This is the second of a 3-part series on Buhari’s 1st year in office. The focus will be on 3 broad areas — corruption, insecurity, economy — that Buhari and the APC were elected to tackle.
The best person to ask how the war against Boko Haram has gone in the last year is Boko Haram. They must know that they have been in a battle. Little more than a year ago, they strolled through the north-east of Nigeria, swagger on a hundred thousand trillion, and raised their flag on what they claimed to be their territory. These days they are paying people to let them know what colour of uniform the Nigerian Army is wearing (the Army now changes uniform regularly to stop Boko Haram impersonating them).
In 2013, it became too dangerous for El-Kanemi Warriors FC to continue to play their league games in Borno on account of Boko Haram. Last month,the team returned to Borno and has played a few games there. People who want to help fix the fallout of the crisis are now able to visit there to do so. If you are looking for signs that things have improved in the north-east, you will not struggle to find them. Over the weekend, the Regional Security Summit in Abuja had 7 presidents, including Monsieur Hollande of France, in attendance. The topic of course was Boko Haram.
Apart from anti-corruption, the President also ran on a security platform. His contempt for Boko Haram was always plain to see and he boasted a number of times about how he dealt with one of the forerunners of Boko Haram, Maitatsine, back in the day.
The issues that previously hampered the Nigerian Army have also been addressed to an extent. It must surely count for something that the soldiers at the war front can see those who cheated them out of funds and equipment being made to face the consequences of their actions under the law.
Boko, Still Haraming
But the job is by no means done. Boko Haram are still capable of plenty of nastiness. They might not hold territory like they used to do but they still have a lot of suicide bombers to deploy. We are not where we were. We have not reached where we are going. Both of these statements are true at the same time.
Fighting them with boots on the ground is one thing. Doing the intelligence work to stop them in their tracks is quite another. The work of intelligence gathering ought not to be visible but it hard to see any improvement, not just for Boko Haram but for other security issues.
We are no closer to finding the Chibok girls than anytime before the new government came in.
A lot of people made noises when Lawal Daura was appointed by President Buhari to head the DSS. Unlike other appointments, there was something not quite right about bringing back a guy who left the DSS in controversial circumstances out of retirement. It also smacked of nepotism given his Daura roots.
No matter, if the DSS had markedly improved under him, no one will complain. It is hard to say this is the case. The handling of the herdsmen crisis has been disastrous to say the least. The work of the DSS is to prevent these things from happening by acting on intelligence. Yes, the previous DSS was a mess under the Jonathan government. But is this one better?
This is one of those cases where perception is greater than the truth. Peoplefeel that the DSS has a tribalistic bent these days. The people who feel this way also happen to be the people on the receiving end of insecurity. Not a few eyebrows were raised when the DSS accused Biafra activists of killing and burying 5 Hausa-Fulani men in the South-East last month. Was the accusation true? Who knows. What it highlighted was how the DSS appears to prioritise its cases these days.
Insecurity is like whack-a-mole in Nigeria. You knock out one and something else flares up elsewhere. It has always been like this so no one can say they came into government and are now surprised. Yes, Boko Haram was the main issue before the election and the number one priority for the new government but just before the elections last year, suspected herdsmen attacked a community in Benue, killing more than 80 people. President Buhari went on to win the elections in that state. It is fair to say that the people of Benue voted for him to come solve the problem. One year on, what have they gotten out of that bargain? The Agatu massacre.
If the issue of herdsmen is front and center on the insecurity map today, it is not because it is a new thing. Things are deteriorating rapidly on that front and the government has not given an answer that can convince anyone that it has the matter under control. Instead, it has allowed the issue to become one that different people use to further their own narratives. It is the curse of Nigerian governments that they never deal with a problem until it gets out of hand. The herdsmen problem is shaping up to be this government’s nemesis.
How about the atrocity carried out by the Nigerian Army in Zaria against the Shiites? In 2 days, the Army killed hundreds and hundreds of Shiites and then attempted to cover it up. One can hold fire for now because some investigations are still going on but there can be no answer that will be good enough if those who carried out the massacre are not severely dealt with. Alas, the President has not said anything that suggests he will do this.
I think that the handling of the Biafra issue could have been worse. In that sense, there is some sense of relief that the Nigerian state has not gone in all guns blazing attempting to ‘crush’ the movement. It is good that people are allowed to vent. Now and again, the Army and Police clash with Biafra agitators but for the most part, it has not descended into carnage.
Anyone could have predicted that there would be unrest in the Niger Delta under a Buhari presidency. It is depressing that it has started to happen as predicted. Attacks on oil installations have resumed and more have been promised. What is worrying about this is that this is not even the real test. Current low oil prices mean that it’s not very profitable to attack pipelines so the main reason for doing it now to spite the government. Imagine if and when oil prices go up — the militants will have a twofer in terms of incentives; mess up the government and make money while at it.
And it’s just been 1 year. There is plenty of time for more issues to flare up elsewhere across the country. The issue of different low level cults across the country does not even make the headlines (yet). Nigeria is an unhappy country and these things will likely get worse given the scarcity of resources and increased competition for them.
‘I was fighting Boko Haram and this distracted me from dealing with the herdsmen’ is an example of an excuse that cannot be tolerated. Buhari is an ex-soldier but of all the headline insecurity issues facing Nigeria today, the only one that the Army can handle is Boko Haram. Nigeria needs new skills in crisis management given that crises are guaranteed in the country.
The Nigerian Police is currently recruiting 10,000 people but beyond that, there is no strategy to see in terms of how to make that thoroughly debased force any better than it is. Well, they have changed the SPY uniform so maybe that counts for something — where ‘something’ in this case means putting lipstick on a pig. Abdulrahman Dambazzau, the interior minister, is supposedly a thoughtful man with a PhD in criminology. The highlight of his time in office so far has been a video of his shoes getting shined by an SSS officer.
Does this government have an internal security plan? If it does, it is yet to be seen. In November, the Interior Minister announced that he was working on a ‘comprehensive reform plan’ for Nigeria’s internal security. Perhaps he is still working on it. with 25% of the government’s mandate gone already, there is not that much time left.
Unhappy Is The Land
Beyond Boko Haram, it is hard to find clarity on any of the other unhappy security issues facing Nigeria. This is not to trivialise what has been achieved against Boko Haram — without a change in direction in that battle, it is frightening to imagine where Nigeria might be now.
But it will be incredibly expensive to have a president who can only do 2 things — fight corruption and Boko Haram. These issues are hard and in the history of the Nigerian state, it has never really known how to deal with security issues where it is not an option to send in rampaging soldiers. The Nigerian state must also learn to deal with one more than one problem at a time. If soldiers are diverted to deal with herdsmen or militants, will this not encourage the Boko Haramists to come out of Sambisa Forest? How many weapons are in the Niger Delta? I do not want to contemplate the answer to that question.
The Biafran agitators want to secede, it is not clear that the Niger Delta militants want the same. There are different solutions to both problems and this has to be recognised. The answers to these problems might also be very uncomfortable when it comes to the future of the Nigerian state. It is to be admired that the President always reminds us of his unwavering commitment to keeping the Nigerian state as one. Whether or not you agree with that position, you only need to consider the opposite of that — a president who doesn’t care whether Nigeria is split into pieces or not.
Credit on Boko Haram. On everything else, the land is unhappy.