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.

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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.

Death Of The Electoral Bill And The Coming Electoral Theft by Farooq Kperoghi

In my October 6, 2018 column titled “Three Reasons You Should be Worried about 2019 Elections,” I pointed out that “You don’t need special prognostic powers to know that the 2019 elections will be fraught with frightening fraud.” President Buhari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Bill is conclusive proof that the 2019 election would possibly be one of the worst electoral heists in the history of Nigeria.

It is precisely this unsettling prospect that makes the signing of the peace accord by presidential candidates comical. The surest guarantor of peace isn’t an empty, symbolic peace accord; it’s a legally binding, institutional guarantee of a free, fair, and transparent electoral process, which the electoral bill that Buhari has rejected embodies.

Among other provisions, the electoral bill makes the use of card readers with biometric data mandatory for voting. This would have eliminated age-old electoral malpractices like multiple voting, “ghost” voting, and underage voting. The bill also makes real-time, on-the-spot transmission of election results obligatory. Again, this would have provided a safeguard against ballot stuffing, vote swapping, and other stratagems of post-voting manipulation. These are obviously scary provisions for a potential rigger.

Buhari’s rejection of the bill is particularly intriguing because an analysis of the 2015 presidential election result that Buhari won by fewer than three million votes shows that he benefited from the absence of these electoral safeguards. According to TheCable of December 8, 2018, “At least 13.5 million Nigerians voted manually — without biometric accreditation — in the 2015 presidential election, according to data from the Independent and National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“The data, obtained by DeepDive Intelligence, shows that President Muhammadu Buhari, then candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), won in nine of the 10 most-affected states…. Of the 31,746,490 accredited voters in the election, 13,536,311 — representing 42.6 percent of voters — voted without biometric accreditation. Out of this number, 10,184,720 votes are from states won by Buhari…”

This seems to be the most probable reason the president is scared of a truly fair and transparent electoral process. Insistence on biometric data for every voter will expose his phantom voters and frustrate his rigging plans. The five million voters Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano promised him will not materialize if there is an insistence on a biometric corroboration of the identity of every voter. I thought the president and his supporters often brag that he is “popular” and unbeatable. If he truly is, why is afraid of real, verifiable votes?

Well, I know why. The game is over for Buhari. He and his minders know it. The tide of popular opinion in the places that matter is shifting inexorably in the direction of Atiku, not because of who Atiku is but in spite of who he is. He is a beneficiary—an undeserved one, I would add—of Buhari’s unacceptable and intolerable ineptitude.

As it stands now, it is entirely plausible that Atiku will win at least 45 percent of the Muslim north, which used to be Buhari’s exclusive political territory. Atiku’s Fulani and Muslim identity is huge factor in diluting Buhari’s monopoly of this voting bloc. Recall that the late Umar Musa Yar’adua had the same effect on Buhari’s near monopoly of the Muslim north. Buhari wins the vast majority of this bloc only when his opponent is a southern Christian.

Most critically, though, Buhari has lost the support of critical opinion molders in the region, will lose the entirety of the Shia Muslim vote (which is way more significant than many people can be persuaded to believe), and has lost the confidence of millions of traumatized and disillusioned people in the region. I saw a viral video of a crowd of people— in what people say is Kano— wildly dancing and singing to a song with the lyrics, “Buhari ne barawo!” [Buhari is the thief!].

Now, it is entirely in the realm of possibility that this was not a spontaneous ventilation of anger by the vulgar herd; it was probably engineered by a northern political opponent of Buhari’s. But this would have been impossible, even suicidal, in 2015. Recall that PDP couldn’t even get any driver to agree to drive Jonathan’s campaign buses up north in 2015. The fact that people can now call Buhari a “thief” in the heart of a Muslim northern Nigerian city without any consequence is definitive proof of the dramatic diminution of his political capital in the region.

Buhari has also lost a lot more ground in the southwest than he has gained since 2015. This is important because he defeated Jonathan in the region by only 611,779 votes in 2015 even with the support of Bola Tinubu and the political establishment of the region. Given the mass cynicism that his lackluster, inept, and undisguisedly nepotistic administration has inspired throughout the nation—and the massive loss of political capital that has attended this—Atiku will more likely than not win more than 45 percent of the southwest vote.

