Chris Gyang: A Captive President, blighted country and docile people
Those Nigerians who once thought that the Buhari presidency would take our country to a destination better than this forlorn outpost of stasis, anarchy and overwhelming misery now know better. They are shaking their heads in utter regret, and sheer bewilderment.
When we warned, even as early as the days before the 2015 presidential vote, that Buhari’s rabid sectionalism and extreme religious proclivities would push Nigeria to a sad precipice, we were excoriated and branded as hateful and irrational peddlers of Islamophobia. But those who pointed accusing fingers at us then are now also crying, painfully – victims of Islamist terrorism, Fulani herdsmen’s terrorism and expansionism, armed banditry, kidnapping for hefty pay-offs and sundry criminalities that have become the chief themes of Buhari’s reign so far.
But, lest we forget, this is the man whom Boko Haram once penciled down as their spokesman before he became president – based on his strident support for them (once upon a time?) This is a president in whose cabinet a popular and self-confessed Al-Qaeda apologist snugly perches – one of the president’s closest allies.
So what had Nigerians expected? To expect anything other than the prevailing atmosphere of siege and dark clouds hanging all over the country would amount to deluding ourselves, and even Mr. Buhari himself. Afterall, Nigerians are receiving exactly what they bargained for. Moreover, it is said that countries get the kind of leaders they deserve.
In an editorial condemning a gift of one million dollars President Buhari surreptitiously offered the terrorist government of Afghanistan, the NIGERIAN TRIBUNE (April 4, 2022) captured the very flavour of the last seven years. “Nigerians are genuinely fed up with the Buhari administration and cannot wait for it to run down its time and depart,” the newspaper declared.
Then it continued: “Not only is the president incompetent, he has shown time and again that he is also insensitive. The criticisms against the president when he was running for office in 2015 was that he was too sectarian and provincial, and that he did not have the imagination to run a local government, let alone a country as complex as Nigeria.”
And with a finality that has a ring of tragedy, tinged with regret, the editorial ended: “Sadly, time has proved those critics right.”
Terrorists may soon knock on the gates of the presidential villa, Abuja. Bishop Matthew Kukah warned the Buhari administration to guard against insurgency turning the north into another Afghanistan. Recall that on August 15, 2021, Islamist terrorists, the Taliban, took control of Kabul, the Afghanistan capital.
The DAILY POST (December 26, 2021) had reported the cleric as raising the alarm that “so many communities have been turned into gulags of misery, death, pain and perfidy,” and called out that “we must move quickly before Arewa, our beloved Arewa, descends into ‘Arewanistan’ (coined from Afghanistan).” But, apparently, the Bishop’s warning has not been taken seriously.
Today, not only is the entire north and other parts of the country reeling from wanton acts of terrorism and armed attacks, the possibility of terrorists reenacting the Kabul take-over in our country’s capital is growing by the day. Consider these. On July 5, terrorists attacked the Kuje prison in the federal capital and freed 600 of their compatriots held in the facility.
Then on July 24, two officers and eight soldiers were killed by terrorists during an ambush in Bwari, also in the nation’s city. It is worthy of note that the Taliban seized the capital city without firing a shot after waging a 20-year bloody jihad against the Americans and the Afghan administration. The insurgents were aided and abetted by government officials – both within the military and state establishments – who later seamlessly melted into the new Taliban administration.
And in a move that shocked Nigerians and most of the international community which regards that government as a pariah, it emerged early this year that President Buhari had secretly donated 1 million dollars to the Taliban as so-called humanitarian aid through the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Latest international security reports have revealed that Afghanistan is gradually becoming a safe haven and training ground for Islamist terrorists from all over the world.
And considering the strong links between Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Ansaru and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) and the more formidable and brutal Islamist terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which have global networks, this should be a source of serious concern to Nigerians and the international community.
What with the puzzling and persistent (some say deliberate) failure of the Buhari government to rein in Nigeria’s terrorists, armed Fulani herdsmen and well-armed bandits and kidnappers. As we have seen above, some of them have become so elusive, powerful and audacious that they have made the nation’s capital city a routine playground under the watch of Mr. Buhari – a retired Army General.
Certainly, the fruits of the Buhari presidency are not only soar and bitter but poisonous. They are killing citizens all over the country without any respite in sight. This is because the man whose first constitutional responsibility is to protect them has been held captive and compromised by religious bigotry and tribal sentiments. He also possesses this creepy sense of aloofness and detachment from reality that has rendered him almost completely impervious to the painful realities of the plight of citizens.
These noxious fumes of religious bigotry, tribal sentiments, etc, have also infected the citizenry and rendered them docile. While Siri Lankans, the Sudanese, Tunisians, Peruvians and other forward-looking peoples all over the world have taken their destinies in their hands and flooded their streets demanding for social justice, good governance, transparency, the security of their lives and property, economic and political inclusion, etc, the Nigerian masses remain fantastically mute, trapped by native, primordial sentiments.
