The Zabarmari Turning Point, By Olusegun Adeniyi

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There is no worse position for a leader than when ardent supporters and implacable opponents sing from the same hymn book. That precisely is where President Muhammadu Buhari is today. On Tuesday, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) demanded the president’s resignation for his inability to tackle mounting security challenges in the country. “In civilized nations, leaders who fail so spectacularly to provide security will do the honourable thing and resign,” they said in the strongly worded statement signed by spokesman, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed.

When NEF and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) join ‘Afenifere’ and ‘Ohanaeze’ in the company of ‘Wailers’, you know, as the saying goes, that ‘Water don pass garri’! On top of that, both the President of Senate, Dr Ahmed Lawan and the House of Representatives Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila have also jettisoned conventional wisdom that to whom you can whisper, you do not need to shout. That is the import of the resolutions passed by the two chambers of National Assembly on Tuesday. Following the Senate resolution, Lawan warned in an uncharacteristically stern note: “These are not frivolous or imaginary resolutions. They are based on the reality in the country. Enough of excuses; those who have nothing to offer in terms of securing the country should be shown the way out.”

Senators are well aware that the power to hire and fire lies with the president and that their resolution is meaningless in the context of the constitution we operate under. But they know what they are doing. The resolution was more for the public record which is why they are asking that it be implemented “immediately”. The senators also demanded a restructure of the nation’s security architecture while calling on the president to institute a probe into allegations of corruption against military top hierarchy. The House of Representatives on its part has asked the president to appear before them in plenary to explain what he is doing to address the worsening security situation in the country.

As the president continues to dig in, there is no likelihood he will take any of the options proffered by the National Assembly. But he is not helping himself by staking the security of the nation on four men who, in the estimation of Nigerians, have failed to justify their extended tenure. It’s worse for the president given insinuations as to why these men are untouchable, even when they serve at his pleasure. We may need to look to other climes to understand what is going on. The factors that drive appointments in a presidential system of government, according to Jeff Neal, a retired Chief Human Capital Officer for the United States Department of Homeland Security, may make firing an appointee messy. “For example, firing someone whose appointment was made to appease a particular special interest may create a political backlash for an administration. Appointees know that, and sometimes push the boundaries because they know it gives them some small degree of job security,” Neal wrote.

We do not know the nature of the relationship between the president and these military officers but it is not likely that he will act on the recommendation of the Senate or that of the majority of Nigerians who believe that they have overstayed their welcome. Yet, following the massacre last weekend of dozens of rice farmers in Zabarmari at the outskirts of Maiduguri, something has to give. The immediate former governor of the state, Senator Kashim Shetima who sponsored the motion in the upper chamber said 67 farmers were beheaded. The only ‘crime’ committed by these farmers was that they were trying to earn an honest living for themselves and their families.

Whether the president realises it or not, a vast section of our country is gradually being ceded to sundry criminal cartels. Sadly, all we hear are excuses without any serious attempt to address the challenge. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, told the BBC on Monday that the slain farmers required military clearance to farm and never secured one. Here are his words: “The government is sad that this tragic incident has happened. 43 or thereabout of innocent farm workers, most of them had their throats slit by a heartless band of terrorists. People need to know what it is like in the Lake Chad Basin area. Much of those areas have been liberated from Boko Haram terrorists but there are a number of spaces that have not been cleared for the return of villagers who have been displaced. So, ideally, all of these places ought to pass the test of military clearances before farmers or settlers resume activities on those fields.”

Asked by the reporter whether he was blaming the farmers, Shehu responded: “Not exactly but the truth has to be said. Was there any clearance by the military which is in total control of those areas? Did anybody ask to resume activity? I have been told by the military leaders that they had not been so advised and certainly, therefore, it was a window that the terrorists exploited…The military is not present in every inch of space in that area. Even if the people are willing to go back, a lot of those areas have been mined and mine clearance needs to be carried out and those areas must be cast as being ok for human habitation or agricultural activity.”

While Shehu has clarified his statement and reassured Nigerians that he was not blaming the victims, and I believe him, it is also clear that the presidential spokesman was regurgitating excuses offered by a military high command that has failed. A situation where citizens will need military clearance to engage in legitimate business is the ultimate vote of no confidence in a democratic leader. It is also an admission that the president is not in full control of the country.

There is a discerning pattern that makes many question the judgement of President Buhari. Tackling insecurity was one of his three cardinal promises before he was first elected in 2015. The second is fighting corruption. In the first, he has saddled himself with incompetent and seemingly irreplaceable military officers. The same way he failed to relieve ‘Mr Transmission’ of his job as Inspector General of Police until Nigerians were poised to carry placards. On the anti-corruption front, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has not had a substantive chairman in the past five years. Now we have an acting chairman acting for a suspended acting chairman! Weeks after a panel set up to investigate the suspended acting chairman submitted its report, there is no word from the president.

But the issue at hand is national security. More than anybody else, one would expect President Buhari to understand the implication of an indefinite tenure for any military officer. In a regimented service, as I also wrote last year, there is no greater incentive for professional excellence than one’s aspiration to reach the top.

