By Ayodele AKINKUOTU
GENERAL Tukur Yusuf Buratai, chief of army staff, is likely to answer the above question in the affirmative. That is considering his explanations in a recent interview with the Cable, an online newspaper.
The interview was on the heels of recent dastardly operations of the Boko Haram.
Early February, the nation woke up to learn of the killings of about 30 people, many of them burnt beyond recognition at Auno, a village, which is 25 kilometres from Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
Majority of them were traders who could not enter Maiduguri because their vehicles failed to arrive at the City gate before 4:45 pm the previous day. Thus they were forced to sleep in the vehicles conveying them. Those vehicles were set ablaze by the insurgents after some of the passengers had been abducted.
Shortly thereafter, the insurgent group equally captured international attention when Revd. Lawal Andimi, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria,CAN, in Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State was beheaded.
He had been kidnapped early January, and even though they demanded a ransom initially, they later rejected the N50 million which had been raised to pay them.
The same fate befell Michael Nnadi, an 18-year-old seminarian in Kaduna State. He was abducted with two of his colleagues. The two were lucky, for they were released.
Also in Kaduna, the wife of Philip Ataga, a medical doctor was killed, after a ransom had been collected by her kidnappers. Her two daughters who were kidnapped along with her were lucky. They were released. There is hardly a week without these gory tales.
In fact, trending in the media is the lucky escape of Rotimi Amaechi, minister of transport, who was said to have been almost abducted in Rigasa, Kaduna State after disembarking from an Abuja-Kaduna train. Amaechi has described the tale as fictitious.
Perhaps, the likelihood that this kind of criminalities would become the nation’s lot was what many foresaw when President Muhammadu Buhari declared with much aplomb in 2017 that the Boko Haram had been defeated. The misgivings then arose against the backdrop of the history of insurgencies globally.
For instance, the Taliban had been a thorn in the flesh of Afghanistan for more than two decades. And they seem to be waxing stronger, so much so that even the United States that had been embroiled in that encounter for over a decade is now trying to appease the Taliban. Perhaps, some states in Nigeria have borrowed a leaf from that appeasement strategy.
Sometimes last year, Zamfara called a truce with hoodlums who had made life a nightmare for farmers and herdsmen. Kaduna State has also used this strategy in pacifying some of the hoodlums, believed to be foreigners, who had laid siege to some farming communities. It’s doubtful whether much peace has germinated from those seeds.
The frustration arising from criminals operating with impunity all over the country has given rise to calls for the sacking of the nation’s security chiefs. While the House of Representatives advised Buhari as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces to give the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force the boot, the Senate is demanding a declaration of emergency on the security situation.
In the wake of the Auno massacre, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, led by Prof. Ango Abdullahi, asked for a “thorough overhaul of our security and public safety agencies and the injection of higher levels of competence, integrity and accountability in the manner our troops and the police and security agencies deal with security challenges”.
Femi Adesina, the President’s spokesman, described the NEF as Abdullahi’s one-man army. At the press conference held to release the statement, many of the members present include, Ambassador Yahaya Kwande, Air Marshal Alamin Daggash, former chief of defence staff, and Abdullahi Usman, secretary of Coalition for Northern groups.
And with the killing of Andimi, the CAN raised a number of posers. The association is in a dilemma not to believe that the government under Buhari “is not colluding with the insurgents to exterminate Christians in Nigeria.” They arrived at that conclusion because of “the very questionable leadership of the security sector that has been skewed towards a religion and region. Is that lopsidedness not a coverup for the operations of the insurgency?”
Claiming he was surprised and taken aback at the latest criminalities, Buhari’s response to these posers was, “It is not ethnicity or religion”. Relying on the Quran, which in several verses forbid compulsion in religion, he declared that the security forces would descend harder on the insurgents, who he claimed their victims have been 90 percent Muslims. While CAN is asking him to provide data as to how he arrived at that figure, Atiku Abubakar, who was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2019 election, upbraided the President for rationalising killings.
According to him, “Whether Christian, Muslim, Traditionalist, or Atheist, the killing of any human being by Boko Haram or any misguided group is wrong and should be condemned unequivocally”.
