Why My Mission To The US Matters By Atiku Abubakar

It has become pertinent for me to speak about my ongoing visit to the United States of America, where I met and I am still meeting with US administration officials and business leaders.

I travelled to the United States of America because I had a mission and my mission is to create the right economic atmosphere for American investments to return to Nigeria at a rate and quantum that we had before the current Nigerian administration’s policies almost halted the flow of Foreign Direct Investments to Nigeria.

I am in America because Atiku means jobs.

My reason for running for the office of President of Nigeria and even for going into public service in the first place, is because I believe that Nigeria has what it takes to be the beacon of hope for the Black Race and a leading nation of reckoning in the international community.

This has not materialised over the course of the last four years because, as Chinua Achebe prophetically said in his 1983 book, “the trouble with Nigeria is the failure of leadership.”

The current Nigerian administration has allowed our relationship with our long-standing friends and partners to deteriorate and this has had unfortunate consequences for our economy.

Foreign relations that had been meticulously and delicately built for decades were allowed to deteriorate because the incumbent administration mistook their personal interests as the interest of Nigeria and allowed short term goals to dominate their foreign policies.

New friendships should not be made at the cost of old friendships. It is not an either-or situation. Right from independence, Nigeria has nurtured a policy of non-alignment. We borrowed from the Lincoln policy of malice toward none and charity for all. Sadly, that policy has suffered major setbacks in the last four years.

As a leader in business, I am cognisant of the fact that both Western and Oriental nations will be making the transition from fossil fuels to electric powered vehicles and other green energies over the course of the next two decades. This means that Nigeria’s oil has a limited shelf life.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed and we must, as a nation, begin to make the transition from an oil economy to a modern economy based on manufacturing and value-added agricultural chain.

The message I took to the United States business community is not a new message. In my opinion editorial in the British media (Beyond Brexit – Nigeria wants a new trade deal with Britain), I opined that Brexit is an opportunity for Nigeria and the United Kingdom to have a Big Ambitious Free Trade Agreement.

It is only common sense.

In 2014, the African continent as a whole earned $2.4 billion from coffee grown in Africa and shipped mainly to Europe. That sounds impressive. However, one nation alone, Germany, made $3.8 billion from re-exporting Africa’s coffee in 2014.

As a businessman, I see this and I cannot allow it to continue. It is unconscionable, but situations like these will not stop unless Nigeria and Africa have leadership that thinks business instead of aid and capital instead of loans.

Nigeria has perhaps the highest populations of youths as a segment of the total population, in the world. Already, we have the unfortunate distinction of being the world headquarters for extreme poverty. We cannot afford business as usual. My single-minded focus is to change this dubious record by transforming Nigeria from a consumer nation to a prosumer nation (a nation that consumes what it produces).

For this to happen, we need US firms who have divested from Nigeria, to return. We need Procter and Gamble to reopen their $300 million Nigerian plant which they shut down last year. We need General Electric to reverse their $2.7 billion pull out of Nigeria.

And my vision is for trade to go both ways. Nigeria has a lot to offer America via her creative industry (Nollywood is the world’s third largest movie industry) and rich mining sectors (Nigeria’s Kaduna state is rich with gold ore). I am also eager to find a market in the US for some of the half a million shoes manufactured in Nigeria’s cities of Kano and Aba everyday.

Someone somewhere said Nigeria’s youth are lazy. I am one of the single largest employers of Nigeria’s youth and I know that that assertion is false. My travels in Europe and America is to sell the Nigeria that I know to the world that does not yet know her. A Nigeria with not just a hardworking youthful population, but a nation with some of the smartest working people on earth. A nation that is open for business and a Nigeria that is much more than oil.

And I am certain that if I am successful in selling this Nigeria to the world, the world will come to Nigeria for business. That is why I am in America. Because I believe in JOBS – Jobs, Opportunity, Being United and Security and it is time Nigeria and all Nigerians finally have the opportunity to realize their true potential.

Atiku Abubakar is Presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party and former Vice President of Nigeria

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Memo to General Buratai on Military-Media Relations- by Yushau Shuaib

_*original story
Link: https://yashuaib.com/2019/01/buratai-military-media-relations/

Dear General Buratai,

I thank you for inviting media executives and public relations practitioners, through the Deputy President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mallam Suleiman Gaya for the interactive dialogue held in Maiduguri last December, 2018. The event was friendly, frank and sincere, towards evolving stakeholders’ engagement and enhancing military-media relations.

However, a few days after the well-attended engagement, the Nigeria Army declared an activist, Dr. Perry Brimah wanted over alleged fundraising for troops. The military also subsequently invaded the offices of leading national newspaper, Daily Trust and arrested some of its journalists over an ‘exclusive’ report it had recently published on the counter-insurgency strategy of the Nigerian Army.

I must tell you frankly that these incidences were worrisome and portends a huge minus to the desired mutual military-media relations being striven towards.

It might interest the Army, Sir, to note that similar media indiscretions during the previous administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan were well-managed, when news editors were inundated with confidential information in the name of exclusive reports.

For instance, on the evening of Friday, February 13, 2015, almost four years ago, there was intelligence about a sensitive news story that had been filed to the headquarters of Daily Trust in Abuja by Hamza Idris, a war reporter who doubled as the Bureau Chief of the paper in Borno State, and is currently a political editor.

The filed story coincided with the commencement of ruthless military operations in which many Boko Haram terrorists attempting to over-run Maiduguri were eliminated. The Nigerian Air Force had then intensified aerial bombardments of the dreaded Sambisa Forest, leading to the recovery of the towns of Monguno, Marte and others from the terrorists. President Goodluck Jonathan was billed to fly in an airforce helicopter to the liberated towns of Baga, Mubi and others.

At the time, I was assigned by the Security Service to ensure that a sensitive aspect of the filed story concerning special forces was not published. For several hours and into the midnight of that Friday, I was in touch with the Defence Correspondent, Ronald Mutum; the North-East Bureau Chief, Hamza Idris; Daily Editor, Nasir Lawal; and Saturday Editor, Abdulkarim Baba-Aminu appealing to and finally convincing them of the implications of disclosing such sensitive part of the story to the public.

Lucky enough, in the newspaper published the following day, the sensitive portion of the cover story, which was subject of concern, had been expunged. Dozens of towns were later recovered and President Jonathan flew into Baga, Mubi and other liberated towns to felicitate with the gallant troops. That was when Jonathan honoured the late Lt Col. Abu Ali for his military prowess and valour.

General Buratai, sir, there were several instances in which the Nigerian media demonstrated excessive patriotism in protecting national security. During that period, Femi Adesina, who was President of Nigerian Guild of Editors and General Chris Olukolade, the Defence Spokesperson ensured that the security services put news editors in confidence about major operations and the media were very supportive treating highly classified information with the delicateness it required. And, those editorial gestures were at NO COST to the government.

Sir, you may be surprised to note that some of the harshest critics of the military during the Jonathan administration were mostly strong supporters of General Buhari’s candidacy for president. They included media practitioner, Omoyele Sowore of Sahara Reporters, civil society actors like Dr. Ahmed Idris of Citizens United for Peace and Stability (CUPS) and Dr. Issa Perry Brimah of Every Nigerian Do Something (ENDS), among others. Then, the security services tolerated the excesses of critics of the administration to some extent, as some of their outbursts were borne of genuine concerns, which also influenced positive social change and the upgrading of security tactics and strategies.

Meanwhile, on your assumption of office, critics gave the service chiefs breathing space for sometime before resuming their ‘constructive engagements’, not necessarily of the military per se but of you as Chief of Army Staff, after the Zaria Shi’ite massacre and the Dubai property imbroglio.

Surprisingly, some of these persons, who are my good friends, bore me bitter for founding PRNigeria as a platform for alternative narratives on the performance of the military as an institution. Although public relations is a legitimate and profitable communications business, they fail to realise that since the appointment of the current National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno and service chiefs, the Media/PR outfit has never been paid a kobo for managing the reputation of the security agencies and promoting their activities. Yets, PRNigeria takes solace in the fact that we have unfettered access to very top officers and security spokespersons for credible, reliable and timely information in its work.

General sir, you need to establish a better rapport and engage with the media and other critical stakeholders closely, for them to appreciate your efforts as the Chief of Army Staff. Some of them even lack basic information about much of your past accomplishments in commanding troops and in the communities you served. They may have forgotten that as JTF Commander, you stabilised the Niger Delta region, having wrested it from the scourge of armed militancy; that as the Commandant, Nigerian Army School of Infantry, not only did you train cadets on guerrilla war tactics and counter-insurgency manoeuvres, you also endeared yourself to the troops before their eventual deployment as the first special forces to fight Boko Haram in the North-East. Your brief stint as the first Force Commander of the rejuvenated Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), after the recovery of over two-dozen towns from the terrorists, further consolidated our military gains and sustained relationship with neighbours. Your hardline stance and no-nonsense approach to acts of terrorism, even while sustaining the personal losses of your country home in Buratai being burnt and security guard killed by Boko Haram.

The recent altercation of the Nigeria Army and the media is not the first in your tenure as Chief of Army Staff (COAS). You may recall that after the arrest of the publishers of Sahara Reporters and Premium Times in February 2017, I wrote an article titled, “Self-censorship and Security Report”, through which I cautioned that as a service chief you should be wary of busy-body consultants and lawyers who may wish to profit from the misunderstanding between the military and the media by instigating the taking of irrational steps. Like I pointed out there, “No one fights the press publicly, especially the credible media, in attempt to enforce censorship, not self-censorship, and gets away with it unscathed.”

In a nutshell, my dear General, the most recent military siege on the media could be well-managed if we consider the sacrifice and risk being taken by editors who have unfettered access to citizens and troops in embattled communities, with information at their disposal on some unpleasant developments in the North-East. They nevertheless remain steadfast and supportive, with fair and occasional self-imposed censorship in their reportage to protect the integrity of the Nigerian security system.

Much of the security challenges that have come up are associated with misinformation, disinformation and the lack of credible intelligence. While the military can claim to have strong weapons, with their guns and bombs, the media actually possesses stronger weapons, with their pens and keyboards, in changing mindsets, engaging in psychological warfare, strengthening the fighting spirit of troops, boosting the confidence of citizens and weakening the morale of terrorists.

Sir, I dare urge that constructive engagement in information management is very essential at this crucial period our dear General, and the soldiers’ soldier.

Once again, I thank you for the last invitation as I wish you a more rewarding New Year and better-managed relationship with all the critical stakeholders in the Nigerian security system, and its administration.

Yushau A. Shuaib
_Author, An Encounter with the Spymaster_
_Recipient of SABRE African Public Relations Award and International Public Relations Award (IPRA) on Crisis Management_
http://www.YAShuaib.com

Editorial: That Military Invasion of Daily Trust

The invasion of Daily Trust’s head office and two of its regional offices by armed soldiers on Sunday last week was one of the most outrageous cases of illegal self-help, trampling on the law and violation of citizens’ rights by any Nigerian government agency in recent times. It was also self-defeating in that it tears apart the cooperation of critical stakeholders needed to win the war against terrorists and insurgents. At the same time, it drove a dagger into the heart of this country’s record of human rights and its claims to democracy and rule of law.
At mid-day last Sunday, soldiers invaded Daily Trust’s regional office in Maiduguri and took away two reporters, including the bureau chief. While the reporter was released that night, the bureau chief was kept for three days. Two hours later, armed soldiers in five trucks arrived at the head office in Abuja, cordoned it off, prevented movement in or out, and proceeded to invade the premises. They drove out all the staff, ripped off desktop computers from desks and confiscated personal laptop computers. They took these away and are yet to return them. They also took away the production editor and threatened to shoot him if he did not show them the houses of some wanted staff members.
The siege was only lifted at 9.30pm that night but around the same time, armed soldiers stormed and sealed Daily Trust’s Lagos regional office at Ikeja. Even after lifting the siege, the Army still demanded that two key line editors of Daily Trust report at Directorate of Military Intelligence. They did so last Thursday and were interrogated for several hours.
All these illegal siege and harassment arose because the military brass was unhappy with the lead story of Daily Trust on Sunday last week, which said the army was preparing to launch an operation to recapture Baga and six other Borno towns from Boko Haram’s Islamic State in West Africa Province [ISWAP] faction. Incidentally, Daily Trust reported the six towns’ capture six days earlier. The Army disputed the report and said “it did not reflect the reality on the ground,” only to post stories and pictures at the weekend saying the towns had been recaptured.Pray, how can you “recapture” something that was never lost in the first place?

The army alleged that the stories compromised military operations but that is not true at all. No military secret, operational plan, communication, intelligence, troop location, troop numbers, weaponry or dates were disclosed in the offending report. That there was large movement of troops from Maiduguri to Monguno was obvious to the thousands of refugees that fled Baga, Kukawa and other towns for safer climes and it could not possibly be a secret. Talk about violating the Official Secrets Act was not tenable because no official document was cited in the story.
In any case, if any law was violated, the Army like every other agency or citizen must pursue the matter through the police and courts. No one has the right to resort to armed self-help, which is what fighting terrorism and insurgency is all about. If agencies of the state that bear arms instead resort to the illegal use of such weapons, then the distinction between them and terrorists becomes all that blurred. Nor was this the first time that this happened. Back in 2014, the army seized distribution vehicles of Daily Trust and several other newspapers on the spurious grounds that they were suspected of ferrying weapons for terrorists. That case ended when the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria [NPAN] threatened to go to court but the Federal Government made an out of court settlement.
Among the many conscientious and patriotic national organisations that condemned this latest outrage include National Human Rights Commission [NHRC], Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria [NPAN], International Press Institute [IPI], Nigeria Guild of Editors [NGE], Northern Media Forum, Nigeria Union of Journalists [NUJ], Media Rights Agenda [MRA], International Press Centre [IPC] and Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Nkwelle Ezunaka in Oyi Council Area of Anambra State, Sir Silas Ikeh, the British Government, PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria Labour Congress [NLC], Coalition for Whistleblowers’ Protection and Press Freedom [CWPPF], Conference of Nigeria Political Parties [CNPP], Inter-Party Advisory Council [IPAC] and Safer-Media Initiativealso condemned the invasion, as did many other patriotic groups and citizens.
However, the most important condemnation that Nigerians and the international community were waiting to hear was the one that never came. Apart from the initial statement saying the President ordered the military to vacate the premises of Media Trust Limited, the Presidency did not come down hard on the illegal action. Its silence is not golden, for it could be construed, especially by the military, to mean acquiesce and an open license for it to trample on constitutional freedoms of citizens in the name of “national security.” The day we concede that right to the military is the end of constitutional order. Those in a position to speak up but did not do so, will one day have no one left to speak for them.

The Amina Zakari/INEC controversy

Forty days to the presidential election, eminent persons across the country, on Saturday, insisted that the appointment of Amina Zakari as head of the collation centre for the general election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is part of a grand design to compromise the poll.
They insisted that Zakari ought to go, as the claim by the Presidency that she had no blood tie with President Muhammadu Buhari was untenable.
However, Mrs Zakari, in an interview monitored on Channels Television on Saturday, said she was neither a cousin nor niece of the president.
“I’m not his cousin; I’m not his niece. I will continue to do my work in the service of the fatherland,” she said.
Elder statesmen, Chiefs Olu Falae and Ayo Adebanjo; former governor of Ekiti and South-West coordinator of the Aticu/Obi campaign organisation, Chief Ayo Fayose; former ministers, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili and Chief Tom Ikimi; Colonel Tony Nyiam, leaders of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Middle Belt Forum all agreed that Zakari’s continued stay in the commission had further lent credence to the allegation of plot to rig the elections.
There has been uproar over the appointment of Zakari, said to be a niece of President Buhari, as head of the collation centre for the general election. Zakari is the commissioner in charge of Health and Welfare in the commission.
But, the Presidency on Friday denied that Buhari has tie with Zakari, who represents Jigawa State as a commissioner in INEC.
Buhari should sack her now –Ayo Adebanjo
Also, a leader of pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, urged President Buhari to remove Zakari, if he does not have any other interest to protect.
The Afenifere chieftain, while saying it was not proper to continue to have Zakari in that position at INEC, contended that it was “the practice and norm anywhere that once a member of public or any citizen for that matter complains of lack of confidence in an umpire, such umpire or jury should cease to be.”
“It is not proper. It is only in a country like this that some people don’t see it as anything. The fact that any member of public or any citizen doesn’t have confidence in a jury means that jury shouldn’t be there. Once you lack confidence in an arbiter, there is no room for argument,” he said, querying further that “what is special there that she cannot be removed?”
It’s a sign of plans by authorities to compromise election — Falae
Chief Falae, who spoke with Sunday Tribune on Saturday said the status of Zakari in the commission was not the issue, as “every Nigerian has the right to occupy any office in the land,” but the chain of events that underscored a pre-meditated plan to rig the election.
He observed that the case of her current appointment should not be treated in isolation as it was manifestation of the series of actions by the authorities to compromise the election.
Citing the withholding of assent by President Buhari to the Electoral Act amendment, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation said there were pointers to a plot to undermine the wish of the electorate.
He wondered “why anybody should be afraid to allow the wish of the electorate to prevail at the poll,” stressing that heaven would not fall, if a candidate should lose in a free, fair and credible contest.
It’s a public scandal —Junaid Muhammed
Shedding more light on the controversy, Second Republic member of the House of Representatives, Dr Junaid Mohammed, described the appointment of Zakari as a monumental public scandal ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Speaking in a telephone interview, the one time lawmaker from Kano State contended that he was shocked over her appointment.
“I was part of the Kano State delegation that went to Sokoto to condole with the people over the death of the former President Sheu Shagari. While in Sokoto, I saw Bola Tinubu in company with Murtala Nyako. He told me to follow him to Abuja. We held a meeting. From there, on the following day, when I was returning to Kano, I heard the news of her appointment.
“I think the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, was forced or blackmail into making such an embarrassing appointment.
“Her appointment is a public scandal. And I want to appeal to concerned authorities to act accordingly by reversing her appointment.
“Zakari should be removed as the chairman of that committee and return the position to the chairman of the commission. The responsibility of collating results rests with INEC chairman. That is the standard practice.
“I don’t have any thing against her, but we are talking of having credible elections and for the credibility of the elections, the government of the day should know that this election is too important for Nigerians to joke with. The government must shun any thing that will plunged the country into another crisis few days to election,” he said.
According to the former vice-presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), “this election, if care is not taken, may be the final arbiter of our journey to becoming a democratic nation.
“What is so special about appointing her into such position at this late hour? Don’t we have other credible people in government, parliament or judiciary, rather than having a trained pharmacist to collate the figures for us?”
He also described the refutal by the Federal Government about her relationship with the president hypocritical.
“I could remember that the Salihidjo of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and one late Dr Safana telling me that she was a niece to General Buhari.
Apart from that, I knew her father. He taught me Arabic and Islamic Studies in college. The present Emir of Kazaure is her elder brother. The present minister of water resources is her younger brother. One of her sisters was married to a former Ambassador to Niger Republic.
“If you are married to a family, you are part of that family. I raised her case in an interview I gave to a national daily two years ago. But the media and everyone ignored what I was saying at that time.”
Zakari is a moral burden on Presidency, INEC – Fayose
Immediate-past governor of Ekiti State and Southwest coordinator of the Atiku/Obi 2019 campaign, Dr Fayose, said the issue of Zakari had become a moral burden on both the Presidency and the INEC.
He maintained that President Buhari had no electoral worth left to warrant his being a contender in the coming presidential election, given a free and fair exercise.
The former governor who said the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other opposition political parties had no confidence in INEC, as presently constituted and under the current leadership of the nation, made the declaration in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, during a campaign summit he hosted the party’s National Assembly candidates to.
“If you say the APC controls the South-West now, I agree. But the table turned. PDP used to control it. The table merely turned. Let me tell you, there were many people who used Buhari’s name in 2015. Buhari helped many people to win in that election. But today, if you put his picture on your poster, may God help you. He has lost any name he had. He lost it all.
“You can tell what to expect from their actions in the last elections they conducted. It started in Kogi, came to Ondo, Ekiti and Osun. Nigeria started the trend with inconclusiveness. In fact, it started in Edo and came down to the South-West.
“It is now a moral burden for this government. This is a government that emerged from an election conducted by a man who had the opportunity to hold unto power, but didn’t; a man who said his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. It has become a moral burden on this government.
“In any case, you can’t see anything good in any INEC overseen by the current leadership of the country.
“Zakari was appointed by Goodluck Jonathan when Buhari was not a candidate in any election. If you were taken to court and you take a plea before the judge that you don’t believe in his ability to give you justice, he gives way. Why does Zakari’s case appear like a do-or-die matter? When Zakari was appointed as INEC national commissioner, President Buhari, her blood relation, was not a presidential candidate.
“In fact, the president had vowed never to run for the Presidency after the 2011 election. Now that he is candidate and a sitting president, fairness and equity demand that Zakari should step aside from playing any role in this election. They want to rob during the day. And I see that as a banana peel for Nigeria.
“Should the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and other presidential candidates also have their relatives as part of INEC committee on collation of results?”
It is morally wrong, will erode Nigerians’ confidence – Ohanaeze
The apex Igbo socio-cultural association, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, noted that while the deployment of Zakari to head the election collation centre was not constitutionally wrong, it was wrong morally.
Deputy National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, speaking with Sunday Tribune, said, “it is not wrong per se, constitutionally, for the Presidency to appoint Zakari as head of election collation centre. But it is morally wrong. It will be difficult for Zakari to be impartial in the conduct of an election involving her uncle (Buhari). Many Nigerians will not have confidence in INEC, if she is allowed to remain there.”
Reverse Zakari’s deployment now, Ezekwesili warns INEC
In a similar vein, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, asked INEC chairman to reverse the deployment of Zakari.
The former minister of education, in a statement on Saturday, said: “The INEC chairman appears to have bowed to pressure from the Presidency.”
She described Zakari’s appointment as political corruption, “considering that having a relation of the president who is a contestant in the February 2019 presidential election amounts to an apparent conflict of interest situation,” adding that such “repugnant deployment of Zakari to the collation centre suggests a brazen attempt to ease rigging for the APC’s candidate in the election.”
To ensure peace and give all the candidates a level playing field, the ACPN standard-bearer asked the INEC to restore confidence in the management of the collation process by reversing the appointment of Zakari as the committee’s chairperson.
“Zakari can be assigned another task farther away from tasks that can hinder electoral integrity.
“The INEC chairman has obviously bowed to President Buhari’s visible and increasingly brazen determination to not just rig, but to steal the 2019 presidential election and throw the country into crisis. Or how else can one describe this repugnant action of placing the president’s niece, Mrs Amina Zakari, at the head of the centre for collation of election results?
“The President and INEC chairman should know that this extremely repugnant and provocative act of political corruption that seeks to undermine our democracy and destabilise the country shall be resisted by all patriotic Nigerians.
“I caution the INEC chairman and the Presidency to reverse this shameful posting immediately and safeguard the integrity of the 2019 elections,” she said.
“The president should lead a discussion among candidates and parties to set the rules that will guide the security forces in the 2019 elections. Ideally, the military and police establishments should be pulled out of the involvement in our elections, considering the damning evidences of how their personnel disenfranchised voters in Ekiti and Osun governorship elections.
“I call on the international community to join the Nigerian people and prevail on President Buhari to practise the Peace Accord, with exemplary actions, in order to build confidence in the process he ebulliently led,” she said.
INEC chairman has responsibility to Nigerians —Nyiam
On his part, Colonel Nyiam said the onus was on Professor Yakuku to ensure that the forthcoming elections were conducted based on global standards and practices.
Accordingly, Nyiam warned that it was the responsibility of the leadership of the commission to frontally address any raging issue surrounding any functionary of the INEC, since the buck stops at his table.
“If there is a controversy over a particular individual, it is the duty of the boss of the electoral commission to take an appropriate action,” Nyiam said.
Reject the offer, Ikimi advises Zakari
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, speaking on the controversy, advised Mrs. Zakari to voluntarily reject the offer.
The former national chairman of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) during the ill-fated Third Republic told crowd of PDP supporters at an Edo Central Senatorial district rally in Uromi, Esan Local Government Area of Edo State that it was inappropriate for the electoral umpire to appoint relatives of a candidate to collate results of the presidential election.
“INEC has a responsibility to conduct a free and fair election. It must be above board. Mrs. Zakari must disqualify herself,” Ikimi advised.
It is morally reprehensible –Edo PDP chairman
In a similar vein, chairman of the PDP in Edo State, Chief Dan Orbih, who also spoke at the rally attended by wife of the PDP presidential candidate, Mrs Jennifer Atiku, said it was “morally reprehensible that Mrs. Zakari, a kinswoman of President Muhammadu Buhari, the APC candidate is being selected for the onerous job.
Orbih added that INEC did have a responsibility to conduct a free and fair election, noting that the opposition party would resist any attempt by the commission to rig the poll by working in league with the APC.
Zakari, a red flag for 2019 elections –Afenifere
Meanwhile, Afenifere, in an official position demanded for Zakari’s resignation.
Speaking with Sunday Tribune on phone, spokesperson of the group, Yinka Odumakin, said “she has to go. INEC can’t relieve her of responsibilities, as long as she is still on the commission. Our demand is direct to President Buhari.
This woman was nominated by Nasir el-Rufai to INEC. She served with el-Rufai when he was minister. It was el-Rufai that nominated her and I want him to deny that.
“I can see that in all the elections where she has been accused of playing one role or the other, el-Rufai is always defending her. So, she is a red flag for 2019. She must be relieved of that post. Her brother can give her an appointment in the Presidency, but not to conduct elections for us. She is tainted and, therefore, she must go.”
Middle Belt groups fault appointment
Also, groups and individuals in the Middle Belt added their voices to the gale of condemnation.
President of Mdzou U To, Chief Edward Ujege, described the development as abuse of power, while the Tiv Youth Organisation (TYO) observed that Mrs with the development, Mrs Zakari could be a tool to mar a credible exercise.
Ujege noted that it was absolutely wrong for a relation of any candidate in the coming elections to be given such sensitive role, adding that it would make a mess of the elections.
“It is absolutely wrong and an abuse of power to give relation to any candidate in the coming elections such roles to play, because at the end, it will make the exercise a ruse,” he said.
In his own comment, president of TYO, Timothy Hembaor, said the development made it “absolutely clear that the APC seeks to use Zakari as a tool to rig the forthcoming election.
“Having been rejected by Nigerians, Buhari is now using her as virus to compromise the independence of the (electoral) commission, manipulate the electoral process and rig the presidential election for him.
“A credible electoral commission must be completely impartial, transparent, totally independent and immune from external control by interested entities.
“These are qualities INEC can no longer lay claim to as long as Zakari remains even a member of the committee.”
“INEC, Buhari heating up polity with Zakari” –
ASOMBEN
The Secretary, Association of Middle Belt Ethnic Nationalities (ASOMBEN), Reverend James Pam, blamed both INEC and President Buhari for heating up the polity with appointment of Amina Zakari, adding the president, in 2015, had attempted to make her INEC chairman, but rescinded this when Nigerians kicked against it.
Reverend Pam advised both the president and INEC to reverse Zakari’s appointment “with immediate effect and post her to another parastatal” to reduce the controversy.
“Why should that woman hold such key position? My advice to INEC is that they should remove the woman from INEC quickly. She is too controversial. Why don’t they post her to another parastatal? Why must she be in INEC?” he queried.
“With her there won’t be credible election” – Middle Belt Front
Also, the Convener, Middle Belt Front, Ibrahim Bunu, said with Zakari in the sensitive position given to her, “in view of her relationship with the president, there will be no credible election in February.”
He added that the appointment was a wrong signal and “an ominous sign, as far as the presidential election is concerned.”
“There is the fear that there won’t be credible election in 2019. The selection of the present INEC chairman was not like the former one under the Jonathan-led administration. You are a president from the North and you are picking somebody from the North. This is already a wrong signal. There is a lot of information aligning this woman with the president.
“Zakari should relinquish the position” – PDP
Similarly, the running mate to the PDP governorship candidate in Kaduna State, Honourable Sonny Katung Marshal, said “in a situation like this, the most honourable thing to do by Mrs. Zakari is to excuse herself on moral ground or the president should direct INEC to remove her to protect his image and integrity.
“Already, with this appointment, INEC is starting on a cloudy note. Whatever INEC wants to do, there should be some element of transparency and independence. It is wrong for the commission to claim that it is independent and can do anything without recourse to certain circumstances and prevailing political situation in the country.”
APC not ready to contest in 2019 elections —Olawepo Hashim
Presidential candidate of the Peoples Trust (PT), Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, while rejecting the appointment of Zakari, said the ruling APC is not ready to contest in the coming elections.
Olawepo- Hashim, who stated this in a chat with our correspondent, said that the appointment had further confirmed “that the APC is not ready to contest the 2019 elections.”
He said that the ruling party, rather than run on its achievements, was seeking ways to manipulate the process and concoct results.
“We see the appointment as another evidence that the APC is not ready to contest the elections,” Olawepo- Hashim said, adding that Nigerians were, however, wiser to resist manipulations.
“Nigerians will resist every attempt to manipulate the process to hand over an undeserved victory to any of the big parties. We are resolute on free and fair elections and we shall continue to provide leadership for Nigerians to see the dream of credible elections come to fruition, “ he said. – Tribune.

Why Troops Are Losing Ground To ISWAP By Ahmad Salkida

In the few days leading to the eclipse on 2018, reports from the warfront in North East Nigeria provoked huge concerns, fiercely stirring panic within communities in and around Maiduguri, Borno state. Governor Kashim Shettima, within this period, quickly called an emergency security meeting to receive briefs from different security commands in the state. At the Executive chambers of the Government House, Maiduguri, the seat of power in the state, the situation was grim and faces drawn.

In fact, the situation appeared so dire as Nigerian troops facing the onslaught of the combined affront of insurgency from terror groups, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram forces, beat a steady retreat, incurring monumental losses of locational facilities. Within two weeks, the Nigerian troops had retreated tactically or been overrun in strategic military bases. Out of 20 military bases in northern and central Borno where Nigerian troops were in control, 14 had been overrun or altogether shut down.

Does the recent string of losses by the military represent a momentary setback likely to be overturned swiftly by the military or is the trend a fore-test of an uncertain future? All diplomatic and international military platforms knowledgeable about the escalating conflicts in the Lake Chad Basin affirm that at no time since the surge of violence in the region have the terrorists been in command of the level of weapons available to them today. Two developments explain this.

The terror groups, in recent times, have received a flush of funds from ransom paid to them allegedly by the government. Equally, there has been a steady access to unimaginable cache of military weaponry, including hardware and ammunition from bases overran by the insurgents, remarkably bolstering their war chest. For instance, the loss of the International Military Task Force Base, headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force, in Baga, headed by an Army General, is reported as monumental, not merely in the loss, of location but because of the massive military hardware and ammunition only comparable to what is available to the Military Division in Maiduguri, to ISWAP.

The insurgents are obviously riding the momentum and are motivated in manners that are completely alien to the military. According to a recent report by the AFP, in no year since the upsurge of conflicts in the North East have Nigerian troops been exposed to the level of casualties inflicted on them by the insurgents in 2018 alone. With an enlarged war chest, a strategic control of the economic mainstay of the Chad Basin cross cutting fishing, all season farming, water and control of cross border trade routes, the insurgents are looking formidable.

No wonder, they have recently scaled up recruitment of new fighters across both English and French speaking countries in the surrounding countries of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Information gleaned from contacts within the fold of ISWAP paint an insight that seems to have challenged the position of politicians and the military in respect of holding territory. ISWAP always considered the territories of Northern and Central Borno their Caliphate territories. The presence of the Nigerian troops and particularly military bases were considered invasion by the military.

Bidding their time until they had adequate ammunition with additional army of motivated fighters to unleash new wave of violence the group was willing to stay under the radar for a few years before drawing the line on the sand. Their long wait paid off in 2018. They have been on the offensive all of 2018. The ISWAP’s strategy is to put everything available to ensure that military presence in those territories they consider part of their caliphate is made ever untenable. ISWAP considers all parts of north and central Borno as its caliphate and territory and therefore obligated by doctrines and commandment to repel every external aggression within the territory.

This is irrespective of whatever politicians and the military claim is the situation within those territories. In fact, Boko Haram / ISWAP policy with respect to physically holding territories changed after the steady losses they suffered in the run up to general elections in Nigeria in 2014. They do not want to physically hold unto territories anymore than they are determined to ensure that the military does not have any sustainable presence in the territories. Furthermore, ISWAP is paying more premium to wooing local communities to feel more secure with them than they could ever be with the military. That is their strategy.

They have secured the economic lines in the territories they control. The Lake Chad territories have become more fertile for famers and more viable for commercial fishing activities. They have largely crippled the fish and onions markets in Maiduguri. In its stead, they have opened secured trading locations in Kinchandi, in Niger Republic and another in Kusiri, in Cameroon. Nigerian traders rely on the market in Kusiri, Cameroon through Mubi, in Adamawa. The other in Kinchandi, in Niger Republic. The Nigerian market in Hadeja, Jigawa state depend heavily on the market in Niger Republic.

Nigerian troops apparently would rather confiscate a trader’s wares, forcibly take their livestock for their feeding than device any system of commercial comfort that would help them grow their business. It therefore seems not far-fetched that several local communities appear to cooperate better with ISWAP than with the Nigerian troops. ISWAP want to primarily make it unattractive and too expensive in terms of body count and loss of hardware for the military to maintain a base in any of these territories. They calculate that as long as they continually target and attack military formations, forcing them to beat a retreat so long would it be easier for local communities to accept that they are more secure in the territories under them than under the cover of Nigerian troops.

Moreover, they envisage that for as long as they sustain the push back against the military for so long will it be difficult for the demoralized troops to muster confidence to put them at tactical disadvantage anytime soon. Is the 2018 military strategy and campaign working? The facts based on the number of military formations successfully attacked and overran by ISWAP in 2018 in the areas of its dominance is 70 percent. What this translates into is that out of 20 military bases in these territories, ISWAP have either sacked by overrunning or forced the military to shut down a total of 14 bases in 2018 alone. The only time this ratio of attacks and takeovers came close to the 2018 numbers was in 2014. By the end of 2015 it was below 50% success ratio, which further dropped in 2016 and 2017, only to witness a sharp surge in 2018.

The outlook of the map in the battle theatres is grim. The territories that constitute Northern Borno are 10 Local Government Areas lying north of Maiduguri and bearing natural land borders with three countries namely Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon. ISWAP have full sway in these territories currently. The territories that constitute Borno Central are made up of eight Local Government Areas, and both ISWAP and Boko Haram have significant footholds in these territories. Southern Borno, made up of nine Local Government Areas, is the least affected, with the exception of flashpoints such as Gwoza, Damboa and Chibok. With barely 45 days to presidential election in Nigeria there seems to be more energy at official quarters to cover up the tragic situation than acknowledging it.

The military have rightly stated that ISWAP may not be holding most of the territories where it overran its bases, especially the town of Baga. ISWAP, on its part, is also right when it says it has sacked soldiers from the areas it attacked, including Baga. Neither the military nor the insurgents have the manpower and capacity to hold and govern over these large expanse of land sustainably. But in desisting from building visible administrative and military structures in the areas of their primary interest ISWAP have evolved in a way that is difficult for Nigerian troops to track. On the other hand, by being fixated with claim of control of territories the military have only succeeded in making its troops sitting ducks and easy targets of the enemy.

More clearly, ISWAP is no longer showing interest in taking a formidable military base such as was in Baga and staying put there. It doesn’t apparently serve their tactical and strategic interest well. They are more interested in taking over military hardware and ammunition in those bases while instilling fear on the troops and making it extremely difficult for the military to have the comfort to plan and launch attacks. For instance, two days after overrunning the military base in Baga, the ISWAP moved out of location with military hardware and ammunition. According to knowledgeable sources, the objective is not to necessarily capture and hold new territories, what is far more strategic to ISWAP is to continually “unsettle the military in their bases across the Lake Chad region.”

