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#ENDSARS youth back on the chessboard

Nigeria leader Muhammadu Buhari turned 80 yesterday.  The older and richer he has grown, the less respected and influential he also has become, and the…

Nigeria leader Muhammadu Buhari turned 80 yesterday.  The older and richer he has grown, the less respected and influential he also has become, and the greater the efforts required to sustain his desired image as a “successful” leader.

For instance, Senate leader Ahmad Lawan, in a birthday message, told Buhari that millions of Nigerians are “inspired” by the story of his life and his legacy of his service.

The story of Buhari’s life cannot be described by the likes of Mr. Lawan, a man who has helped perpetrate the collapse of Nigeria under Buhari.  A simple “Before” and “After” reflection on Nigeria tells the entire story.

As dusk begins to settle in for the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the man who once vowed that only he could lead Nigeria out of darkness appears to be seeking new ways to define or justify darkness.

He was in the United States last week to attend the US-African Leaders Summit. Facing non-Nigerians, he is always prepared to present himself in various superlatives he cannot deploy at home.

He arrived, armed.  First with arrogance almost as old as 1983 when he first took power, then with excuses as old as May 2015 when he returned, and then with a curious tale of Nigerian youth he cannot present within Nigeria’s borders.

We have spokesman Garba Shehu to thank for his principal’s overseas pretensions.  Apparently meeting with a delegation of the Abu Dhabi Forum which had seduced him with a prize allegedly for “peace and security,” Buhari celebrated how hard he has worked in his seven and a half years in charge in Abuja.

“We are big in size and population, facing many challenges, but in many areas, we are trying. In seven-and-a-half years, I have done my best,” Buhari is said to have told the Abu Dhabi forum.

For some reason that Mr. Shehu did not disclose, Buhari then chose to patronize Nigerian youth, saying that they are promised a better and future and that solving their problems is the priority of his government.

The priority?  Nigerian youth?

Remember: four years ago at the Commonwealth Business Forum in London, he had dismissed this same demographic: “About the economy, we have a very young population; our population is estimated conservatively to be 180 million. This is a very conservative one. More than 60% of the population is below 30, a lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country, therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare and education free.”

And then two years later, in October 2020, peaceful #ENDSARS protesters were shot and killed in Lagos, as confirmed by Amnesty International, with CCTV in the area conveniently dismantled during the mayhem.  Buhari’s government did not bring anyone to justice.

Two years after that incident, that still nobody has been brought to justice, with at least 40 persons still being held in police jails over it, confirms the very political menace and injustice that the protests were about.  They are part of the fabric of the insecurity and futility of the Buhari years.

Yet, in the United States last week, Buhari was taking a lap of honour over his peace and security “achievements.”  According to The Punch, “The Foundation Secretary-General said they had come to inform the President, and to invite him to attend the conferment upon him, the Abu Dhabi Foundation’s award in recognition of his outstanding achievements in promoting peace and security.”

Buhari does not appear to have turned down the award, evidently believing he had somehow made some mythical “outstanding achievements in promoting peace and security” somewhere.

But the entire world knows that at no other time in Nigeria’s six decades has the country been as insecure as it is under Buhari.  It is insulting to those who labor and die under the insecurity he has foisted for him to be accepting such insensitive and spurious awards.

It is particularly insulting to the youth who not only lack access to government protections at work or play, but to the expensive air travel by which the political elite evade the perils of life on the ground.

Buhari knows this truth, the hypocrisy truth that Ibrahim Gambari, his Chief of Staff, characterized as the “audacity of hypocrisy,” following Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope.”

In his 2018 presentation at the Wole Soyinka Media Lecture Series, Gambari called Nigeria’s political elites “audacious hypocrites,” lambasting them for failing to practice the values of truth, accountability, transparency and anti-corruption that they proclaim.  It is important to recognize that Gambari has since arrived at the pinnacle of prominence; I do not know if his views have changed.

It may be easy to forget that following Buhari’s re-election in February 2019, he tweeted these words: “The hard work to deliver a better Nigeria continues, building on the foundations of peace, rule of law and opportunities for all. We have no other motive than to serve Nigeria with our hearts and might, and build a nation which we and generations to come can be proud of.”

But the prospects of such a nation have virtually disappeared since then as material conditions in the country have deteriorated.  Among hundreds of examples, the Kuje Prison Correctional Facility, near Abuja, was sacked by terrorists last July, with hundreds of dangerous prisoners set free.

“How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?” Buhari lamented as if he did not meet with his security chiefs repeatedly.  “I am expecting a comprehensive report on this shocking incident.”

Well as often happens, not one word has been heard of the Kuje attack since then.  Nothing about the comprehensive report he demanded, and no response to the preliminary report he received within two weeks.  Despite official promises, not one head has rolled.

Nigerians have become used to the reign of indifference and nepotism and corruption, of half-hearted policies and unimplemented policies, of kidnappers and bandits and herdsmen.

It was curious last week, in this connection, that as part of Buhari’s America tour, Buhari took his newfound love of the Nigerian youth to the United States Institute for Peace, which co-hosted him with some other organizations.

While he made a decent written speech, his shallowness and evidence of failure to read appeared when he had to answer questions, his terminologies dating from when he was a boy.  Among those responses of concern is his refusal to give up the dream of ancient grazing routes in which “cattle-rearers” can overrun “stagnant” farms, as if farmers are supposed to pick up and flee with their farms when herdsmen are in the area.

But he praised the youth as “the energy and promise” of Nigeria, citing their startup businesses and their technological presence.

Except for one thing: Nigeria’s youth is the same.  It has not transformed from the one he assailed in London and his troops with bullets in Lagos in 2018.  It is the same young people seeking the same peace and opportunity as the children of those who hold power.

They are not chess pieces.  And they have a long memory.

[I welcome public response, in 100 words or fewer, to this column.]


This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.     

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