Playing Politics with National Security

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Jonathan

Even as the country continues to wallow in a serious state of insecurity, Nigerian politicians are busy trading blames on each other instead of making useful suggestions that can help to end Boko Haram insurgency

By Olu Ojewale  |  May 5, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

IT IS a nightmare that no Nigerian knows when or how it will end. The state of insecurity in the land has gripped the nation like a plague and also put it on the world map as one of the unsafe countries to be or go to. From the incessant attacks of Boko Haram, kidnapping to raids by Fulani herdsmen, Nigeria looks like a country in a state of war. The worrisome situation has become a veritable source of frequent foreign media coverage of how unsafe the country has become. The last two weeks have even become more tenuous and harrowing for the country. While the body count of those killed in the bomb attack on Nyanya Motor Park, Abuja on Monday, April 14, was still going on, Boko Haram insurgents on Tuesday, April 15, kidnapped 234 innocent school girls at the Government Girls’ Secondary School, GGS, Chibok in Borno State. Most of the girls were still with their captors as at press time. As if that was not bad enough, Fulani herdsmen launched an attack in Wukari, Taraba State, forcing the government to deploy 50 soldiers in the trouble area on Wednesday, April 23.

Regrettably, Nigerian politicians have refused to see beyond politics and instead of coming together to proffer solution on how to deal with the common enemy, many of them have engaged the government in a blame game. Even when President Goodluck Jonathan proposed to convene an enlarged security council meeting to include  the governors of all the states of the federation on Thursday, April 17,  no governor from the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, turned up for the meeting. Their absence was turned into a political argument which necessitated a rescheduling of the meeting for Wednesday, April 23 and later postponed for 24 hours. This, it is believed, was to allow members of the opposition to reason with President Jonathan on the need to support his plan to extend the state of emergency in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. But at the end of the expanded security meeting, there was no mention of the state of emergency in the troubled states. Instead, the meeting gave the security chiefs a matching order to rescue the kidnapped students at all cost.

Nyako
Nyako

Emergency rule was first introduced in the three-troubled states in May last year for six months. It was renewed for another six months last year. The president relied on section 305 of the constitution for his action. And since the constitution does not empower him to suspend governors of the affected states from office, Jonathan has constrained himself to the constitutional provision in exercising his powers. However, the retention of the governors at their posts is seen as one of the reasons why insurgency has not abated in the states.

But ahead of the meeting, security in the country had become a fractious issue on which Nigerian leaders have been trading blames and engaging in name-calling. In the process, the political temperature has been on the rise. Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State appears to be the most virulent in his attack. In a letter dated April 16, which he sent to the Northern Governors’ Forum, NGF, Nyako accused the President Jonathan administration of committing genocide against the North.  He similarly alleged that Jonathan was from Eastern Nigeria, which was responsible for killing the Northern elite on January 15, 1966. The letters said in part: “The administration is bent on bringing wars in the North between Muslims and Christians and within them and between one ethnic group and another or others in various communities in the region.” He similarly alleged that kidnappers of schoolgirls in Borno State must have had the backing of the federal government “for them to move about freely with abducted children.”

In its reaction through Doyin Okupe, senior special assistant to the president on public affairs,  the Presidency on Saturday, April 19, said that Nyako’s letter was a sad betrayal of trust by a major beneficiary of the Nigerian nation. Okupe said that Nyako’s letter was divisive, adding that it was meant to incite one section of the country against the other.

In the same vein, Labaran Maku, minister of information, described Nyako’s recent comments on security challenges in the country, as highly irresponsible. Answering questions from State House correspondents after the federal executive council, FEC, meeting in Abuja on Wednesday, April 23, Maku said it was unfortunate that such a statement could come from a person of the governor’s status who had, at a time, served as the Chief of Naval Staff. He said a lot of achievements could be made in the anti-terror war if highly-placed people learnt to keep their mouths shut.

He said: “To hear the kind of things being said by the governor of Adamawa State at this period is very unfortunate. Nyako is a former CNS. He is someone that has worn a uniform before. For him to publicly incite the people against the security forces of this country is the height of irresponsibility. I believe that for someone like that who is old enough to appreciate the kind of crisis this country is going through, we expect that there should be greater understanding, politics aside.

“When people reach a certain age, they should watch their utterances and the kind of things they are supposed to say. Maybe for young people like you and me, we can say it is lack experience; but for people that have known the difficulty this country is going through and the kind of effort that is being made by the federal government to come out and make those statements that divide the country is grossly irresponsible…People grandstanding, people playing to the gallery, people making inflammatory statements that divide public opinion, that cause confusion, will appear to me as people that are anti-Nigeria. This is the time we expect all our people to speak with one voice, and speak with a voice that give our people hope that we the leaders are united in finding a solution.”

Buhari
Buhari

The same sentiment was earlier expressed by Abubakar Umar, a retired colonel and former military governor of Kaduna State. Umar expressed his disappointment in Nyako’s statement and  said it was not only inciting but also unbecoming of a retired military officer. In a newspaper interview published on Wednesday, April 23, Umar said: “The statement of Governor Murtala Nyako, coming from a retired military officer, is shocking and worrisome and I hope people like him should desist from making wild allegation… These are comments that should not come from leaders like a state governor and a retired military officer.” He therefore, urged all the governors in the North East to work with the president to resolve the security situation in the area.

But Nyako appears to be unrepentant. Reacting to Okupe’s statement, the retired Navy admiral insisted on Sunday, April 20, that the Presidency was arrogant and confused.  Nyako said that the strategy being adopted by the government to fight insurgency in the North-East smacked of a premeditated plot designed to decimate the North and northerners. Ahmad Sajoh, director of press and public affairs to the governor,  in a response to the statement by the Presidency, said: “They arrogate all knowledge and wisdom to themselves alone. We hold the statements we released as true and challenge those who claim to have a sense of history to cut-off the use of jaundiced semantics to address the issues raised in this and several other documents before it.” He said that by making false claims about the attack on Nyako which was never investigated nor ascertained, the Presidency was providing further proof that it knew more than it was willing to admit with respect to the brazen attack.

Besides, Nyako said that the statement on the supposed rescue of the abducted girls was enough to prove that that the federal government was not in control. He also said that if the Presidency was not complacent about the killings in the country how then could the president have gone dancing a day after several citizens were killed in the Nyanya Motor Park bombing in Abuja.

But some socio-political groups in the South, including Afenifere, Ohanaeze and the Niger Youth Parliament, have condemned the governor. Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, described Nyako’s statements as reckless. Yinka Odumakin, publicity secretary of the group, described the governor’s statements as unfortunate. “That a state governor, a chief executive, a former chief of naval staff in the country can be making such a careless, reckless and unguarded statement at this moment we are facing serious security challenge, is very unfortunate… Shekau (Boko Haram leader) yesterday (Saturday), claimed responsibility for Abuja bombing, saying the sect will bomb Abuja again. For a governor to say Boko Haram is a phantom, such a governor should be facing interrogation by now.”

Also, members of the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said Nyako’s statement was inciting and capable of causing chaos in the country. Chuks Ibegbu, a chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said: “We expect him as a political leader to diplomatically sort out his differences with Jonathan, rather than create tension and further worsen the security situation in the country. Accusing Jonathan falsely is very unfortunate. He is only distorting history. His statement is quite shocking.” Besides, Ibegbu said it was the northerners who massacred the Igbo people in 1966, “and not the other way round.”

Umar
Umar

But in its reaction to Nyako’s letter, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, a Northern socio-cultural group, said it was time for the Presidency to rise to the challenge and arrest the real culprits of the crimes against Nigerians. The ACF called on the government to go after the people they addressed as third parties, both within and outside the country, supporting the insurgents. The group defended Governor Nyako saying being a victim of the calamity that had afflicted the northern states, he was only expressing his frustration like other victims. “The ACF, therefore, calls on the federal government to urgently investigate the allegations made by Governor Nyako, especially the support being enjoyed by the insurgents from third parties within and outside Nigeria, in order to get to the root of this insecurity ravaging the north.”

According to the ACF, Nyako merely called attention to the failure of the federal government to “arrest the mindless slaughter and indiscriminate bloodletting by the Boko Haram insurgents and other terrorist groups, which is a clear and systematic effort to destroy the northern population for partisan political advantage. The ACF had, in the last six years, expressed serious concern on the spate of killings and destruction of property by the Boko Haram insurgents and other criminals in the north, especially in the north east region.

“It had also appealed to government at various levels to adequately equip and fund its military and other security personnel to tackle the insecurity challenges bedevilling the North.  Unfortunately, the measures employed by government, including the declaration of a state of emergency, have not yielded the desired result, hence the incessant attacks and kidnapping of innocent people by the insurgents and unknown gunmen.”

Nevertheless, the ACF appears to be convinced that the Boko Haram sect has no capacity to carry out such spate of attacks in the country in recent times. According to a statement issue by Muhammad Ibrahim, national secretary of the ACF, “the scale and sophistication of the attacks being waged by the insurgents against harmless people, who do not even know or understand their grievance, is beyond the capacity of the semi-illiterate almajiri (Boko Haram) that we know.”

