Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari armed himself to the hilt with a new weapon: a mask.
He fired up his arsenal: the executive jet.
And headed into battle: In Mali.
Mali, our West African brother, has been in a major political crisis for nearly 10 years, its leadership destabilized by a military coup in 2012, followed by a rebellion which immediately attracted the concern of the international community. It has only got worse in the past few years.
Nigeria has played a major role within ECOWAS to try to arrest the conflict, and Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s former leader who initiated our response in 2013, was earlier this month appointed a special envoy by the sub-regional group to lead its mediation.
The truth is that Nigeria scares the international community far more than Mali. They talk about the quality of menace Nigeria poses to the world should it erupt in a major conflict that could spew its vast population in all directions. Boko Haram took hold of Nigeria years before the conflict in Mali began. The armed herdsmen menace was manufactured even more recently.
Despite five years of boasting about how much the brutal militants in Nigeria’s northeast have been defeated or diminished, they have remained strong, taunting the Nigerian government and its surprisingly ineffective military.
So surprising that insecurity appears to be our only growing industry. And so surprising that last week, Nigeria’s upper legislative body took the unprecedented step of asking the nation’s service chiefs to step down, following a motion moved by Senator Ali Ndume.
Mr. Ndume is of the ruling All Progressives Congress, but he also represents a constituency at the heart of the turmoil and knows a thing or two about the military problems in the northeast.
Part of the problem is that Buhari treasures loyalty over security, over military effectiveness, over character and over the law. That is why, despite questions over the performance and ethical fitness of the service chiefs, Buhari has kept them in office despite all four being overdue for retirement.
That is why it was a great shock last week to see Buhari in a mask in public. He has shunned the use of one since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, preferring to confront the menace with strongman defiance.
But the shock dissipated when it became clear his mask had nothing to do with Nigeria: it was foreigners he was concerned about.
At home, images and voices of our decay, and why, continued to empty into the streets, including in Borno, where five humanitarian aid workers were killed by Boko Haram militants, the same ones the Buhari government claims it has defeated. As the Nigeria leader headed for Mali, the killers were circulating videos of their gory work online.
Expressing regret, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded that the perpetrators be brought to book. I advise him not to hold his breath: the Nigerian government and security are motivated neither by a sense of justice nor of obligation.
More images: There was that one of Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, behaving like a tout during his appearance before a committee of the House of Representatives.
He addressed a questioner with an outburst that included: “You are near my age, but I am at least seven years older than you. I’m sure. I am of the same age with your mentor in Lagos, Asiwaju. I was governor with him at the same time. He was a senator, and I was a senator. I am a two-time minister and he isn’t a two-time minister.”
That is a Minister of the Federal Republic, a medical doctor, appearing to speak prior—or in preference—to thinking. Last year, he propounded a theory of surplus doctors in Nigeria, encouraging them to feel free to travel abroad as they would not be missed.
“Who said we don’t have enough doctors? We have more than enough. You can quote me. There is nothing wrong in them travelling out. When they go abroad, they earn money and send them back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them and not just oil.”
Days later, he claimed he was misquoted.
Of his Anambra governorship in 2003, he conveniently forgets that he didn’t win but was rigged into the job by Chris Uba, who confessed to it. It is shameful that Ngige proudly lists it among his accomplishments, but it reflects our decay as a country.
Perhaps the biggest reflection is the so-called investigation of the House of Representatives into the Niger Delta Development Commission. In one image, Interim Management Committee chairman Kemebradikumo Pondei farcically faints as he is confronted with questions about his team’s spending.
In yet another, now known as the “Off-Your-Mic” debacle, acting panel chairman Thomas Ereyitomi stopped Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio from expatiating on how “Most of the contracts in NDDC are awarded to National Assembly members.”
“It’s okay Hon. Minister!” he interrupted. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. Hon. Minister, it’s okay. Don’t talk again, off your mic.”
And then on Friday, it emerged that the House will now also probe the mismanagement of N100 billion within one year at the North-East Development Commission (NEDC).
Last week, I expressed skepticism that justice will emerge from the current probe of the NDDC. I hereby reiterate my skepticism, particularly if the dramas at the National Assembly are being mistaken for or presented as the forensic audit.
Nonetheless, anything in front of the legislature and television cameras can be kept in front of the people. But what of those that are or cannot?
For instance, in 2016, Buhari returned from a state visit to China with “additional investments.” Among them:
• An agreement between North South Power Company Limited and Sinohydro Corporation Limited, for over $478.6 million for the construction of 300 Mega Watts solar power in Shiroro;
• $1bn for a brand-new greenfield expressway that would cut road travel between Abuja and Lagos to five hours;
• A $250m ultra-modern 27-storey high rise complex;
• A $2.5bn agreement for the Lagos Metro Rail Transit Red Line project.”
• A $200m deal for the construction of two 500MT/day float gas facilities;
• A $363m deal for a comprehensive farm and downstream industrial park in Kogi;
• A $500m project for the provision of television broadcast equipment; and
• A $25m facility for production of pre-paid smart meters.
Does anyone remember? Is there an update? Or should we deploy a forensic audit?
[This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials].