Insecurity & people-smuggling to the South: A Letter to President Muhammadu Buhari – By Theophilus Ejorh
Your Excellency, President and Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari, please permit me to address you in your full designation. It is deserving of men and women entrusted with responsibility. I write you this message with a heart plagued by anguish and a soul throbbing with terror, both as a concerned son of the soil and as an individual with an interest in the pursuit of human rights and fundamental changes in the polity.
Before I go into thrust of my message, may I remind you of three key election promises you made before you mounted the saddle of power. You promised to fight corruption and make it a forgotten thing in Nigeria and to defeat Boko with military precision and install national security. In May 2015, you became President of Nigeria, the second time of ruling the country, after unsuccessfully running for that coveted crown in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 general elections. Your defeat in those three attempts did not deter you. Rather, it buoyed your optimism and underscored your doggedness as a soldier who never says die or flees in the face of conquest. A true soldier lives to fight another day, and that was what you did. During the campaign season, we remember how you, flanked by party stalwarts, gleefully stood before swarms of supporters, gap-toothed and beaming with assuredness of victory. With your party bigwigs you waved brooms before the jubilant hordes, like revellers waving ivy in a bacchanalian festivity, and like Hercules, you swore to clean the Augean stable, the enduring cesspit called Nigeria.
Then you won the elections. The first man to dethrone an incumbent president, and started off on a very positive footing, taking on the demon of corruption in a ferocious war, even though many think – and they are right to do so – that your anti-corruption war has been solely targeted at your political enemies, especially those that belong to the opposition side of the political spectrum. Some have even gone further to accuse you of embarking on selective ethnic witch-hunt. People have accused you of remaining insensitive to the crass looting of the commonweal by your party members and hangers-on, that clingy and opportunistic colony of political vultures that are wont to burrow into Nigeria’s bloated bowels to gorge on the cadaverous entrails. But, this is not the focus of my message. It is only a prelude.
Now, the thrust of my message is security. You have been in the corridors of political power far too long time to understand that security is a key desideratum of responsive and trustworthy governance. You were in the upper levels of government in 1975 as Governor of North Eastern State under General Murtala Mohammed; in 1976 as the Federal Commissioner (the equivalent of minister in today’s parlance) for Petroleum and Natural Resources, under General Olusegun Obasanjo; from 1983 as military head of state, following a coup that ousted the Second Republic presidency of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, up to August 1985, when you were swept aside in a coup, seen by many as retributive. That coup was led by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, the gap-toothed enigma of a man that has worn various sobriquets like a mantle, some of which are: “The Evil Genius”, “Machiavelli”, “Political Maradonna”, and “The Butcher of the Niger”.
Those close to you, including co-military officers, testify that you are a man with a desire to do things right. This was why as a military ruler, your government introduced the programme called the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), through which you set to restore and sustain positive values in society, even though its very implementation was fraught with repressive conducts. How can we forget how your soldiers, ever nimble and mean-faced, savagely whipped discipline into a miserable populace with their thirsty and swishing kobokos (horsewhips) cutting through flesh and drawing blood, on the streets, at motor parks, in crowded public places, teaching the people the bitter language of discipline in a military fashion? I hold no grudge against your person, your Excellency. It was your own understanding and way of enforcing discipline and ensuring national security.
Now, that brings me to the central concern of my humble message to your Excellency, the President: SECURITY, a word that may have become trite to you, given your years of service as a military man and even as a top political figure. Needless to remind you that a key constitutional remit of a responsive and responsible government is national security. Such a government is that which provides protection to its citizens against external aggressions and threats as well as an internal safety that assures wellbeing in every facet of life. Leverett Saltonstall Professor of International History at Harvard University, Charles S. Maier’s definition of nation security can be instructive and instructive. He describes national security as: “a capacity to control those domestic and foreign conditions that the public opinion of a given community believes necessary to enjoy its own self-determination or autonomy, prosperity and wellbeing.” As a matter of fact, security comes in varied dimensions, including: physical, political, economic, military, social, cultural, ecological or environmental, cyber and infrastructural, just to mention a few. While all these are important and interact in mutually reinforcing ways for the maintenance of a stable and happy society, I will focus on just one, and that is physical security. However, it is important to point out that there are blurred lines between physical security and some of the others like political, military, social and environmental security. In fact, physical security can be an all-embracing descriptive expression for all types of security – corporeal, concrete, objective and visible, if you like.
