Whereas a lot of individuals and organisations are rallying support for President Goodluck Jonathan and want him to seek re-election in 2015, there is also a massive build-up of opposition against him including the intensification of Boko Haram insurgency in the north-eastern part of the country
| By Olu Ojewale | Sep. 22, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE imposing billboard which ran across a six-lane expressway in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital territory, was quite intimidating. On the billboard was a picture of President Goodluck Jonathan in a colourful T-shirt folding his arms, with a simple message: #BringBackJonathan.’ Several replicas of the billboard especially in posters were also displayed at numerous strategic areas in the federal capital territory. Although more than 160 versions of the posters and billboards campaigning for the return of President Jonathan in 2015 have doted several strategic parts of Abuja, none of them parodied the #BringBackOurGirls – the social media campaign which calls world’s attention to the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram, a terror group on April 14. As the country is moving gradually towards general elections slated for February in 2015, such campaign strategy should be expected.
However, the apparent insensitivity of the billboard invoked the wrath of critics both from inside and outside the country against the president. Critics from different spheres queried the basis for parodying the rescue campaign slogan, even when the Jonathan administration had failed to rescue the abducted schoolgirls from captivity. The criticisms seemed to have fallen on deaf ears until Washington Post, an influential newspaper in the United States, described #BringBackJonathan2015 slogan as “galling,” in its recent editorial. This prompted the president into action.
Succumbing to the pressure, the president on Wednesday, September 10, ordered the immediate removal of all the billboards with the #BringBackJonathan hash tag billboards and posters. Reuben Abati, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, said in a statement, that the signs were being used without President Jonathan’s knowledge or approval. He said the president had, therefore, ordered that the “offensive and repugnant” signs and campaign banners bearing the slogan be immediately brought down. Abati’s statement said in part: “While President Jonathan appreciates the enthusiastic show of support for his administration by a broad range of stakeholders, he condemns the #BringBackJonathan 2015 signs, which appear to make light the very serious national and global concern for the abducted Chibok girls. The President assures all Nigerians and the international community that his administration remains fully engaged with efforts to rescue the abducted girls and that he will not knowingly promote any actions that will fly in the face of the seriousness of their plight and the anguish of their families.”
In its usual practice, the All Progressives Congress, APC, in a statement issued by Lai Mohammed, its national publicity secretary, in London, on Wednesday, September 10, said the president had made a mockery of his administration and Nigeria by waiting for an international condemnation of the shameless and brazen usurpation of the #BringBackOurGirls hash tag before issuing the directive for it to be removed. “Had the US newspaper, the Washington Post, not written a stinging editorial skewing the Jonathan Administration for appropriating the #BringBackOurGirls hash tag for his re-election, the administration would have continued its brazenness without regards to the feelings of the parents of the girls or indeed the Nigerian people.” The APC said the belated directive on the #BringBackJonathan hash tag should be a first good step towards ordering a group known as the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, TAN, to immediately stop its rallies being held across the country to garner support for President Jonathan. The APC said that the noisy and sycophantic rallies being held across the nation, ostensibly to collect signatures from Nigerians urging President Jonathan to seek re-election, contrasts with the challenges currently facing the nation, especially with the persistent attacks of Boko Haram terrorist group.
That notwithstanding, it looks unthinkable that the president and his kitchen cabinet will stop more than 8,000 groups that have committed so much in human and material resources to abandon their mobilisation campaign for the president’s second term in office. Only on Tuesday, September 9, in Lagos, a group known as #BringBackJonathan 2015 campaign called on Nigerians to gather at different venues in their localities from 3:00pm to 6:00pm daily and plead with President Jonathan to contest next year’s presidential elections. Chinedu Okpalanma, national coordinator of the group, in a statement said: ‘’We were the first organisation in Nigeria that mobilised Nigerians to march on our streets as early as March this year, showing solidarity for this administration and calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to run again in 2015. When we started, we continually encouraged other organisations like ours to do same in the face of stiff opposition and even threats to our lives.
“Today, we are indeed elated that groups have now come out to organise rallies to compel our President to declare, which shows that, indeed, Nigerians are gradually coming to terms that President Goodluck Jonathan is the best thing that has happened to Nigeria in a long while. So now, we are once again pioneering another value-added sensitisation and agitation movement for Nigerians to freely identify with us, which is the #BringBackGoodluck2015 sit-out.”
Similarly campaigning for President Jonathan to seek re-election in 2015, is a group known as Carefirst for the Aged Welfare Development Association of Nigeria, CAWDAN. Membership of group is drawn from members of the Nigerian Civil War Veterans of (1967–1970), who want the president to declare his intention to run for a second term in the 2015 presidential election.
The CAWDAN said it had already concluded arrangements to engage more than 65,000 of its members currently residing in different parts of the country to support the president to ensure his return in 2015. Ubi Okoi, national chairman of the group, who made the call in Onitsha, Anambra State, on Wednesday, September 4, shortly after receiving a certificate of incorporation of the CAWDAN from the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, Abuja, described Jonathan’s on-going transformation agenda as monumental. “President Jonathan should, as a matter of urgency, declare his intention to run for a second tenure in 2015 because we have already concluded all the arrangements to engage the over sixty-five thousand members of the body living in different parts of the country to give their support to ensure the emergence of the President in 2015 presidential election,” Okoi said.
In the same vein, the TAN declared on Wednesday, July 30, that it had concluded plans to organise rallies to push for the president’s re-election in 2015. Indeed, since the TAN’s plans were disclosed by Udenta O. Udenta, its director of public communications and strategy, at a national stakeholders’ meeting in Awka, Anambra State, the group has carried out rallies in Awka, Ibadan Port Harcourt where it claimed to have already collected eight million signatures asking President Jonathan to contest.
Ahead of its north-central rally billed for Minna, the Niger state capital, on Saturday, September 13, the TAN said it had collated more than nine million signatures of people within the zone, asking President Jonathan to seek re-election in 2015. The TAN north-central rally was scheduled to hold at the Trade Fair Complex, Minna, on Saturday, September 13. With two more zones to cover, the grand finale is slated to hold at the Eagles Square in Abuja on Saturday, September 30, 2014. The TAN, which comprises of Nigerians from all walks of life, is hoping that its efforts would prompt President Jonathan to accept to run in 2015.
Listing out the president’s achievements sector by sector, Udenta said they cover oil/gas, roads, agriculture, power, sports, railway, women/youth empowerment, housing, port reforms, electoral reforms, aviation, automobile industry and a successful national conference, among others. “To speed up things and ensure effectiveness in some sectors, the president bought into a transparent public private partnership, PPP. The port reforms saw to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of 22 airports, including the construction of five new airport terminals at the Enugu, Kano, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja airports, as well as six cargo terminals which were also approved and constructed.
“The port reforms were conceived with the ultimate goal of a 48-hour goods clearing policy in all the nation’s sea ports. This vision is now realisable while the 35 percent affirmative action, a springboard for greater women empowerment as set out by the 1995 Beijing Conference, was first actualized under Jonathan”, Udenta said. The TAN boss said he was worried over what he described as “the almost near absence of coverage of President Jonathan’s very many achievements nationwide.” He said TAN had vowed to take the message of hope, peace, national cohesion and development which President Jonathan represents to the people to see for themselves and be convinced that it has to be consolidated, encouraged and accepted by all.
He alleged that the negative antics of the few traducers of the administration were visibly and unconscionably allowed to dominate the public pace. Udenta urged Nigerians to carefully take a dispassionate look at the very many unique achievements of President Jonathan.
He said TAN had vowed to take the message of hope, peace, national cohesion and development which President Jonathan represents to the people to see for themselves and be convinced that it has to be consolidated, encouraged and accepted by all. Udenta, however, described the TAN as a non-governmental, non-partisan organisation which was out to spread the message of peace and the promotion of good governance in the country.
The TAN is, indeed, one of the prominent groups that have been drumming up support for the president across the county. Indeed, Rufai Alkali, special adviser to the president on political matters, told journalists in Abuja on Monday, September 1, that there were about 8,000 pressure groups that had been urging the president to declare his presidential ambition but that President Jonathan was not in a hurry to do so. Alkali, who was speaking when the special committee set up to restructure the Goodluck Support Group, chaired by Adamu Ibrahim, a retired general, submitted its report to him, said: “The preliminary observation from the report of the team is that contrary to our earlier position that there were about 3,000 groups rooting for Mr. President, we now have more than 7,000 support groups nationwide, all calling on President Jonathan to declare for the Presidential race… As I am speaking to you now, we have at least another 1,000 groups demanding to be screened, which will make it 8,000 groups.”
While the Presidency appears to basking on its good fortunes that so many groups would want him to contest the February 2015 presidential election, the opposition has not been relenting in its efforts to rubbish every activity of the government no matter how good intentioned it may be. Reacting to the president’s directive that #BringBackJonathan hash tag should be discontinued, Mohammed said ’Nigeria is in a state of war, a state of anarchy, a state of loss never witnessed since the end of the unfortunate civil war in 1970. Terrorists are capturing towns after towns and hoisting their flags over the seized territories. Our troops are engaged in an epic battle to ward off the terrorists. Our people are being daily slaughtered by the marauding terrorists. And Ebola is very much here with us.
“Therefore, this cannot be the time for festivities and celebrations, the type being orchestrated by the government under the TAN banner. The rallies insult the troops who are battling Boko Haram. The rallies insult Nigerians who are fervently praying for the unity of the nation in the face of the madness by the marauders. The rallies offend the sensibilities of the families of our citizens who are being mowed down daily by Boko Haram. They must stop forthwith,” it said.
The APC is not the only group that has been campaigning against the perceived re-election bid of President Jonathan. Just last month, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, asked Jonathan to forget about contesting in 2015 if by October 13, the government failed to produce the more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram sect on April 14, this year. The NEF had, in a statement signed by Solomon Dalung and Hakeem Baba‑Ahmed, on Monday, August 11, said that the North did not believe that the Nigerian military could not defeat the terrorists, and that it felt the conflicts in the country were deliberately being prolonged simply to weaken the North politically and economically.
But in a swift reaction, the Presidency on Tuesday, August 12, slammed the NEF for its audacity and insinuations. Doyin Okupe, senior special assistant to the president on public affairs, in a statement, said irrespective of threats, the president would remain focused and alive to his responsibilities in delivering the dividends of democracy to the people of Nigeria. “Suggestion that the Government is carrying out any scheme to annihilate any section of the country for political gain is preposterous, contrary to common sense, divisive and essentially a deliberate attempt to disseminate ‘hate mentality’ and cause mischief,” Okupe said. Defending the way the Jonathan administration has been handling the Boko Haram insurgence, the statement said: “The issue of insurgency especially those ideologically based on Islamic extremism, is a global phenomenon and requires tact, military capability, serious de-radicalisation techniques and community based counter insurgency programmes to ensure success. In these areas, the Federal Government is making progress. We are improving on our operational capabilities and efficiencies by acquiring more advanced weapons and technologies for our military and security agencies. We have drafted more military personnel to the region to strengthen the fighting power of our armed forces. We are taking advantage of the offers from our international military and intelligence allies to assist in identifying key locations.
“We are working with our neighbours to secure the borders and limit the movements of the Boko Haram fighters, building on the agreements reached at the recent summits in Paris and London. We are deploying more resources to maximize operational efficiency, acquire more advanced and relevant weaponry and boost the general morale of our combatants. This is why the Government recently requested for an additional funding of $1bn.” He said the government was also working on stopping domestic and international funding of the terror group.
In line with that direction, President Jonathan, in the past one month or thereabouts, has held several meetings with prominent international leaders and stakeholders within and outside the country to block sources of funds and materials of the terrorist group. The source of worry here is that despite the conflict, the ragtag Boko Haram militants appear to lack nothing in prosecuting its conflict against a formidable and organised Nigerian military. Besides, the terror group seems to have adequate supply of food, vehicles and well-stocked arms and ammunitions to prosecute the conflict.
Apparently irked by the situation, the federal government disclosed on Tuesday, September 9, that it had decided to focus on the source of funding and weapons used by the insurgents, as part of efforts to end terrorism in the country. Mike Omeri, coordinator, National Information Centre and director-general, National Orientation Agency, who stated this during the routine security briefing, in Abuja, insisted that the government had the capacity to counter the ongoing insurgency in the North-Eastern part of the country.
Omeri said the recent regional ministerial meeting convened to explore ways of achieving international cooperation in tackling the challenge of insurgency in the North-East had called for more action in tackling the menace. He said the meeting was called to look into the level of implementation of the decisions and commitments made at the Paris Summit of May this year and the follow-up meetings in London and Washington DC. “Particularly, the meeting underscored the need to effectively address the sources of funding and supply of weapons to Boko Haram and called for greater international co-operation in tackling all forms of illegal transfer of arms and ammunitions,” he said.
