram remains a strong fighting force. It has not been decimated, contrary to government’s claim.
We were yet to find common ground with government on thus matter when the unexpected happened. Government has gone outside the budget on defence. It is now to rely on an account, which it was up in arms against, as an opposition party. Government now wants to fund the Boko Haram through the ECA. That is strange indeed. But if we are to assume, as Mohammed would have us believe, that Boko Haram has been defeated, we cannot but wonder why government has to deploy a whopping $1 billion to fight a war it has already won. It may well be that government has not told us the truth about the state of the war against terror or it is hiding under the cover of the war to divert funds for other uses.
As should be expected, shrill voices of dissent have rent the air. All fingers are pointing towards 2019. Could it be true that government wants to amass funds for the prosecution of the 2019 general election while pretending to be fighting the Boko Haram war with the slush fund it has cornered? Government has a responsibility to clear the foggy atmosphere. A government presided over by a supposedly incorruptible man should not be seen engaging in underhand tactics.