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When a president’s silence isn’t golden

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President Muhammadu Buhari

By Banji Ojewale

SILENCE isn’t golden when your house is in flames and you’re alone at home. You need to shout for help from the army of neighbours within reach. You need to raise your lone voice above the crackles of the inferno gaining new grounds. Silence isn’t golden when your spotless reputation is vociferously impugned or threatened and you have an opportunity to stop the campaign. Silence isn’t golden when there is a cacophony of opinions and reports, false or accurate, reaching the public about your candour. Your silence here isn’t golden; it is grotesque, grisly and grimy.

This is what Nigerians have been fed with these past few days after the disclosures on the ‘feud’ between two key men in the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency: the grotesque, the grisly and the gross. The nation can’t afford to function under the weight of the creeping official silence that we are witnessing in the face of a leaked memo on our security profile. Weighty issues have emerged in the document that need to be addressed this critical time when the aggression of insecurity has risen to a crescendo in the land. The memo has not come from an outsider shielded from the activities of government. Nor is it from any of those classified as ‘wailers’, those perpetually said to be opposed to Buhari’s government, those compatriots who see nothing good in the sitting government.

The damning missive has come from the National Security Adviser, NSA, Babagana Monguno. He is angry that Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari has strayed into territory not allowed him under the Constitution. He accuses Kyari of “undue and dangerous interference on matters bordering on national security”. So upset is Monguno that, according to the Premium Times online newspaper which sighted the letter, he “fired a warning memo to all service chiefs to desist from taking further directives from Mr. Kyari”.

Monguno, a retired major-general, is reported to have said: “Chief of Staff to the president is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country…As such, professional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations as well as ambassadors and high commissioners to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers are a violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr. President. Such acts and…meddlesomeness…have not only ruptured our security and defence efforts, but have also slowed down any meaningful gain that Mr. President has sought to achieve.”

The memo is dated December 9, 2019 and sent to the president and to the foreign affairs minister and his counterparts in defence, interior and Police affairs. The president’s chief of staff was copied. He titled it: ‘Disruption of the National Security Framework by Unwarranted Meddlesomeness.’

Only a few Nigerians would be surprised that nearly three months after Monguno wrote the letter, there is little to suggest his concerns have been taken care of. We all know our beloved president’s introvert culture. He possesses a famous niggardly attitude when it comes to reacting to kitchen cabinet uproar. The man at the centre of it all, Abba Kyari, is as reclusive. Both are agoraphobics who do not seem to notice what’s going on outside where they are, those groaning under the feet of the fighting elephants.

READ ALSO: Service Chiefs : Security experts back retention, advices Buhari to ignore grumblings

There would be less shock that since Premium Times unveiled the seething power tussle among the president’s men, there’s been no word from the president himself or any of the horde of spokespersons. All is calm. The government believes in the old adage: speech is silver, silence is golden. There is, however, more rumble in this unholy silence which trashes a glittering appearance. Not all that glitters is gold. The grass is suffering under the giant weight of feuding mammoths.

We’re used to fiddling Neros calling for more revelry when Rome is burning. We’ve been brought to a point where, like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, the night’s flagship news broadcast would not be complete or over if there is no report of carnage in Nigeria. Years ago, a news editor in one of Nigeria’s leading TV stations developed a fetish about one of these violence-prone areas. Long before he cast his headlines, he kept a permanent spot for a major story on multiple deaths from violence and suicide bombing in those areas. His morbid anticipation never failed; it was always fulfilled. And he would end up with a sardonic smile.

Aren’t we at that pass? Aren’t we sometimes reluctant to turn on the radio and TV? Are we always comfortable with buying grief when we buy the newspapers, knowing we shall be herded sheepishly into a world filled with the news and pictures of a ‘technically defeated’ Boko Haram inflicting more pain and anguish as they operate freely? Knowing violence has become a daily affair here, isn’t it easy for a news editor sitting somewhere in Johannesburg or Doha or London or Atlanta to predict in the morning a headline of mass killings in Nigeria and have his adumbration manifest one hundred percent hours later in the evening?

As I was composing this piece, news came that Boko Haram terrorists have so far killed 547 teachers in the North-East of Nigeria alone. The president of the teachers’ union, Nasir Idris, said insecurity in the region had thus led to more challenges: increase in out-of-school kids who are potential recruits for the insurgent Boko Haram and politicians who rely less on the vote to get to power. They are also ready candidates for cult and armed robbery gangs.

We know why insecurity is still the order of the day despite the countless billions of naira we have deployed into battling it. Those our president has mandated to tackle insecurity are too busy attending to petty squabbles. Infighting is their preoccupation, more important than the constitutional duty of terminating the scourge threatening to terminate the nation. They ought to be removed without delay, for fresh hands and fresh ideas to come in. But, according to the government, even though the service chiefs have overstayed their tenure, they won’t be removed soon as Nigerians and the National Assembly members demand from the president. Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Federal Government, says replacing them now would be harmful to national security. “You don’t just wake up and say sack people, it doesn’t happen like that,” Mustapha says.

How does that comfort Nigerians? It doesn’t. It only says we haven’t arrived in the land promised us by our leaders when they traversed land and sea seeking our votes. The central government’s argument crushes our hopes as we mark the second anniversary of the captivity of Leah Sharibu, the young citizen Boko Haram gunmen have refused to free since they seized her in February 2018. Both the leaders and the led are now helpless as murderous men and women straddle the land like the Colossus of Rhodes.

Ojewale, a social commentator, wrote from Lagos


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