If the recent display of anger by the cleric, Matthew Kukah, about the state of the nation was meant to draw the attention of Nigerians, and indeed the entire global audience, to the perilous times that the country has been passing through of late, then it succeeded substantially in doing so and even more. It was indeed a wake-up call to the government to mend its ways and steer the ship of state away from the path of imminent perdition.
In an unusual outburst of emotion, the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese took a swipe at the current administration of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), highlighting its many failings which, among others, are its clannishness and insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians. The biting critique also portrayed Nigeria on Buhari’s watch as a country that no one would be willing to die for, a “ship stranded on the high seas, rudderless and with broken navigational aids.”
In the light of the prevailing circumstances in the country, it is hard to disagree with the cleric’s clear-sighted conclusions. The country has been overwhelmed by economic and security challenges, with Boko Haram, banditry, ISIS-aligned Islamic State West African Province, Ansaru and the rampaging Fulani herdsmen making life unbearable for other peace-loving citizens. Nigeria is more or less like an orphan, belonging to no one in particular, but existing only to be exploited by some few privileged ones, to the detriment of the rest.
The Boko Haram insurgency, which started more than 10 years ago, has grown in intensity while the emergence of other terrorist groups, all of whose stock-in-trade has been mass killings, kidnapping and, sometimes, the adoption of scorched-earth policy, has accentuated the threats. Nigerians are dying in scores almost on a daily basis even as the government continues to swear that it has degraded and “technically” defeated the terrorists. The promise made at a Chatham House forum by Buhari five years ago to free Nigeria of terrorism threats now seems like a ruse.
Earlier this month, no fewer than 30 people were killed in a Boko Haram ambush at Auno village after many people were stranded at a checkpoint because of a curfew imposed on Maiduguri by the military. Although relatively modest figures are quoted by international agencies and organisations, the former governor of Borno State, the epicentre of Boko Haram activities, Kashim Ibrahim, said three years ago that over 100,000 people had died from activities of the terror group, with about two million others displaced.
The incident that triggered Kukah’s tirade was the kidnap of four Catholic seminarians and the killing of one of them, an 18-year-old Michael Nnadi. The Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State, Lawan Andimi, had earlier been kidnapped and beheaded for allegedly refusing to convert to Islam. Two years ago, Leah Sharibu, alongside more than 100 other schoolgirls, was kidnapped from her school premises in Dapchi, Borno State. While others were later released, Leah is still being held for holding on to her Christian faith.
Coupled with the burning of churches and other cases of carnage, including an incident in Benue State two years ago when two Catholic priests and 17 members of their congregation were killed during a mass, Kukah has questioned claims by those who say that there is no religious motive in Boko Haram’s sanguinary escapades. To this claim, he asked, “Are we to believe that simply because Boko Haram kills Muslims too, they wear no religious garb?” Kukah’s question becomes relevant given the President’s recent claim that 90 per cent of those killed by Boko Haram were Muslims.
Although scathing, Kukah’s verdict on the state of the nation is not different from what other eminent Nigerians, especially those who should know better, have said bordering on insecurity. Theophilus Danjuma, a former Chief of Army Staff, once called on Nigerians to defend themselves because of the alleged complicity of the military in the killings. “Our Armed Forces are not neutral. If you are depending on the Armed Forces to stop the killings, you will all die, one by one,” Danjuma warned then. Commenting on the poor management of diversity, in July last year, Olusegun Obasanjo, a former President, spoke with similar concern in an open letter to the President. He said, “I am very much worried and afraid that we are on the precipice and dangerously reaching a tipping point where it may no longer be possible to hold danger at bay.”
Nigeria is indeed at a crossroads. Instead of an inclusive government where everybody has a sense of belonging, the country is now a place where, according to Kukah, “to hold a key and strategic position in Nigeria today, it is more important to be a northern Muslim than a Nigerian.” This has been noticed in the appointments made by the President in recent times, especially in the security circle, where practically everybody is a northerner and nobody is from the South-East of the country. It is ominous.
Buhari has to be bold and innovative in introducing policies and reforms in governance. The right economic choices – not one tied solely to oil – have to be made to create jobs and bring people out of poverty in a country referred to as the poverty capital of the world. When jobs are created, many people will shun criminality such as kidnapping, banditry and terrorism. No sane foreigner would want to invest in a country where insecurity threatens investment.
To tame insecurity, the government has to make changes. Obviously, whatever is being done now is not working. Albert Einstein is credited with making the statement that the “definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Changes should come in terms of approach and personnel in the ongoing counterinsurgency campaign. The government should not hesitate to invite foreign powers to assist, like Mali that hosts 4,500 French troops has done. It took a coalition of forces to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria; it will be practically impossible to repeat the feat in Nigeria without adopting the same method. Besides, the President, considered by many as too divisive, has to start running an inclusive government. No country wins a war when the citizens are not united in purpose and single-minded in approach.