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Please, take a message to President Buhari – Owei Lakemfa

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By Owei Lakemfa

Independence Day morning. Tuesday October 1, 2019. A retired ambassador calls me. He wants my opinion on President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Day broadcast. I told him I was outdoors; I had not listened to it. He seemed taken aback as he knew I strive to be current on news and events.

I was tired of these speeches, assurances, and promises made and broken just after. In September, the President had assured us he would relieve the burden of the people, days later, his government announced the increase of the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 5 to 7.5 percent. The irritating thing about such decisions is that hangers-on and sycophants then go into overdrive. They lectured us that VAT does not affect the average Nigerian as it is a consumer tax for the rich. I reason that if it affects only the affluent and as promised, the money is ploughed into programmes that will benefit the poor, why not increase the VAT to 50 percent?

I knew the speech would be patronizing. That hapless Nigerians would be told how well the government is serving them and the need for us to be patriotic. There is of course, no feedback mechanism. Who tells the President the truth that Nigerians are suffering so much? Who tells him that the state of insecurity is so bad that Nigerians who have come to accept that travelling on the highways is a suicidal mission, are becoming weary of even going outdoors? That children are not safe in school or commuters in public transport?

Does he know that his government is not protecting lives and property? Who can tell him governance is not all about speeches and borrowing money for non- discernible projects? How can President Buhari appreciate the state of Nigerians if even Ministers are barred from direct access to His Excellency?

If I thought the speech will contain some dramatic announcements such as the President confessing to the populace that we are at war. That all hands must be on deck to defeat our enemies, and that a state of emergency is declared to put the country on war footing against terrorists, land-grabbing bandits, marauders and kidnappers, I would have been more receptive,. These would have aroused our patriotic instincts and make us realize that wars are not fought and won by the military or security services alone, but by the populace. Imagine if the hundreds of thousands turned internally displaced persons in Niger State were mobilized to defend their towns and villages against the handful of bandits raiding them, those battles would have been won.

Finally, I sat down to listen to the broadcast. I am not sure there was anything new. Claims of food self-sufficiency as against exports, and improved power, are at best debatable. A paragraph that I reflected on a few times read: “Whilst we uphold the Constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our National Security, we will take firm and decisive action.”

The problem here is that the government of the day arrogates to itself the power to determine if an expression undermines “National Security” As the Omoyele Sowore case shows, court rulings on this are respected only if they favour government. If they do not, the government disobeys them and simply tramples on the rights of the citizenry. If our courts are not allowed to adjudicate between the citizen and government, is it not wiser, cheaper and more economical to abolish them and elect more amenable courts that will not waste time listening to both sides?

As you might have guessed, I was quite interested in the issue of security, but the President’s broadcast told us nothing new. He simply stated: “In the last four years, we have combatted the terrorist scourge of Boko Haram. We owe a debt of gratitude to our gallant men and women in arms, through whose efforts we have been able to achieve the present results.”

First, this is the tenth year “we have combatted the terrorist scourge of Boko Haram” not in the last four years. Secondly, what are “the present results” the President said we have achieved? Just a bland statement that gives no information, no report nor what we as Nigerians, are expected to do beyond clapping for “our gallant men and women in arms”

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In the past four years, the President and his men had told Nigerians Boko Haram had been “defeated” “technically defeated” “degraded” “highly degraded” and that they “occupy no inch” of our soil. If truly, the terrorists occupy no inch of Nigerian territory, who then are we fighting? If the terrorists have been pushed into neigbouring countries, why are our towns and villages the theatres of war? The government’s narrative began to give the impression that we were at war with spirits not human beings.

My hunch was confirmed on Independence Day eve when the army hinted that after all, the war is not just against humans but also spiritualties. If true, this will require our military, as advised in Ephesians (6:11-12) to put on the whole armour of God in order for them to stand against the wiles of the devil: “ For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

So, last Monday, the Nigerian Army at its Resource Centre in Abuja organized a seminar on “Countering Insurgency and Violent Extremism in Nigeria through Spiritual Warfare” The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai in his speech, revealed that: “It is easier to defeat Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists than their ideology” adding: “Religious bodies and organisations in particular who interface regularly with the grassroots should be at the forefront of this spiritual battle and fashion out ways of stepping up their roles.” He said there is the need to tackle terrorist groups: “ through spiritual warfare…”

I think it is time we unleash on the terrorists our nuclear weapons of religious clerics and the faithful. Imagine a battalion of turbaned clerics making recitals as they march into the Sambisa forests, followed by a division of beautiful ladies in white garments shaking their bountiful bounties in spiritual ecstasy singing “Onward Christian soldiers! March as to war” with women commanding rain and Shango worshippers summoning lightening and thunder to strike the terrorists.

Visualize this spiritual army followed by mine sweepers, armoured cars and the infantry. With this, Boko Haram will be wiped out within days. So we need a change of tactics and strategy, but who can go whisper that in the ears of the Commander-in-Chief?

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