(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 16 August, 2021)
Twenty-four hours after paying an inter-infirmary visit to his co-Londoner, co-APC founder, comrade and power-sharer, President Muhammadu Buhari came back last week to meet his Nigeria as dying as he left it. Nigeria’s definition under him has remained sorrow, tears and blood. In his absence, unremitting mass murders continued casting very long shadows here and there and everywhere. Then he came back. And, on Saturday, 25 travellers were killed in cold blood in Plateau. Beyond issuing a knock-kneed statement, what else has the president done to still the war? The old man spent 18 days and 18 nights in London in peace and comfort while the nation burned. Only powerful people who are in government and in power do that without counting the costs. You and I, of course, know that the journey, his presence abroad and the absence at home were at no personal cost to him and all around him. The cost and the loss are for Nigeria to count.
While the president was away, a commissioner was abducted in Niger State. The very day the president came back, the man got his freedom from the kidnappers. He spent just five days in captivity, paid no ransom and was not rescued by anyone. He said he was, just like that, freed miraculously by his abductors. He said it was divine intervention, that it was his God that freed him. But before the president travelled, 134 students of an Islamic school in Tegina, in same Niger State, were abducted – and marched at gunpoint into the forest by bandits. That was on May 30, 2021 – seventy-eight days ago. They are still there in rain, in sunshine – like monkeys in the wild. Could it be that those children do not have God? That they are unworthy of divine intervention – unlike the powerful commissioner who just found himself in freedom. Or why is no one, spiritual and temporal, interceding for the children? The kids didn’t know that the president travelled, they still do not know that after 18 sunny days in Queen Elizabeth’s country, their parents’ beloved president is back. The president is not aware that 78 days and still counting, some parents have been weeping day and night, mourning children who are not dead.
While the president was away, the BBC, without permission, interviewed parents of the Tegina kids. One of them is Hadiza Hashim who had five children among the abducted kids. She said the two youngest, Walid and Rahama, who were just two and three years old were soon let go by the abductors because they were too fragile for the great trek into slavery. But Hadiza said the kids three elder siblings, the eldest just 13 years old, were still in captivity. She told the BBC that her children were being forgotten because they were poor. “People have ignored what has happened because they are the children of nobodies. If they were the children of somebody, they wouldn’t be left in the wilderness for weeks with no news. It wouldn’t be allowed,” Mrs Hashim said. She was right, poverty has politics; the poor are not citizens. Think about the fact that the commissioner spent just five days in captivity and Hadiza’s kids will soon mark their third month in Nigeria’s forest of a million demons.
Nigeria is a country of death. It breeds demons and pampers them. Just before the president came back, the army said Boko Haram terrorists were surrendering in droves to Nigeria’s superior firepower. The army posted photographs of the surrendered; it showed them begging for mercy and for forgiveness. Felons who said western education was sin were shown holding placards with English inscriptions. One of the placards read: “Borno State remains the home of peace.” And I ask: Since when? Another read: “Nigerians, please forgive us.” Again, I ask: Who is fishing for mercy for terrorists? By putting (or allowing) those placards in the hands of the terrorists, the Buhari government is already setting itself up as complicit in the campaign of death. The president’s government is carousing these people, it calls them repentant terrorists. The government is talking of de-radicalising and reintegrating them. The president’s Nigeria wants to reintegrate the terrorists into a society where they murdered more than 350,000 and displaced over three million people in their 12 years of bloody campaign. In 12 years, the insurgents murdered 13 district heads; they killed scores of ward heads across Borno State alone. Why is the government pursuing reintegration of these terrorists with unusual seriousness? When a regime makes the comfort of surrendered murderers a project, it invites more than furtive glances. Abuja and its agencies say they chose that route because they were sure it would lead to peace. But will there really be peace? The president and his strange government sure know more than we do.