The statement said in part: “It would be recalled that not long ago, our military command informed the world that it had found and destroyed over 700 vehicles belonging to the insurgents in one of their camps, so as to wither the fighting being waged by the Boko Haram insurgents; how come the killings and kidnappings have continued to be on the increase, especially in the north east region? The ACF had earlier called on the government to thoroughly investigate the source of funds, arms and ammunitions the insurgents have in carrying on with their deadly acts of terrorism against the people without much resistance from our security forces deployed in the affected states.”

The ACF had hardly reached the media when Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram sect, released a video in which the group claimed responsibility for the Nyanya attacks and adoption of the school girls.

Aliyu
Aliyu

The rumour of the presence of Boko Haram caused anxiety on Lagos Ibadan express road on Wednesday, April 23. Information had filtered in that the expressway which traversed Ogun and Lagos states had been taken over by the insurgents at Sagamu area of Ogun State and that they were heading for Lagos. The rumour caused traffic jam on the expressway for several hours. It was learnt that the news was spread through social media and text messages, which said: “Breaking news, if you are on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway going towards Ibadan, please turn back. Eighteen suspected Boko Haram members with AK47 rifles are on the highway now displaying their skills. Nine policemen and 11 civilians who were trying to stop them from shooting have been confirmed dead. Please rebroadcast to save a life. May God help us in Nigeria.” The rumour prompted security agencies from Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states to deploy security personnel to the area, while the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps as well as the National Emergency Management Agency also rushed to the scene to save lives. But on getting there, there was no sign of any terrorist attack. Umar Manko, commissioner of Police, Lagos State command, later said in a statement that there was, indeed, a confrontation in the area, but it had nothing to do with terrorists.

Being linked with the terror group is not what any politician who likes to cherish. Muhammdu Buhari, a retired major-general and a chieftain of the APC, recently took exception to such link when he issued a seven-day ultimatum to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to retract its accusation linking him with the terrorist group, tender an unreserved public apology to him or face a legal action.  In a statement he personally signed in Kaduna on Thursday, April 17, Buhari said: “I cannot sit back and allow my image, and that of my political party to be smeared by falsehood in the name of politics. He said the widely publicized and very serious allegations made against him by the PDP and its spokesman, Olisa Metuh, to the effect that his utterances were responsible for the current state of insecurity and terrorism bedevilling Nigeria, were absolutely without basis. To support his claim,  Metuh engaged in twisted logic and outright distortion – which he called facts – in which he said that I, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, beckoned on my ‘supporters to go on a lynching spree’ should I lose the 2011 presidential election, as a result of which ‘an unprecedented violence broke out claiming the lives of hundreds of innocent people. I take very serious exception to this grave accusation against me by the PDP publicity secretary. It is a false allegation aimed at tarnishing my image and reputation in the hope of destroying my political and electoral standings, and that of my party, the APC, in the country.”

In another breath, the former head of state in an article, advised President Jonathan to change his tactics in dealing with the insurgence and expressed his readiness to work with the government to deal with the monster. This elicited commendation from the president. In a statement issued on Thursday, April 23, by Reuben Abati, senior special adviser on media and publicity to the president, Jonathan stated that Bu­hari’s view showed that he is a statesman. The statement stated: “President Jonathan believes that the position taken by General Buhari is that of a true patriot, respected former Head of State, revered elder states­man and nationalist. The President wel­comes General Buhari’s call on all Nigerians to re­main steadfast and work in unity to overcome terror­ists and other merchants of death who currently threat­en national security. President Jonathan fully shares General Bu­hari’s view that a minor­ity must never be allowed to ‘bring the nation to its knees through terror.’ He has noted General Buhari’s recommendation that the nation’s counter-terrorism strategies be further fine-tuned and welcomes his kind offer of support and co-operation in dealing with the challenge of ter­rorism.

“The President assures retired General Buhari of his administration’s sincere commitment and dedication to the success­ful prosecution of the fight against terrorism and all other threats to national security. He further assures Buhari of his prepared­ness to work with him and all other patriotic Nigeri­ans, irrespective of their political affiliations, to strengthen national secu­rity and end the scourge of terrorism.”

Fashola
Fashola

But the situation, for some other people, is becoming scary and unacceptable. At  a book presentation in  Lagos on Tuesday, April 22, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, urged Nigerians to protest the abduction of the girls from their hostel at Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. The governor, who was the keynote speaker, lamented that since the girls were abducted there has been no lead as to their whereabout. “I don’t even know what to say… Everyone in authority must act now. It is not only degrading us as a people, it is defaming us. As horrible as Afghanistan is, we never read of human beings abducted. We talk of no man’s land of West Afghanistan; such does not happen. Nigeria is heading to the level that does not recognise us as civilised people and human beings anymore and it is a shame.

