ONE of the wars, which the government of Muhammadu Buhari has been waging with itself is its relentless struggle to give Nigerians the impression that there is significant difference between it and the government it succeeded. There, obviously, is a difference in the workings of both administrations. But the difference is not one of content or quality of governance. Rather, it is one of style and make-believe. The style in itself is not borne out of any ideological inclination or conviction, it is essentially that of a conscious struggle by those who fought the previous administration to a standstill to create an atmosphere of difference whether it exists or not.
If there is anything that the scenario we have before us is demonstrating very eloquently, it is the fact that the more things change, the more they look the same. The truism in this conventional wisdom as it applies to the new order in Nigeria can be demonstrated in a number of ways. But we will, for the purpose of this exercise, limit ourselves to the war against Boko Haram, especially as it relates to the abduction of the Chibok girls.
A few days ago, some concerned Nigerians had cause to reflect again on the Chibok incident. It has been two years since we were told that over 200 schoolgirls were abducted from Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. Nigeria, at that time, was a theatre of high wire political intrigues. Goodluck Jonathan, the then president, had a lot of odds stacked against him. Boko Haram insurgency had become a telling national malaise. The North East, the seat of the insurgency, was on edge. It was as if the country was at war with itself. The Jonathan administration did the best it could to contain the onslaught of Boko Haram. But the politics of the era made it appear as if it did not do well enough.
Since Buhari came into office almost a year ago, he has stopped at nothing in telling Nigerians that he is winning the war against Boko Haram. He has been claiming, at every turn, that the insurgents occupied 14 local government areas in the North East before he came into office. He recited that sing song in Beijing, China, a few days ago. What Buhari is doing here is to give the impression that he is succeeding where Jonathan failed. But discerning Nigerians cannot be led by the nose regardless of the grandstanding from government quarters. We know for a fact that the last one year of the Jonathan administration witnessed a massive onslaught against the insurgents. They were actually pushed to the fringes. That was why we had an atmosphere that allowed the conduct of elections in those territories, which Buhari benefitted massively from.
The fact of the matter is that we cannot say that anything has changed under the present government. Available statistics show that Boko Haram has killed more people in less than one year of Buhari than they did in the last two years of the Jonathan administration. Just as Boko Haram could not be completely routed during Jonathan, so it is under Buhari. There has been no significant difference in the approaches of the past and present administrations that permit Buhari’s chest-thumping. His claims over Boko Haram are, therefore, hollow.
The Chibok drama, more than anything else, demonstrates that claims do not necessarily translate to facts. Let us recall what transpired under Jonathan. Nigerians, who still have their memories intact, will recall that the abduction story, when it broke out, sounded very strange. It was like a story from a book. Doubts were expressed. But some people insisted that it was real; that an abduction actually took place. The world was scandalised by the development. Within weeks, the international Press moved in to inquire into the incident. Their finding was as scandalous as the Chibok drama. Government’s information managers were not prepared for the questions from the inquisitive international media. They could not confirm or deny the existence of Chibok. The impression it created was that government was not on top of the situation. This development created an image problem for the Jonathan administration in the eyes of the watching world. It provided Jonathan’s detractors more arsenal to work with. The government of the day was buffeted to no end.
Then the Chibok campaigners emerged from nowhere. They dramatised the incident. They sought to pull Jonathan out by marching to the presidential villa. But they were not allowed to gain entry. Then they shouted the more that the president, by his refusal to engage the campaigners, had lost a golden opportunity. They said the president had failed to score a point.
It was in this atmosphere that Buhari and his foot soldiers moved in. They drew a parallel between a supposedly weak Jonathan and a fire brand Buhari. While Jonathan was labelled as weak and clueless, Buhari was passed off as the real man, who has the grit and bite to deal with Nigeria’s testy situation. If Jonathan had no clue about what to do about Chibok, Buhari was said to have a ready solution. His ascension to power would put paid to all the worries about Chibok.
Indeed, a section of the international media was taken in by the propaganda. That was why THE ECONOMIST of London endorsed Buhari and held then that he would do better in the fight against the insurgents because as a retired General, he was likely going to command the respect of the military rank and file, who are in the forefront of the battle against Boko Haram.
Based on this and other related perceptions, Jonathan was badly weakened for the position he occupied. Before the elections commenced, Jonathan had thoroughly become a lame duck president. It was on the strength of this that Buhari rode to power. He had a lot of goodwill going for him.
But it has been one year since Buhari came into office. What can we say that he has done differently in respect of Chibok ? Like Jonathan before him, Buhari has not been able to rescue the girls. All the magic wand that was associated with Buhari have melted into thin air. Suddenly, Chibok has become a footnote in the agenda of the government. Rescuing the girls is no longer a priority.
Most significantly, Buhari, like Jonathan, could also not grant audience to the Chibok campaigners when they marched to the Villa a few days ago. They were stopped by security agents. But I have not heard anyone say that Buhari has lost an opportunity by not engaging the campaigners. If this is not a case of double standard, I wonder what else it can be. But no matter what any one chooses to call it, Buhari has proved to be as clueless as Jonathan in this matter.
And as if to confirm that the Buhari government is at sea over Chibok, government’s information team that spoke to the Cable News Network (CNN) a few days ago had no grasp of the issues. CNN’s “Proof of Life”video confounded the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. He equivocated to no end. He could not provide satisfactory answers to the questions directed at him. Other information managers of the administration could not do any better. They were as unsure as the Jonathan team when they were confronted by the same CNN two years ago. So, what really has changed?