It is understandable that many people are characterizing the violence in Plateau State last weekend, in which over 200 persons were killed, according to state governor Simon Lalong, as “herdsmen-farmer” clashes.
It is a convenient label, but it neither captures the heart of the problem not contributes meaningfully to the search for an answer.
That problem, and the tragic story of Nigeria, is the collapse of leadership. To put it bluntly, President Muhammadu Buhari has lost control.
For the record, on 15 April in this column, I urged him to resign rather than hurt the nation further by seeking a second term. In “The fall of Buhari, and the APC,” on 5 February 2017, I had also cited his lack of will, temperament and capacity for the job.
Sadly, in the past two months Buhari has proved right those of us who have expressed this view, as he has increasingly demonstrated bad judgement, poor motivation and a poor sense of direction.
Hours after the massacre in Plateau for instance, he was clapping for himself in Abuja, telling members of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria how honest he is.
“I am satisfied with what I am,” he said. “I am happy I have kept myself and the people close to me from benefiting from government contracts.”
It is not surprising that a man who cannot maintain the nation’s best public-sector hospital but routinely goes abroad at public expense for his own medical care, his bills paid by Nigerians whom he doesn’t tell how much of their money he is spending or what he is being treated for, is satisfied with what he is.
What he is, is a man who neither understands the issues, nor cares, nor has the capacity for the assiduous work demanded of him. Honesty is not when you hide information, including what your officials own, but when open records prove a person to be beyond blame. The Plateau massacre is the direct result of this general ineptitude and porous sense of values, and to Buhari directly goes full responsibility for the bloodshed.
Yes, some progress was made concerning Boko Haram, but it is nothing exemplary, and contrary to the repeated claims of the militants being wiped out, they have shown uncommon resilience.
Of greater importance, whatever Buhari has accomplished on Boko Haram he has compromised by his failure to respond appropriately and adequately to the herdsmen challenge.
Let us remember that in January, over 70 were killed in Benue State in an attack like Plateau’s. There have been many others in the intervening months, but when people are merely hurt, or when “only” 10 or 20 are killed, it is telling those incidents no longer makes the news.
In response to Benue, Buhari made two gasp-inducing gaffes. First, he deployed the state Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris, ostensibly to demonstrate authoritative federal presence at the highest level. Idris didn’t go.
Weeks later, Buhari-who is presumed to live in the same Abuja as Idris and to have routine and regular security contacts with him-”discovered” Idris had never bothered to leave for the drudgery in Benue.
What made that joke even funnier is that Idris kept his job without having to apologize to the people of Benue. Buhari was satisfied with his personal ‘honesty,” we presume.
The nation’s top policeman was then seen on video at a public event either too sick or too drunk or too drugged to read one sentence of his own speech! He kept his job!
But as if to prove that the joke was on the victims of the violence in Benue in the first place, Buhari later told their leaders they should “accommodate [their attackers]” and restrain “your people.”
That was before his state visit to the United States in April, where he explained to Mr. Trump that the late Libyan leader, Muammar Ghaddafi was to blame. “43 years of Ghaddafi, people were recruited from Sahel and trained to shoot and kill,” Buhari said, pompously. “With the demise of Ghaddafi they moved to other countries and regions…”
In other words, those doing the killing in Nigeria were trained killers, which would normally have made them criminals to be hunted down by the security agencies.
But ‘honest’ Buhari has not made that case, but again, he did say on television two years ago that a man herding over 400 cows cannot stop them from devastating any farm which happens to be in their way.
In effect, Buhari, whose first job is security, was asking the farmers and villagers simply to “accommodate” the armed killers if they do not want to be killed.
That is not the attitude of a leader motivated by the constitution he swore to uphold and who really cares about the fate of the citizen. That is not a government; it is a ramshackle outfit of ego and propaganda masquerading as one.
This is what makes the Buhari government dangerous, and it is the reason why each time the government boasts about its achievements, something immediately emerges to puncture its ego. For instance, it is just three weeks ago in Abuja that Buhari bragged to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) that Nigeria is safe and secure for tourism, brandishing “improved security” and Nigeria’s “burgeoning” economy.
Burgeoning? A new report by The World Poverty Clock immediately appeared showing Nigeria now the country with the most extreme poor people in the world.
Tourism? Buhari’s falsehood about national security were immediately pushed back down the throat of the government by the Plateau massacre.
And how did Buhari respond last week? As usual, he held meetings with top legislators and security chiefs.
One of them must have been IGP Idris. And how did Idris respond? The man who refused a presidential order to go to Benue and was subsequently tripped up by the word, transmission, transmitted one of his deputies to Plateau.
Buhari was further exposed last week when Amnesty International (AI) reported that over 1800 Nigerians have been killed in communal clashes, the Boko Haram insurgency, banditry and the so-called herdsmen-farmer conflicts, since January. AI noted how the attackers, “often in their hundreds, spend hours at the scene without any intervention from the security forces.”
But desperately clinging to his fiction, Buhari said on Thursday that his government has had “notable successes” in tackling insecurity.
A patently false narrative. With Buhari clearly unable, or worse still unwilling, to do anything to protect lives and property, we are reminded of last March’s eerie prescription by former defence minister, Theophilus Danjuma.
“You must rise to protect yourselves from these people,” he told Nigerians. “If you depend on the armed forces to protect you, you will all die.”
And in case you missed it last week, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, blasted “frightening proportions” and “horrific incidents” of police brutality, inordinate arrest, detention and extortion of innocent Nigerians nationwide.
That is Buhari’s “secure” Nigeria, but it sounds like anarchy in full bloom.
Buhari said the past was prologue. Pity we didn’t ask him what he penned as the colour of our future.