Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, addressed a press conference in Lagos last week on the worsening insecurity in the country. He was obviously had put to make sense of what is happening to us and our country. But he tried and served the news media a morsel that is difficult to digest. News media reports quoted him as saying that “the federal government has the capacity to crush Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists in the north-east and bandits in the north-western parts of the country.”
We do not need a lesson in the capacity of the government to carry out its basic constitutional duty of making us safe in our country. It only amounts to pathetic hand wringing over a situation that should not have degenerated to this level, making the government both pathetic and helpless. The government has been challenged to show its capacity. Is there a good reason why it should continue to indulge itself in the luxury of confusion and shy away from deploying that capacity to let the public see that it is neither weak nor inept?
I confess that I have some problems processing this. If the government has the capacity and if it recognises that the security of lives and property is a constitutional duty imposed it, why does it choose to hoard its capacity and allow the reign of terror by Boko Haram, kidnappers, bandits and sundry criminals that make all of us sitting ducks in our country? What is stopping the government from crushing them and making the country safe for the big men and the small men alike?
Mohammed offered this lame and unacceptable excuse, to wit, the government is constrained because “the terrorists most often than not operate among the populace, either in our villages or towns, hence the military in tackling them, is usually careful to avoid collateral damage.”
He was actually echoing his principal. When the 317 Jangebe school girls were kidnapped by bandits in Katsina in February this year and later ransomed, Buhari said: “We have the capacity to deploy massive force against the bandits in the villages where they operate, but our limitation is the fear of heavy casualties of innocent villagers and hostages who might be used as human shields by the bandits. Let them not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government. They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness or a sign of fear or irresolution.”
My capacity to process all this deepens.
Buhari is a two-star general. He knows that in an armed confrontation between one state and another and between a state and non-state actors, collateral damages are inevitable. Sure, consideration must be given to minimising them but this has never stopped a government from going to war or confronting criminal elements in order to protect the people. To hide under this is only a disappointing cop-out.
There is no prize for correctly guessing what would have been the fate of our country today if General Yakubu Gowon had decided not to crush Ojukwu’s rebellion because doing so would cause massive collateral damages resulting in the death of civilians, men and women and children, in the main theatres of the civil war. A government in our situation has two options. The first is to defeat those who challenge the state. This may involve sacrificing a few to save the many. The other option is for the government to find and rely on the crutch of humanitarian considerations and surrender to those who make life insecure for the state and its people. No government, to my knowledge, has ever opted for the second option because the first is actually the only sensible option open to it. If the government has the capacity to deploy massive forces against Boko Haram, kidnappers bandits, let it do so now. It is what we expect, not excuses wrapped in humanitarian considerations.
Here are some glaring reasons from typical media reports why the federal government should now wipe the sleep from its eyes and rise to the occasion. On April 26: gunmen kill four more soldiers in Rivers; five policemen shot dead in Imo; assailants kill 9 persons in Ojukwu University town; 45 killed, dozens missing in six Zamfara communities (Daily Trust, April 22); Over 100,000 flee to the Niger Republic after Boko Haram attacks Borno town (Daily Trust, April 15); 56,000 Nigerians displaced in three months – Borno, Zamfara and Kaduna top the chart (Daily Trust, April 18); FG: Nigeria is bleeding (Daily Trust, April 23); Rumours of bandits attacks unsettle Abuja (The Guardian, May 7).
Nigeria is bleeding from the death and destruction visited on the people in towns, cities and villages by criminal elements. We used to hear of search and rescue operations by our security forces. I am sure the federal government still has that capacity but is constrained by you-know-what. Our security forces do not search and rescue; instead, the politicians negotiate and pay ransom to and enrich criminals with minimal investment in AK-47. It is, to use my favourite word, messy.
Could it be that we are facing a situation in which the government can but won’t own the security of the country and its people? My capacity to process this further deepens.
On May 13, Garba Shehu, the senior special assistant on media and publicity, issued a statement on behalf of Buhari in which he quoted the president as pleading for the understanding of the people over the insecurity. Every time Buhari condescends to answer his critics, he beats his chest, reminding us of where the country was when he assumed office in 2015. Obviously, he and the rest of us see these issues differently. But that is hardly the issue now. Whatever he met on the ground constituted the problem and the mess he asked the people to give him the mandate to solve and clean up. If his efforts have made our country less secure and put the economy in a much worse shape, none of that owes to the lack of understanding on the part of the people. We understand.
Shehu had disturbed the hornets in their nest and generated critical reactions to his statement. Emmanuel Yawe, publicity secretary of ACF said: “Nigerians demonstrated a lot of understanding when they elected the president into office in 2015 and more understanding when they re-elected him in 2019. What we expect from the president is for him to understand the plight of the ordinary Nigerian who feels unprotected. We expect the president to understand that things are bad in terms of security in Nigeria and ordinary farmers are expected to pay bandits before they are granted access to their farms. Nigerians have never really had it this bad.”
Ken Robinson, the spokesman for PANDEF, said: “The president should lead the way in showing that he understands the suffering, the disaffections, the hunger and anger and hopelessness that is creeping into the land.”
Kola Ologbondiyan, national publicity secretary, PDP, said: “We also invite him to also note that Nigerians are getting tired of an endless stream of excuses coming from his regime. He was elected to find solutions to our problem, not give excuses.”
Need I say more?