Nigeria On Auto-Pilot, By Bisi Akande
Today is Sunday May 11th 2014…..exactly 26 days after over 200 of our daughters in Chibok, Borno State, were abducted by Boko Haram insurgents. Twenty six days later, we neither know where they are nor are we any close to knowing it, going by available information. Yet, 11 more girls have been abducted in Warabe.
Since 2009, when Boko Haram launched its terror campaign, thousands of our citizens have either been killed or maimed, while the economic and social activities in a whole section of the country have been paralyzed. Since January 2014, Boko Haram has killed over 1,500 people, mostly civilians, and that figure does not include the 95 people who died in the two bombings in as many weeks at Nyanya in Abuja, nor does it include the over 150 who were killed in Gamboru, Borno State, last week.
Nigeria is at war! And Nigerians are asking: How did we get to this sorry pass? Could we have averted the situation in which we have now found ourselves, a situation in which Africa’s most populous nation, and one said to have the largest economy on the continent, is now lying prostate, begging the world for help? How did a country that has been at the vanguard of maintaining peace in other countries since 1960 now become something of a panhandler? How can we restore peace to our country and provide safety and security for our people?
It is in the search for answers to these questions that we have called this world press conference, not to apportion blame, but to take a critical and non-partisan look at the situation we are in and also to offer suggestions on the way out of what has now become a quagmire.
But since it is said that when you know the past, you can understand the present and then predict the future, let us start by looking at how we got to this sorry pass
”We Are On Top Of The Situation”
Gentlemen, you will recall that 2011 marked a dangerous turning point in the history of Boko Haram’s terror attacks, when the insurgents bombed the UN Complex and the Police Headquarters, both in Abuja, with deadly consequences. That same year, the INEC office in Suleja was bombed; churches were bombed in Jos, Plateau; Suleja, Niger State and in Yobe State, among others.
All through these attacks and thereafter, all the federal government did was to issue tepid statements commiserating with the victims and their families, vowing to hunt down the culprits and bring them to justice, and then telling a bewildered nation: ‘We are on top of the situation’.
Of course they are not on top of anything. It was an empty rhetoric! Because, the following year, 2012, the insurgents, emboldened by the fact that they have gotten away with past terror attacks, launched even more vicious attacks, killing over 160 in one day in Kano alone and 40 in Kaduna on another day, launching another church attack in Jos and attacking the police headquarters in Maiduguri, among a horde of other attacks. The reaction from the government? ‘We are on top of the situation! Boko Haram will soon become history’
2013 was not any better, with the attack in Bama claiming 55 lives, and that in Yobe 42 lives, among many others.
Realizing that its retort, ‘we are on top of the situation’, was not working, the government shifted gear and started blaming the opposition, specifically our party, the APC, for the attack. Statements made by our key leaders, including Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, were distorted and taken out of context to justify their claim that the APC is the sponsor of the attacks. They say a party that has 35 interim officials, 18 of them Muslims and 17 of them Christians, is an Islamic party that is in cahoots with Boko Haram. No amount of disclaimer by the APC impressed the accusers.
Then 2014 came and the terrorists simply went mad! Waves of attacks on Bama, Buni Yadi, Maiduguri, Kala Balge, Dilkwa and Abuja claimed hundreds of lives, to such an extent that by March ending, the death toll has hit 1,500! Then the worst atrocity of all: Our daughters were abducted from the school and taken to an unknown destination.
All through this, the government kept waffling, mouthing meaningless ‘we are on top of the situation’ cliche and engaging in blame game. With his eyes set firmly on 2015, the President….as well as his party….ratcheted up the finger pointing and blame game.
Amidst all this, valuable time was lost to deal with the insurgency. And now we have reached a sorry pass. The government has lost the initiative to the terrorists.
The Role of the Military
We hail our gallant men and women in uniform, who have risked their lives to battle this insurgency and keep our country safe. We do not share in the pessimism being expressed in certain quarters about the ability and capability of our military to tackle the insurgency. We believe that, given the necessary support and provided with the required wherewithal, our military can surmount this insurgency.
Our optimism stems from empirical facts. As we said in our press statement last week, the Nigerian military has excelled in peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions around the world since our independence in 1960, to such an extent that Nigeria has become one of the top troop contributing nations around the world.
However, stories emerging from the front in the battle with Boko Haram have been saddening: Low morale among our troops, obsolete equipment, including guns that fail to fire and armoured personnel carriers that won’t move, given to our troops, and cases of deserters.
When Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno called the attention of the nation to the fact that the insurgents’ morale was higher than that of our troops and that they were better armed than the soldiers we are sending to battle, he was roundly pilloried and shouted down.
To ensure that our military is not being saddled with responsibility without empowerment, we have therefore called on the National Assembly to institute a probe into how the huge allocations for security in the recent years have been spent, whether the men and women we are sending to battle are properly equipped and whether funds meant for the prosecution of this war are being judiciously spent. Today, we renew this patriotic call to the National Assembly, with a strong belief that it will yield a positive outcome and help turn the tide in our battle against these terrorists
After wasting valuable time on finger pointing and senseless politicking, the Jonathan Administration finally overreached itself following the unfortunate, dastardly and atrocious kidnapping of our girls from their school in Chibok, Bormo State.
