Nigeria’s insecurity woes worsening
“We have done our best, and we will continue to do more by pursuing coherent and consistent policies to deal with terrorism. I hope God will listen to our prayers,” said Buhari in January this year.
Rather than pray, Buhari had the chance to end the salad of violence in the country, he chose not to. Rather by encouraging divisive tendencies and making contentious statements, he expanded the landscape of violence that had hitherto been relegated to the Northeast.
He hasn’t been able to end the insurgency in the North-East. Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) operating in the Lake Chad region continue to inflict terror on soldiers and on innocent citizens in Borno and Yobe states.
Since 2015, Boko Haram has murdered countless number of civilians, continue to kill soldiers, capture their equipment, behead their captives and launch frontal attacks against Maiduguri and other cities in the region. A June 2020 Danish Immigration Service report noted that “since its formation, ISWAP has carried out numerous attacks in Nigeria.
In 2017-2019, the group, for instance, conducted attacks on Nigerian troops and army bases, and on at least two occasions, it managed to capture towns in northern Nigeria. In February 2018, the group abducted 110 Nigerian schoolgirls, and in March, they kidnapped three aid workers during an attack killing dozens of other people.”
Freedom House, in 2021 released its annual report on political rights and civil liberties in 2020. The group warned that “Boko Haram continued to attack government forces and civilians in 2020. In March, Boko Haram killed at least 50 soldiers in an ambush in Yobe State.
In November, over 70 people in Borno State, most of them farmers, were killed by Boko Haram fighters in an incident the United Nations called “the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians in Nigeria this year.” The Council on Foreign Relations reported that Boko Haram was responsible for 2,720 deaths in Borno State alone in 2020, compared to 1,136 in 2019.
ISWAP, the Freedom House report further found, “also attacked officials and civilians in 2020. Borno state governor Babagana Zulum (an ally of the President) was targeted by the group four times during the year, surviving a July attack on his convoy, two attacks in September, and a late November attack. ISWAP was also blamed for an attack in Borno State that killed as many as 81 people in June, along with twin attacks that killed dozens more several days later”.
The president and his media team yet persistently claim that “when the government came to power, the terrorist group held and administered an area the size of Belgium. Now they hold none”.
They fail to tell Nigerians that a 2015 offensive by Nigeria’s military and neighbours Chad, Cameroon and Niger helped regain all lost territories and that presidential elections were held in all local governments in Borno and Yobe states which Buhari won.
Former US Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell observed on March 24, 2015 that “since postponing the national elections from February 14 to March 28, the Abuja government has apparently recovered most of the territory in northeast Nigeria that had been lost to Boko Haram. Of the major towns once captured, only Gwoza appears to remain under Boko Haram’s control.
Abuja flatly denies that South African, Ukrainian, and Georgian mercenaries are involved in combat, though it acknowledges the presence of foreign technical advisors. However, the New York Times and the Voice of America have reported a substantial mercenary presence”.
The dystopian situation has gone beyond Boko Haram and ISWAP. Violence has exploded and become embedded in every region in the country.
Uche Igwe, a senior political economy analyst and visiting fellow at the LSE Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa, described the anomic state of Nigeria under Buhari when he noted in a January 2021 analysis, “Citizens hardly sleep with two eyes closed as a result of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and ethno-religious violence spreading from states like Borno, Yobe and Adamawa up to Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna.”
In recent years, he observed that “the once calm Abuja-Kaduna highway has been described as a road to death due to the increasing level of daily kidnapping of travellers including security officials. Rampaging criminal herdsmen continue to attack, rape and kill unarmed civilians, especially women, across the country.
Last December 2020, about 344 school boys were declared missing after gunmen attacked a school in Kankara near Katsina, the President’s home state. Although jihadists claimed responsibility, the boys were later freed with military intervention, arguably after a ransom was paid. Many ungoverned spaces and jihadist colonies continue to thrive. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka described the country as a warzone.
The Sultan of Sokoto, a spiritual leader of Muslims, feels that northern Nigeria is the worst place in the country to live. This message came as the vocal catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah, pointed to the horrible and inhuman conditions of a child born in the region. For many, life in Nigeria is fast becoming akin to a Hobbesian state of nature – nasty, brutish and short”.
In late March, an Abuja–Kaduna train was attacked in Katari, Kaduna State. More than a hundred passengers were seized from the train and about a dozen killed. The attack advertised the utter powerlessness of the Buhari administration to secure Nigerians.