There is no better indication to the effectiveness of the tactical approach of ISWAP against the military than seeing that Nigerian troops in the troubled locations are unable to undertake patrol duties. Rather, they are mostly in the trenches practically waiting for the next attack. One troubling outcome of this is the escalating number of troops on desertion charge. For instance, in just one detention centre in Jos, Plateau state, there are over 20 military deserters rounded up and detained. Similarly, a growing army of deserters are being held across major military detention facilities in the country. Obviously embarrassed at this turn of events, the military authorities are zealously covering up on these.

An Army officer currently hospitalized lamented that “soldiers have become cannon fodders,” revealing:”There are more soldiers deserting their commission over Boko Haram war. I can count dozens in my unit alone that escaped after they survived an attack.” The Nigerian Police Force are embroiled in similar matter with 121 officers of the rank-and-file who reportedly deserted in protest against planned deployment to the warfront dismissed with immediate effect.

The Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris, according to a report in Premium Times (December 28, 2018), ordered their dismissal. “The Police are very kind to their officers for dismissing them, we are not that lucky because after we attempted to escape, we were arrested and detained without trial for several months,” said a soldier detained in one of Special Task Force (STF) detention centers in Jos. He was arrested after he absconded along with scores of his colleagues from the warfront.

A confident Army Captain in the frontlines who spoke with our reporter on condition of anonymity extolled the troops for their gallantry on several occasions. He said that unlike the terrorists, the military do not carry cameras into the battlefront to record gun exchanges. According to him there are far more attacks on military bases and units by the terrorists that were repelled than the ones in which the locations were overrun. “The terrorists go to battles with cameras, while we, as a matter of policy don’t.” Nevertheless, he contends that Nigerians do not care about the number of insurgents that we have killed, “the killing of soldiers that protect the country’s sovereignty constitute a source of concern, what this means is, if soldiers continue to die, Nigeria itself may fail to exist,” he concludes.

Some of these attacks were so overwhelming that the bases were overrun with hundreds of casualties. According to multiple media reports, not less than 1,000 soldiers were killed in 2018. These casualty figures do not include soldiers killed in Niger Republic, Yobe, Adamawa and in Southern Borno. “In fact, there has never been a year soldiers were killed more than in 2018; not even 2013 and 2014 did we see the kind of casualties we experienced today,” said another soldier who doubles as a medical doctor in Maiduguri. More traumatizing for soldiers, according to ISWAP sources, are the humiliating experience of scores of abducted soldiers compelled to tutor the insurgents on new weapons handling before they are enslaved or executed.

Informed sources state that the military facility in Monguno is probably the only larest operational base outside of Maiduguri presently that is unaffected. Four or five are in Gajiram, Gajiganna, Gubio, Kareto, while Damasak is manned by the Multi-National Joint Task Force at the border with Niger republic. According to a serving military officer currently hospitalized, “the soldiers in most of these bases have all taken up defensive positions to protect their turfs and can hardly venture outside to patrol or engage in any offensive attack”.

Just like the officers deserting, the Military itself has long abandoned any mentality of “no retreat, no surrender,’ having steadily been on the retreat from several military bases. Weeks ago, they shut down two bases in Gudumbali and Kukawa. “We retreated to Monguno before Baga was attacked. Now, some soldiers and residents are running away from Monguno to Maiduguri,” reported a soldier in Shagari Low Cost Housing Estate in Maiduguri. He highlights the utter helplessness of the soldiers: what is disturbing is the effrontery of “ISWAP in making sure that we are fully made aware of their plans ahead of any attack. There was never an attack that we don’t see in advance, yet we are helpless,” he lamented.

In the midst of these setbacks, military fat cats are feeding exceedingly well on account of the war. On 28, December, 2018 the Defence and Foreign Affairs of the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) based in the United States stated that “the conduct of the war in the North (East of Nigeria) is tied to the corruption in the military, and (President) Buhari – ring-fenced by his own team – is unable to tackle the issue”. ISSA, the Washington-based non-governmental organization with a worldwide membership of professionals involved in national and international security and strategy, stated that massive corruption among top military chiefs appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari is the reason Nigeria is losing the war against Boko Haram.

According to the report, the only significant engagement which the Nigerian military leadership seems determined to fight “is to stop the leakage of information about massive corruption, running into the equivalent of several billions of dollars, in the purchase by senior military officers of major military capital goods and military consumables, including the troops’ own food.” More than anything, it is the noticeable resurgence of the Lake Chad and the commercial viability of the territories under ISWAP that present the greatest pull on individuals in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps to return to their villages. But for others, it is their ability to put out a good fight and sometimes win with an Army that enjoys global support, that is the biggest inspiration that makes many want to join. A recent recruit and a Francophone citizen said, “ISWAP’s fortunes only means one thing, Allah with us.” Another who abandoned his rich family business in Kano to become a fighter said, “I have no doubt Angels are fighting with us, otherwise there is nothing that explains our victories.”

In the light of these realities, should the Nigerian Military continue with the tactical mentality that is leading them into embarrassing losses? For a government that has made so much premium of a claim on its control of territory from the insurgents, what these developments point to is probably worse than a setback. Efforts by independent observers to point out the evidently skewed tactical mentality have been visited with official hostility. Local and international Civil Society Organizations and the media have, for these reasons, come under attack by the military. For calling the Military out on its ignoble human rights abuses, including rape and extra judicial executions, Amnesty International and other Human Rights organizations have been targeted for official harassment.

Despite a consistent stream of global ratings and reports about Nigeria’s crisis, notable among them being the 2018 Global Terrorism Index in which Nigeria emerged the third most terrorized nation globally, both the Military and politicians in government have carried on as if this was of no consequence. The index placed Nigeria behind war-torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and ahead of Syria and Pakistan. However, the report also showed a 16% drop in the number of deaths linked to terrorism in 2017 from previous year.

Also, the World Economic Forum, in its biennial tourism report with the specific section focusing on safety and security, recently ranked Nigeria as one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Amid all these disturbing realities the local media generally have caved in to a new sense of self censorship promoted by the Nigerian military, which is, “stop reporting the killings to dissuade Boko Haram from further killings” instead of, prevent the insurgents from killings in the first place, so that, there wouldn’t be any death to report.

All the President’s Men: On national (in)security by Najatu Muhammad

We live in a society where the ruling class has lost their moral compass and the prevailing trend is staying silent in the face of severe threats to our collective existence as a nation; recent events and the lamentable situation across the country is a matter of grave concern to all Nigerians irrespective of tribe, partisan affiliations or creed.

In the past few months alone, the security landscape has further deteriorated with numerous reverses in the fight against terrorism. Nascent criminal activities like kidnapping have become daily occurrences, causing incalculable losses to our economy, and catastrophic damage to our fragile social harmony. What is happening in Zamfara these days, what terrible menace that once reared its ugly head in Mambila, and Benue State to the horror of all those who care is testamentary evidence of the failures of an inept and ineffective law enforcement leadership.

As a nation, we cannot reward the abject failure and incompetence of the service chiefs to tackle insecurity across our land with the extension of their tenures against extant service rules and regulation. While the former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki has been held without bail for over three years on allegations of diverting funds meant for the prosecution of the war on terror during the Goodluck years, we continue to hear of the same acts of alleged corrupt enrichment by the top echelons of the security forces. Soldiers and officers continue to give verifiable accounts of the mind boggling corruption taking place in the war front. We have a Military Command that is more serious about public relations and social media psychological hype than battling the insurgents. If we had a penny for all the times that they claim to have defeated, degraded, or destroyed Boko Haram, we will be swimming in coins; this is not a surprise because it is quite well known that even if the top brass decides to become serious and stop giving ridiculous excuses for their failings, they wouldn’t know what to do as they lack the necessary education, skills, training, and ability to utilise the resources at their disposal in order to execute the entire operations required to contain emergent threats. According to a reliable source, the Chief of Army Staff himself, does not have the requisite combat experience as he allegedly dodged ECOMOG and all local operations throughout his career in the lower ranks. Now we are faced with a trial by fire. A scourge that everyone presumed has been banished to the ash heap of history is once again on the move and our military bases in Metele, where dozens of soldiers where killed, Baga, and elsewhere are once again in enemy hands, proving that those who lead our forces are Men who simply lack the pedigree to be Chiefs. Their specialty is unfortunately not a subject of the Military art that can be of help to us in our ongoing asymmetric fights, they are better known for tons of malingering and lobbying techniques. God save us!

Among the many reasons that drove us to the barricades against the misrule and clever antics of the Jonathan administration in 2015 is that the former President and his cronies were playing politics with people’s lives at the expense of National Security. It was a tragedy that has caused irreparable harm to our country, its repercussions are still with us to this day. Then and now, the blatant abuse of the Rule of Law as portrayed by the lack of respect for proper constitutional procedures by those in charge of our law enforcement organs is quite reflective of the parochial anti-democratic tendencies of the unelected few who whisper to the pendulum of power. Words alone cannot convey our anger over injustices and extrajudicial executions (Shia Massacre) perpetrated by law enforcement agents with impunity and no regards for the human rights of those trapped in the middle between heinous criminals and poorly indoctrinated gung-ho personnel.