First, the Administration was in denial, believing the girls were indeed not kidnapped and that the whole abduction story was choreographed to embarrass the President and dim his chances for re-election in 2015, which is the only thing that matters to the President and his party, the PDP, now
In fact, on the same day the girls were abducted, our President was dancing ‘azonto’ at an illegal campaign rally in Kano, not minding that a few hours earlier, 75 innocent citizens were bombed into smithereens under his watch in Abuja!
When the reality dawned on the Administration that this was not a fluke, it reacted by doing nothing! It took all of 19 days before President Jonathan made any public statement acknowledging the abductions. That is almost three weeks of lost opportunity to engage in a hot pursuit of the abductors and rescue our girls.
That public outing by the President in itself was forced, by the World Economic Forum on Africa which was just a few days away then and the focus by the global community on the terrorist attacks in Nigeria and the abduction of the girls.
Then a tragicomedy ensued: While the President again pulled into his shell after summoning a few meetings here and there and setting up a ‘fact finding’ panel….akin to shutting the pen after the chicken has bolted…his wife, the First Lady, took over the whole issue and turned it into a theater of the absurd, summoning officials of state in a clear unconstitutional act and subjecting them to untold and humiliating treatment, as if they were behind the abductions.
Apparently dissatisfied with the panel set up by her husband, she set up her own, and even ordered the arrest of the women who have daily been protesting on the streets to force the government to act to rescue the girls.
They blamed everyone but themselves. Even the dumbstruck parents and guardians of the abducted girls were not spared, as the President kept insinuating on his Media Chat last Sunday that they have refused to cooperate with the authorities to find their daughters!!!
In the midst of all these, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the abduction of the girls of Chibok and 11 more girls were kidnapped in Warabe. Only then did the distracting, obscene and shameless grandstanding in Abuja on the issue stop.
Realizing that he has now reached the end of his tethers and that he was facing a challenge far beyond his capability and installed capacity, the President made a belated request for assistance to the world. All through this, his party, the PDP, went silent and the world took over the battle!
Oh, lest we forget, the National Women Leader of the PDP, Mrs. Kema Chikwe, perhaps holding brief for his party, raised doubts that the girls were indeed missing and asked for their names and pictures to be published, not minding the stigma that will be the girls’ lot when they return home.
Offer Of Assistance By Foreign Countries
We welcome and commend the offer of assistance by Britain, Canada, China, France, US, ECOWAS and the UN, among others to help find our girls. We welcome the British and American experts who have already arrived on our shores to assist us to find our girls and return them safely to their parents.
This confirms our stated belief that the war against terrorism is a global battle that needs all hands to be on deck. It confirms our earlier call on the government to take its case to ECOWAS and the African Union so that the entire Sahel Region, which has become the playground for terrorists, can become a focus of sub-regional and regional attention.
We thank all the friendly nations and global organizations that have expressed solidarity with our dear country in her hour of need, and urge those that have offered assistance to ensure it extends beyond finding our girls to dealing a crushing blow to the terrorists and defeating them once and for all.
But we submit that ultimately, the security and safety of our citizens are the primary responsibility of the Nigerian Government, led by President Jonathan, and the government must not abdicate this responsibility simply because some nations and organizations have offered to assist
Our Stand and Recommendations
Fellow Nigerians, these are times that try the souls of men. Our nation faces a most severe and unfair test. The decisions and actions taken in the next few weeks and months may well determine whether we emerge from the pit into which violent terrorism has pushed us or shall we sink deeper still into lawlessness and disorder. The challenge we face is much bigger than the pursuit of office or individual ambition.
Even without the Boko Haram crisis, the nation ran itself as if on auto-pilot. The Jonathan Administration did little and depended on the ingenuity of the Nigerian people to fend for themselves and cover up governmental shortcoming.
However, a crisis has come which no amount of private ingenuity can resolve. Only government can answer this call. The time has come for strategy and action. The time has come but government has been found sorely wanting. Just as they have left the girls in the forest and at the mercy of armed terrorists without mercy, this government has left the nation in the cold.
We must acknowledge that the nation has been brought low. We now suffer more violence and destruction than many places that are formally at war. For too many, Nigeria has become not a place to live but a place to die. We must change this evil equation.
At moments like these, Nigeria needs a leadership that is bold, coherent, sincere and focused. Unfortunately, that is not the case right now for our dear nation.
Given what is at stake, people of goodwill must speak up to offer suggestions on how Nigeria can pull itself from her present security quagmire.
As a party, the APC has watched with great trepidation the deteriorating state of our country and its security institutions. We have consistently offered suggestions on how to resolve this crisis. We have said only a non-partisan approach can help resolve the huge crisis we face, even though the Jonathan Administration has pointedly ignored this. But we remain undaunted.