Your Excellency, people are grumbling about your handling of the matters of state, saying that the country whose political saddle you have been riding for around five years now has become one of the most insecure places to live in the world. I have considered people’s complaints with an objective eye, and I think they are justified in their disaffection. First, let us start with Boko Haram. You made consistent promises to fix the persistent insecurity tugging at the very core of our collective existence and defeat the insurgents within the shortest time possible if elected. We all remember your assertion in an interview at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, in London. You had stated as follows:
“I as a retired general, and a former head of state, have always known about our soldiers. They are capable, they are well-trained and patriotic and always ready to do their duty to the service of their country… You can bear witness to the gallantry of our military in Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur and many other parts of the world, but in the matter of the insurgency our soldiers have neither received the necessary support nor the required incentives to tackle this problem.” You further accused the military apparatus under your immediate predecessor of lacking competent intelligence and analysis, blaming this for the inability to locate and rescue the abducted Chibok girls. On top of that, you criticised the government of the time for not making any effort towards a multi-dimensional response to the security problem, leading the country to depend on neighbouring Chad and Cameroon for rescue. Your Excellency, to be honest, not everyone celebrated your avowal wholeheartedly. You may not know this, but many took it with cautious optimism. Even, there were others who did not believe or care a hoot what you promised to do. For the latter, it was the usual vainglorious, self-important effusions from a frantic mind.
Five years on, your Excellency, and the state of external security of the country has deteriorated to staggering proportions. Boko Haram has continued to make unbridled incursions into northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt, sacking whole villages, maiming, raping, pillaging and killing, like some maniacal, trigger-glad gung-ho Hollywood heroes obsessed with the sight of gore. Of the 276 Chibok girls abducted and whisked away into the insurgents’ Sambisa dens in Chad and Cameroon, some have been rescued by the Nigerian security forces (credit to them), a few others initiated their own escape into freedom, while about 112 are still reported as missing. It has been widely reported that some of the girls have been killed, while many have been forced to marry their captors, bearing children for them, every one of them men battling with concupiscence and harnessing sexual violence as a veritable instrument of religious war.
Also, Leah Sharibu, now 17, the only Christian among the 110 Dapchi girls that were abducted by the Boko Haram faction, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), in February 2018 is still trapped in captivity, despite your Excellency’s profuse promise to secure her freedom. She was only 14 at the time of her capture, and it has been reported that she has conceived and born a child for one faceless insurgent. Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, still rants and rages, threatening more mayhem and blood, and the common opinion now is that your Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, has failed dismally in his role. Nigerian frontline soldiers and their officers have repeatedly lamented their continued supply with outdated weapons to fight their enemies, who are better equipped with more modern and more sophisticated artilleries. Today, those gallant soldiers have become the laughing stock of both Nigerians and their West African neighbours, especially Chadians whose president, Idriss Deby Itno, recently joined his soldiers in the frontline to deal a deadly blow on Boko Haram terrorists, flushing them out of Chad, and killing over 1000. Perhaps, General Buratai should learn a lesson or two from the Chadian leader. Or better still, you can get rid of the present service chiefs and appoint new ones, men who are keen and responsive. But, whichever option you choose, please ensure that the men you have sent to defend the country are supplied with modern and sophisticated artilleries.