As a key stakeholder in the Police and the National Security establishment, I cannot keep silent while a few individuals are once again playing games with our future and putting our security institutions on a dangerous trajectory, having learned nothing from our most recent past. Even if we ignore the unreported facts of abuse of power and subtle machinations, the increasing number of protest by gallant men and women of the Police Force as seen in Borno, Owerri, and Buni Yadi is unprecedented. Today, officers are abdicating from even training, rather than allow themselves to be treated like cannon fodder; poorly armed, poorly paid, poorly trained and led to their deaths in droves while some of their juniors are given rapid accelerated promotions to superior (and juicy) positions without training or recourse to due process. This is the prevailing environment within the Police Force today – the direct result of which is indiscipline and fallen morale amongst Officers and the rank. What do you expect from a Force where the chap at the very top is himself insubordinate to the Commander-in-Chief? As if changing his date of retirement without the Presidents consent was not enough contempt, he blatantly refused to obey a direct order by not relocating to Benue as directed by the President, the IGP has the audacity to send ill prepared forces to the front lines on a virtual suicide mission. Heads should roll for this dereliction of duty!

Things are becoming ever more serious with the imminent politicisation of our security agencies by certain individuals desperate to achieve a nefarious agenda of power at any price even if it means turning the fabric of our national security to shreds and the end of our free national Police Force as we know it. The difference between Nigeria and Somalia is policing. When are we going to start acting in the defence of our values and demand the fulfilment of our reasonable aspirations for a country where our lives and properties can have some value? Those who bear responsibility for these irresponsible actions and inactions that have led us to the brink of disaster should be relieved of their positions. Tenure elongation is a reinforcement and endorsement of failure, it should not even be a subject of debate at this time. We need a total overhaul of our National Security apparatus as early as yesterday. The idea of extending the tenure of the IGP and the Service Chiefs who have woefully failed is a farcical travesty which abuses the patience and common sense of Nigerians, we can expect that the call of millions of people across party lines for their immediate retirement is not going to be unheeded by the President who has promised us much.

Who is responsible for the millions of aggrieved orphans who have been left, homeless and stateless as this wanton killings spread across our land? This injustice has left us with millions of brilliant children abandoned and neglected on our streets. Orphans waiting to be casted into the next episode of carnage.

Against this background therefore, it is no longer acceptable to Nigerians to continue to accept the outright falsehoods given by this administration on the nature of the problem and the purported measures or lack of, taken to tackle this scourge. It is time to lay the blame where it squarely lies and to let Nigerians know the culprits in this deadly issue of nationwide insecurity.

More than anybody else as the Commander in chief of the entire security forces in the country as stipulated by the constitution, President Muhammadu Buhari should be held vicariously responsible for the dire security situation in the country. It is an issue enshrined in the constitution which he swore. His integrity should be measured against his ability or inability to enforce the laws of the land. At this point in time he has failed.

The protection of lives and properties was one of the pillars upon which he staked a claim to power with the promise that as a former general he would do better than former president Goodluck Jonathan. Not only that, he made Nigerians realise that as a man of integrity, he will get to the root of the rampant corruption which was majorly responsible for the lack of progress in the prosecution of the war on terror. The question to ask here is whose integrity should Nigerians attach more importance to; President Buhari’s supposed integrity or the nations territorial integrity?

In the past, we knew the people who mortgaged the destiny of our country and benefited from the violent upheavals of terrorism that rocked this nation to its core, now a similar phenomenon is on the horizon with Merchants of Despair seeking to capitalise on the terrible crisis festering in places like Zamfara – the hometown of our country’s so called Defence Minister for whom even a visit home has become untenable. To those and others of their ilk I have but one message, our eyes are on you and we shall no longer remain mute. Despite the constant threats to my life, my commitment to agitate for real and significant change remains, and my purpose of speaking truth to power is a patriotic duty simply lacking in the inner cycle where the hyenas and the jackals’ dwell.

I end this piece with a quote for those whose ears have not turned deaf and their conscience yet stirs;

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, except for those who learn from history.” – Lord Dalberg-Acton

Muhammad writes from Abuja. She currently sits on the board of the Police Service Commission (PSC) as a commissioner representing the Nigerian Women

