Attacks and counter-attacks between the president’s media handlers and Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto catholic Archdiocese would are ordinarily as polarizing as they come. In his Easter message, the bishop had attacked the Buhari led federal government of “letting the glory depart from Nigeria”, an allegorical reference to the story of Eli in the Christian Bible. The government’s description of the sermon as an “ungodly” and “unfair” attack leaves only one submission: the state of being of the generality of the people they lead is in a better position to judge.
Kukah’s accusation that the Boko Haram insurgency is a lot worse than it was in 2015 is founded on the reality that the longer the war has lasted over the years, despite the government’s claim of technically defeating the terrorists have done more to harm the people living in these war-torn areas. The significant gains the Nigerian military made, which impacted the possibility of the 2015 general election in some of these areas have been eroded because of the increase in sophistication and the hydra-headed nature of the insurgency. This is even as splinter groups have emerged with even more egregious ferocity. If the government believes that things are much better compared with 2014 because Boko Haram does not control large swathes of territories, it should simply drive from Maiduguri to Baga without armed escort to see if it would make it back alive. This has been the reality of Governor Zulum of Borno state who have accused the military of collusion and sabotage.
In Sokoto where Kukah is from, the Boko Haram styled insurgency is gaining roots, with peculiar focus and intensity in Kaduna. Ilela, Goronyo, Sabon Birni as just three out of a number of local governments in which terrorists have taken over, latching unto vast lands of ungoverned spaces. On this particular note, the government scored a huge own goal because the Boko Haram insurgency which it prefers to believe has been largely confined to the northern part of Borno and the Lake Chad Islands have seeped through the established perimetres in the North East, and has become a thriving economy in the North West and Central, given how the Kankara Boys abduction in December 2020 was linked to the Abubakar Shekau led faction of Boko Haram. These things were not a thing in 2014 especially as Ansaru which split from Boko Haram and sought to maintain a stronghold in the north central was largely decimated by the State Security Service with the arrest of its leader in Lokoja in 2016.
The government does not get to tag criticisms of its achievements as unfair. Granted that most of the security crises have existed for decades before 2015 but a central part of the current ruling party’s manifesto and election campaign promises was to solve the problem. What it solved for the first four years instead, was a hitherto unknown levels of blame game never seen before in government circles in the history of Nigeria. Every government that has come to power has either taken responsibility for the country’s woes or identified those within their time who were responsible. There’s no record of throwing blames at previous governments. Only the Buhari regime of 1984 and his government since 2015 stand out exceptionally. And to add, the blame game afforded costly mistakes a lot of time so much so that the distraction of blaming the past administration made it lose sight of the task at hand and ahead, one of the consequences of which was improperly identifying a fast rising insurgency in the North West region by wrongly tagging it as mere “banditry”.
The essence of this piece is not to draw comparisons between the past and present governments. The differences are very clear for anyone to see. The facts are there. Facts are not emotional. Facts don’t care about Garba Shehu’s or Femi Adesina’s feelings. The fact that Nigerians spend 60% of their income on food, or currently have a large amount unemployed people that could rival combined populations in Central Europe does not care about President Buhari’s feelings. At the receiving end of the squabbles between the archbishop of the catholic diocese of Sokoto and the Buhari administration is the poor, destitute Nigerian living on less than $2 a day. The Nigerian farmer in Oyo who cannot access his farm because of militant herders is the real loser. The Ebonyi rice farmer who fears stepping out of his farm either because of communal clashes between Ezza and Effium communities in Ohaukwu, or clashes between the Eastern Security Network and Fulani settlers is the sore loser. It’s the same as the northerner fleeing Boko Haram or bandit and cannot hold down a well-paying job in Lagos because of his limited education.
A feedback mechanism and public opinion are essential for every government with good intentions. When a government routinely treats criticism and discontent as an attack on the state where its brand o patriotism is blind government support, it fans the embers of separatism a genie which the events of 1967 are enough to tell a discerning mind that it cannot put back into the bottle.