Sadly, we are caught in the obscene paradox the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti cynically referred to as “suffering and smiling.” But what he failed to add was that Nigerians have also become adept at complaining, splitting hairs and crying to the high heavens about their lot without rising up to robustly correct the perceived wrongs. In our country, docility has been transformed into a sort of collective social action.
That is why our leaders carry on as if all is well even when terrorists and bandits are having a field day all over the country. According to latest estimates from the World Bank, 80% of Nigeria’s population has fallen into poverty due to ill health or due to payment for health care services. The World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have designated Nigeria as one of the 20 ‘Hunger Hotspots’ in Africa where citizens will face hunger crises in the coming months.
Also according to statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria’s food importation bill rose by N1.1 trillion in twelve months – an increase of 45 per cent. And while about $1.8 billion was spent on food imports in 2020, the country used $2.7 billion for the same purpose from January to December 2021.
Yet, only recently, President Buhari tweeted that Nigeria had achieved food security due to the massive investments his government made in the agriculture sector. (See Daily Trust, July 18, 2023).
Tune in to radio and television phone-in shows all over the country and browse the social media from sunrise to sunset and you will get a true feeling of the level of Nigerians’ frustration and hopelessness. In his traditional biting form, Femi Adesina, Mr. Buhari’s acerbic spokesman who takes sadistic delight in insulting already traumatized Nigerians and pouring invective on our statesmen, dismissed such citizens as ‘the Wailing Wailers’. He described those others who dared criticize his boss’ loads of failures as individuals that are a “mere irritant and paperweight.”
Once again, politicians are on the hustings. Most of their outlandish promises, devoid of any deliberate systemization into sensible working manifestoes, offer little that is new to Nigerians. Political analysts say this is a far cry from what obtained in the Second Republic (in the late 70s and 80s) when political parties could be identified with key and distinct policy objectives and ideals to be pursued towards meeting national goals and the aspirations of the people.
Rights activists see this as a dangerous signal that things may not change much in the years after 2023. This bleak assessment may not be far from the truth considering the fact that the people lining up to take over from President Buhari have not shown any significant inclination towards completely changing the narrative. Their antecedents show them as either adopting positions of ambivalence or acquiescence in the face of the mounting failures of the Buhari administration and their resultant effects on ordinary Nigerians.
From where, then, shall sucour come for citizens? Who will have the courage to clear these bloody swamps? These are the fundamental questions Nigerians must ask themselves as they make the critical, nation-saving decisions as 2023 approaches, even if ominously. But it has also been suggested that the solutions to the existential problems confronting Nigeria may not necessarily and entirely lie in the outcome of the 2023 elections, or any other elections conducted under the present constitutional arrangement for that matter.
This school of thought believes that a more permanent and resilient solution could be located in the devolution of power to the six geo-political zones to give them some level of fiscal autonomy so as to reduce the concentration of power and resources at the centre. Unfortunately, this solution has remained highly repugnant to the Buhari administration and the core northern political/emirate establishment.
Nevertheless, advocates of restructuring insist that the current suspicion and distrust pervading the polity are caused by the unequal power equation in the country which gives the core north undue advantage over and above the other units. This has left in the peoples of these other regions a deep feeling of injustice and denial, also caused by the wrong implementation of the federal system enshrined in the country’s constitution.
The bitter protestations, animosities and bad blood that have been generated by the All Progressives Congress’s Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket are some of the direct fallouts of Nigerian Christians’ strong and abiding sense of marginalization, itself an offshoot of the country’s disproportionate distribution of power in the polity generally. This has been considerably exacerbated by the Buhari administration in the last seven years where his own religion and ethnicity had an overbearing advantage.
Those who do not see any harm in the Muslim-Muslim pairing believe that even if the APC had maintained a Muslim-Christian balance, as is the case in the present dispensation, the existing feelings of discontent and exclusion would have still persisted because the problem is deeper, far more fundamental, than the mere religions of a president and his deputy.
But others who oppose this position also posit that reflecting the country’s religious plurality through a Muslim-Christian ticket or vice versa, especially at this time when Islamist terrorism has further polarized Nigerians along religious lines, will go a long way in assuaging the pains and dousing the fears of those parts of the country which feel short-changed by the current constitutional arrangement.
That said, and viewed more broadly, even if the 2023 elections succeed in dissipating some of the despair and disenchantment the Buhari years have generated all over the country, they may well be a stop-gap measure, a mere flash in the pan. Political scientists, constitutional lawyers and historians agree that the solutions to Nigeria’s problems lie much farther and are essentially beyond elections.
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