Buffeted On All Sides, The Buhari Administration Gropes For Space

By Richard Mammah*

 President Buhari is assailed by criticisms from all angles in Nigeria
President Buhari is assailed by criticisms from all angles in Nigeria

Though they had spent quite a lot of their political capital attempting to give a good face to the Muhammadu Buhari administration, it is looking quite obvious now that for many of the Northern political elite, the parlous security situation in the region has indeed taken its toll on their faith in the government and they may presently have reached ‘the tipping point’ in terms of their frustration over the seeming inability of the government to address it.

In the past few days and weeks, the din of criticism coming from the region on the failings of the administration on most notably the security turf have been getting louder. From the Sultan of Sokoto to the Northern Elders Forum and on to members of the National Assembly from the region – many of whom belong to the ruling All Progressives Congress alongside the president – the dam has literally been opened and the torrent of criticism is now almost unstoppable.

Very dramatically, the spate of criticism has since percolated over unto the National Assembly which the incumbent administration had reportedly taken a more than casual interest at its emergence in ensuring that it would not have leaders who would rock the boat. But faced with the reality of body bags everywhere, the lawmakers are also now being compelled to be more than yes-men and women to the Presidency. They are asking tough questions, demanding tougher action and also now summoning the President!

Perhaps the most trenchant of the administration’s critics is the Northern Elders Forum, NEF. A body that is composed of academics, technocrats and public servants, serving and retired, NEF in its latest assessment of the administration could almost not find anything to salvage!

In a statement signed by NEF Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the group lamented the recent beheading of 43 farmers in Borno State and expressed its shock over the remarks reportedly made by the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, that the slaughtered farmers did not receive clearance from security personnel to go to their farms!

‘We have consistently drawn attention to the lack of a political will to fight the Boko Haram insurgency and other threats such as banditry, rustling and kidnapping.

 The Northern Elders Forum has slammed President Buhari for not doing enough to curb rising insecurity.Photo courtesy
The Northern Elders Forum has slammed President Buhari for not doing enough to curb rising insecurity .Photo courtesy

‘We had offered suggestions on how the security infrastructure could be improved and the leadership of the military could be made more effective.

‘Obviously, along with advice and concerns from many other Nigerians, these have made no impression on President Muhammadu Buhari.

‘These particular killings have been greeted by the most insensitive response by spokespersons of the President.

‘The lame excuse that farmers had not sought permission from the military to harvest produce merely expose the misleading claims that our military had secured vast territories from the insurgency.

‘These killings and the reality they expose will make relocation of citizens and resumption of economic activities a lot more difficult to achieve even for a leadership that attaches priority to them, and this administration does not.

‘Elsewhere in many parts of the North, many farming communities have not been allowed by bandits and kidnappers to plant crops. Those who did are being prevented from harvesting by these same criminals.

‘The prospects for famine are real in the face of limited production of food in many of our communities.

‘Under this administration, life has lost its value, and more and more citizens are coming under the influence of criminals.

‘We do not see any evidence of a willingness on the part of President Buhari to honour his oath to provide security over Nigerians.

‘In civilized nations, leaders who fail so spectacularly to provide security will do the honourable thing and resign,’ the statement very tersely expressed.

Other long-term and newly emergent critics of the administration are not left out. The main opposition political formation, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is enraged and scores of civil society activists have also risen up in arms to call the administration to order. Indeed in some extreme cases, the calls go beyond faulting the administration’s tepid approach to security sector management and go on to asking the President to resign and quit the nation’s top-rank political stage. Predictably, spokespersons for the administration have lampooned these calls.

A tough year Indeed

The distressing security crisis in most notably, the Northern part of Nigeria is not the only point of concern in the country today. Indeed, Nigeria has had a year like not many before it in recent times in terms of the toll that a lot of the untoward developments that have been recorded this far in the year have taken on citizens and residents of the country. It has been the year of the #EndSARS protests by young people who are demanding an end to police brutality in the country. It has also been the year when Nigeria slipped into its second bout of economic recession in the five years that General Muhammadu Buhari has held sway in the country. It has also been the year of the most debilitating COVID-19 pandemic and the associated season of lockdown that followed.