Mid-July, before the president travelled, the army announced the release of 1,009 cleared suspects to the civilian authorities for reintegration into the society. It is not funny. Their victims were shocked and are asking questions. Even the Shehu of Borno, Abubakar El-Kanemi, is leading traditional and religious leaders in Borno to say no to having murderers embedded in their homes. “It is easy to forgive for the destruction of many lives and property, but difficult to forget the wanton loss of lives in the various communities of my chiefdom. Many people were killed with their property destroyed for 12 years. And you people and the media expect us to forget and forgive the repentant terrorists?” the Shehu of Borno asked. It is said that true repentance can atone for the worst of crimes but is that the case in this case? Or is it that what we have as government is Geoffrey Chaucer’s cynical Pardoner who “sells indulgences” and plies ecclesiastical forgiveness of unpardonable sins?
Igbo people say if the oracle that eats seven fold has not eaten seven fold, it won’t rest. Unless the demon of Boko Haram is fed blood which it is used to, it won’t stop hunting for the heads of innocent people to cut. The bandits of the North West that were sensationally photographed for repentance, did they not go back to their kidnap-for-ransom vomit? Has our government, with its armed forces, asked itself if it is really possible for mass murderers to suddenly have a sincere change of heart? How about Boko Haram’s mass-surrender being another phase in the terrorists’ plan to overwhelm the sub-region? The ones surrendering and smiling, will they not end up as the nuclei of diffused terror networks in far and near places? The Republic of Ghana, for instance, is ringing the alarm bell already. Ghana’s National Peace Council (NPC) last week said it had credible intelligence that terrorists were targeting key coaster cities in West Africa. It listed our Lagos as one of them. Speaking in an interview with Starr News, the NPC’s Executive Secretary, Ali Anankpieng, said: “The terrorists have voiced their intention to reach coastal West Africa. It is one of their avowed aims. We’ve heard they want to be in cities like Accra, Cotonou, Lagos, Abidjan, et cetera. That is their aim because these are the economic centers in the coastal countries within West Africa. Lagos is the economic center of Nigeria. Accra is the economic center of Ghana. I think Cotonou is the same for Benin. If they are coming to Ghana from Burkina Faso, they can do that through our borders here in the Upper East Region as one of their routes…” From which pool will these terror groups get their soldiers?
Katsina State governor, Bello Masari, provides a frightening insight. He told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) at the weekend that ISWAP (Islamic State’s West Africa Province) was planning a ‘family’ base in Nigeria’s North West. He said: “We have infiltration from Niger Republic, and Mali which have very large ungoverned spaces and you know the problem in Libya has unleashed arms and ammunition on sub-Saharan Africa. And we have to accept that within these areas, Nigeria is the richest and an attraction for all forms of criminality and kidnapping. Even ISWAP will want to at least stay in the North West to institute family here…” This casual comment from a state governor should be very bad news for the Nigerian state. ISWAP that he coldly referenced has an unbounded capacity for mischief. The International Crisis Group, in a 2019 report, said ISWAP operates by filling gaps in governance and service delivery. “Displacing ISWAP will not be easy. Although the group’s methods are often violent and coercive, it has established a largely symbiotic relationship with the Lake Chad area’s inhabitants. The group treats local Muslim civilians better than its parent organisation did, better than its rival faction, Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS), does now, and in some ways better than the Nigerian state and army have done since the insurgency began in 2009. It digs wells, polices cattle rustling, provides a modicum of health care and sometimes disciplines its own personnel whom it judges to have unacceptably abused civilians. In the communities it controls, its taxation is generally accepted by civilians, who credit it for creating an environment where they can do business and compare its governance favourably to that of the Nigerian state.” That is part of the report the security group.
The world all around us is sick and sad. But our Buhari has renewed his own health in London and is back, very happy in Abuja. The president is back to attend to another very important state matter – the wedding of his son. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar said “what touches us ourself shall be last served.” Not all leaders do that – or can do that. But at least, if the affairs of state won’t be the first to be served, let it, for God’s sake, be on the to-do list. That is the job that pays the bill for the state weddings and the off-shore medical tours of the leader. We, therefore, seek the president’s help in getting back home the poor, abducted kids in the forests of northern Nigeria. My people say the journey may be long and tortuous and the distance very far, but the slave certainly is not without a father. Those abducted kids have dreams too and their poor parents want them to live and grow and also do weddings – like the president’s son. I also join the Shehu of Borno to beg our president to stop exchanging handshakes with ‘repentant’ terror and rupturing peace where fear is receding.