The Christian north is another critical voting bloc that Buhari did well in in 2015 (for the first time since he started running for president in 2003) but that he will lose in 2019 in a free and fair election. For instance, after his deceitful deodorization by American PR experts, he won the predominantly Christian Benue State and lost Plateau State to PDP by only 120,475 votes, his best ever. Contemporary mainstream public opinion in the Christian north is that Buhari has lived up to the worst fears they had had of him, which effective PR had caused them to suspend.

Atiku will, of course, win more than 70 percent of the southeast and the southern ethnic minority bloc. So it’s obvious that 2019 would be a blowout for Atiku. That’s why there’s frenzied, transparent panic in Buhari land. The only option left for Buhari now is to rig himself back to power. That’s precisely why he has refused to sign the electoral bill. His reason for not signing it is that, “any real or apparent changes to the rules this close to the elections may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.” That’s such a blizzard of senseless verbiage that communicates nothing. It’s a linguistic, communicative, and rhetorical fraud.

Buhari knows he can no longer win a free and fair election, so he wants to go down with the nation by planning a massive nationwide rigging of the sort that he did in Osun and Ekiti. His openly partisan Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, who, along with other service chiefs, attended his reelection campaign rally, told the nation on November 28 that the Nigerian Army intends to “replicate the successes achieved” in the Osun and Ekiti elections, which is a polite way to signal that he will rig the election for Buhari in 2019.

But Buhari is daring people who are more vicious than he is in electoral villainy. PDP and other parties are being put on notice to prepare for a rigging, not an electoral, contest in 2019. Buhari can’t win that contest. The power brokers that matter in the nation are against him because they know his second term will literally kill the nation. The “international community” doesn’t want him again because it can’t afford the tragedy of a war-torn Nigeria, which a Buhari second term will surely precipitate. The next election may yet present the toughest test of our nationhood.

Integrity Without Credibility By Sonala Olumhense

In the same week in which former army chief Alex Badeh was shot to death on an open road, journalism professor Farooq Kperogi was ousted from Daily Trust, the newspaper where he cut his teeth 20 years ago and for which he had continued to write.

The presidency immediately ordered the security agencies to “fish out” Badeh’s killers. They won’t, as sadly, the era of assassinations Nigeria first experienced under the PDP has returned. That era, like this one, had little room for justice.

On the other hand, Kperogi himself identifies those behind the termination of his weekly Daily Trust column: blackmailers in the presidency who think they are protecting President Muhammadu Buhari and enhancing his re-election chances by suppressing informed dissent.

Hopefully, perceptive Nigerians juxtapose the government’s blackmail and intimidation tactics at Daily Trust with its serial failures.

Who is Kperogi? He is the Nigerian journalism teacher and political critic in the United States who was quoted by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in January as he made his case against Buhari, and this is a link to his blog.

Obasanjo was citing a December 2017 Kperogi article in which the writer had characterized a contest between PDP and APC as “a cruel Hobson’s choice…a choice between six and half a dozen, between evil and evil. Any selection or deflection would be a distinction without a difference.”

Obasanjo’s deployment of Kperogi’s meant he became dangerous enough to be hated by Buharists and Buharistas.

But that is because one key problem with Nigerians is our sense of history, as we often pretend that people and events have no ancestry. Kperogi has been a critic for many years, including during the Goodluck Jonathan Years, in which role some of us directly or indirectly cleared the path to Aso Rock for Buhari.

In Kperogi own’s words last Tuesday, “I was infinitely harsher on Jonathan and Obasanjo than I’ve been on Buhari, but neither I nor any columnist [at Daily Trust] was ever told how to write and what not to write during the Jonathan and Obasanjo administrations.”

But Buharists and Buharistas quickly forget, or ignore, sequence. For them, history dates only from when critics began to dress Buhari in his robes rather than the stolen ones they were looting for him.

Everyone knows that Nigerians—in our millions—are comprehensively in condemnation of Buhari’s performance. Kperogi’s crime, I think, is that given his “northern-ness,” he was expected to be permanent applause-leader for Buhari, no matter what.On the contrary, his impatience grew more robust.

You know a man by the things that, over time, he is passionate about, and Kperogi is passionate about Nigeria.

And the thing with people who are passionate is digestion: when they are fed nonsense, they throw up.Often publicly.

