One of the dangers of passing any commentary on matters involving life and death is the possibility of being misperceived or having one’s statement taken out of context. If you are in doubt, ask Malam Garba Shehu, senior presidential aide who made an innocuous comment that was deliberately hijacked and taken to the gutters. The impression out there, as far as purveyors of the misinformation are concerned, is that Shehu is callous, to say the least, and that he does not belong in the human race.
Nineteen years ago, at 8.46am on September 11, 2011, a total of nineteen terrorists hijacked different planes and hit at the heart of America’s soul. Hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the northern facade of the World Trade Centre in New York, audaciously repeating the same act of terror a few minutes later, at 9.03am, this time hitting the southern facade of the same iconic building. Still, moments later, another group of terrorists hit at the Pentagon, another iconic structure housing America’s Defence structure.
Hitting the Pentagon had a symbolic meaning for the terrorists. In concert with the White House, it was the most secure structure in the United States. So by hitting it, as the terrorists did, they were creating the impression that even the most secure places in the world, managed or guarded by the most equipped and enervated military known to mankind can be hit with ease by them.
Terrorists thrive in publicity and propaganda. They always want to create the impression of invincibility. The whole world was rattled. If that could happen to the all-powerful America, nowhere else in the world was safe. It was an attack that killed a total of 2,977 innocent souls, including military officers (at the Pentagon), as well as 412 emergency workers, 342 fire fighters (including a chaplain and two paramedics) and several others that still remained unaccounted for.
When that deadly attack happened, the whole of America rallied round the government of the day, giving it all kinds of moral support. The Congress gave President Bush all the support he needed, and nobody in the opposition called for the resignation of the President or any of the service chiefs of the American armed forces. You could even think that in America’s politics, there was no such thing as opposition, as those opposed to the government put every difference aside to join hands with those in power to fashion a way out, devoid of cheap politicking.
Before then, hundreds of attacks had been carried out by terrorists on American soil and elsewhere, in which thousands of the country’s citizens were killed for no reason that they were Americans. No official of government, whether in the military or the civil authorities, had ever resigned or asked by anyone to resign. Unlike Nigerians, Americans have the ability to separate politics from matters of national security, and every citizen sees himself or herself as a major stakeholder in the country’s war against terror. It is the reason America has continued to spend trillions of dollars, which the parliament keeps approving for the armed forces, without anyone batting an eyelid.
On the sidelines of the World News Congress that took place in Washington DC in June 2015, I took the liberty of arranging a formal visit to the Pentagon, alongside some colleagues from different global news platforms, and the generals we met told us, in response to a question as to why nobody in America’s security architecture was sacked after 9/11, that it was counter-productive to have a trained military officer resign from his job because replacing that experience was never easy.
Back to the meat of the matter at hand, that is, President Buhari’s non-appearance at the House of Representatives, which will have taken place yesterday, in response to the summons of the lower chamber of the National Assembly for the President to appear with his service chiefs, ministers, etc, to explain increasing cases of attacks on innocent Nigerian citizens. Here are some of the reasons it will never have meant anything meaningful if the President had gone ahead to address the legislators:
Firstly, in Nigeria, we have allowed the pulpit and the social media to be used as tools of division and sowing chaos, rather than the positive instruments that they are meant to be. Already, many Nigerians, and particularly the legislators, have taken a rigid position on the matter of security. To be fair to some of them, they hold the positions they do owing to their proclivity to be swayed by the crowd. Some of them do not have a mind of their own, with many having inferiority complex. What this means is that whatever President Buhari might wish to tell the federal lawmakers, there are many of them who have made up their minds to turn a deaf ear to it. To those brand of politicians, and there are very many of them, it was an opportunity for them to play dirty politics by using his appearance in their hallowed chambers to embarrass the President. Many would not want this to be said out. But it remains the bitter truth.
One also wonders how it was that in the entire House of Representatives, nobody thought about the dangerous implication of summoning the President of the nation to answer questions that would be asked by the legislators in an open parliament on matters of national security. Have these people forgotten that the terrorists also monitor news and even influence it somehow through its effective use of intense propaganda?
Neither the speaker nor the principal officers or other members of the parliament thought that the best approach, unless the whole intention was to ridicule the President, would have been for the leadership to collate all questions that needed answers and then meet with the President to have him answer them. That way, serious matters of security could be discussed, and the leadership would then find a good way to relate the discussion back to its members, in a manner that would not impinge on our national security.
