Apprehension. Relief. Apprehension again. My emotions went full cycle in seven days. The abduction of 344 students of Government Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina state, had whipped up a frightened feeling of déjà vu in me. The Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014 readily came to mind. More so, I feared that these boys could be turned and recruited into the Boko Haram army to replenish the terrorist ranks. Their release seven days later brought me big relief. These are people’s sons, brothers, nephews, cousins and friends. But the euphoria was soon over as I remembered that the fundamental problem remains unsolved: insecurity. Their release would only paper over the cracks.
Yet, truth be told, I was glad we moved quickly to get those boys back, unlike in the Chibok case when we were busy arguing and pointing gingers while Boko Haram kept moving them far away from home. We are hearing conflicting stories behind their freedom. This governor would say it was Miyetti Allah that brokered the deal; that governor would say he merely spoke to their captors and they released them; and the army would say “we rescued them in a clinical operation”. I have my suspicion about what really happened — especially as we got all the boys back — but if my son or nephew was among them, I wouldn’t give a damn if ransom was paid. It is called the Devil’s Deal.
I could feel the disappointment of some people when the Kankara schoolboys were released. They were preparing for a return match over Chibok. Just as the Chibok abductions were politicised and utilised by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and their civil society allies to wrestle President Goodluck Jonathan to the ground in 2015, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the anti-Buhari camp were all too eager to weaponise the Kankara abductions for political gain. It is called a pound of flesh. They sounded deflated when the Kankara boys were released. This politicking would have been exciting if not that we are talking about human lives here. Everything cannot be politics.
As you would expect, there are cynical theories that the Kankara abductions were staged. Someone said where did the 344 students get new blankets to cover themselves after their release? This is not the first time such cynical questions would be asked. When the Chibok girls were kidnapped, I got SMS broadcasts questioning the veracity. How many trucks would be needed to move 300 girls? How could 300 girls be preparing to write an exam? What is the population of the school? They wanted to write physics? When did northerners start studying science? It was when Boko Haram released the video of the captives weeks later that some people managed to believe.
In February 2018, when 110 Dapchi schoolgirls were kidnapped and later released, we were told “the drama” was staged as well “to make Buhari look competent”. It would appear that the only thing that would satisfy some people is for the abducted students to remain endlessly in Boko Haram captivity — just as it happened with Chibok. That way, they would believe that the Dapchi and Kankara abductions were real and they would feel pleased and fulfilled. You can argue that Nigerians have become cynical over time because their government has also not done enough to build trust in them. That would be correct if we discount some people’s mischief.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari should not be fooled by the release of the Kankara schoolboys. The basic fact remains unchanged: that whatever he is doing to secure the country is neither efficient nor sufficient. Ironically, on the eve of the release of the Kankara boys, Alhaji Sanusi Muhammad Asha, the emir of Kaura Namoda, was attacked and eight members of his convoy killed by gunmen on their way from Abuja. Kidnappings are still going on across Nigeria, particularly in the north, and armed bandits are still terrorising people all over the place. Boko Haram has not relented either. The fact that the Kankara boys are back home should not pull the wool over our eyes.
Sadly, one area the president has often gone missing is emotional connection with Nigerians. He is an introvert, agreed, but when you get the job of presiding over 200 million people, you lose the right to be detached. What the president says, or fails to say, is as important as what he does, or fails to do, in times like these. Nigerians want their president to communicate with them. They want to be assured that he is in touch with their realities. It is very wrong to treat everyone who criticises Buhari as an adversary who deserves no answers. There are people doing it for politics and there are people doing it out of patriotism. And everybody deserves an answer, no matter the motive.
Buhari’s emotional absence from our national life has really helped those propagating mischief. The Jubril Movement — so-called because they came up with the theory that the real Buhari is “dead” and it is one lookalike named “Jubril Al-Sudani” from Sudan that is in charge — has been gaining a lot of followers by playing on Buhari’s perpetual distance from us. It now seems there are cracks in the Jubril Movement, with some of their leaders beginning to say it is actually Buhari that is in Aso Rock but he has “dementia” and does not know that the schoolboys were kidnapped. They say he is not even aware he is president and does not know anything about what is going on in Nigeria.
You could feel the disappointment of the Jubril Movement when Buhari granted an interview on video talking about the Kankara kidnappings. He also addressed the boys, advising them not to be intimidated about returning to school. He commended the army for the “rescue”. So much for dementia! Someone commented, though, that this is another proof that Buhari has “dementia” — because “it was Miyetti Allah, and not the army, that rescued the boys”. Confirmation bias, that is. Of course, Buhari only has himself to blame. Nature abhors vacuum. You cannot be so distant from your citizens and expect flowers and hugs in return. Nigerians deserve something better.