In 2011, for instance, the government of Jonathan repeated an offer first made to Chinua Achebe in 2004 by Obasanjo: the national honour of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic. It was an offer arrogantly made in the belief he would hurl himself over to Abuja to accept it, because there was no prior consultation before it was announced.

But Achebe had wept in the open seven years earlier when the offer was made by Obasanjo, lamenting that the situation in Nigeria was “too dangerous for silence” and citing his home state of Anambra which, he said, renegades had turned into “a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom.”

The disgusted Achebe threw up. Again.

In February 2017, during what I imagined was a visit to Nigeria, Kperogi unearthed what the national media had not: there was an inexplicable 40-man Buhari Media Centre (BMC) in Abuja.

Think about it: a subterranean media operation—in addition to nine media aides in Aso Rock each of whom is served by a team of aides—armed to affirm and protect the president.

Kperogi reported his disgust. How do you support such nonsense, particularly from a government which claimed it was combating corruption and curbing waste? How many other nefarious things was it doing?

Let us go back a little bit. When Buhari took national leadership for the first time in 1983, Kperogi was in elementary school. He probably hadn’t learned to spell “indiscipline.”

That was the era of Buhari’s War Against Indiscipline (WAI), the military-style social orientation scheme that brought him to prominence as a man of order, and perhaps even character and culture.

Over the years, the WAI myth permitted and positioned Buhari to maintain the image of a man of an ethical and patriotic disposition. For younger Nigerians, I imagine that if you grew up or matured in the PDP years, you inhaled some of the aroma of Buhari’s integrity, myths he nurtured as credible and correct towards regaining power.

But you can’t have integrity without credibility, that is: the time comes when you must justify your claims. That is the crisis that has confronted Buhari since that night in May 2015—just days before he assumed the presidency—when he slipped out of Nigeria on a British Airways flight bound for London, with outgoing Petroleum Resources Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke sitting behind him in what was advertised as a coincidence.

It would quickly become clear, contrary to sundry festive dreams and fantasies in the country, that Buhari’s trip back to power lacked substance, as he left Nigerians stunned by his depth of his unpreparedness, insincerity and incompetence.

Indeed, if WAI was all sound and fury, his government of change—all of 31 years later—is a full disco of sound, fury, smoke and mirrors, and political putridity.

It took only months for Buhari to be unveiled not as the lion he claimed to be, but as a deeply-flawed Nigerian politician who would not have been out of place in the PDP.

If WAI was in 1984thought to be indicative of hope, Buhari has dimmed every flicker, as everything is being re-interpreted and regurgitated by people who fly the world in government airplanes they had said were anachronistic and wasteful. They measure achievement in propaganda mileage.

But propaganda is a poor communication strategy that cannot stand the test of facts of time. Kperogi is contributing his vigilance and diligence to denouncing the fiction and documenting the tragedy in direct, no-holds barred language: an onslaught our power-thirsty propagandists hope to stifle through mechanisms of blackmail and intimidation.

But this is really another illustration of how a government that arrived with the best opportunity since independence has reduced itself to the sorriest and soggiest.

Buhari advocates like to raise the flag of “integrity,” one they cannot substantiate. But integrity is when whom you are, is found to be whom you said you were, and credibility is when you are still standing when you are found out.

When you try to shut people up who unafraid and who are passionate about right over wrong, you don’t prove your credibility, you feed that very passion.

It remains true that PDP is wrong for Nigeria. But so is APC, and certainly Buhari, and Buhari himself knows it. To suggest otherwise is to support Nigeria’s continued decay.

Merry Christmas, Nigeria.

Eight missing campaign promises By Mahmud Jega

First published in Daily Trust
Nov 26, 2018

I read three times the speech that President Muhammadu Buhari delivered on Sunday last week at the launching of his 2019 campaign program, titled Next Level. For good measure I also read three times Atiku Abubakar’s campaign platform titled Get Nigeria Working Again, which he delivered online nine days ago. They are good programs, both of them, and we thank them for the catchy, if somewhat slippery titles. When one or the other candidate wins the election next year, we may have difficulty putting our finger on what he actually promised.
Taking Nigeria to the Next Level is a problematic promise because there is no consensus on where Nigeria is right now, much less where it ought to go. There is room for confusion as to whether the Next Level is for better or for worse. Some Nigerians actually want us to go back to the Last Level, not the Next Level, with respect to such things as value of currency, societal values, internal peace and security, civil service values, youths’ orientation, teachers’ commitment to duty, integrity of judges, selflessness of policemen, truthfulness of husbands, fidelity of wives, spirituality of clerics and honesty of traders.

