By SONALA OLUMHENSE
According to a developing story, President Muhammadu Buhari’s health has improved, and he will soon return to Nigeria. From a human perspective, that is good news and I wish the Nigeria leader well.
Unfortunately, the reason some vested interests tell the story of his impending return is that he will return to his job. It is one thing to return from a hospital, especially if you are treated for something so serious you do not want to disclose it to the public, but another to be well enough to return to wrestling.
And leading a nation, any nation, is a rough-and-tumble sport.
President Buhari is difficult to assess. To begin with, he has not been the transparent and accountable leader he promised he would be, and his anti-corruption mission is far less than a success. Only last week, I was exploring the case of former Petroleum Minister Alison-Madueke, a woman now exposed by a wide-ranging United States investigation despite repeatedly lying to Nigerians about her innocence.
That ought to be embarrassing to Buhari; it is perhaps the clearest-yet evidence of a very weak war.
And I had expected that by now, two years in, the “Change” he promised Nigeria would have been apparent throughout Nigeria, having commenced from the leadership itself: men and women leading by example, fully and proudly declaring their assets; offices and officials eagerly demonstrating the quality of their performance on routinely updated official websites, and spreading unwaveringly nationwide. As a wise man said, “When all is said and done, a heck of a lot more has been said than done.” He was probably forecasting the Buhari government.
By now, I had expected that fighting Boko Haram would be a thing of the past, the militant group having been clearly defeated and marginalised, Nigerian roads and neighbourhoods and states re-opened and protected; and refugee camps disbanded as people returned to their towns and villages.
But Boko Haram, which Mr. Buhari declared “technically” defeated in December 2015, six months after he assumed office, is proving to be as potent as ever. So potent that only last week, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo wisely ordered the army’s Service Chiefs to relocate to Maiduguri, the hub of the menace.
If the order sounded familiar, that is because it was previously given by Buhari himself in 2015. But those officials have somehow been in Abuja, the nation’s party capital.
And Boko Haram, despite lacking its own territory, despite manufacturing no arms of its own, despite lacking air presence, despite lacking its own ports and roads and rail; despite lacking its own farms and bureaucracy, despite absorbing continuous air attacks, despite repeated announcements of its retreat and disrepair, has continued to inflict violence and menace on Nigerians.
Its leader reportedly and repeatedly killed, he has reappeared as many times as he has “died” and continued its menace, openly and daringly, killing and smashing. It has continued to ambush at will, contradicting the impression the army and the government sought to offer Nigerians about the situation.
On June 20, on the Maiduguri/Damboa road, Boko Haram staged a spectacular onslaught on a joint army/police patrol which was escorting relief materials and a burial party said to have been of a police woman. The militants seized some of the women in the convoy, as well as several of the military and commercial vehicles.
As if such an attack was not embarrassing enough, or perhaps because it was, Borno State Commissioner of Police Demain Chukwu met with journalists that night to admit only injuries to police officers, taking care to deny that any of his men had been killed.
But it was only a few days later that Boko Haram chief, Shekau, published a new video to confirm both the attack and his possession of at least 10 women he had seized in it. On the footage, two of the women begged the government to acknowledge their abduction.
And then on July 25 in Magumeri, in northern Borno, soldiers escorting an oil survey team from the NNPC and the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) was ambushed by militants.
What is even more perplexing is that this new attack came just two days after the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, gave his men 40 days to bring him Shekau alive or dead.
Which may have been why—as Buratai attempted to wipe the egg off his forehead, and perhaps in keeping with the narrative of a “technically” defeated, weak and retreating Boko Haram—the army immediately announced it had taken firm and effective measures.
Trying to project the army as a robust, swashbuckling force, its Director of Public Relations, Brigadier General Sani Kukasheka Usman, announced that special forces had responded to the attack with dispatch, tracked down the offending Boko Haram unit, dealt with them and rescued 12 members of the UNIMAID team.
That was a brutal lie; so brutal there was nowhere to run or to hide, leading the army to do the unprecedented last Sunday: apologise for its false claims. It would subsequently confirm that at least 14 soldiers, 11 members of the so-called civilian joint task force, and five members of staff of UNIMAID, were killed in the attack and the rescue attempts that followed.
Sadly, that may not have been all. Three days ago, AFP reported that over 50 persons had actually been killed in the attack, with multiple sources indicating that number may increase.
The meaning of Boko Haram’s deadly attacks of June and July, in between suicide bombings in public places, is exactly what many ordinary Nigerians in the northeast know very well: the group is far from spent. It would appear that the government, seeking the kind of intelligence to report that it has kept its promise to rout the militants, accepted such false reports when they arrived.
That is the only explanation of the idiocy of permitting oil exploration in the first place when, at best, we should have been cleaning up and rebuilding. Many Nigerians are dying in Borno State because they expected to be protected by the army which, it is now clear, is not exactly able to defend itself.
For now, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has done the right thing by suspending the oil exploration gimmick and ordering the service chiefs back to the area. I hope he ensures they remain there.
Clearly, the army lacks committed and effective professional leadership, leading to a steady loss of both uniformed and civilian lives that requires lying at the highest levels. What else it is not telling the truth about is worrisome.
Hopefully, should Buhari return to office, he will return as a man acknowledging he is lucky to be alive, and bring character back.
Perhaps three months on a foreign sick-bed has yielded clarity to him just how much of his predecessors he has become in his first two years, characterised by double-talk and half-measures.
Is he man enough?