There are many critical matters arising from the Kankara abductions which should not escape our attention. One, this is an attack on education. The cornerstone of Boko Haram’s ideology is opposition to non-Islamic education, generally understood to mean Western education. We are already confronted with a low literacy level in northern Nigeria and a high number of out-of-school children. This is going to make matters worse. Many parents will now pull their children out of school because it is very clear that the government cannot protect them. There will be dire consequences for national development. It is a setback. The rest of Nigeria will feel the impact.
Two, there is increasing evidence linking the banditry and kidnappings to Boko Haram. I have been having this feeling that most kidnappings for ransom attributed to “Fulani herdsmen” are actually being carried out by Boko Haram satellite groups — more like their fundraising arm. There are credible reports of Boko Haram’s increasing presence outside the north-east. The manner of Kankara kidnappings looked too similar to the ones in Dapchi and Chibok. That we blamed bandits for the Kankara kidnappings and Boko Haram now did a propaganda video showing the boys in their captivity should tell us something. The Boko Haram influence is expanding. This is terrifying.
Three, there is a compelling need to separate politicking from the insecurity ravaging the country. If I had my way, I would prostrate before our political leaders on all sides and plead with them to let us have a common, collaborative front on this issue. Nobody is safe. It does not matter your ethnic, religious, regional or political affiliation. I understand the desire for revenge; it is only human. But the time has to come for everyone to draw the line in the interest of our country. One of my favourite politicians today is Keir Starmer, the leader of the UK Labour Party. He always rises above partisan sentiments when the matter at hand has to do with the health and safety of British citizens.
When the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped in 2014, I watched in dismay as Nigerian politicians took advantage to fan partisan and sectional interests. The Jonathan camp said the abductions were designed to destabilise his government and hamper his re-election bid in 2015. They even said Buhari was behind Boko Haram. The opposition camp, on its part, used the insecurity to campaign against Jonathan, even insinuating that Jonathan was funding Boko Haram to destroy the north. Admiral Murtala Nyako, then governor of Adamawa state, even said in the US that the Nigerian military was dropping arms by air for Boko Haram to destroy the north. Goodness, I hate politics!
For some of us, though, all we desire is a safe and prosperous Nigeria. Anybody who is able to take a dispassionate look at the state of the nation will only come to the conclusion that the people are having it rough, no matter their tribe or tongue. Unemployment, poverty and insecurity are hurting Nigerians, north and south. The people are daily struggling to make ends meet. Yet they remain at the mercy of criminals who kidnap, extort, torture or kill them for doing nothing wrong. This country has continued to fail its citizens. This failure, I would suggest, should be our major concern. It is the responsibility of the president to secure the country and we must hold him to it always, everyday.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
So my 75-year-old mother will have to go and queue up with the crowd to get a national identification number (NIN) in this season of COVID-19 — which targets her age group? And if she doesn’t take the risk of catching COVID within two weeks, you will cut off her mobile line? And, then, my mum and I would not be able to communicate? You will disconnect her line, deny telecom companies income, block vital tax revenues for the government in these hard times, stifle the growth of the life-saving telecoms sector and further shrink an economy that is already in recession? This is yet another concrete evidence of the wretched quality of thinking in government. Daft.
When researchers started trying to explain the relatively low cases of COVID-19 in Africa, it became inevitable that we would soon let down our guard — more so as we have always prided ourselves as having natural immunity. Some describe COVID-19 as “glorified malaria”. So many Nigerians have abandoned the basics: wear your face mask, wash your hands and watch the social distance. COVID-19 cases are increasingly on the rise, especially in Lagos, Abuja and Kano. We still have to be thankful that COVID-19 is not like Ebola, which has a mortality rate of 50 percent. As we enter the festive season, we must show responsibility by avoiding large gatherings. We all have a role to play. Duty.
SPOT OF BORDER
After shutting Nigeria’s land borders since August 2019 to curb smuggling of drugs, small arms and agricultural products, President Muhammadu Buhari has succumbed to pressure and decided to re-open four of them: Seme in Lagos, Illela in Sokoto, Maigatari in Jigawa and Mfun in Cross River. The border closure has never been popular with many economic experts and businesses because of the negative impact on economic growth and free trade. Our West African neighbours, whose economies benefit from illegal trade, were also unhappy. But, as with all things in life, there will always be trade-offs. With our weak border security, smuggling will be back in full force. Catch-22.
After losing to Joe Biden on all fronts — including at the Electoral College — US President Donald Trump has refused to accept defeat. He is your typical African politician wearing American skin. He tried all tricks in the book. He is doing well on Twitter — even if his tweets are often flagged. He did not make any headway where it counts: the court process. The judges refused to service his desire to rubbish American democracy. Even the Supreme Court, where he thinks he has allies, refused to play ball. If it was Nigeria, judges would be granting reckless injunctions up and down. The June 12 conundrum always comes to mind. The insanity has not waned 27 years after. Lessons.