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The Kuje prison break is another warning

Last Tuesday, in President Muhammadu Buhari’s own state of Katsina, his arriving advance presidential convoy was attacked by so-called “suspected terrorists.”  Two policemen were injured.…

Last Tuesday, in President Muhammadu Buhari’s own state of Katsina, his arriving advance presidential convoy was attacked by so-called “suspected terrorists.”  Two policemen were injured.

Later that night at the Kuje Correctional Centre in the Federal Capital Territory, so-called terrorists arrived and sacked the institution, holding it hostage for hours as they set nearly 900 prisoners—most especially their colleagues—free.

The prison facility is less than an hour’s drive from the Aso Rock presidential palace.  For Buhari, the incident was a minor annoyance.  The presidential jet was calling his name, as it does daily, and he was due to go somewhere in a matter of hours to read a speech.

He knew exactly what he was going to do.  So, he got dressed and headed to the Kuje prison facility, where he was informed that 350 of the escapees had been recovered but not some 450 others.

“I am disappointed with the intelligence system,” said the man who has ruled Nigeria for seven years.  “How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?”

Unhappy he may have been, but not so much that he lost any focus.  And so, he turned around and headed to the airport and flew to Senegal.  Several media reports provided ominous airport pictures of the moment Buhari turned his back on Nigeria and the insecurity he has boosted in various ways since 2015.

Trying to provide clean-up, presidential spokesman Shehu Garba said in a statement that President Buhari was “shocked” by the scale and audacity of the attack, asking: “How did the defences at the prison fail to prevent the attack? How many inmates were in the facility? How many of them can you account for? How many personnel did you have on duty? How many of them were armed? Were there guards on the watchtower? What did they do? Does the CCTV work?”

The attack on the presidential convoy, the sacking of the prison facility, and Buhari’s lackadaisical response to them tell the story of a nation that may not make it to the next election in February 2023.  They are but three of the many insecurity incidents that took place in beleaguered Nigeria last week, but are a dire warning of the dangers of this moment.

Take a second look at Buhari’s “saddened” reaction to Kuje, which subsequently appeared on Twitter: “I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organize, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it? I am expecting a comprehensive report on this shocking incident.

Note that last sentence.  A comprehensive report.

I wrote on this page in March 2020 and again in October, that in Buhari, Nigeria is a nation without a leader.  I have also written that he should resign, and, as he announced in 2018 that he would seek a second term, that the fairest option to the Nigerian people was resignation.

But he ran.  His pinned tweet, following his electoral victory in February 2019, reads: “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.”

More hypocritical words have never been spoken.  Buhari’s patronizing words represent exactly what Ibrahim Gambari, who is now his Chief of Staff, dismissed in July 2018 as balderdash.

Speaking at the Wole Soyinka Media Lecture Series of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, the actual description of Nigeria’s ruling class by the former Minister of External Affairs and former United Nations Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs was “the audacity of hypocrisy.”

Professor Gambari declared that the Nigerian political elites are “audacious hypocrites” because they proclaim the values of truth, accountability, transparency and anti-corruption but do not practice them.

Buhari’s “audacious hypocrisy” has been on worldwide display since he took his oath of office in 2015 claiming to belong to nobody.  This audacity is not because he travels reflexively, for which he is widely criticized, because he is even more hypocritical when he is at home.

For instance, he says he wants a “comprehensive report” of the Kuje jailbreak that the security agencies admit knowing about beforehand, which lasted for hours, and in which hundreds of hardened terrorists escaped.

The question is: what would that report be for?  Who would read it, given that Buhari is not known for his reading achievements?  I mean, it is widely-known that he has yet to read any of the presidential reports he inherited from his predecessor, or the mountain of his own that he has generated.

“How can terrorists organize, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?”  Because, sir, in the Buhari Years you have inflicted nonchalance on Nigeria as a badge.  You symbolize the “audacity of hypocrisy,” with commitment to none of the principles that make a nation great.

“How can terrorists organize, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?”  Despite all your boasting before you took office that you would bring them to heel, your “audacity of hypocrisy” has instead emboldened and empowered crime.  Being “disappointed” with something that you superintend is disingenuous.

Anyone paying more than lip service to Nigeria knows that various shades of criminals, including terrorists, attack both citizens and institutions every day.  Worse still, Nigerians are under attack by Nigerian institutions and their governments.  Ask around Aso Rock: those countries you continue to escape to are advising their citizens to avoid Nigeria.

What is the answer?  The truth is that Nigeria has comprehensively lost the Buhari Years.  Unless he is kind enough to resign and let somebody else do the job, Buhari’s legacy is of insecurity that is far more likely to split up the country than fulfill anyone’s domination dreams.

If Nigeria is to remain one, it requires a leader who is remotely unrelated to Buhari by political philosophy or association.  Let the Buhari Years be the nightmare we need to engineer a nation that works.

Buhari has reduced leadership to repulsive levels, to the regret of both Nigerian citizens and foreigners around the world who somehow thought that he was special.  They now tell us they knew he was “too good to be true.”

It is somewhat funny that in his waning hours he is asking how terrorists can attack a key security installation and get away with it.  The real question is how he has so far got away with the putrid mess he has made of his charge.  Under his control, Nigeria has known only regression.

But it is to the future we must look.  Nigerians can, and must find a fruit on the leadership tree that is wholesome.  They must refuse to be forced to choose between fruits that are rotten, or related to plants they already know.

This Eid-el-Kabir, remember, Buhari is in Daura.  Protected by layers of federal might, Daura is until his departure the only secure place in Nigeria.

He is not embarrassed.

This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials. 

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• @Sonala.Olumhense

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