Responding to calls for the sacking of service chiefs, Buratai, who joined the army 39 years ago, and became chief of Army Staff in July 2015, claimed the exit of the current leadership won’t end the insurgency. He often repeated claims that the insurgency had been crushed. Rather, what is left today is terrorism.
According to him, “We have defeated insurgency, but now facing the challenge of terrorism. Terrorism will outlive you and me and probably everybody in this house; because terrorism, since it started, just like armed robbery, like kidnapping, burglary, cultism, it would continue”. Buratai argues that terrorism didn’t just start, it evolved over a period of 30 years, when the terrorists were undergoing “brainwashing and indoctrination”, thus making it difficult to totally wipe it out.
The assumption is that poverty accounts for the successful recruitment of terrorists. Perhaps, he would want Nigerians to travel down memory lane to 2015, when Boko Haram controlled 25 local government areas in both Borno and Yobe states to today, when they have been flushed out of those enclaves. He claims they are now in a depressed state, where they are not given any respite, “so they go out with vengeance, to attack commuters, to abduct individuals and target certain religious persons for their propaganda”.
As if asking Nigerians to expect more of such attacks, Buratai declared that Boko Haram insurgents are everywhere in Nigeria, even in Lagos. It’s the most high profile confirmation of the spread of the insurgents yet. Last year, some insurgents were said to have been arrested in Lagos by the army and taken to Abuja. They had planned to attack a higher institution. The Lagos police command disclosed at the time that it was not aware of such arrests. That is a clear example of the lack of synergy in the operations of our security agencies. Buratai, who says the leadership of the military is doing its best, dismissed the calls for change in leadership as mere idle talk. According to him, “If we are to adopt how other security agencies conduct their operations, nobody would talk about service chiefs or even the military but finding a way to secure oneself”.
So, should Nigerians watch as terrorists continue to paint the nation’s landscape red with the blood of the innocent? To allow that is to give nod to not only anarchy but impoverishment. Buhari has averred that, “One of the responsibilities of government is to provide security. If we don’t secure the country, we will not be able to manage the economy properly”. And that is a recipe for more poverty, which has, like NEF declared, a clear relationship with insecurity. Certainly, there are unresolved issues in the anti-insurgency war. There is a seeming lack of intelligence, which experts would say lie at the heart of combating any crime at all.
For instance, why should the Army shut the Maiduguri gate when so many vehicles were waiting to enter the town so early in the evening in an environment seemingly saturated with terrorists? Or is it fifth columnists at work? There are insinuations that these attacks have risen sharply since Governor Babagana Umara Zulum came to power, because he allegedly frowned against certain practices of soldiers manning the checkpoints on the busy Maiduguri-Damaturu road. Compared to the time of his predecessor, Buratai is not complaining of lack of equipment or the number of troops deployed. Rather, the big mistake is “lumping security architecture to include defence”.
The nation cannot forget though that it was the military juntas that ruled the country for close to three decades that lumped the security architecture with defence. At the time, it suited the agenda of the ‘military presidents’ to weaken the police and strengthen the Army.
Thus today, the men of the armed forces are practically on internal security duties in practically all the 36 states of the Federation. And the police are no more than an appendage of the military. This may be one of the issues Buratai hinted at in his interview. He threw a seeming challenge to his men to speak out. Or how else do we decipher this statement? “Those who would cry out loudly against the service chiefs are within, and they are the ones who should be more vocal in the things that are not going right”.
Perhaps, one of the things that may not be going right which Buratai should not overlook is the fact that the current leadership of the military may indeed be battle weary. Furthermore, if his predecessors had overstayed their tenures, would Buratai have ever been made Chief? Thus, against the backdrop of recent happenings, including the booing of President Buhari in Maiduguri, there is nothing odd in the call for new sheriffs to take the nation to the next level. And like Buratai notes, although the change may not immediately bring an end to terrorism, it may bring a breath of fresh air and new initiatives that may be the nemesis to really degrade the insurgency. And that may finally put an end to the tantrums of Abubakar Shekau, who has prohibited President Buhari to dare not visit Maiduguri again.
*Ayodele Akinkuotu, former Editor-in-Chief of TELL Magazine, now writes a weekly column for the International Centre for Investigative Reporting