In Niger State, terrorists have virtually commandeered authority and influence from the Nigerian state, killing, maiming, and raping at will. Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello in April 2021, warned that the terrorists were not only annexing territories in his state, but they were also ‘confiscating’ the wives of villagers, noting that “Sambisa is several kilometres from Abuja, but Kaure is just two hours’ drive from Abuja. So, nobody is safe anymore, not even those in Abuja”.
“If nothing drastic is done about the present situation in the country, a time will come,” said Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue State, “when even the Presidential Villa and other government houses will be taken over by the terrorists. They are already closing in on us and we seem to be helpless.”
Corruption is business as usual
In early May 2015, newly elected and waiting to be sworn in as president, Buhari asserted, “I want to say here that the problem of Nigeria is not ethnic or religious, it is corruption. This is what we are fighting, that is why corruption is number three in my campaign.”
His consistent campaign promises to slay corruption led many to believe that Buhari was going to engage ruthlessly with corruption. “That doesn’t appear to be the case,” said the former national security official. “People are invited by the EFCC and are out a couple of days later contesting for public office”.
As for the president’s oath to kill corruption before it kills Nigerians, the reality is that nothing has changed in any way. It is still business as usual. Corruption, noted a 2019 Konrad Adeneur Stiftung report, “permeates every level of society, from high-level politicians and civil servants to the security forces, business people and the country’s poorest citizens.
So, it is hardly surprising that Nigeria has languished in the lower quarter of Transparency International’s ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’ for many years. In 2018, the country was ranked 144 out of 180, alongside countries such as Comoros, Kenya, and Mauritania.”
In the 2020 index, Nigeria slipped five places, ranking 149th place. The country dropped another five places in the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index released in January 2022, scoring 24 out of 100 points and ranked 154 out of 180 countries.
“There has been a very pronounced tendency in this government,” said the retired diplomat and security officer, “to react and actually counter attack. Everything is seen as criticism, especially when the facts of the opinions that are being advanced do not tie in with the narratives that they have put out there.
Now, I think that particular tendency is unfortunate, because it is not one that has allowed the government to actually feel the pulse of the nation. The fact is, much as the government is in denial, you speak to people, you’ll observe the phenomena we are going through and if you actually care to look at the statistics, we are clearly doing much worse than where we were in 2015.”
The North in a sore shape
“During his campaign rallies, Buhari brought the northern states to a standstill with surging crowds packing the streets whenever he made an appearance with youths banging drums and chanting ‘Nigeria Sai Buhari,’ noted Sada Malumfashi in the Africa Report.
Seven years later, Malumfashi posits that the ‘Nigeria Sai Buhari’ bloc are losing faith. The cult-like trust in the Nigerian president is diminishing from negative economic impacts and undelivered campaign promises”.
Nigeria’s north is one massive landmass. Just as it is ethnically diverse, the region is also religiously ecumenical. The voting pattern has never been monolithic and no one party has been able to capture power in the country by solely garnering majority votes in the region.
Political divisions exist in the region, especially between the mainly Muslim ‘core north’ and the largely Christian middle-belt. Because religion is the major tool for mobilisation in the north, these divisions flare now and again into political and ethnic violence.
The expectation was that Buhari, who had publicly cast himself pre-2015 as a zealous defender of northern interests, was going to end the varied conflicts and attendant violence. He failed. Large parts of the northwest have become ungoverned territories devoid of state authority with bandits and terrorists in de facto power.
Since 2015, the north has been at war against itself, with thousands killed and thousands more kidnapped for ransom. While personages in a section of the region that support Buhari have been compensated with juicy political positions, it has not translated into economic growth nor helped to drive investments in a region reeling.
“I was in Lagos some two to three weeks ago, the first since 1967 and I have seen how Lagos commercial activities are transformed. I concluded that all the nation’s wealth is in Lagos State. But, when you come back here, the whole poverty of Nigeria is in the Northern part of the country,” Emir of Katsina, Abdulmumin Kabir Usman, noted in March.
The World Bank, in a February 2020 report, estimated that 87 percent of all the poor people in Nigeria reside in the northern part of the country.
Seven years of Buhari being in power has not translated into any meaningful growth or development for the region. On the contrary and despite building himself as the candidate of the North, it has been a trinity of sorrow, tears and pain for the region once regarded as the political powerhouse of the country.