“I should not have said this here, considering my position in the polity but what is my choice? When school children are being abducted in schools and we carry on as if it is mere statistics. It is not. We must protest on the streets to tell all of us that enough is enough,” Aregbesola said.

Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, who was also at the book launch, said the situation in the country showed that the nation was suffering from “leadership vacuum.” Fashola also referred to the television commercial hailing the achievements of the Jonathan administration in terms of security and infrastructure, saying it was almost tantamount to “blasphemy.” He added: “If those people think everything is all right, then it must be two things; it is perhaps that they are watching the news on black and white television or they are reading the newspapers upside down. It is not you who will tell us that you are a great man; it is the people and we as governors who will tell you because we wear the shoes.”

Ayo Akande, an elder of the APC in Lagos, wants President Jonathan to resign his position since he cannot handle the current security challenges. “President Jonathan should resign because he has lost control of the situation. The insecurity crisis is growing from bad to worse on a daily basis and it seems Nigeria is a rudderless nation without a leader. It is very obvious that the government is losing control. Despite all the money committed into the power project and the eventual privatisation of the PHCN, electricity has become a mirage in the country,” Akande said.

However, there are those who believe that the political enemies of President Jonathan are at work on the current state of insecurity. Lamidi Adeyemi, Alafin of Oyo and the traditional ruler of ancient Oyo town, holds the belief that the Boko Haram insurgency is being sponsored by enemies of the president to achieve political goals. Adeyemi, in a letter of sympathy to the president following the Nyanya, Abuja bomb blast, said the group’s alleged links to Islam was unfounded because its activities were against the injunctions of the religion. In the letter dated April 16, 2014, the monarch urged the president to seek international cooperation from neighbouring countries towards stemming the activities of the insurgents. His letter said in part: “With the influx of mercenary fighters, grenades and rocket launchers, the Boko Haram’s senseless and unreasonable warfare has taken an international dimension and the time is ripe now for Your Excellency to seek for support and cooperation of the international communities, most especially our neighbours, Cameroon, Niger Republic and Chad Republic, to put an end to this threat on the sovereignty and security of Nigeria.”

Ibegbu
Ibegbu

Expressing the same sentiment, Olajide Adeniji, chairman of the board of Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA, said the spate of attacks was to force Jonathan to shelve his 2015 re-election bid. Adeniji who spoke with reporters in his country home in Ila, Osun State, on Saturday, April 19, while hosting chairmen of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from the 30 local governments, area officers and state officers, insisted that Jonathan did not create the insurgency, but inherited it, thus “stopping him from returning as president in 2015 because of activities of Boko Haram attacks will be inhuman.”

In the meantime, the NGF to whom Nyako’s letter was addressed, said it would investigate the matter and step up efforts to resolve the security situation in the country. Governor Babngida Aliyu of Niger State, who is also chairman of the NGF, said the forum would look into the allegations thoroughly with the aim of finding lasting solutions the Boko Haram crisis and the incessant conflicts herdsmen and farmers in the region. He said the forum had invited the Miyetti Allah Fulani Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria to a meeting to be held by the governors. “I am enthusiastic that the interface between northern governors and Miyetti Allah would engender the restoration of the most desired peaceful co-existence, unity and development to the region. The forum intends to work closely with leaders of Miyetti Allah to unmask criminals who masquerade as cattle breeders to inflict mayhem on innocent citizens,” Aliyu said.

Indeed, the frequent raids of Fulani herdsmen have been causing a lot of concern in a number of northern states. On Tuesday, April 22, daring gunmen, defied a dusk-to-dawn curfew and attacked Gidan Aku community on the outskirts of Wukari Local Government Area of Taraba State, killing no fewer than 50 persons and injuring many others. The attackers, armed with sophisticated weapons allegedly came from Nasarawa State through the plains of Benue River and descended on their victims while the residents were asleep. “The attackers shot at people and burnt houses at the same time without any intervention by the security forces. We are helpless here and we plead with the federal government to deploy special troops to rescue us from these unfortunate and deadly attacks. Our people are being killed by gunmen, we are losing property on a daily basis. What kind of a country is this?” Luka Agbu ,a witness queried in frustration. Soldiers have since been drafted to the state to help in resolving the security situation. Speaking on the issue on Wednesday, April 23, Garba Umar, acting governor of Taraba State, warned the people of the state to desist from politicising the current spate of violence and join hands with government in finding a lasting solution to it. Umar said that the lingering insurgency in four local government areas of the state was not peculiar to Taraba but was a national crisis affecting no fewer than 15 states of the federation. He said soldiers had been deployed in the affected areas to restore normalcy. “We have concluded arrangements on how to visit the internally displaced persons and render immediate succour to them. That is why we have dispatched 28 trailers laden with relief materials to the affected LGAs. I have ordered that despite the curfew in Wukari, the General Hospital there should be open for the treatment of the victims of the crisis. The 24-hour curfew earlier imposed on the area had been relaxed and would be in force from 12 noon to 6 a.m.,” the governor said.