Going further, it has also been the year of the closure of Nigeria’s land borders with its West and Central African neighbours and in the midst of this also, the time of Nigeria’s eventually commencing the process of ratifying the landmark African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCFTA. The departing year has indeed been a mixed bag, a challenging season whose tough demands for discipline and adjustments can now no longer be faulted. Without putting it in very many words, it is a year that many in Nigeria would not very quickly forget in a hurry.

More than casual solutions

As the Nigerian crisis continues to fester and produce quite convoluted expressions, discussions are going on everywhere as to how best the challenges are to be addressed. In all of the brainstorming, one idea that is gaining massive traction is the call for a comprehensive restructuring of the country.

While there is no consensus yet on the exact shape that the exercise should take, some of the component elements that have been raised this far in the discussions include suggestions for the introduction of a six-zone structure, the implementation of a regime of fiscal federalism that incorporates the principle of resource control, and the reorganization of the policing framework of the country to now formally allow for the introduction of state and regional police formations that would more frontally assist the Nigeria Police Force in the countrywide resolution of security threats and incidents.

What does Buhari want?

In the midst of all the hoopla going on in the country currently, commentators say that the entire season of discontent is being further fuelled by the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari may not be responding as vibrantly as the people would want him to.

For many of his critics, the administration’s continuing to keep the embattled service chiefs in office and its failure to respond to cries of business players and residents of closed border communities continue to sustain a negative image for it. This has equally not been helped by the clearly not very empathetic tone used by senior administration officials when they come out to the public domain to clarify actions taken by the administration.

There is the equally perplexing turn of events which came to the fore with the tepid management of the #EndSARS protests and the police now formally moving to not only delegitimise protests but to get the courts to quash the ongoing work of the judicial panels of inquiry that had been put up this far. While the Inspector General of Police, IGP has since disassociated the force from the suit and now taken steps to discontinue it, the claim by Police Spokesman, DCP Frank Mba that the Force Legal Officer whose office reportedly initiated the process has been queried over his role in the entire saga raises further questions as to how decisions of such a weighty nature could have been taken in the first place and effected without due clearance by the IGP or even by the President himself. So who is in charge?

It may very well be some of these acts of chicanery that continue to upset many of the young people of Nigeria who have now begun to mobilise on twitter once again for a resumption of the shelved #EndSARS protests.

Across the country also, polity watchers are raising questions as to what should be done at this time to address the many political, economic and security challenges in the land going forward.

People hold banners as they demonstrate on the street to protest against police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria, Thursday Oct. 15, 2020. Protests against Nigeria's police continued to rock the country for the eighth straight day Thursday as demonstrators marched through the streets of major cities, blocking traffic and disrupting business. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
People hold banners as they demonstrate on the street to protest against police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria, Thursday Oct. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Says Izuchukwu Ahuchaogu:

‘I think the Government should stop borrowing to pay senators and funding their expensive lifestyles. With what we saw in 2020, it’s obvious that the older generation has not gotten what it take to move the country forward. We now need more young people in government; they understand more how the 21st century works.

The journalist and commentator adds a caveat:

‘Not young people from the class of the sons and daughters of our politicians but young people who have groomed themselves through reading and proper learning, as without this we don’t expect to see any real change. It will keep taking us back if we have someone like Buhari as president in the future again. Nothing will change’

For Maurice Okoro, an educationist, public affairs commentator and reading promoter, some of the required adjustments he would want to see at the moment would include the immediate opening of the nation’s land borders, the sacking of the current service chiefs, the restructuring of the country, undertaking a probe of the Buhari administration and the resignation of the President and the Federal Executive Council. Clearly, Nigerians are simply in no mood to take hostages!

*Culled from December Issue of PAV Magazine

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