This column does not care whether the parliament has the power to summon the President the way they did, or not. Even Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation, conceded that the President had the discretionary power to make such an appearance. But the main point the Minister made was on the implication of such to national security, which none of the legislators was on record to have pointed out, an indication of how weak intellectually, with all due respect, most of the law makers are.
One also wonders how comes neither the Speaker nor any of his principal officers thought that the opposition would deploy such an opportunity to seek to ridicule the President. Given the type of dirty politics we play in this country, and against the backdrop of calls by one of them for the President to resign or be impeached, no one needed to be told that such an open invitation would have been a recipe for chaos.
It is wrong to call even the service chiefs to such an open meeting, involving almost four hundred people, which will also be beamed live on national television, to be watched by millions, including the terrorists. Relevant committees of the parliament ought to have been mandated to hold such a meeting, and the leadership must ensure that none of the members of the committee has any sympathy for Boko Haram or any terror group.
One is saying this because in this country, especially in the legislature, appointments to committees are more often than not, determined by political patronage and not pedigree. In serious parliaments globally, their security and intelligence committees are always peopled by legislators that personify integrity, and who have an unimpeachable record of selfless service to their respective country. Is that what obtains here, in Nigeria?
Your guess is as good as mine. The inability of leaders of our respective parliaments to appoint square pegs in square holes is the very reason our national parliament has been rated as one of the most ineffective in the world. It also informs why hundreds of billions allocated to them yearly mostly go down the drain.
Our legislators know that they themselves, intentionally or otherwise, are integral parts of the insecurity bedeviling many parts of this country. Virtually everyone of them has several policemen guarding his or her house, with others following them about, often with siren blaring all over the place. By the time you add up the total number of security personnel guarding our individual legislators, you will readily find that it aggregates to several thousands, that will have been deployed in beats that are of national and collective significance to all of us, the rich and the poor. And this is happening in a country with one of the lowest rate of number of police per capita, in the whole world.
But because many of our lawmakers are not accountable to their constituents, most of them always fear being attacked, the very reason they go about with large number of security personnel, some of who are ridiculously assigned to their wives, to be holding their bags. So, before they invite the President or any security official, one expected the legislators to firstly do a critical self-appraisal and see the role they individually play in deepening our insecurity.
Other factors deepening our insecurity, as mentioned in this column last week, include the resort by many of our lawmakers to corner many job offers that are meant for ordinary Nigerians, as well as their denial of opportunities for ordinary Nigerians to thrive, by the humongous sums they receive in salary and allowances monthly. When the sum of two million naira was given to our legislators for Christmas last year, Premium Times reported many of them threatening to deal with their leadership, insisting the amount was ridiculously small. Given an OXFAM report about the rate of poverty in Nigeria, it does not matter to our legislators that 99 percent of Nigerians will never in their lifetime hold or own even one million naira. But two million naira was not enough for them for only a few days of holiday, and one wonders how much they would be paid in the next few days, for this year’s Christmas. We are closely monitoring the situation and will inform our readers in due course.
This column believes that already, the Governor of Borno State, Professor Zulum, has answered the legitimate questions that were likely to be asked by the legislators. He told the visiting officials of the Arewa Consultative Forum in his office in Maiduguri earlier in the week that the Buhari Administration is trying its very best in addressing our national security, and that it has achieved more than every other government before it in that wise.
A statement released by the Governor Monday this week was entitled: Zulum: Despite killings, statewide records show Buhari did better in Borno, in which, apart from reeling out statistics creditably buttressing his argument, the Governor also lamented that “it was human nature to be more concerned about current realities than comparing the past to the present.”
And the Borno Governor is completely right.
For the information of our federal legislators, the fact that their hallowed chambers have not been turned to secretariats of the Shura Council of Boko Haram or ISWAP is enough evidence that this government has tremendously improved and transformed our national security, even when it still remains work-in-progress. It might sound callous to say so, but set backs are natural in every human enterprise, more so wars or battles.
If America is still fighting the Talibans more than two decades since the war against them started, and with more than three trillion dollars so far spent, it means that war is not a tea party, and that it can only be won with patience and cooperation of every citizen. The kind of negative narrative out there in Nigeria today could only help the terrorists, as it gingers them and raises their hope, even as our troops continue to give them a bloody nose on daily basis.
