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Does the President know?

President Muhammadu Buhari-23
President Muhammadu Buhari

The decision to affirm the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari over his main rival, Atiku Abubakar by the Presidential Elections Petition Tribunal last week coincided with a number of major developments which, together, paint a picture of a very challenging state of the nation. Atiku is clearly made of sterner stuff and has a deeper faith in the Nigerian judiciary than most other Nigerians to believe that he can get victory at the Supreme Court. Miracles do happen, and if you have a pocket deep enough, it makes little sense to stop at a Tribunal that was so comprehensively dismissive. Candidate Muhammadu Buhari comes to mind as a pacesetter here, although you have to worry whether suffering multiple defeats at elections and courts do not create bitter  and indifferent leaders when they eventually get elected.

Millions of Nigerians did not roll out the drums to celebrate  President Buhari’s victory at the Tribunal. Nigerians were divided into two camps: those whose disillusionment with his leadership was already registered, sank deeper into depression; the other, made up of his supporters, were  too busy running from old and new problems in their everyday existence to beat drums. Six months into his second term, those who did not vote for him are tired of teasing and blaming those that did. Those that did, have run out of excuses for the dramatic collapse of the quality of life, particularly the security of life and property.

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If they allow access to honest opinions, the President’s gatekeepers must know that Buhari may or may not win the prize for the most unpopular President, but he will have no competition for being the most criticised President in the history of the nation. The most charitable comment regarding his leadership will be a question: does he really know the extent of insecurity and economic hardship which the people he swore to protect and help fight poverty and hopelessness live under? Amidst concerns for rising cost of living and poverty, the federal government decided to raise VAT by another 2.5%.This is basically to improve revenues that may allow all governments, but particularly state governments, to pay the new minimum wage to civil servants.

So, 95% of Nigerians will now have to live with higher cost of all commodities in order to allow 5% of salaried citizens earn a little bit more of take home pay. This, in any case would have been eroded long before implementation next year by the uncanny tendency of Nigerian markets to  instantly erode the benefits of wage increases long before they come into effect. Between now and next year, skirmishes around the mode of implementation may involve bruising battles in which everyone will lose, except leaders who are shielded by election terms and open-ended opulence and unlimited access to public resources, limits to which can free huge resources to improve workers’ welfare. Yet in the same week this decision was made, the President told Nigerians that  he would not make their lives more difficult!

Does anyone tell the President that the Boko Haram insurgency has not been technically defeated, and that he is stretching the meaning of the word banditry if he tells the global community that this is  all it is now? Even as he listened to President of the International Committee of the Red Cross inform him last week that Nigeria is now its fifth largest global operation and the nation with the highest number of missing persons, mostly children, in the world, President Buhari was hinting that Boko Haram is now a minor irritation that will soon be obliterated. The world knows; citizens in towns and villages in the North East living with the nightmare that they could be under Boko Haram fighters today, and the Nigerian military tomorrow know; the Nigerian military itself and our neighbours know, and the insurgency knows that this fight is far from won.

The full meaning of bandits has been etched in the minds and experiences of many Nigerian communities in the last two years, and,  while it shares  with the insurgency the character of  terrorizing communities with deadly force, it stands alone owing to its  recency and spectacular exploitation of the vast ungoverned spaces created by poor governance and collapse of  policing as the basic instrument for the protection of the population. Nigerians will lose sleep when the President says Boko Haram has been reduced to bandits and will be fought as bandits are fought. Does the President know that the battle against bandits is not being won? Is he aware that the do-it-yourself strategy adopted by governors in dealing with bandits in their states  is basically only moving the problem around, and, quite possibly opening up new sources for resources for bandits? Is he aware that hard-pressed governors are now undertaking his constitutional  responsibility, conducting foreign relations with neighbouring countries and signing MOUs to improve border security? Does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, intelligence agencies and the military advise the President on the state of our security and the manner it is affected by our neighbours?

Does the President know that the Abuja-Kaduna train is now a n embarrassing testimonial to the panic induced by kidnappings and banditry in the country? Is he briefed on the state of the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano highway, and the peril it represents to all those who use it? Could it be the case that he cannot find a solution or relief to the carnage and the dangers on that strategic highway, and therefore citizens should be prepared to die on it, or endure it for many years to come? Is it impossible for the President to land a helicopter at any of the dozens of dangerous spots on that highway and observe things for himself for 30 minutes? Do his briefings from intelligence and other sources include mentions of the fact that many of the top brass he trusts to protect citizens on highways now struggle with the people for seats on the few trains available, squeezing panicking citizens out with corruption and escorts? Does anyone brief the President on kidnappings, and the barefaced lies often told by the police that they rescue kidnap victims when relations tell the world how they agonized to raise millions to pay kidnappers? Does he know that people are kidnapped in broad daylight in the heart of Abuja from families who prayed for his son when he had an accident?

It will be uncharitable to say that the President does not care enough to do more than he is doing about security and poverty, but it will be equally irresponsible to ignore the rising panic across the country that every citizen is now within an arm’s reach of violent criminals.  Securing citizens is the responsibility of those who are elected. If they fail, as they are doing now, we have every right to ask what values they add to our lives. Every family which has to pay to free kidnap members  or weeps when they die at the hands of bandits or kidnappers; every community which is terrorized by bandits and kidnappers; every family with graduates and school leavers who spend years at home without jobs; every family that suffers declining standards of living ; every family that loses young boys and women to Boko Haram, every citizen who lives in constant fear of imminent danger blames leaders who are too remote or too indifferent to help. Someone should have the courage to tell the President that we are in serious trouble.

Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja

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