Whatever steps the federal government is adopting to fight the Boko Haram insurgency,, there is a general feeling among Nigerians that the military has been infiltrated by sympathisers of the sect. The suspicion is given credence by the fact that Nigerian troops have been killed in ambush several times by the insurgents. In apparent frustration, the president himself had once expressed concerned that it appeared that the administration had been infiltrated by sympathisers of the Islamic fundamentalist group.
As if that was not bad enough, it appears, the Boko Haram group is also winning in the propaganda war. In recent times, the group has scaled up its propaganda warfare in the foreign and local media with reports of attacks on defenceless towns and villages in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. The villages and towns were said to be under the control of the sect. No efforts have so far been made especially by the local media to verify the authenticity of the reports. That explains why reports on the activities of the sect coming out from the warzones are, at best, conflicting. For instance, while some media reports credit the insurgents with successful operations at the war zones, others said the Nigerian military has continued to suffer reverses in the hands of the insurgents.. A case in point was the report that scores of insurgents were killed on Tuesday, September 9, following their invasion of Mubi, a university town in Adamawa State and that attempts by the insurgents to take Vimtim, the hometown of Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, chief of Defence Staff, also in Adamawa were repelled by troops. It was during the Vimtim operation that Adeboye Obasanjo, a lieutenant-colonel and son of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was said to have been shot and wounded while many other soldiers were killed in the incident. Vimtim is about a 30-minute drive from Mubi along the highways on the Yola–Maiduguri road.
However, media reports said that the fight in Mubi was so fierce that Abubakar Isah Ahmadu, emir of Mubi and vice-president of Adamawa Council of Chiefs and Emirs had to sneak out of the town. But on Wednesday, Ahmadu denied the media report. He said he did not leave his palace and that the insurgents did not capture Mubi as reported in the media. The emir said people who were afraid that the insurgents were going to enter the city decided to migrate and leave so that they were not caught in the cross fire that might ensue.
Another report said that Vimtim was eventually captured late in the night of same day by the Boko Haram insurgents. But the military was said to have launched a counter-offensive and later recaptured Bazza. It was learnt that the insurgents also launched attacks on Gulak and Michika also in Adamawa State.
On Tuesday, the federal government said Bama, Borno States’s second largest city, had been retaken from the insurgents, who had captured it a week earlier. More than 50 members of the Boko Haram were reportedly killed in the bloody conflict.
But Boko Haram on its part declared on Wednesday, September 10, that it was still in control of Bama, Michika and Mubi towns. Abu Zinnira, spokesman of the group, said in a statement: “This is a rebuttal from the information dissemination and sensitization unit of the Jamaatul Ahlil Sunna Lidawati Wal Jihad aka Boko Haram, on the series of lies that the Nigerian military have been feeding the world on our recent conquests.
“Let the whole world know that we are on the path of victory because up to this minute, the town of Bama is under our control, the whole of Michika is now in our hands, as well as Mararaban, junction of Mubi, now fully under our control. We are assuring the world that this would be continuous and there will be no going back by God’s grace. This is a message from me on behalf of our brethren.”
No doubt, the conflicting reports of these sorts are getting Nigerians nervous and not to know which side to believe. On Wednesday, some Borno elders cried out that Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, was being surrounded by Boko Haram insurgents but some newspaper correspondents said there was no truth in the story.
Apparently disturbed by the turn of events, the Arewa Consultative Forum, AFC, in an open letter to President Jonathan, on Thursday, September 11, expressed its displeasure about the way security matters in the North-East were being handled. The ACF, in the letter signed by Ibrahim Coomassie, its chairman and a former inspector-general of Police, and JIP Ubah, secretary, and a retired colonel, said the situation in the North-East had become worrisome, especially with Jonathan’s “nonchalance attitude to the plight of northerners, whose area has suffered gruesome murders and arsons from the extremist sect since 2009.” It expressed fears that in spite of the emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, towns and villages were being sacked, people maimed and killed while partrs of Nigeria’s territories were also being seized by a group of insurgents. “There has been no decisive action to expose, contain and resolve the Boko Haram insurgency”, the ACF alleged, adding that: “the attitude of Mr. President towards the plight of the missing Chibok girls is, to say the least, appalling and un presidential.”