Sadly, these things, including billions of dollars worth of free positive publicity that we make available at the disposal of our terrorists are key decisive instruments in winning any war against banditry or terror.
REVEALED: Real reasons President Buhari retains Service Chiefs
NOTE: I wrote this article 12 months ago, way back in January of this outgoing year. It was published in this column on January 31, 2020. I am reproducing it because of its relevance in helping us understand why certain things are happening the way they do, moreso on the all-important matter of national security. Exceprts:
Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch humanist and theologian, who was also the leading renaissance scholar of Northern Europe, got it completely right when he aptly said that “war is delightful only to those who have had no experience of it.” There is also the African proverb that goes by the saying that “he who wears the shoes, knows where it pinches.” For President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired General of the Nigerian army, he has worn the shoe of war, and knows exactly where it pinches. And whereas millions of compatriots could afford to play politics with the war against terror, he is one of the last set of people to do so, because he did not, and still does not find war delightful. In his prime, Buhari sacrificed it all to fight a battle to keep Nigeria as one. Let’s not forget that about a million lives were lost in Nigeria’s unfortunate Civil War that was fought fifty years ago.
If he, who knows what war, in real terms, means, who also knows more than everyone else the challenges the Nigerian military is facing in fighting the war against terror, insists in retaining the current crop of service chiefs, then there must be a reason. And knowing President Buhari very well, any dispassionate Nigerian could attest to the fact that the reasons must be very cogent.
If also, as President of Nigeria or any other country, you keep changing security or service chiefs on account of being asked to do so by mostly the opposition, then in a four year tenure you will end up with perhaps a hundred service chiefs. You can then be sure of reaping tons of chaos. And if you are the president of a vast country like Nigeria, who decide to pull the trigger just for the heck of it, or because some people want you to do so, you will as well be the country’s undertaker, as the country will die in your hands, and posterity will record you as a weakling who allowed himself to be negatively influenced and toyed with.
Permit me, from the outset, to make this categorical statement: that I, for one, cannot dispute the fact that there are rising incidences of insecurity in Nigeria. Ten months ago my grown-up daughter was kidnapped, and the family was fast losing all hope of ever reuniting with her, until the Nigerian Army intervened and rescued her without us paying a dime. Not to the kidnappers. Not to the army personnel that rescued her. Not to anyone else. It is a story I have narrated twice on these pages. So I cannot deny that there are serious insecurity issues in Nigeria. But I also strongly feel it is uncharitable to fall for the temptation, as many compatriots are influenced to do, of condemning the security services, or in particular the service chiefs, just because that’s the narrative the bandwagon wants us to key-in to. In my about fifty years of sojourn on planet earth, I have strived to always be my own person. I do not allow myself to be influenced by the bandwagon. And that’s how every Nigerian with any sense of dignity should be.
More than every other Nigerian, President Buhari knows the very reasons why the attack against the service chiefs is gaining more traction and momentum, more so in the last few weeks: Firstly, some unpatriotic elements, for political and pecuniary reasons, have succeeded in dividing Nigerians along religious and tribal lines. There have been countless newspaper reports erroneously describing the service chiefs as coming from one religion and tribe. And in Nigeria – a country with the highest number of churches in the world – religion is good business. Here, you see imams and pastors smiling to the bank everyday. Some even own two or more private jets, all courtesy largely of their ability to manipulate members of their congregation. This is the truth nobody wants to hear, but denying it will not give it another name.
It doesn’t even take President Buhari to know that the distribution of the service chiefs is evenly spread between the south and the north, and between Islam and Christianity. The Chief of Defence Staff, who is the overall boss in the Nigerian military is from the South. Same with the Chief of Naval Staff. Both of them are also Christians. On the other hand the Chief of Army Staff and his Airforce counterpart are Muslims from the North.
If you want to be fair to President Buhari, you ought to discern that incidences of insecurity have been more pronounced in the North. So even if the service chiefs are more from that region, there is little or nothing wrong because it is for strategic reason. Countering guerrilla warfare, such as the one deployed by bandits and Boko Haram terrorists, entail an extensive knowledge of the local environment.
That obviously also explains why the National Security Adviser and the Army Chief are both from Borno, the birthplace of Boko Haram. The Air Chief is also from the northeast.
