By Rotimi Fasan
THE cat and mouse game between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram is not about to end. While there were reports last week that the murderous insurgents had once again overrun a military base and the group provided images of its onslaught against the military, the Nigerian Army downplayed the insurgents’ claim, saying it was mere propaganda. Propaganda is a potent weapon of war employed by different sides to give them advantage over their opponents. It is clear that the extremist Boko Haram has been resorting to propaganda in its war against the Nigerian state. But so has the Nigerian military as a whole to say nothing of the Army.
The many occasions when Abuja has announced the defeat of Boko Haram or the capture or execution of its factional leader, Abubakar Shekau in battle, were no doubt acts of propaganda. Yet, while Boko Haram could relish the never-ending game of teasing the Nigerian state, Abuja should be ashamed to carry on such activity with a non-state actor that has held out for ten solid years.
The ding-dong with Boko Haram points in the direction of failure on the part of Abuja, specifically the government of Muhammadu Buhari that promised to end the reign of the extremist group in 2015 but has so far failed to do so. Rather the security situation is surely getting out of hand with armed herdsmen attacks compounding an already impossible situation.
Everywhere Nigerians turn today, they are under the threat of being attacked and taken hostage for huge ransoms or their settlements are targets of attack and destruction by the terror battles of the murder-prone herdsmen that routinely rape, rob and prey on their victims. Many of our highways are no longer safe, from the south to the north, east and west of the country. No day passes without reports of abductions and gory attacks. The social media appears to record and amplify the gory history of these attacks in the face of a government that is losing control of the situation.
It was in this atmosphere of lamentation by many state governors, so-called chief security officers of their states, that Abuja called a security summit last week. It was a parley meant to address the worsening state of security across the country. It was also apparently to show that President Buhari is not sitting on his palms doing nothing as Nigerians cry out in pain. Buhari had to appear to be in charge. Did he not seem in dead earnest when upon his return from Saudi Arabia he was rumoured to have assented to the establishment of state police and sections of the Nigerian public fell over themselves praising the initiative of the president? He seemed spiritually fortified and looked the part of a man of action, not Baba Go-slow.
However, Abuja said No: the president had not given assent to the establishment of state police. Rather he only received a report from the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that made the recommendation. It was, therefore, not surprising, after the noise that followed the state police issue that the president’s summit with the governors ended deadlocked with some governors voicing their opposition to the idea of state police.
Their excuse in addition to the usual chatter about the police being used and abused for political end was the talk that some of the states could not afford the financial burden. After all the song and dance that heralded the meeting, after the noise that something concrete was about being done and that finally some progress could be made with each state assuming responsibility for its own security following the ineptitude of Abuja, everything went up in smoke. It was all talk and no action.
That summit ended, Nigerians should note, without the government of Muhammadu Buhari taking a definite position or saying exactly what it intends to do thereafter to address the appalling state of security. We are all condemned to wait until another outrageous act of criminality forces us to cry out in pain like a prisoner undergoing sustained torture groans at intervals.
Long before the incursion of the military into governance, each region of Nigeria was responsible for its own security. Each region had its own police force in addition to ‘native’ police authority.
It is, therefore, a lie for anyone to pretend that we are doing something entirely new by going back to a model we once practiced successfully- a regional/state police system. That Buhari would make the establishment of state police a matter of debate also speaks to his government’s bad faith.
Creation of state police was on the agenda of the All Progressive Congress, APC. After much foot-dragging, the Nasir el Rufai-led Committee resuscitated the idea with its bold recommendation of state police among other highly progressive recommendations that Nigerians hailed in January 2018. What then was the point of bringing back the same issue to the table for fresh debate?
What the Buhari government ought to do was to set in motion (and this does not have to be an imposition) the process which it can conclude favourably if it is serious and honest about it. For as long as it continues to cast around for reasons not to act on its campaign agenda, it would achieve nothing in that regard. Once Abuja determines to act, immediately Buhari is persuaded of his party’s position, establishment of state police would be as easy as implementing the government’s social empowerment programme.
Opposition parties have condemned the social empowerment programme as bribery meant to induce the electorate to support the APC but that has not stalled the programme. In other words, neither the APC nor President Buhari needed the consensus of Nigerians to implement the empowerment programme that the president’s own wife has criticised in another vein.
Should Buhari give up his all movement and no progress approach to addressing the security challenges of the country, how does he hope to implement his security agenda with no ministers?
How many more portfolios can he add to his control of the dysfunctional petroleum ministry? It was about two weeks ago that his government was inaugurated for his second term but Nigerians are still speculating about who will and who will not make the president’s cabinet.
Is that the sign of a government that is in business and knows what it wants to do? Everything points increasingly in the direction of President Buhari operating, with all its terrible defects, in the manner he did in his first term. What does such an approach portend for us? Can there be any positive change to our security with the same security chiefs in place? Can he work in the same way and expect different answers?