President Muhammadu Buhari was in order when he, in his Democracy Day speech, reminded himself of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as contained in Section 14(2)1 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). The section tells us that the security and welfare of the people is the primary purpose of government.
I had thought, when the President alluded to it, that he was about to take us through an honest assessment of how his administration has fared in this regard. The President needed to do that because insecurity has, contrary to expectations, turned out to be the most embarrassing blot on his government. But rather than say it as it is, the President came up with a curious excuse as to why insecurity in the country has snowballed. According to the President, the battle against Boko Haram, which the government has been waging, has scattered and pushed them in-country. That, he said, explains why we have a new and growing wave of terrorism in the country.
The immediate impression I get from this is that those who packaged this excuse for the President were not circumspect enough. They should have tasked their brains a little more, knowing full well that the President was not going to address kindergarteners.
The question that arises from this is: When and how did our fighters scatter the insurgents? Contrary to the expectations of many Nigerians, Boko Haram has been waxing stronger under the Buhari regime. This is common knowledge. It does not require any public lecture for Nigerians to know what the situation is. What the people want to hear are statements that border on assurances. The people need to build confidence in the capacity of their fighting forces to rout the common enemies of the people. Nigerians have not forgotten that the fight against terror was a major campaign issue in the buildup to the 2015 elections. Then, Buhari was rated high as having the capacity to deal with the insurgents. As a retired general of the Nigerian Army, he was believed to have what it takes to defeat terrorism in our land. He had a strong support base among those who believed unwaveringly in this much vaunted ability and capability of his. This fact was not lost on the government that Buhari formed after President Goodluck Jonathan ceded power to him. The key players in the administration worked towards that predetermined answer. That was why Lai Mohammed, who had then just been appointed as Minister of Information and Culture, declared barely two months after his appointment that government had defeated Boko Haram. The only purpose the declaration served was one of propaganda. Nigerians did not witness any defeat of the insurgents. Rather, they saw the terrorists inching closer into areas that were thought to be impregnable.
Nigeria, seriously speaking, cannot claim to have recorded any major victory against the insurgents since Buhari assumed the reins of governance. Instead, the country has been losing grounds in this regard. Less than two months ago, Boko Haram overran parts of Niger State following a string of attacks by the terrorists on villages in Shiroro and Munya local government areas of the state. The Islamist group freely hoisted its flag in the territories it conquered. Governor Sani Bello of the state had to cry out, warning that Abuja, the federal capital, was not safe under the circumstance. This was where we were in April, just two months ago. A group which made such a daring inroad into our territory, just recently, cannot be said to be scattered or degraded.
Maybe Mr. President forgot the fact that the country’s failure to rein in the terrorists was responsible for the clamour for the change of service chiefs. The President, from all indications, was not too persuaded to replace them. But he buckled at some point. All of this points to the fact that the country is not where it is expected to be in the battle against terror. If this is the situation, when then did we wake up from our slumber to the point of decimating a formidable group that has given our fighting forces a run for their boots?
What can be deduced from the President’s speech is that elements from Boko Haram mutated into the terror groups that are now in-country. If we proceed on the basis of this assumption, we will be saying that the new generation terrorists such as Fulani herdsmen, bandits and gunmen are products of Boko Haram. If that is the case, why is government treating the new terrorist with kid gloves? Why is the terrorist herdsman enjoying the cover and protection of government? Why is the bandit such a sacred cow? The illogic in the President’s conclusion cannot be remedied. It is fallacious to the letter.
It is interesting that Buhari did not forget that a good number of those who voted for him in 2015 did so on the strength of their belief that he would put an end to insurgency. The President acknowledged and admitted this much in his address. But that expectation has since fallen flat on its face. Buhari’s failure in this regard is considered to be the lowest point of his presidency. If and when the President chooses to talk about this colossal failure, we expect that he will be deliberate and measured. He should not just throw down statements for the sake of it. Strangely, however, he chose to give a casual treatment to a scourge that has tasked the country to no end. Such trivialization of terror inflicts further assault on our sense of proportion.
The President’s faux pas did not end with his casual treatment of terrorism. He sidestepped another burning issue that has thrown Nigeria into a tailspin. This is the vexed issue of restructuring. Rather than give assurances that will assuage the anxiety of Nigerians who are looking forward to a new order that will help the country to stabilize, the President told Nigerians that the job of constitution amendment lies with the National Assembly. If the President had been listening, he would have heard Nigerians say that the ongoing process of constitution amendment is sheer waste of time and resources. The argument is that it will end up as mere tokenism that will not bring about the desired new Nigeria that the people want. What is to be inferred from here is that the President does not want to address this all-important national question. Nigerians who value progress and stability have told all concerned that the present political arrangement that is borne out of the 1999 Constitution is no longer workable. The people want a brand new constitution, which will give them a new political structure that will serve the best interest of the country. But the National Assembly, acting in cahoots with the Presidency, is behaving as if it is carrying out an important national assignment.
But even if the legislature pretends about this, the President cannot afford to do the same. It was, therefore, expected that the President’s Democracy Day speech should address such issues that are trying the soul of the nation. But it did not. What we got instead was a miscellany of tangential issues that are lacking in content and significance. The President did not make any conscious effort to address burning national issues of the moment. Rather, he engaged in a freestyle rigmarole, summarily touching off issues that require well considered and urgent attention.