The other reasons, much as some may deny it, have to do with the fact that many Nigerians from the Southwest, the region that controls the media in Nigeria, are not happy that the government of the day had declared Amotekun, the local security outfit formed by governors of the region, as illegal. When the Attorney-General of the Federation made that declaration, a friend told me some hawks from the southwest will come up with something that will rattle the rest of Nigeria and force the rest of us to submission.
It cannot be lost to any discerning mind that attacks against the Buhari Administration took a dimension for the worse after that infamous declaration, so much that the government was forced to meet with governors from that region, on the same matter, during which some concessions were made. I am by no means blaming the Southwest because that’s what strategic planning is all about. If other parts of the country cannot see the wisdom in media investment, then they must be ready to have the national agenda set for them. For as long as the rest of the country remains aloof, the Southwest will continue to dictate the tune for the rest of Nigeria, and we will have no choice than to dance to those tunes, good or bad.
Every week, the President receives intelligence reports showing the dangerous antics of some senior military officers, some of who erroneously feel the only reason they are not service chiefs is because the ones holding the offices are still very much there. Those ones sponsor negative newspaper publications and influence sermons in churches and mosques against the incumbent service chiefs, on one hand, and the president of the country, on the other. They feel that only by this wrong strategy would they pressure the government to drop the incumbent holders of the offices and have them announced as replacement. But this strategy only goes to show the narrow vision of those pursuing this dangerous path.
At most, only four people could be appointed service chiefs at any one time. And the president of Nigeria is at liberty to pick from hundreds of senior military officers, some of who have never even dreamt or worked towards it, just as he did when appointing the current holders of the offices. Hardly does President Buhari appoint desperate seekers of political appointments, even career-based ones, like in the military. So today I have a very bad news for those undermining the system in desperation to be picked as service chiefs: They will not succeed. If they want to bet on this, I am ready to do so with my last dime.
I also want to say that the existence of the current service chiefs has nothing to do with claims of stagnation in the various branches of the military. Even recently, hundreds of officers were promoted to the post of major-general and brigadier-general. The Chief of Army Staff even recommended to the President, who doubles as Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, the promotion of Lamidi Adeosun, a major general, to the post of Lieutenant General, the same post held by the Army Chief. Welfare of troops is being improved, and under the current service chiefs, especially that of the army that mainly constitutes the bulk of the military, not a dime belonging to those troops get delayed in being paid. There was a time years back troops were getting shortchanged. Under the current leadership, that has since become history.
There are reports that insecurity in Nigeria tends to increase because some of those desperate office seekers in the military deliberately sabotage the war against terror so as to cast the present holders in bad light. You may think that those engaged in this unpatriotic act will stop once the present crop of service chiefs are dropped. But they will not, in as much as they are not the direct beneficiaries. But there is no way President Buhari could not pander to the wishes of some subversive elements and thereby destroy the armed forces. These are vested interests who are going to the ridiculous extent of undermining our security for personal aggrandizement. The intelligence services should do more to fish out all those commanders and senior officers that have not taken their job seriously, as well as those of them that make silly mistakes or encourage others to do so. There are definitely many of them. And they should without delay be shown the way out.
I was surprised that Senator Ebaribe was calling on President Buhari to resign from office, citing rising incidences of insecurity as the reason. But the distinguished senator failed to take into consideration the fact that if security failure is the only reason why a government, or a president should resign, then many presidents globally will not be in office today. Or they will have been forced out of office midway. Chicago, in the United States, is reported to have one of the worst records of killings in the world. But I did not hear anyone asking President Trump or any president before him to resign on that score. Chicago has recorded more homicides and shooting victims than New York City and Los Angeles, combined. It has been the same in Johannesburg, here in Africa. When there are incidences of surge in insecurity, the citizens are not expected to use it as political tool against any incumbent president. They rather have a responsibility to help the security services with intelligence to nip the matter on the bud.
I dare say that if all the people of Maiduguri will today decide to end Boko Haram, it will come to an end. Sadly, as it is true from the very beginning, there are still people in that city who regard Boko Haram members as their own, and who still do everything to support and shield them. This is just the bitter truth.
Terrorists also thrive in publicity. I recall the Chief of Army Staff telling the management of Sun newspaper recently that terrorism will come to a total end in Nigeria if the country’s press want it to end. He said the press can ensure that by stopping the free publicity it inadvertently accords terrorists, by publishing their atrocities on front pages of our national and regional newspapers. Other countries, for example Turkey, was only able to nip the dastardly activities of PKK in the bud because its press are united in according that terrorist group only a scant mention in their papers and radio/TV.
