By Ehichioya Ezomon
To President Muhammadu Buhari, nothing is more honourable, and dignifying than to forego other engagements and pay his last respects to the gallant officers of the Armed Forces, who paid the supreme price in the course of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
On Sunday, November 18, 2018, scores of troops of the 157 Task Force Battalion at Metele, in Borno State, were killed by Boko Haram terrorists that reportedly camouflaged as friendly fighters of the Multinational Joint Task Force combating insurgency in Nigeria’s North-East and the border areas of neighbouring countries.
To honour the fallen heroes, Buhari postponed his visit, last Tuesday, November 27, to Edo State, to commission the Edo-Azura Power Plant, and attend the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Annual Conference (later moved to Maiduguri, the Borno capital city, to coincide with his tour of the troops at the battlefields).
He also cancelled his November 27 to December 2 five-day “casual leave” at his hometown of Daura, Katsina State, to enable him “to continue his ongoing meetings and consultations with relevant security and intelligence community aimed at addressing the nation’s security challenges.”
Subsequently, the president’s advanced teams, which had left Abuja for Katsina and Benin City, respectively, on Sunday, were asked to return to base.
When a tree falls on another, you’ve to cut the top trunk to get to the one under. That’s what Buhari has done: He shelved previous engagements in order to deal with the current and most pressing security issues that the Metele tragedy has engendered.
And that’s the right thing to do: Show leadership. Take responsibility for actions of subordinates, and tragic happenings on your watch, such as the killings of our brave soldiers. Express and/or extend timely concerns and commiserations. And in instances similar to the Metele massacre, take the battle to the enemies.
So, President Buhari deserves some plaudits for going to Borno, instead of Edo, when a higher duty called, to visit the “war zone” and assess the situation there, comfort the injured in hospitals, and address the troops, to boost their morale.
That said, this is the season for political campaigns, which many members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had hoped the president would “kick-start” in the process of commissioning the Edo-Azura power plant – a very critical infrastructural project his administration has striven to complete.
Twenty-four hours prior, a national daily summarized the visit from the perspective of the Edo people: Preparations were in top gear. Major establishments wore new looks. Civil servants put finishing touches to last-minute arrangements. The residents were eager, and anxious to welcome the president. To them, he has performed really well. He has shown to be very caring, especially to the poor. And they expected him to announce “something big,” like a Federal Government project, for the state.
Thus, the news of his journey to Benin City was godsend (not God-sent) to the residents. But by a twist of fate, a different announcement came from the state government, postponing the trip. The tale bearer, Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser (Media and Communication Strategy), to Governor Godwin Obaseki, merely said the visit would be rescheduled, without giving reasons for its adjournment.
The rationale was however given by the presidential aide on New Media, Bashir Ahmad, who, on his Twitter handle, said: “President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to declare the COAS Annual Conference on November 28, 2018 at the Conference Hall CGH in Maiduguri, Borno State.”
Obviously, an opportunity missed by Buhari to commence electioneering, which the INEC declared since Sunday, November 18, 2018, for the 2019 elections that will begin with the Presidential and National Assembly poll at 8 a.m. on Saturday, February 16 – that’s 74 days (two months and two weeks) from today, Monday, December 3, 2018!
President Buhari has been too religious in keeping with the INEC regulations regarding campaigns, such that after publicly declaring his intention to seek a second term in office, he issued a caveat to individuals, groups and bodies working for his reelection, to stop canvassing for votes on his behalf until the INEC blew the whistle, which the electoral body did over a fortnight.
Yet, it’s a “no-show” from Buhari, whose “no-campaigning-for-me-now” sent mixed messages to the public: What informed the postponement of canvassing on his behalf? Has the president withdrawn from the race? Or is he under pressure to withdraw?
While his adhering to the INEC schedule for campaigns was perhaps to demonstrate leadership by example, the PDP and “Never Buhari” campaigners pounced on the president’s statement as a sign that he could throw in the towel before even shouting, “A-PEE-CEE” at a rally, his clenched fist shooting into the air.
Certainly, that’s the standpoint, and expectation of the opposition: Buhari should not exercise his constitutional right to contest for a second term in office. But they misjudged, and misfired! The president is not only running for reelection, but has also constituted campaign bodies, and galvanized millions of voters for the February 16 balloting.
Hence, I thought it’s a very welcoming piece of good news for him to “unofficially” flag-off his rallies in Edo State, presently the lone APC stronghold in the South-South zone of the country.
Apart from demonstrating how much he cherishes the people’s supports since the 2015 elections, his visit would have sent a powerful message to the PDP-dominated contiguous states that the APC was at the threshold of taking over their domains, as is the refrain, these days, by the party stalwarts from the zone, including the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole.
But for now, President Buhari has to pay the price of leadership: Take responsibility for the Metele tragedy and allow others, sitting on the fence, to apportion blames, and use the misfortune to score political points against him. It won’t be long, though, to see him on the hustings, advancing the “Next Level” from 2019 to 2023!
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.