Yet from 2016 to date, well over 100 Major Generals and their equivalents in both the Navy and Airforce have been retired due to a lack of vacancy at the top and in the chains of command. It is worth repeating that after 35 years, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin should have retired from the army on 18th December 2016 (four years ago). The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadique Baba Abubakar, ought to have retired on 15th May 2017 (three and a half years ago) while the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas should have left the Navy since 1st January 2018 (three years on the first day of next month). The Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai was also due for retirement on 17th December 2018.

These clearly are not motivated officers. They are people who have nothing to lose, which is reflected in their priorities. As I wrote last year, victory on the battlefield depends on the commander. If he is one that can inspire hope, has earned the trust of his troops and is committed to their welfare, the battle is half-won. The converse is the case if the commander is neither motivated nor trusted by his troops.

In the years since Nigeria has been engaged in a war against the Boko Haram insurgency that is ‘technically defeated’, we have focused on (and derided) the capacity of our fighting troops. Commanders have been allowed a free pass, despite sundry allegations of impropriety against many of them. “If the president insists that the security chiefs are doing their work well, then the logical implication of such assumption is that the president himself as the constitutional commander-in-chief of the country has failed in his most rudimentary assignment of securing the nation”, Senator Shettima said in his lead debate on Tuesday.

With many of the northern governors reduced to undertakers whose main schedule of duty is to bury innocent citizens killed by insurgents or bandits, they are also strident in putting the blame for their woes on the federal government. That means inaction is no longer acceptable on the part of President Buhari. These were the words of Shettima at the Senate: “Last weekend’s beheading happened about 20 kilometers from Maiduguri. Boko Haram insurgents are virtually ruling all our rural areas. They kill and abduct people at will. They’re targeting farmers and this will create hunger in the North. Government officials keep saying that Boko Haram has been technically defeated. This claim is not true.”

The Governor of Katsina, the home state of the president, has expressed similar sentiment following several killings and abductions of innocent citizens by bandits. It is the same in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna States. Meanwhile, this morning at the Nigerian Army Resource Centre (NARC) in Abuja, Buratai will declare open the second edition of the Nigerian Army Spiritual Warfare Seminar. Like the previous edition held in September last year, the programme is expected to explore religion and spiritualism as tools for fighting Boko Haram insurgency. But the onus is on the president to find solution to the national security conundrum. Since security is the primary responsibility of government, no excuse is good enough for the current state of our nation that is practically under the gun.

Leadership, according to Stanford University Emeritus Professor, James G. March, “involves plumbing and poetry” because the basic job is to inspire and influence. Doing both does not require a huge effort but President Buhari seems too disinterested to care. He appears intentionally aloof and almost always distant, leaving others to make excuses for him or fill the gap. When a leader maintains a chasm between himself and the people he governs, as President Buhari has done for most of his tenure, it will be difficult for him to build trust with the people. And once a leader loses the trust of his people, all is lost for him.

For Nigeria, the amber light is on. Whether it will turn green or red depends on the choices President Buhari makes now.

▪︎Governor Umahi’s Chapter One

Following his defection from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress ((APC), Ebonyi Governor David Umahi has been in confrontation with top politicians in his state who refused to join his political adventure. He is particularly at war with former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim who was also Secretary to the Government of the Federation under President Goodluck Jonathan. With the latter responding in kind to Umahi’s vitriol, we have heard juicy stories of blood, killings, spell, ‘Koboko’ and ritual receptions on the streets of Ebonyi. And while we enjoy the entertainment, Governor Umahi has also dropped hints about our politics in what he called only chapter one of his book of revelations.

Let’s take it from Umahi: “I was a deputy governor. Somebody occupying the highest position from the South-East (meaning Anyim) went and arranged for a N5billion loan for me to prosecute the presidential election for his government. I had to sell many of my properties to pay back that money…All these people that came together to fight me, they collect contracts, they collect monthly pay, they collect vehicles. And when they are asked to bring people that worked for us, they will bring their wives, children, and relations. Now, they are dressing words for us. We are in chapter one, in chapter two, I will publish all that I have done for the leaders of this state.”

When the late Dele Giwa wrote that ‘Nigerians have been shocked to the state of unshockability’, he was being prescient. That is because we run a system without any modicum of accountability and where politicians with no public service roles can collect ‘monthly pay’ and vehicles. But this lack of accountability is neither restricted to Ebonyi nor is it only in financial management. For instance, Governor Mala Buni of Yobe State is saddled with the assignment of caretaker chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Yobe, which is one-half of the old Borno State, is also challenged by the Boko Haram insurgency. But its governor stays only three days in a month in the state and spends the rest scouting for defecting PDP governors he could present to the president as souvenirs. “On the issue of staying, there is no way I can spend a month without spending three or four days in Yobe state”, said the APC Caretaker chairman. That a governor would publicly admit to such irresponsibility is because he knows there are no consequences for bad behaviour in our country. But let’s return to Umahi’s ‘Chapter One’.

A public official took a loan of N5 billion from a bank to prosecute a political ambition (for someone else). How would he recoup such ‘investment’ if not to steal public money? What does this say about our banking sector and the ‘projects’ they fund? And if these revelations are just ‘Chapter One’ in Umahi’s ‘introduction’ to the looting of Ebonyi State, we wonder what the promised ‘Chapter Two’ will offer. In all, we can see why politics remains the most lucrative enterprise in the country. And unlike the rice farmers of Zabarmari who put their lives on the line to cultivate an essential staple crop, you don’t need the permission of the military to do politics in Nigeria!

• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com

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