It is true that Boko Haram has been defeated. More than everyone else, President Buhari knows this. But what we have are two issues: one, the remnants trying to appear to still be relevant by hitting mostly soft targets. And the second, the African wing of ISIS, called ISWAP, which has access to sophisticated weapons and foreign funding. Let’s not even forget that some countries are being accused of sponsoring insurgency and terrorism in Nigeria. A lot of Nigerians do not also seem to know that the entire annual budget of the three branches of the military is not even up to the budget of New York Fire Service. Nigeria failed to utilize the great oil boom days when Jonathan was President to acquire modern weapons that will have wiped out Boko Haram in no time.
Rather, contracts were allocated to stooges who ended up acquiring obsolete equipment from Ukraine and Eastern Europe. And even though President Buhari has as far back as 2015 promised to see to the end of Boko Haram, his ability has been hampered by inability to fully give the military the kind of funding it deserves. The money has been stolen, shared to politicians by the then National Security Adviser to prosecute the 2015 presidential election for the then government in power to be returned to office. Instead of holding those people responsible for sowing the seeds of our ruination today, we are busy chasing shadows and allowing partisan and religious considerations to rest the blame on the wrong doorsteps. Before we open our mouths to condemn the military, let’s try to find out the billions of dollars the United States spends in Afghanistan or Iraq alone. Or the several billions spent recently by the United Nations for peacekeeping in Mali. Yet, the war in Afghanistan is still ongoing, even if the Taliban has largely been defeated, just like Boko Haram here.
President Buhari has made it very clear that changing service chiefs during war is a dangerous strategy. Firstly, you are encouraging the terrorist by giving them the impression they are winning. Secondly, the transitional period of handingover and taking over will be used by terrorists to inflict damage from which we may not easily recover. If, for example, the right thing was done at the right time by previous administrations, Boko Haram that started with a ragtag army will have been obliterated since. But at a stage President Jonathan had a very erroneous feeling that Boko Haram was put up as an army to undermine his government, forgetting that the sect started fighting the Nigerian state at a time a northern Muslim, Yaradua, was president.
President Buhari, being a retired army general, is professionally competent to assess if his service chiefs are functional or not. Sacking of the service chiefs will not change anything considering the fact that those that are qualified to take over from them have all along been integral parts of the decision making processes. There is therefore nothing new they could offer, that they are not offering at the moment.
As for those citing our laws to explain that the tenure of service of the chiefs have since elapsed, they are either ignorant or have deliberately chosen to ignore the fact that when the country is at war, even elections – the fulcrum of democratic processes – can constitutionally be postponed.
The Nigerian legislature, which calls for the resignation or removal of the service chiefs, should not allow itself to be used by politicians that are at daggers drown with the current service chiefs, especially since the reelection of President Buhari to a second term of office.
In any case, the main reason insecurity has been on the rise in Nigeria is far beyond the reach of the military. Any discerning Nigerian knows the main cause of insecurity globally is poverty. This obviously explains why President Buhari is determined to lift one hundred million Nigerians out of poverty.
Our legislators receive the highest salary and allowances in the whole world. A good start is for the two chambers of the National Assembly to unite and do as little a task as slashing their humongous allowances even if by half. With that alone, millions of cottage industries would be established, and tens of millions of jobless Nigerians, some of who the terrorists readily recruit to unleash terror, will in no time be lifted out of poverty. There is even a suggestion that the National Assembly is trying to divert attention from Senator Abdul’Aziz Nyako’s grievous accusation that politicians are the real causes of insecurity in Nigeria.
Of course another way the legislators could help in stemming insecurity in Nigeria is for them to stop over stretching our police force, DSS and the military as their orderlies and security guards. Right now about half of our policemen are serving our politicians, most of them in the National Assembly. Yet, they have the temerity to talk about rising insecurity without removing the speck in their eyes to see that they too, are playing a major part in making it so.
If the service chiefs had failed, the federal legislators will not have found the peaceful atmosphere to engage in the kind of debate they did last Wednesday. Recall that until Buhari became President, Boko Haram was threatening to take over Abuja, with bombings right in the city centre, and in many other cities of the country. It is amazing we have forgotten so soon.