Inside Aso Rock: The Day Abacha Died By Orji Ogbonnaya Orji

Friday June 5, 1998, was a cool bright day. Before we left the Villa, the Press Corps was informed that the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat, would be making a brief stop-over at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, enroute Morocco. And he was expected to hold a brief discussion with the General Sani Abacha. We were therefore expected to be at the airport to cover the event on Sunday, June 7. It was a topical assignment in view of Nigeria’s neutral position in the Middle East conflict. Besides, the rest of us were keen to meet Mr. Arafat, the man at the centre of the storm.
That Sunday morning, the Press Corps headed for the airport to await the arrival of Yasser Arafat. We did not have to wait for too long before the Palestinian leader arrived, accompanied by a very modest delegation. President Arafat and General Abacha immediately went into private discussion at the VIP lounge of the Presidential wing of the airport. The Press outside waited curiously for the possible outcome of the talks between the two leaders, a kind of joint press conference, on all issues involved in the Nigeria-Palestine relations.
After the meeting, which was very brief, there was no press conference. Rather, Yasser Arafat inspected a guard of honour mounted by a detachment of the 3 Guards Brigade of the Nigerian Army, and departed for Morocco. The whole airport ceremony lasted about two hours and we all returned to the Villa (Aso Rock).
Before leaving the Villa, I decided to cross-check with protocol officials if the Head of State would still be traveling to Burkina Faso to attend the OAU Summit, which was already at the Ministerial Session in Ouagadougou. The advance team of the Head of State’s entourage had already left on Friday night. I was to be in the main entourage expected to leave for Burkina Faso on Monday morning, after Abacha would have declared open an International Information Conference expected to begin in Abuja Monday June 8. The Federal Ministry of Information organized the conference. It was normal during General Abacha’s regime, that his movement was always kept topmost secret. As a matter of fact, those of us who used to travel with him would not know until few hours to our departure. So was our trip to Burkina Faso. They told me it was still on course.
With that assurance, I drove straight to NICON Hilton, Abuja where I had passed the previous night as a member of the Organizing Committee of the Information Conference. Six o’clock in the morning, Monday June 8, 1 1eft for the Villa, with my luggage to join the delegation to Burkina Faso for the OAU Summit. General Abacha was to head the Nigerian delegation. At the time I got to the Villa everything appeared quite normal. I met some of my colleagues who were also to be in the Head of State’s entourage to Burkina Faso. At 7 a.m. that fateful day, we all assembled at the Press Centre waiting for the necessary directives. However, when it got to eight o’clock, and no signal was forthcoming about our movement, we decided to go and have our breakfast and reconvene in the next one hour. At that point everything in the Villa still appeared normal. Various officials were seen in their duty posts doing their routine jobs.
From the Villa, I drove straight to my house, had a quick breakfast, and decided to go through NICON Hilton hotel to inform my colleagues in the Organizing Committee about the uncertainty of our trip. On getting to the hotel, I saw people standing in groups, discussing. But I did not give a thought to their attention. I imagined that some of them were delegates or participants at the conference. So I quickly dashed into my room, returned immediately to the Villa to join my colleagues, to wait for further developments.
On driving to the Villa gate, a new atmosphere had taken over. The first gate had been taken over by new set of security operatives. I was not familiar with virtually all of them, except one Major whose name I could not remember immediately. The Major knew me by name. He was fully in charge of the new security arrangement, dishing out instructions in a very uncompromising manner. Initially, I did not take it as anything very serious. As a well known person in the Villa, I was confident that my entrance was just a matter of time moreso when I was hanging my State House identity card around my neck. All my expectations were wrong as I was bluntly ordered to go back. All explanations and introductions on my mission to the Villa were helpless. The instruction was clear go back! go back! they shouted at all visitors. At that delay many cars had formed long queues. My immediate reaction was to seek the assistance of the Major, whom I had identified earlier, to save me from the tyranny of his men. Before I could approach him he shouted, “Ogbonnaya go back!” While I was still battling to wriggle out of what was seemingly a hopeless situation, I noticed a woman right behind me, almost hysterically screaming, that she had an early morning appointment with the First Lady, Mrs. Maryam Abacha. The woman apparently must be coming from the National Council of Women Societies from her dressing. My shock was the way she was instantly assaulted by those stern looking security operatives. At that point, I quickly got the message; I drove away from the scene as quickly as possible. Though my mind was everywhere but my immediate conclusion was that there was a coup because I could not imagine any other thing that could have caused such a high level of security alert. I therefore decided to drive straight to the International Conference Centre to alert my Director General on the latest development. He was attending the conference as a participant.
At the International Conference Centre, I saw some Ministers standing at the lobby in anticipation of the arrival of Abacha and his team. Immediately they saw me, they became very agitated, and almost simultaneously asked me, “is the C-ln-C already on his way?” I said, “no, I am not really sure he is coming. But let us hope he will still make it”. I knew, as a matter of fact, that I had not really provided them with the desired answer, but that was the much I could tell them. While they were still pondering on the uncertainty of my reply, I left and quickly walked into the hall where I met my Director-General, Alhaji Abdulrahaman Michika. He was already seated with other participants. I called him aside. “Sir, I don’t really know what is happening in the Villa. I suggest that you leave this place now!” Without betraying any emotion, he quickly asked me what was the situation in the Villa like, I told him all that I saw. I repeated my advice and that I had not been able to confirm what exactly was happening. I then made it clear to him that it was no longer safe for him to continue staying in the conference, and so should quietly take his leave. Alhaji Michika immediately went back to his table, took his pen and papers and followed me out of the hall.
The moment we were outside, I asked him if he came with his car. He said yes, but because of the extraordinary security arrangement put in place in anticipation of the arrival of the Head of State, it was difficult locating his driver. I then suggested that we should use my car which he obliged. I drove him straight to his house instead of the office. Both of us agreed that he should remain at home for the time being, while I promised to keep him informed about the development. This panic measure was as a result of the usual trauma which Radio Nigeria Management Staff often pass through each time there was a military coup d’‚tat in Nigeria. The first target usually is the FRCN Broadcasting House. The management and staff on duty usually pass through hell in the hands of the military boys in their desperate effort to gain entrance into the studios at record time for the usual “Fellow Nigerians” broadcast.
From my Director-General’s residence I decided to get to NICON Hilton Hotel to assess the situation there before heading back to the Villa. At the hotel the atmosphere was rather sombre. There were a few cluster of people; some of them who recognized me, rushed and demanded to know what was happening at the Villa. “Orji, is it true that there is a coup at the Villa?”, they asked. I said, “well I don’t know”. At that time, the BBC, CNN and International Media had begun to speculate on the confused situation.
From their countenance I could see they were not satisfied with my answer. They thought probably that I was withholding some information. But they never knew I had none. I felt very uncomfortable. As a reporter covering the State House, I was equally restless that I could not give a valid answer on what was happening on my beat. I recognized too that it was utterly wrong to depend on others for information about events unfolding in my beat. I instantly felt challenged to get back to the Villa. I was equally aware that such an adventure was fraught with a lot of risk. But that is the other side of journalism as a profession.
On getting back to the Villa, I decided to avoid the main gate because of the heavy security presence there. Instead, I used the maintenance gate through the Asokoro District. I was amazed that no single security man was there at the time. There was therefore no difficulty in passing through into Aso Rock. I drove my car to the Administrative Gate and parked there, and decided to walk. Initially everything had appeared normal in some parts of the Villa until I met a Body Guard (BG). I queried, “old boy wetin happen? Why una boys full everywhere?” It is easier to obtain information from other ranks with informal English. “Ah! Na wa oh! You no know say Baba don quench?”. The boy answered also in Pidgin English. “Which Baba?” I shouted. “Baba don die, Baba don quench just like that. Na so we see am,” the boy concluded, clutching a cigarette in his left hand. I still could not understand what he was saying. “Which Baba do you mean?”, I queried further. “Abacha don die! You no hear?” He shouted at me angrily. It was a very funny way of announcing the passage of a man who was feared and dreaded by all. I was nonetheless confused by its reality. My immediate reaction was that if truly General Abacha was dead, it meant the end of an era. What future does it hold for Nigeria? I pondered over the development as I advanced further into Aso Rock. As I moved down, the reality became evident. The environment was cold, cloudy with uncertainties among the faces I met.
They confirmed it was a reality. General Abacha was truly dead. All were in groups discussing it with fear and subdued silence.
I quickly reached for a telephone to relay the sad story to my Director-General who must be anxiously waiting to hear the latest. Moreso, I was still far away from my news deadline at 4 p.m. But I was disappointed to discover that all the telephone links to the Villa had been severed. There was no call coming in or going out, the Villa at that critical moment was almost totally isolated from the rest of humanity. It was a deliberate measure. When I could not get through on telephone, I decided to drive out fast to break the news. But on reaching the gate through which I had earlier entered, I discovered that some fierce looking soldiers who told me that nobody was allowed to go out or come in had effectively barricaded it. This was happening at about 9.30 a.m. I was helplessly trapped in the Villa from that time till about 5 p.m. when we conveyed the remains of General Abacha to Kano for burial.
I felt particularly disappointed that I could not break the news to anxious Nigerians early enough. It was even more embarrassing and certainly very disheartening to learn that some foreign broadcast stations like the BBC and CNN, which had no accredited correspondents in the Villa, were the first to break the news of General Abacha’s death. It did not entirely come to me as a surprise because the system we operate in Nigeria respects the foreign media more than the local ones. It is equally a well-known fact that most foreign media subscribe to policy makers in our country, who always feed them with first-hand information about any event or issue in the country. The foreign media organizations are no magicians. They pay for news sources especially in situations where they have no correspondents. The pay is usually so attractive that the source is efficient. Thus, generally, access to information in developing countries is fraught with discrimination against local media in preference to foreign ones.
That morning, June 8, 1998, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security Officer to General Abacha, was said to have called key members of the Provincial Ruling Council (PRC) including strategic military commanders for an emergency meeting. We learnt he refused to disclose that Abacha was dead. At about 11a.m., members of the PRC had begun to arrive at Aso Rock for an emergency meeting. Most of the members were informed only on arrival for the meeting except the very powerful ones.
That day, Major Al-Mustapha looked very sharp and smartly dressed in his Army tracksuit and white canvas. The Major was simply too busy running from pillar to post, looking confident but certainly confused about the future without his boss. He was finally in charge, distributing orders to the rank and file to get the Aso Council Chambers ready for the meeting. We watched at a distance in utter disbelief of the turn of events. For Mustapha, the situation was a bleak one. The fear was a possible fall from grace to grass for a man who was dreaded and respected by both the lowly and the mighty. But that morning, he conjured such a pitiable image as he presided over the wreckage of a collapsed regime.
Emotions took over the whole environment. One of the female Ministers worsened the situation when she arrived the Villa by shouting and weeping openly. Nobody looked her way to console her as everybody was simply on his/her own. Cigarettes were a scarce commodity that morning, the only immediate source of reducing tension and grief. Most PRC members who were informed on arrival immediately asked for cigarettes, but none was easily available. Those who had some hoarded them jealously. Elsewhere in the Villa, a gloomy atmosphere, mingled with subdued excitement and relief pervaded. Flurry of activities were taking place at breathtaking speed two crucial meetings were in progress simultaneously. One was a meeting of Principal Officers in the Presidency and the venue was Aso Rock Wing of the Chief of General Staff. The other meeting of members of the Provincial Ruling Council (PRC) was shifted to Akinola Aguda House. The two meetings later merged at Aso Council Chambers for another crucial session. The joint session began at 2 p.m. and ended at 4.45 p.m. I imagined that the items on the agenda of that meeting were:
_ Selection of a new Head of State and Commander-in-Chief.
_ Arrangements for the burial of General Abacha.
While the separate meetings were in progress, we in the Press Corps were held hostage. We had all the information but no means of communication. Hunger was also a problem. However, for the first time we were free to assess the regime openly and objectively. The open discussion and arguments centred on what Abacha did and did not do.
While the meeting at Aso Council Chambers was in session, Major Al-Mustapha sat in the chair at the entrance, holding a newspaper in his hands, which he occasionally glanced at. He looked rather relaxed after ensuring that every necessary arrangement had been put in place. He occasionally responded to our discussions with selected and reserved comments. His aides quoted him as saying that nobody would leave the Council Chambers unless a new Military Head of State was selected by the meeting. His fear, I learnt, was that a vacuum was dangerous before General Abacha’s burial later the same day. Mustapha declined all efforts by the few Pressmen around to narrate how General Abacha died. All efforts to bring him fully into our discussion also failed. Insiders at the “red carpet” revealed that shortly after Abacha died, Major Al-Mustapha took some strategic decisions that were of national significance. One of such decisions was the immediate evacuation of the condemned coup plotters in Jos Prison to a more secured place. The measure was probably to pre-empt any intention to summarily execute the plotters by possible overzealous forces.
From morning till 5 p.m., no official press statement on the death of General Abacha from any quarters was issued, even when the incident was already known all over the world. It was difficult to reconcile how such a major sad event could happen in the country and up till that time, nobody deemed it necessary to issue an official statement. We then decided to mount pressure on the then Minister of Information, Ikeobasi Mokelu, to make a pronouncement. It was after much pressure that an official statement was eventually issued. The press statement was five paragraphs in all, issued at about 5.25 p.m.
The atmosphere in the Villa then was overcast. On June 8 in Aso Rock, hierarchy of command collapsed. It was a day everybody was free. Shortly after the statement was issued, people began to troop towards the Red Carpet area (official residence of the Head of State). I immediately imagined that the body of the General might be Iying in state. I quickly followed, not certain if it was going to be possible to be allowed to have a glimpse of it.
However, on getting to the house, I quietly walked in and saw the body of General Abacha wrapped in white cloth and laid in a small private sitting room in the residence. And I said to myself, “vanity upon vanity”. His death to me was as dramatic as his ascendancy to power, equally evoking tragic memories of a nation that was unsafe of itself.
I returned to the Aso Council Chambers to wait for the outcome of the special session of the Provisional Ruling Council. The outcome of the meeting was all that the media was awaiting. The meeting was to answer the question “who succeeds Abacha?” But before long, the picture of who succeeds General Abacha began to emerge. Shortly after the meeting at Aso Council Chambers had ended, I saw General Abdulsalami Abubakar walk out of the meeting ahead of other senior military officers. This immediately conveyed the message that he had been chosen as the new leader. My conclusion was based on the tradition in the military, there is much respect for hierarchy and seniority. All other military officers and PRC members lined behind Abdulsalami, confirming the saying in the military that appointment supercedes rank. Besides, I watched and saw that he was dishing out orders which all complied to, even his seniors. He took control of the ad-hoc arrangement to convey the body of General Abacha to Kano for burial. He was seen giving orders to both high and low to arrange vehicles for movement to the airport.
The journey to Kano was already far behind schedule, given the fact that the burial must take place that same day in keeping with the Islamic injunction. We left Aso Rock for the airport at about 6 p.m.
It was indeed a big tragedy for the members of former first family as they packed their belongings to join the convoy which took the corpse of the once powerful General home. I wept when I saw Madam, Mrs. Abacha being helped into the waiting car. She stared at Aso Rock in tears, a most difficult and tragic way to say good-bye. Tears rolled freely from all gathered as Madam was driven out of the Villa with her husband’s corpse in front of her in a moving ambulance. The ambulance is normally one of the last vehicles in the usually long Presidential convoy. But on June 8, 1998, the ambulance was in the front with General Abacha’s corpse. All other vehicles lined behind in a day-light reversal of history. The ambulance drove through the IBB bye-pass connecting the airport link road as the entourage made its way to Nnamdi Azikiwe airport. I was surprised that there was instant jubilation by passersby. Taxi drivers lined up at major junctions shouting shame! shame!! as the convoy drove past. Men and women ran after the convoy in utter disbelief of the turn of events. Some other people formed queues in groups with green leaves in their hands singing solidarity songs in a loud tone that suggested liberation from bondage. It was a day in which my biro refused to write and the lines in my jotter went blank. The journalist in me was overtaken by emotions as most of us in the convoy found it difficult to speak to one another. We simply lacked the words or the topic for discussion as our minds went blank and our brains went asleep.
On our arrival at the airport, the body of General Abacha, which was still wrapped in white cloth was carried into the hold of the presidential aircraft, zero-zero one. There was no particular arrangement on who should be in the aircraft, except that members of the first family and some PRC members were given priority. I however noticed that most PRC members at the airport were not even keen in accompanying the corpse of the late General to Kano.
While the aircraft was being positioned, Madam and her children waited at the Presidential lounge with a cluster of relatives and very few associates. The usual crowd around the first family had begun to disappear. That day, it was as though the Abacha family was for the first time in many years on a lonely journey to an unknown destination, even though the aircraft was heading for Kano. It was incredible to imagine the Abachas without General Sani Abacha. As the saying goes, “when the big tree falls, all the birds will fly away”.
The aircraft ready, Madam and her children left the lounge with the heavy burden of making their last flight on the presidential jet, with the corpse of the former Head of State on board. Mrs. Abacha climbed into the aircraft in tears with measured steps. Her children joined too, then some few friends and relations.
Inside, the plane was taken over by grief, tears and open weeping. We had already boarded the aircraft and almost getting set to take-off when General Abubakar curiously asked, “where is the corpse?” He was told that it was kept in the hold. “No, no, no, bring it inside!” the General commanded. And it was brought in and kept few seats away from where I sat. As the journey progressed, whenever there was turbulence, the body would shake, exposing the legs, which were partially covered. I sat in that aircraft speechless. My reflections were on life, death, power, influence and the vanity of human desires.
Our flight to Kano was barely thirty minutes, but I felt it was more than two hours. The usual conversation and jokes in zero-zero one was overtaken by subdued silence, grief, pain and weeping. Everybody on board was on his own. I could imagine how other people’s mind worked at that sober period. But mine went into a comprehensive review of the Abacha era beginning from the night of November 16, 1993 when the General took over. Within my reflections, my mind was everywhere, the good, the bad, the very bad and the ugly. My mood was interrupted by a sudden announcement from the cockpit that we were few minutes away from Aminu Kano International Airport.
The situation on our arrival at Aminu Kano International Airport was rather chaotic. There was no precise arrangement to receive the corpse on arrival. Apparently, our arrival caught Kano and the people unaware. Apart from the first family, and few officials, everybody was expected to sort out his/her own transport arrangement out of the airport. Eventually I had to arrange for an airport taxi to convey me and two others to the private residence of the late Head of State. Unfortunately, there were few taxis at the airport. While this arrangement was on, the main convoy had left with the corpse. We therefore quickly hired a taxi at a high fare dictated by the driver, who was very rude and uncooperative. We were shocked that the driver showed little or no sympathy, but was rather quick to explain that he never benefited anything from the Abacha regime. In his view, his condition had even worsened. We discontinued the discussion as it was becoming volatile.
The Abacha family house on Gidado street, GRA, Kano is a modest twin duplex located in a rather small compound. By the time we arrived there, the place was already besieged by a large number of sympathizers struggling to gain entry. As there was no time to start identifying who was who, we were all being pushed by the security officials who had a very hectic time trying to contain the rapidly surging crowd. In the midst of the pushing. and kicking, I suddenly realised that the person who was being pushed against me was the highly respected Governor of Lagos State, Col. Buba Marwa. It therefore became clear to me that at that moment, everybody was regarded as equal, courtesy of the security at the gate. I was then encouraged to continue pushing, until I finally managed to squeeze myself inside the compound.
Inside the compound, I observed scanty presence of newsmen, because security was deadly. I also discovered that the grave was still being prepared, an indication that no proper arrangement was made. Earlier, the body of General Abacha was taken to Kano Central Mosque for prayers. From the Central Mosque, the body was laid on the floor of his private mosque just by the gate with two soldiers standing on guard. I peeped several times to assure myself that it was actually the former powerful Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces that was on the bare floor. One was expecting a more dignified presidential burial, with due respect to the modest way the Muslims conduct their burials. Even at a point, a soldier asked, “Why is there no burial party here?” I immediately wanted to know what burial party was all about. I was told that it was the usual twenty-one gun salute line-up of soldiers will give to a fallen officer as his last military respect. But before any of such arrangement could be made, the body of General Abacha had been lowered into the grave. There was certainly no fanfare in the burial, it was simple and brisk. In simple comparison, I had accompanied General Abacha himself to the burial of a top military officer and member of the Provisional Ruling Councils who had died sometime ago and was buried in Minna during his regime. I observed that all the procedures at that burial in all consideration was better managed, more respectful and dignified than that of the former Head of State, their difference in rank and position notwithstanding.
There were quite a number of very important personalities who witnessed the burial. But I particularly took notice of former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida and his wife Mariam, who were seen talking with Mrs. Abacha, probably trying to console her. There were also some Emirs and other top Northern leaders who were able to make the trip at such short notice. At about 9.48 p.m. when Abacha’s grave was being covered with sand, a powerful businessman from one of the South Eastern States who was very prominent in Abacha’s campaign for self succession arrived and broke down weeping and wailing openly. Some faithful Muslims who dominated the burial reacted negatively to such an un-lslamic approach to the dead. They threatened to whisk the man out of the premises if he failed to comport himself. The businessman was among those who threatened to proceed on exile or commit suicide if General Abacha failed to become President.
As the burial ended at about 10.05p.m., we hurriedly left for Abuja. I expected that there could probably be some other ceremonies. But I was wrong as we left barely twenty minutes after the body had been interred. We arrived Abuja a few minutes to twelve midnight and drove straight to Aso Council Chambers in the Villa for the swearing-in of General Abdulsalami Abubakar as the new Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Nigeria Armed Forces.
The swearing-in ceremony was rather brief. It was preceded by a formal announcement by the Principal Secretary to the former Head of State, that General Abubakar had been appointed to succeed the late General Sani Abacha. General Abubakar was then invited to step forward and take the oath of office and allegiance at about 1.43 a.m. on June 9, 1998. That ceremony marked the end of the Abacha era.
After the oath-taking, General Abubakar signed the register to herald the beginning of the new era. That era ushered in a new dawn, a brighter future and hope for a sustainable democracy in Nigeria. The rest is now history. Back to the newsroom at 3 a.m., June 9, with series of events that had taken place in the past 24 hours, my diary was full. It was difficult to decide a headline for the 7 a.m. news bulletin. I do remember that, that morning, at the FRCN Network News studio there was a problem over which of the two important stories should come first; that Abacha was dead or Abubakar has been sworn-in as the new Head of State. Coverage of the events of that day without food and water was among my most challenging assignment.

* Excerpts from the book, Inside Aso Rock, written by respected broadcast journalist, Orji Ogbonnaya Orji who for seven years covered the State House for Radio Nigeria. Published by Spectrum Books Ltd. It is available in major bookshops.