[I dedicate this article to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the new Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). We celebrate you, despite the grief of your motherland. May you be an inspiration for every African girl!]
Mercifully, the abducted 300 students of the Government Girls Science Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State, have returned home unharmed.
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Despite their jitters as a people, Nigerians had expected that outcome because they now understand that is a game. We knew that the government is paying vast sums of money in ransom to murderers and child abductors, men who were already known to them (or to some people within the government), and that the Zamfara students would enjoy the benefit of those manoeuvres.
The Zamfara abductions were wonderful theatre. Governor Bello Matawalle was never troubled, nor was General Muhammadu Buhari.
The General sent a delegation, as did the Zamfara Council of Traditional Rulers, to “sympathize” with the governor.
“We are using the leaders of the repentant bandits to rescue the schoolgirls from the kidnappers,” Matawalle told his guests.
“Very soon, we are going to witness the release of the abductees,” he declared, adding that he would “continue the peace process with bandits, considering its impact in addressing security challenges facing the state.”
What was even more head scratching about the incident was General Buhari’s declaration that the Zamfara abductions would be the last. Given the abysmal failure of his government in his six years on the security file, that was a questionable claim to make.
But Buhari said that his government had developed “new measures” to end all forms of criminality in the country, and commended Governor Matawalle “efforts.”
Those efforts, as far as we know, consist of paying large ransoms, although the governor denies it, and they seem set to continue partly because he does not think highly of General Buhari.
Speaking to Matawalle on behalf of his 16 counterparts in the state, the Emir of Anka, Attahiru Mohammed, described the work of the federal government in very curious terms. “We note that just as you are doing your best, others elsewhere are doing their worst.”
The governor did not appear to contradict that message. The Emirs blamed the federal government for the abduction by not granting Matawalle full control the security architecture of the state.
In turn, he told the Emirs they would be surprised to learn the identity of the persons behind the abductions but did not say who they are.
And although he expressed faith in the Nigeria ruler, he spoke of the absence of a productive approach, calling for synergy among the security agencies “so that confrontations with criminals can be coordinated on ground and air simultaneously.”
In the context of his government’s futility, Buhari’s claim that the Zamfara incident will be the last is well within his armada of his empty boasts since he took office in 2015.
But he then made things even more interesting. First, he declared what he called a no-fly zone in Zamfara, a state which has no airport. And then he asked the security agencies to shoot anyone who carries an AK-47 weapon.
But he did not say what problem he was trying to solve; the abductions have nothing to do with air power. And if he wanted to declare criminal cattle-herders to be the criminals that they are, he did not say so. He did not call them by name let alone condemn their activities.
Most of all, these policy statements were not being made by Buhari himself, but by third parties claiming to be speaking for him. He again left Nigerians and the world to wonder, as they have for six years, who is in charge of security, which is constitutionally the primary purpose of government, and of Nigeria.
The developments in Zamfara again underline the chaos in the federal government under Buhari: the lack of presence and passion, principle, substance, organization, or measurement.
As a result, Nigeria has slipped into irrelevance and now anarchy, the features of Buhari’s governance being patterns of indolence, duplicity, double standards or no-standards.
I offer another example. While Nigerians and the world were preoccupied with the Zamfara abductions, Buhari was making yet another inscrutable move on infrastructure: replacing the N155bn contract he gave to Julius Berger in 2017 for the Abuja-Kano Road (AKR), which is half-finished, with a N797.2bn reconstruction contract to the same contractor, to be delivered in 2023.
Nowhere else on earth can this happen. Remember that even the original contract sum of N155bn was declared to be overpriced by the House Committee on Works. Its chairman, Kabir Abubakar, confirmed that some companies had quoted less than N100 billion for the job.
The latest development confirms my three-week old column that AKR would never be completed on Buhari’s watch, but the situation is now considerably far worse: if his successor adopts the same attitude as his, it may never be completed at all.
Think about it: Julius Berger is within months of completing the project, which it approached in three simultaneous sections. Last July, Managing Director Dr. Lars Richter had told the National Assembly that confidently stated that his company was exceeding planned milestones and would deliver the project as contracted.
One year ago, Julius Berger said the project would be completed in the middle of 2021, and just three months ago, its progress was widely-praised at a Town Hall meeting, including by the federal and Kano State governments.
But Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Works, appears to have been working on a parallel plan which, without public bidding or government debate, delivered a new windfall to Julius Berger last week: five times the original cost and at least three extra years.
The government has not indicated what will happen to the extensive work Julius Berger has already undertaken, and parts of which it has already handed over, or whether the “rehabilitation” would now be considered to be “reconstruction” or the entire thing destroyed, and at what cost to whom. Would Julius Berger’s cold recycling technology now be “recycled”?
All of this comes one year after the governments of the United States and Jersey returned to Nigeria a $308m tranche of Abacha cash under an agreement that the money must be used for three projects: the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the AKR, and months after the government gave Yolas Consultants a N867m contract to redesign the road from four to six lanes, only to revert to four.
This incoherence of principle and chaos of spirit in which the only consistency is compromise, has made Nigeria one of the world’s most dangerous countries and the laughingstock of Africa. Even other African nationals are embarrassed by the quality of leadership in Nigeria. Whenever a joke is needed, they remind Nigerians they have no leader.
No Nigerian laughs at a joke so hilarious that everyone else is falling down the staircase. Translation: if Buhari proves nothing else, he guarantees that if he continues to lead Nigeria, our country’s only options are warfare and collapse.
This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.
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