Borno State has been a lifeblood of President Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral successes. In his years at the hustings, Buhari has found rich pickings in the state. Even in 2011 when he was trounced nationally by former President Goodluck Jonathan; Borno State stood firmly in Buhari’s corner; delivering to him nearly one million votes to Jonathan’s less than 120,000 votes.
At the height of Boko Haram’s terrorist attacks on the North East of the country in 2015; more than 90 percent of Borno’s votes went to Buhari. Ditto during the last election in 2019. Buhari roundly defeated his fellow northern politician, and a very popular one for that matter; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, garnering 836,469 out of the 955,205 total votes cast.
It stands to reason that the president, on his return from the recent African Union; AU, summit and state visit to Ethiopia, made a dash for Borno State; which also continues to be epicentre of insurgency in the North East; to commiserate with the people on the loss of more than 30 lives, including women and children; in an attack on Auno village, some 20 kilometres from Maiduguri, the state capital.
The president’s men were very surprised that the president’s convoy was booed by a section of the crowd; which had come to welcome him, chanting in Hausa: “We don’t want you; you’ve disappointed us”. The scene must have been an embarrassment for the president’s people who have always expected a compliant Borno State; to pay obeisance any time President Buhari visited.
And in the characteristic assumption of the presidency, that open defiance was the work of hired people. According to Femi Adesina, special adviser on media and publicity to the president; “We (Presidency) don’t see it as a rejection because if you look at those who turned out to welcome the president … It was a huge crowd; a sprinkling in the crowd booed the president.
Nothing surprising there. It is the modus operandi of the presidency to respond to every criticism of the president. And it does so with such regularity it assaults our sensibilities. As it has often been the case, they’ve missed the point again.
The Borno incident has become the metaphor for the rising tide of anger against our president. It has nothing to do with how popular he is in some parts of the country. But all to do with a diminishing president that is sinking in paralysis and inability to act. He has no new answers to the problems of the country. Further, he continues to seem detached from the realities that have become the daily life of Nigerians. They have become resigned to insecurity. Nowhere is safe anymore.
Uncharacteristically, this current, pliant, National Assembly finally found its voice on the issue and has even been demanding; at the lower house, for the removal of the current service chiefs; as well as the appointment of new ones to breathe some life into the strategies that’ll help deal a decisive blow to insurgency and other forms of atrocities across the nation.
Buhari, often described as a soldiers’ soldier, appears to be missing several steps; despite the belief that his experience should help the nation defeat insecurity. What is not clear to me is why he has been reduced to a Commander-in-Chief who can only bark orders and threats and occasionally dispense condolences but hasn’t been able to motivate his service chiefs to deliver the goods. It is also unclear whether the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin; who is supposed to be the president’s “go to” man; is able to knock heads together to continue to revise the blueprint for defeating insurgency in Nigeria.
His post, CDS, has always been largely redundant in the military structure since the late Shagari era; when it was really politicised and each service chief had direct access to the Commander-in-Chief. The only strong Chief of Defence Staff we have known was the late General Sani Abacha; who had a firm grip of the military during the Babangida years. Something is definitely amiss. Certainly, this feeds into the agitation of many segments of the society for the removal of the service chiefs; as well as the appointment of new ones.
Garba Shehu, senior special assistant on media and publicity to the president says; “removal or sack of service chiefs does not stop all of what we are experiencing. Whether we like it or not we are in a war situation. The president and Commander-in-Chief is seeing things that others cannot see. This is why he deserves the benefit of the doubt. How can they say the president does not care?”
The president may have more information on insecurity that the rest of us. But what we see daily is the carnage across the nation. What we see daily is a president who’s so paralysed he can’t compel his security men to sing from the same hymn sheet. If they can’t, how then are we expected to have confidence that all is; and would be well in the fight against this existential crisis?
In the last few days, a private war between the National Security Adviser; Babagana Monguno and the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari has finally hit the airwaves. Monguno has accused the chief of staff of “dangerous intervention in matters of national security”. Also, he has warned the service chiefs against taking directives from Kyari.
In a letter that has now been well publicised, the National Security Adviser wrote; “Chief of staff to the President is not a presiding head of security. Neither is he sworn to any oath of defending this country. As such, unprofessional practises such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations as ambassadors and high commissioners to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers; are a violation of the constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr President.”
This is an overreach by Kyari who seems, always; to be in search of opportunities to “stamp” his own authority on this government. This chief of staff, unlike previous ones; wants to be seen as the president’s right hand man every waking moment. That’s why anybody looking at any photograph from Aso Rock would easily see the man positioning himself next to Buhari.
But we know that as a political appointee, his roles include selecting key Aso Rock staff; supervising them and controlling the flow of visitors to the president. He’s an adviser to the government, as Garba Shehu once explained.
No optimist expects the president to intervene in this matter. It is not in his nature to do so. It is just another example of the paralysis in this government; as well as its inability to act promptly and limit the damage done by such matters as this. It explains also why there is so much disarray in this government. In fact, those like me who thought the Buhari government would check the drift in the country feel so monumentally disappointed and hoodwinked. (I voted for Buhari 2011, 2015, and 2019).
Is there any hope that this government can still self-correct?
What continues to ring in my head is what Senate President, Ahmad Lawan said at Governor Nasir El Rufai’s birthday; earlier this week. “Today we are challenged by insecurity; sadly, it is all over the country. The story is bad; everyday it is either kidnapping, assassination or some kind of banditry that leaves our people and communities shattered…We owe the people not only explanations, but actions.”
Can the REAL Buhari stand up?