President Muhammadu Buhari – either out of a sense of history or pride and passion – vowed last week, like Winston Churchill in his own time, that he shall not end his tenure in failure. No surrender, no failure. Echoing Churchill, it was left for Buhari, at a meeting with the National Security Council, to have said that Nigeria under his watch shall not flag or fail. When Britain and its allies faced an ignominious defeat by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi German Army and British troops were forced to evacuate from Dunkirk during the Second World War, Churchill roused his countrymen and women with the peroration that went thus: “We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, and on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost….We shall never surrender.” This was the concluding part of his address to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940.
Buffeted by growing criticism, arising from his government’s handling of the alarming increase in insecurity, especially of banditry and kidnapping with increasing efforts to curtail, but with minimal results to show, the President, on return from Britain last week, summoned the security chiefs again to give them a piece of his mind and the corresponding marching order. Obviously, he cannot be comfortable with this development. No leader should be. Certainly not with these statistics of horror. For the first part of this year, an average of 13 persons were kidnapped daily giving the total of 2,371 abducted persons across the country according to a report by SMB Intelligence.
The report also said that an estimated N10 billion was the ransom demanded by the bandits during the period. As at the time the president was meeting with security chiefs, some of the kidnappers were still holding their victims, majority of them students, including minors from the Islamiya Nursery and Primary School in Tegina, Niger State where the parents have been unable to secure the release of their wards even after payment of ransom. President Buhari once again sounded tough and left the service chiefs in no doubt of his seriousness. He told the security chiefs that he would make necessary changes, if that would lead to the desired success in the battle against the bandits, as well as the insurgents that have made the country unsafe and virtually ungovernable.
To cap it all, he assured the nation that he would march on with them to victory and firmly secure the country. The last time he said at an interview on Arise TV that he had ordered the security chiefs to deal with the bandits in the language they understood, the nation thought he was merely talking without walking. But since then, there appears to be some relief. At least it is on record that more than 1, 200 Boko Haram insurgents have surrendered. And bandits have not carted away more students. The exception is the ones that they are holding tenaciously in Kaduna and Niger States. As a measure of their bestiality, the bandits take delight in aggravating the trauma and agony of the parents by ordering them around; the parents should do their bidding or they would keep their wards indefinitely.
Today they would ask for bottled water and loafs of bread to be dropped at some point for collection. Another day, they would request the parents to supply them with brand new motorbikes. These unreasonable demands are in addition to the ransom the parents have not been able to cough out. That these students are still in captivity and the authorities are virtually handicapped, sitting clumsily and uncomfortably on the horns of a dilemma, takes something away from the fire and the brimstone the president has ordered. The bandits, for all we know, are still dictating the tune and the pace. The horrifying case of the pupils of Tegina Islamiya School remains an embarrassing evidence of the helplessness of the parents and the egregious impotence of the authorities.
The parents and the school authorities have done all they could, but alas they have now come a-cropper and left the rest to God. But government should not give up, must not give up. And the citizens too. As Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State has had occasion to say, security is everybody’s business, not the responsibility of government alone. After turning his state into a virtual kidnappers’ den, the governor had no choice but to enjoin his people to defend themselves against bandits. He says: “ It is the people’s meek submission that emboldens the bandits to continue with their heinous activities with murderous frequency.”
Governor Masari is in good company of Governor Ortom of Benue State, who at his wits’ end, urged his own people to follow the example of the Biblical David who defeated Goliath with mere pebbles. Governor Samuel Ortom, in full measure of his frustration, had told his Benue people as Governor Masari had done, to rise up and defend themselves. The pity of it, of course, is that these poor, hapless people do not have the luxury of AK47 rifles and so, lacking the appropriate balance of terror, cannot stand up to the army of invaders, terrorizing people at home and on their farms. It is only the Federal Government that can boast of the firepower required. Firepower and political will that is President Buhari’s grim determination, as expressed by his vow not to go down as a failure, is enough assurance that, all said, the war against the insurgency in the North East and the banditry in other parts of the country is a winnable war.
The same efforts should be extended to these volatile and soulless foreign herdsmen that are causing people and their governments sleepless nights. These herdsmen have, in large measure, given the Buhari regime an unmerited odium with allmanner of conspiracy theories that were tailor-made to suit. They started out as unidentified bandits. In no time, they now showed their true plumage – they are not local Fulani men and women who had lived with their fellow Nigerians for hundreds of years in peace and harmony. If truly they are invaders from another part of this planet, Libya, Chad, Morocco, Central African Republic or wherever, then they too must be dealt with in the language they understand. Clearly, they have wreaked unconscionable havoc on the people and government must be able to stand up to them and say enough is enough.
Nigerians of my generation have not forgotten the gallantry and the patriotic fervor with which General Muhammadu Buhari, as GOC, 3Division of the Army in Jos dealt with the Chadian rebels who were set to overrun the country. His troops gave them a hot chase all the way into Chad territory and virtually refused to pull back to Nigeria. According to President Shehu Shagari, it took the intervention of an elder statesman, whom the general respected, for him to pull back. That was unalloyed patriotism. The Chadian rebels were taught the lessons they would never forget. Today, fate beckons the same Buhari, general and two-time leader of this great nation. Now that his administration has entered its injury time, he must choose wisely what the verdict of history should be: that he came, he saw and he conquered or that he came, he saw but….The time to act is now. “After all” says the same Winston Churchill, “ a man’s Life must be nailed to a cross either of Thought or Action. Without work there is no play.”
W• Yakubu Mohammed is a veteran journalist and founding Director of defunct Newswatch Magazine.
Source: The Guardian