By Sonala Olumhense
What is to be learned from last week’s insecurity-themed events in Nigeria?
Remember: a group of Senators and Representatives began to demand the impeachment of President Muhammadu Buhari, several years after his incompetence, even complicity, became evident.
And remember, a video was in circulation days earlier of local terrorists mercilessly brutalising a group of Nigerians they abducted in the Abuja-Kaduna train attack in March.
Prior to that, on 6 July, Buhari’s advance presidential convoy to his Katsina hometown had been attacked. That was hours before the terrorists sacked the Kuje Correctional Centre. Buhari ignored those warnings; his foreign travels take precedence over national security.
Continuing to gain in confidence, the terrorists began to assault targets in the Federal Capital Territory so much that institutions were being shut down and students sent home.
And then, perhaps as an indication that the term “failed state”, does not adequately capture how pathetic the Nigeria story has become, the terrorists published the video in which they violently walloped their victims and confidently threatened to abduct and kill Buhari himself and Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai.
It is unclear when the video, which quickly went viral, was published. Many Nigerians appear to have seen it on Friday and Saturday. It was Governor el-Rufai, sufficiently concerned — for himself, understandably — who informed Buhari about it on Sunday. The Nigerian leader had not heard about the threat to his own life!
Think about that: although surrounded by layers of Nigeria’s intelligence, military and security apparatuses at the highest level — many of whom he had handpicked — Buhari had not heard about something as scandalous as a band of criminals threatening his own abduction and murder!
To be sure, he ought to have read the story for himself and seen the sad footage of his citizens being battered like stray cattle, but he famously does not consume the media. In the belief that he is untouchable, he must not be bothered with Nigeria’s sad stories.
But buoyed by success, the terrorists last Tuesday “ambushed and decimated” the elite Presidential Guards Brigade, in the chilling words of his National Security Adviser Babagana Munguno, killing at least eight.
That was the same day Buhari nonchalantly left for Monrovia to preach democracy, the rule of law, governance, and peace to Liberians even as Nigeria buckle for lack of them. News was breaking that in the first quarter of the year, the nation’s total revenue was N1.63 trillion as against debt servicing of N1.94 trillion. Only days earlier, Minister of Finance Zainab Ahmed called for “urgent action” to “revenue challenge and expenditure efficiency” in Nigeria’s squander-mania governments.
Earlier in July, it had emerged that Nigeria lost $1 billion in revenue to crude oil theft during that same first quarter, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) disclosing that only 132 million of the 141 million barrels of oil produced during the period were received at export terminals.
“This trend poses an existential threat to the oil and gas sector and by extension, the Nigerian economy if not curbed”, NUPRC chief Gbenga Komolafe warned.
The problem is that these trends and problems receive lackadaisical treatment in the corridors of power, where the wrong people are routinely appointed, commitment not required, regulation rarely pursued, and the power of example never deployed.
It is important to recall “The Three Changes Nigeria Needs”, an opinion piece Buhari wrote for the Wall Street Journal, not for Nigerians, in June 2016. He identified those changes as: (1) restoring trust in the government through combating corruption and providing accountable governance; (2) rebalancing the economy to reduce Nigerians’ overreliance on imports and increasing “the supply of foreign exchange to the economy;” and (3) regenerating growth…by attracting investment in domestic industries and infrastructure.
I don’t know if Buhari ever read the article himself. He concluded: “We cannot improve living conditions and restore fiscal health without making people feel safe and secure — just as we cannot defeat militancy without reducing poverty and dislocation…What we do in the next three years to build an economic bridge to Nigeria’s future will be just as important for bringing lasting peace and prosperity”.
Immediately rebutting Buhari in the same newspaper, Pete Hoekstra, a Senior Fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism in Washington DC, described the President as “Nigeria’s problem, not its solution,”citing his administration’s inflexibility, lack of vision and reactive approach.
About building trust, it is obvious that Nigerians trust the government exponentially less now than in 2016. Hoekstra observed that an anticorruption drive that was selective and focused on senior members of the opposition party creates deep political divisions, pointing out, “members of Mr Buhari’s own cabinet, accused of large-scale corruption, walk free. Seventy per cent of the national treasury is spent on the salaries and benefits of government officials, who make upwards of $2 million a year”.
Among those officials, it must be noted, is Buhari himself, who does not consider it to be staggering corruption to squander resources on himself in a foreign hospital for months at a time without accounting to anyone.
The same applies to the insecurity in the country. In February 2021, Dataphyte reported that (under Buhari), Nigeria spent ₦8.05 trillion on national security in six years. It is now so “secure” that criminals have announced they will kidnap the President!
By last week’s end, the Nigerian currency was exchanging at over N710 to the US$. Labour and Employment Minister Chris Ngige was warning that the government was so broke that in 2023 it would be unable to fund capital projects. A dishonest government, which daily affirms its efficacy, has brought Nigeria to its knees!
But it is not simply that Buhari is dishonest, incompetent, and complacent. Of course, the Pope is Catholic! It is that when you review what he has said against what he has done, or where he has been against where he has not, and what he remembers against what he has forgotten, Buhari is a study in lack: lack of purpose, vision, strength, memory, understanding, capacity, empathy, or grasp.
In the end, his worst damage is that he has sapped his country of confidence. In Buhari’s Nigeria, only criminals have swagger; the honest have been drugged by the sheer difficulty of trying to breathe!
To try to solve this problem by impeachment now that insecurity has arrived in Abuja, their city on the hill, is for those who have enabled him for nearly eight years to claim some sense of relevance.
We should not be deceived. The situation calls for rebirth, and to that end, the only meaningful approach is to carefully prune every tree and every growth Buhari has spurned. Every plant that has arisen from or been made possible by him, and every political yield that sounds or looks like him or remotely reminds one of him, must be rejected and uprooted.
If you know something is poisonous, you do not drink it, and no one who tries to persuade you to do so, no matter what methods they employ, loves you. Because you know it is poison.
Don’t choose poison. That is why this is a moment of such clarity for you. And for Nigeria.
This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.