Indeed, Nigerians have expressed the willingness to support the government to restore security in the country, but wonder what has happened to some of the security measures being put in place by the government. For instance, the federal government was reported to have paid N76 billion for the closed circuit television, CCTV, installed in the federal capital territory. The government was said to have been embarrassed for the failure of the system to contribute to its fight against terrorism. Realnews learnt that some of the equipments were sub-standard while some have been stolen or knocked down by reckless drivers on the highway. A report said the Presidency recently cancelled a request by the ministry of police affairs to pay additional N3 billion to the NigComsat and the Chinese firm handling the scheme.

Olukolade
Olukolade

The Chinese firm, which handled the $470 million project, claimed to have completed and handed over the project to the ministry of police affairs to manage but the inability of the police establishment to secure a transmission platform has hindered its operations. A dependable source said  the multi-million naira security project had not been able to capture and transmit images because the transmission broadband allocated by the National Communications Commission, NCC, for the project, was sold to a private firm. The Nigeria police and some private telecommunication firms were said to be running round to work out how best to resolve the situation.

Another concern is that it appears that the government has not been able to deal with infiltration of Boko Haram sect into the security agencies. A case in point was the recent blunder made by the defence headquarters which issued a statement on Wednesday, April 16, that majority of the kidnapped school girls had been rescued and that only eight of the girls were still in captivity. Chris Olukolade, a major-general and director of defence information, who signed the statement, later apologised to say that he was misled into issuing it.

Similarly, Okupe on Saturday April 19, took full responsibility for the misinformation on the abducted secondary school girls. But in the tweet, Okupe said the apology was personal and had nothing to do with the government or Presidency. But about 150 human rights organisations have demanded for the sacking of Olukolade for the misinformation.

For the military which is well known for its structural command, how the general was given wrong information seems unimaginable. Analysts said it must have been sponsored by some sympathisers of the sect in the military to embarrass the government. If so, this has apparently lent credence to President Jonathan’s allegation sometime ago when he said that there were members of the sect in his government. Since the war against the Boko Haram sect started, only Ali Ndume, a senator from Bono State, has been linked to the dreaded group. But since 2011, the case against Ndume is yet to be decided in court.

Besides, the inability of the administration to release the list of Boko Haram sponsors which the government claimed to have obtained, seems to suggest that the Jonathan administration lacks the political will to tackle the menace. Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, said the president had treated the Boko Haram issue with kid gloves for too long that he would need to show more muscle and deal with the situation decisively. “There is no end in sight unless the government is determined to deal with the situation. It is obvious the insurgents have sympathisers in the government and the military but all these can be resolved if there is a political will. But with the way we are going, we are not going to go far,” he said.

Ekpe-Juda
Ekpe-Juda

According to Ekpe-Juda, all the security agencies should work as a unit and stop hoarding information from each other. During the change of security chiefs in January this year, Jonathan had enjoined the new service chiefs to cooperate in intelligence gathering in order to enhance the security of the country. The security expert said if there was, indeed, enough cooperation among the security agencies, the load would be lighter.

Apart from that, Ekpe-Juda would want the government to acquire the type of malware developed in Asia, which are in use in Saudi-Arabia and many other countries to trace funding to the group. While also encouraging the government to accept foreign assistance in tackling the security issues, he cautioned about accepting those offers. “We should be careful. I know we cannot do it alone. But we must know the reason behind the offers and set limits so that we don’t expose the country to external attacks,” he said.

The president also appears unserious about the battle against  terrorism when 24 hours after the Nyanya bomb blast he was at a political rally in Kano where he welcomed Ibrahim Shekarau, former governor of Kano and a former chieftain of the APC, to the ruling PDP. Enraged by the insensitivity, critics said the president was only interested in power and not in the security and welfare of the people.

Whatever the thinking of the president and members of the opposition, playing politics with human lives is not what the nation needs now. What Nigerians are clamouring for is how to live in a secured and conducive environment; that is only what can guarantee the coexistence of Nigerians as a people.

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