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2023? First, save the country

Professor Usman Yusuf, former executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, granted The Sun newspaper an interview sometime in December last year in which…

Professor Usman Yusuf, former executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, granted The Sun newspaper an interview sometime in December last year in which he warned that the 2023 general elections, for which our politicians are already positioning themselves for elective offices, might not hold especially in the north because of the increasing insecurity in the land. The politicians, from President Buhari down to local government chairmen, can pretend all they want but they cannot in truth deny that where the next president comes from is less important than the survival of this nation itself. You have to have Nigeria before you can have a Nigerian president. I thought that was pretty elementary.

I have had to quote part of his interview elsewhere to help me make some important points about the country’s dire security situation. I am quoting him at some length here again, to make the same points in a different context, to wit: this country is on fire but those who are constitutionally entrusted with putting out the fire prefer to adorn themselves in expensive babar riga and strut the land like colossus. Nero did not do half of what our political leaders are doing to ensure his place in world history as an example of how a leader must not respond to existential threats to his country.

We watch helplessly as criminals take over large swathes of our country while the politicians are blissfully engaged in the unproductive labour of bickering over which geo-political zone should produce the next president. In spite of the looming shadow over the nation, the politicians refuse to pause in their primitive struggle for power and collectively commit to rescuing the nation from the myriads of criminals roaming and controlling much of the land. It is beyond pathetic that the Nigerian state with all the military arsenal at its disposal is reduced to negotiating with these criminals and non-state actors from the position of apparent and abject weakness.

Here is part of what Yusuf said: “There is insecurity all over the country and what have the politicians who are very selfish been talking about all these times – restructuring, 2023 presidency, where the president will come from. At a time when Nigeria is facing the worst insecurity of its lifetime even since the civil war; at a time when the ship of state is drifting; at a time when our people are facing the most excruciating poverty and hunger, our politicians are thinking of who will be handed over power in 2023, instead of how to get us out of the pit.”

“If this insecurity continues towards 2023, there may not be a country to restructure, there may not be a presidency to rotate and 2023 may just be dream.”

There is an ominous storm gathering over the land. The security situation is much worse today than as at December 2020 when Yusuf spoke to the newspaper. More and more people have issued a similar warning and urged the president to end the reign of his silence and take on the first constitutional duty of making the country and its citizens safe and secure. Still, there is no anxiety on the part of the president and the state governors to rise to the challenge and give the people’s country back to the people.

After years of dithering in the face of public clamour for him to rejig the security architecture, Buhari eventually changed the service chiefs. It would appear, however, that he thinks that rejigging the security architecture began and ended with the change of service chiefs. After all, he can argue that that was what the Nigerian public wanted. As thank you gift to the former service chiefs, they will represent him as ambassadors. How nice.

However, while bringing in new men with new thinking to the helm of affairs is necessary, the fundamentals of a new security architecture go far beyond who command the army, the navy and the air force. As a general in the Nigerian Army, the president does not need any tutoring in that. What the public expected to see along with the change of service chiefs is a new and clear road map towards making our nation and us secure. Still, there is no motion. We are still waiting for Godot.

What is happening in the north-west geo-political zone is a huge shame for the giant of Africa. Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara states are at the mercy of a new group of criminals known as bandits. The north-central zone is at the mercy of killer herdsmen. And with the north-east controlled more or less by Boko Haram, the north is encircled by criminals. The bandits and killer herdsmen reign but the state governors rule. They kill and kidnap at will and vanish into thin air. Not one of them has ever been arrested.

Yet, interestingly, they are not faceless criminals. The leaders of the bandits are known to the state authorities. Indeed, they are so powerful that each time they strike, terrified state governors rush to negotiate with them from a position of weakness. They get paid the negotiated settlement and they release their kidnap victims. I am sure you have heard of loose talks about granting them amnesty by the federal government. Do not be hard on those who offered this as a viable approach to ending their reign. They spoke in desperation and a desire to be heard offering some assistance to the government that seems so clueless as to what it could do to end its own shame.

It bears repeating: things are getting worse. It would be a disservice to the nation for our political leaders to sit on their haunches and entertain themselves to the hollowness of their self-delusion that everything is all right because they fear to face the profoundly disturbing facts that we are once more dancing on the edge. Ethnic tension exacerbated by ethnic attacks in some parts of the country has added fat to the fire of criminality and compounded the situation further. Last week the former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar warned that if nothing was done to address the growing tension in the country, “it might lead to a point of no return.” He said the ethnic attacks had added to the embers of disunity and anarchy and that the country’s cup is already filled with incidences of insurgency, kidnapping and armed banditry and robbery.

We have never it so bad. Not even Abuja is a safe island. The Daily Trust of February 13 reported that more than 30 people were kidnapped in the FCT in one month. Some of the residents told the newspaper they were living in fear. They could say that again.

To save Nigeria from criminals and ethnic champions is a task that must be done – and urgently too. Our country needs to be secure and peaceful to meet the challenges of modern nation-building unencumbered by the menace of poverty in the midst of plenty.

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