The ACF gave a three-point way forward, which include that Jonathan should put a “halt to the brazen seizure of Nigerian territories and confront the insurgents decisively; set up a high powered team to investigate persistent allegations of complicity now echoed by Stephen Davis, an Australian, against Ali Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno State and retired General Azubuike Ihejirika, former Chief of Army Staff and others, and implement the recommendations of three panels – the Sheikh Lemu, Gaji Galtimari and Tanimu Turaki – set up on the insurgency.
The ACF said it was forced to write the open letter because Nigerian citizens in the affected areas were being slaughtered like animals with women and children raped, adding that Maiduguri, had been isolated because most of its link bridges had been destroyed. The Forum flayed the federal government’s tardiness or inaction “which has led to loss of confidence in government and widespread contempt for security personnel and institutions.”
The ACF said categorically that: “The spate of assassinations, murder, arson, destruction of lives and property of innocent citizens in the North East in particular and the entire North in general, has continued unabated and assuming an unprecedented gravity and ferocity; it is looking more like an agenda being executed sequentially and successfully too.” It further said that the enormity of the loss of lives and property and the mayhem were deliberately being unleashed generally on Northerners, especially in the last six years.
Similarly appalled by the situation in the countrty, the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, in a statement signed Abdulwahed Omar, its president, expressed concern at the speed with which the insurgents were reportedly taking over towns and villages, pointing out that if not curtailed, it was capable of discrediting the Armed Forces that had performed creditably in peace keeping missions across the world. The statement said in part: “These violent attacks and reported seizures and declaration of an Islamic republic remain unacceptable and must never be allowed as a republic cannot exist within a republic.
“While we appreciate the commitment of Nigeria’s security agencies, particularly the armed forces, in the battle against insurgency in Nigeria, we strongly warn that the consequence of allowing any part of the country to be forcefully seized by any group will be overwhelmingly harmful to our collective unity and socioeconomic advancement, just as it would also endanger the growth of democracy. We are worried at the speed with which the insurgents are taking over communities even in areas reported to have heavy security presence. It is time the Nigerian armed forces prove their preparedness to protect and defend the Nigerian people and their territories by using all within their armoury to protect our territorial integrity.
“The credibility and professional image of our armed forces would be at stake, even in global ratings, if our forces who have been widely acclaimed to have performed so well during peace keeping operations in different parts of the world would allow themselves to be overrun by insurgents back home.”
The Congress enjoined the federal government to provide all that it would take for the Nigerian armed forces to win the war against the Boko Haram insurgents. “We must never allow any part of Nigeria to be subjected to perpetual fear and nightmares, which the entire north-east seems to have been boxed into. The need for an urgent intervention in the funding and provision of appropriate equipment to the Nigerian armed forces as well as proper policing of communities across the country cannot be over emphasised at this juncture.
“The failure to do this will be a monumental discredit to the federal government under whose direction and authority the armed forces as well as the overall safety of all residents is constitutionally placed,” it added.
In any case, Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State, on Tuesday, September 9, said the insurgency in the North-Eastern part of the country is aimed at stopping President Jonathan from contesting for 2015 presidential election. Kalu, who lauded the president for stabilising the polity since his assumption of office, wondered why some people were bent on sponsoring activities of Boko Haram sect to destabilise the country. Kalu, who spoke with journalists at the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, national secretariat in Abuja, said: “Insurgency is new in Nigeria. It is all politically-motivated and aimed at stopping President Jonathan. The people who do not want Jonathan are sponsoring it.” Asked if the insurgency would lead to the PDP losing the presidential election, the business magnate answered: “How can that be when we have people like Peter Odili, myself and other former governors working solidly for the party and the presidency.” He, however, called on opponents of President Jonathan to give peace a chance arguing that an extra four years of Jonathan in government would not harm the country but strengthen it.
Speaking in the same vein to Realnews, Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, said the escalation in the Boko Haram attacks was a clear indication that some people were bent on stopping President Jonathan from contesting in 2015. He said it was likely that that there were moles in the military feeding the Islamic fundamentalists group with information, arms and ammunitions. Besides, it appeared that some Northern soldiers were not willing to fight thereby allowing the conflict to escalate. “The only way out is for President Jonathan to be decisive. If Northern soldiers don’t want to fight, he should look for external help,” Ekpe-Juda said.
Be that as it may, it appears that President Jonathan has a big hurdle ahead of him to get a second term mandate. Even if he gets, there are fears that he may not be allowed to rule. Whatever be the case, time will tell.