Professor Usman Yusuf is a very angry person. The anger is permanently stamped in his demeanour, particularly when he speaks on the North’s insecurity. I took time to watch him last week on both Trust TV’s Daily Politics and Arise TV and came away as angry as him because of the seemingly nonchalant attitude of our governments towards the creeping intensity of insecurity. He spoke against the backdrop of the continuing insecurity in Zamfara State, and in particular, the recent attack by bandits on the Federal University Gusau (FUG), where an unspecified number of girls were abducted.
I have noted Professor Yusuf’s advocacy in the past few years, but I have always dismissed it as a fly-in-the-ointment sort of, a momentary attention-seeking that would fritter away. The professor is a medical doctor of high repute who at a time during the Muhammadu Buhari administration headed the NHIS, but whose tenure ended rather abruptly due to irreconcilable differences with his political bosses, as well as brushes with the bureaucracy. He thereafter became a relentless critic of the Buhari administration, particularly on issues of insecurity.
The professor is an enigma. Here is a person that you would expect to be in an immaculate suit lounging in a resplendent office superintending over a high-ended clinic in the highbrow Maitama or Asokoro districts of Abuja but would rather be found running around the forests in Zamfara, Katsina or Kaduna states in valiant effort to free kidnapped victims from bandits. These were rough forays and can be compared to the escapades of those Cuban revolutionaries of the 1950s who left their lives of privileges for the forest to engage the Batista regime.
I have never been able to reconcile his personality, particularly when he went on to team up with Sheikh Ahmad Gumi who had always held on to the idea of engaging with bandits to suppress them. I thought it was a bizarre idea, but they started getting positive results. Even the government was forced to acknowledge that what was prompting and goading Professor Usman Yusuf was something of a higher ideal and his experience with engaging the bandits could be useful. During the Abuja-Kaduna train kidnap episode, when the bandits held onto the kidnapped victims, Professor Yusuf was promptly co-opted as the secretary of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) seven-man negotiating committee.
The committee successfully negotiated with the bandits and got the release of all the victims. They also submitted a comprehensive report to the government laying down a road map that could assuage the scourge of banditry in the North. True to their direct engagements with the bandits there had been a lull in banditry activities since then. The notorious Kaduna-Abuja highway became free of bandits for commuters to ply at ease. Even in the worst areas from Birnin Gwari going up north to Gusau and Sokoto became relatively free of banditry activities.
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However, the bandits holed up in the forest, away from the highways, continued to torment villagers and commuters with impunity. The recent attack on FUG tells us that the bandits can still strike in that zone without let. This is what angers Professor Yusuf, making him take the gauntlet again to remind the government to do the needful. This is what he said in one of the TV interviews last week: “I am saddened like every parent should be. Our children will be seven or eight days in the forest with the bad guys. This is nine and a half years after Chibok – the first mass school abduction in this country. The government and security agencies have not learnt a thing. In nine and a half years we are where we are. Many school abductions after the Buni Yadi massacre, Chibok, we have Dapchi, you have Kankara, Jangere, Kagara, Bethel, Greenfield. Government has not learnt a thing, security agents have not learnt a thing. We as parents send our children to school to learn and our children cannot learn in a region where education is more imperiled now more than ever before. And everybody is quiet as if nothing has happened. This is sad. I am sad as a parent and as a Nigerian.”
This is a thorough indictment of the government. Throughout the interviews, the professor, while keeping a morose face, kept on repeating words like, depressing, and disheartening, and referring to the attitude of the government as complacent and irresponsible. He finds it incomprehensible that the government is deviating from the tested roadmap laid in the report of the CDS’ committee with unfolding dire consequences.
From my perspective, Professor Yusuf deserves a listening ear from the government. The attack on FUG should be a wake-up call to action. There is a need for the government to go back to the recommendations contained in the report submitted by the chief of defence’s negotiation committee and continue to implement them.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel, especially if the old one had worked to satisfaction.