Buhari’s strange question in a strange time
President Muhammadu Buhari

By Rotimi Fasan

The last few years have been very strange times in the global scheme of things. But 2020 has been particularly grueling and disorientating. It is for many a wasted year whose after-effects will remain with us for decades.

Each country has had to respond to the strangeness of the times in their own way. The strange complication of the times has been brought to a head with the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended the world in a manner only such a strange phenomenon could.

In addition to the global health complications, some countries have for long lost their bearing, crippled by self-inflicted social, economic, and political challenges that are, nevertheless, surmountable.

But because of a leadership that refuses to learn from past mistakes and a cynical and pauperised population, the strangeness of these times has bottomed out into a surreal disconnect from reality.

Nigeria is one such country where purely manageable problems have and are being allowed to spiral out of control. The country is drowning in a sea of corruption in both high and low places.

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What times and place could be more out of joint than one in which so-called anti-corruption agents and agencies have themselves become objects of investigation and incarceration?

A country where the anti-corruption czar and the chief judicial officer are covered in corruption allegations, strengthening the dubious notion that Nigeria is irredeemably caught in the web of corruption and no person born of a woman but God himself can rescue the country from being blown out of existence by corruption, which is at the root of most of the country’s problems.

Consider the doomsday scenario of insecurity across the country. It may sound both alarmist and exaggerated but it stands to reason to say that Nigeria has never been as insecure as it is presented where huge swaths of the northern parts are under the firm control of common bandits, religious and ethnic terrorists.

The rest of the country is by no means at ease. Armed robbery, ritual murders, and the defilement/rape and abduction of vulnerable members of the population are rife.

The military has lost its aura and has been so stretched to its very limit that some Nigerians are now asking that paramilitary agencies like the police and even civilians should be co-opted into ordinarily military operations.

What could be more scandalous and stranger than this? A situation where funds looted by a former military ruler are still being repatriated decades after his demise! Will Nigeria ever plumb the depths of Sani Abacha’s plunder?

As we mull the strangeness of Abacha’s criminal malfeasance, another fugitive looter of the country’s commonwealth crawled out of her alleged sick bed, all pretenses to ill-health freely dispensed with, to offer Nigerians her peculiar insight on fraud and fraudsters.

Talking about the new role models of the Nigerian youth, she croons: “The ones that have swag, the yahoo-yahoo boys as my son would say, these, in short, are the role models they are looking at.

These are the ones that reinforce negative societal norms and values.” Isn’t it astonishing that a wanted fugitive would slam this put-down on Nigerians while referencing her supposedly well-groomed son? But these are strange times.

Perhaps what best typifies the strangeness of the times, in view of its implication for our collective security, is President Muhammadu Buhari’s own confused question to his service chiefs as to the source of the small arms borne by so-called rag-tag terrorists that have humbled and continue to teach basic military skills in weapon handling and maneuvers to our demoralised military and their exhausted commanders even with our borders closed.

This was at a virtual meeting with members of the Nigerian Governors Forum Security Committee at Aso Rock Villa. In attendance were heads of the country’s security agencies and the service chiefs.

This question should at best have been rhetorical as Buhari ought to know the answer to his own question. But the President nevertheless wondered that: “In spite of the fact that borders with neighbouring countries had been shut, bandits and terrorists continued to have access to small weapons…These terrorists are in the localities.

How is it that they are not short of small arms?” The last part of the president’s remark is an original JAMB question that harks back to another strange time in the strange history of our country’s leadership. This was in October 1986, just over a year after General Muhammadu Buhari had been sent out of Dodan Barracks and Ibrahim Babangida, the country’s then military president, was at his charming best.

Lawrence Anini, the dreaded armed robber that held a part of the country by its jugular, was at the height of his criminal reign. The Mid-West was Anini’s theatre of operation and he had eluded the best sleuths in the land and assumed the status of a mythical figure even as he continued with his rampage.

Then after a meeting of the Armed Forces Ruling Council, AFRC, Babangida accosted the late Etim Inyang, then Inspector General of Police, at a lobby in Dodan Barracks and asked him: “My friend, where is Anini?” Inyang had no answer for Babangida and it would take Muhammadu Gambo Jimeta, the man who took over from Inyang as IG of Police, to answer Babangida’s question.

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Anini was arrested in December 1986, about three months after IBB’s question to Etim Inyang, and executed after his trial in March 1987. Even if it was woven around only a group of armed robbers, the legend of Anini and his criminal reign is comparable in many respects to what bandits and insurgents are today doing in the Northern part of Nigeria.

In case Buhari needs a primer on how to end the insurrection in the North, he could borrow IBB’s copy. There he would see that Etim Inyang, although on his way out of the police in 1986 like Buhari’s service chiefs were, had to leave before IBB’s question could be answered. IBB did not ask Inyang to stay on in the office as Buhari has done with his service chiefs in spite of entreaties, demands, and insults from home and abroad including the country’s National Assembly.

Unlike Buhari, IBB had the relative advantage of working with security chiefs from different parts of the country, not the closed circle of northern Muslim men that currently cloud Buhari’s vision.

Such inbreeding will father nothing good. It is a reflection of the strangeness of the times that a man like our beloved Buhari, who loathes change and is fixated on doing things the same way, expects a result that is different from what he has always received. Even in these strange times, President Buhari knows the answer to his strange question.



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