Today, we call on President Jonathan to earn his epaulet as the Commander-in-Chief and stop passing the buck. We remind him that as the Chief Security Officer of the nation, he cannot and must not pass the buck. We remind him that having imposed a state of emergency on Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, he has assumed full responsibility for the security of those states, and that it is disingenuous of him to point accusing fingers at the Governors of those states, who cannot even move around their states freely without clearance.
Because we in the APC remain resolute that Nigeria can overcome this evil group, if only we all come together to fight the common enemy, we hereby advocate a multifaceted strategy, the outlines of which we now place before the Nigerian people for discussion and comment:
The government’s response against Boko Haram has reached a strategic stalemate – a situation of parity in impacts. This strategic stalemate is to Boko Haram’s advantage for it wins as long as it exists and continues to disrupt and terrorize. Government policy needs to reform in a few important ways viz:
1. Develop and/or Publish a Counter-Terrorism Strategy:Presently there is poor coordination between and integration of military means and political and economic objectives. There is currently no publicly known counter-terrorism strategy guiding the response to BH, and the impact of this can be seen in at least three ways: first is the chaos and confusion surrounding the government’s intention to explore a negotiated settlement by dialoguing with BH. One minute the government favours and
seeks to dialogue and grant amnesty to BH, the next minute government rules it out. There are mixed signals from the government. Second is the lack of use and coordination of military, political and economic means, yet successful counter-insurgency requires close coordination of military, political and economic means and objectives.
2. Build a new Intelligence Gathering Infrastructure – In 2012, Nigeria announced plans for a new intelligence fusion centre to coordinate, improve and integrate intelligence gathering and sharing across agencies. We need to obtain more timely and actionable intelligence from local sources in the areas affected by Boko Haram. We would also establish an office of the Special Anti-Terrorism Coordinator.
3. Improved Intelligence: The solution to preventing, limiting and responding better to BH attacks does not lie in deploying more troops but in improving intelligence and increasing force enablers. The fight against BH will be enhanced if government focuses on these two elements.
4. Improve Contingency Planning: Most major militaries around the world have plans for the major challenges they are likely to face. We need to begin to create plans and conduct training exercises that reflect the challenges we will face. In this manner. Our security apparatus will be better prepared if and when a situation arises.
5. Pursue and Align military with political (negotiated) solutions: Boko Haram is unlikely to be defeated militarily. Most insurgencies are ended through some form of negotiation. Government must develop a strategy along the lines of the policy followed by President Yar’Adua (over the MEND insurgency in the Niger Delta) at least to the extent that we use employment and other rehabilitative incentives to separate the rank and file from Boko Haram’s leadership.
6. De-radicalization Strategy: The Northern region is in urgent need of a counter-radicalization program to prevent many more young people (illiterate and unemployed) from being radicalized. Such strategies would require initiatives to counter violent extremist ideology and create positive incentives against radicalization (beyond the current focus on punitive measures – arrest, detention and killing), give voice and representation to young people in the region, etc.
7. Regionalize (ECOWAS and AU) Response: The government to solicit the operational involvement and assistance of ECOWAS and AU, including deploying multinational security operations across the Sahel to track and hunt down Boko Haram operational chain. It is clear that Boko Haram is no longer a ‘Nigeria-only’ problem, but now a regional security menace that requires regional responses.
8. Effective information management and strategic communication: The government needs to reform the way information is released and managed on Boko Haram. This goes beyond official information management and government agencies to include working with print, electronic and online media organizations, and local (grassroots) information channels.
9. Economic Development Plan for Northern Nigeria: The proposed recovery fund for the North East is grossly inadequate window dressing. A real and massive effort is needed. Clearly more financial resources are needed. Economic revival goes beyond providing substantial funds – it has to be guided by clear objectives, roles of public and private sectors and civil society groups, and must include social (education, health, religion, culture and traditional institutions), environmental, and political aspects, in addition to economic issues.
10. Involve civilian peace building organizations (military and police cannot build peace): Uniformed personnel are never peace builders. The government needs to urgently involve local and international peace building organizations, including NGOs, CSOs, etc. to design peace building initiatives for the NE.
Our nation stands on the rim of crisis. A stupendous national disaster beckons. But this current leadership can help avert disaster if they wake up to what true governance is. The time for excuses and half-measures is long past. The well being of the nation hangs in the balance. If we do not act decisively, the demands of the moment will find us wanting and history will issue a terrible verdict against us. We seek to protect this nation and her children. We seek to establish a legacy that shows the feats to which this nation can aspire when it stands united and strong against the threat of evil. We seek to make Nigeria a land where no one will ever have to demand that our girls be returned because in a better, more secure Nigeria they never will be taken!
Chief Bisi Akande is Chairman of the opposition All Progressive Congress, APC, read this excerpted address in Lagos at a press Conference on Sunday, MAy 11, 2014 regarding the security situation in the country.