Now, I would like to draw your attention to the recent cases of people smuggling from the north to southern Nigeria over the past few weeks. Intelligence making rounds say the people, stowed away in trucks among cattle and sacks of goods, and many others coming in surreptitiously on minis buses, are not almajiris, but hired Boko Haram mercenaries sent in batches to southern Nigerian communities with an agenda. You may have heard how local vigilantes in some of these communities as well as the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, recently intercepted some vehicles (including those belonging to Africa’s richest man, billionaire Aliko Dangote) used for smuggling these individuals in the midst of a national ban on interstate travel due to the Corona virus pandemic. If you will agree with me, Governor Nyesom Wike deserves commendation, perhaps a medal (please stifle a giggle over this) for ordering the arrest of 14 men who were hidden inside trucks conveying cows from the North into his state, on the night of Thursday, May 7. No other governor has had the courage to do what Wike has done so safeguard his state and people. The men had been intercepted by security agents stationed at the Rivers State borders and to make an example of them for other prospective violators of the ban, Wike (I’m sure you’d be enamoured of his bravery and exemplary action by now) ordered that the 14 people be tested first for Coronavirus and then charged to court while the cows and trucks would be auctioned. I bet you would have admired his guts or even done the same in your prime as a military man. Am I right, your Excellency? I can bet you’re chuckling.
Your Excellency, there are several questions on the lips of members of the communities into which the said mercenaries are being smuggled, and they are:
- What is the mission of these individuals in southern Nigerian communities during this time?
- Why should they be hidden among cattle or sandwiched between bags of agro produce like MacDonald burgers?
- Why should they breach the interstate travel ban imposed by your government?
- What do they intend to do with the caches of arms found in their sacks and baggage?
- Who provided them with those weapons?
- Moreover, what has prompted such unprecedented mass movements of people from the north (some say they are people recruited from the Futa Jallon region of West Africa) to southern Nigeria?
I hesitate to believe the allegation that these individuals are being sent to execute a well-laid plan, whatever that is, or that they have made makeshift camps in bushes, in readiness to unleash terror on the communities. One supposed intelligence claims the set time for the attacks is when covid-19 will have been over, and that the mercenaries are currently undergoing routine training in military combat in their forest camps. These stories are gaining traction, though some objectivists like my humble self, consider them to be rumours and fear-mongering until certified as true. But, one thing I do know for certain is that the unchecked acts of terror by herdsmen and Boko Haram against hapless and unprotected Nigerian communities in recent years are enough reason for people to worry about the current smuggling of persons from northern Nigeria into the south in the midst of a pandemic and interstate travel ban.
Terror has seized many farmers. Women and young girls continue to be violated, routinely bearing the concupiscent rage of satyrs and killers from the north who now maraud their towns, villages and farms without the faintest of qualms. These are not hearsay. There is a plethora of videos and photographs showing unprovoked attacks by Fulani men, who, driven by Mephistophelean rage, leave testimonies of mutilations and gore that are hard to forget.
Your Excellency, we all remember you as a man of action, driven by energy and zest. We once regarded you as a Mr. Michelin archetype – strong, firm and dynamic. But, many are beginning to doubt that you are still driven by that spirit that catalysed radical things. Now, permit me to ask where that spirit has gone. Has it flown away with age and ageing and its consequent lethargy? To reiterate, I am ill-disposed to rumours and fear-mongering. But, many people believe that your Excellency is no longer in charge of things, and has never even been, and that a monster that goes by the undesirable label, cabal or gang, if you like, has always run the government.
Your subjects need protection of their lives and property. Many say you have even been compromised by the fact of your tribal identity, which has made you always turn a blind eye on the heinous crimes against humanity committed by your tribesmen. In the absence of national protection, communities may decide to provide their own forms pf protection as they deem fit and appropriate. And believe you me, the result of that kind of situation can be grave. Very grave. As I write this, dark clouds of insecurity thicken, sliding across the sky, bearing an uncertain burden. Is the country sitting on a keg of gunpowder?
Dr. Theophilus Ejorh is a writer and research consultant based in Dublin, Republic of Ireland.