Get Nigeria Working Again is also a problematic promise. There is no consensus on whether Nigeria was working before. Getting Nigeria to work again could be interpreted by some to include a return to free-wheeling on the public till, free reign of insurgents and militants, free reign of subsidy merchants and forex round trippers, serial crashing of the Super Eagles out of major tournaments, as well as pell-mell fleeing of young Nigerians to Europe via the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea. All those represented elements of Nigeria working at different points in time.
Next Level and Getting Nigeria Working Again are sweet music in the ears of APC and PDP supporters respectively, but they are less precise than the slogans of Second Republic political parties. NPN’s Food and Shelter, UPN’s Four Cardinal Programs, PRP’s General Program and GNPP’s Politics Without Bitterness were easier to comprehend than these two programs. Never mind that all the Second Republic programs faltered at the level of implementation. For example, GNPP’s politics was quite bitter. The late Alhaji Yusuf Dantsoho once told me a story that when he defected from GNPP to NPN in 1982, Uncle Waziri Ibrahim sent thugs to retrieve a Mercedes car that he gave him in 1978.

There could be a catchier, yet easier to verify campaign slogan. During the 1928 American presidential election campaign, the Republican Party’s slogan was, “A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage.” This slogan was easily verifiable; all that a voter had to do two years into Roosevelt’s rule was to peep in his pot and see whether there was a chicken, then peep in his garage and see whether there was a car. Two years from today when a Buhari voter or an Atiku voter looks out through the window, can he determine whether we have moved to the next level or whether the country is working again?
Anyway, fulfilment of promise will come much later but before we get there, there are eight issues that I did not see featuring in either President Buhari’s program or former Vice President Atiku’s. The first one is power supply. Even though Buhari’s program spoke about marching away from mono-economy and Atiku’s program spoke about wealth creation, neither candidate dwelt on power supply, the fulcrum of modern economies. On reflection, I didn’t blame them because power supply is one of the most intractable issues in Nigerian governance. The late President Yar’adua once promised to declare an emergency in the sector but never got around to it, even when Obasanjo spent $16 billion in the sector “without commensurate results,” as his successor said. The Federal Government has set more target dates than anyone can count to improve power supply but for many decades we were stuck at 4,000 megawatts. Maybe that is why the two major candidates are reluctant to make promises in the power sector that will most likely come to naught.
Ten million almajirai [the figure was recently revised upwards to 12 million] are the weakest youthful link in the Nigerian socio-economic and cultural equation. Yet, they did not receive even a passing mention in either major candidate’s program. Almajirai make the UN’s Sustainable Goals unrealizable. Their presence denies us the optimal use of millions of young brains; they are cannon fodder for communal warriors and insurgents; and it forces us to spend millions on public enlightenment programs on things that going to school would have taken care of.
Environmental protection was another missing issue. Gully erosion in the East, desert encroachment in the North, oil spillage in Niger Delta, deforestation in the West, tidal erosion in coastal areas, air pollution in the cities, and the concomitant disappearance of donkeys, vultures, pigeons, antelopes, doves, bustards and large fish from our grasslands, valleys, forests, skies and rivers all failed to make it into the campaign programs.
Even though we are sandwiched between sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile Francophone neighbours; marooned in the world’s poorest continent; stuck in Africa’s sleepy western half; hemmed in by vigorous continental rivals; largely ignored by our Middle Eastern and Asian contemporaries; overtaken by our former Central and South East Asian mates; unable to join the ranks of BRICS and transform them into BRINCS; pulled down by old colonial powers; dribbled around by EU, OPEC and Commonwealth and then kicked around by the world’s lone superpower, foreign relations somehow failed to feature in the platform of either candidate.
Neither major candidate made illegal migration to Europe a part of his program. During my primary school days I read a book about the Latin American “wetbacks” that swam across the Rio Grande [river] from Mexico into the US. I thought that was a dangerous undertaking, until West African youths crossing the Sahara Desert came along. If they manage to survive desert storms, trackless paths, intense heat and thirst, and assuming that they manage to cross Libya without becoming slaves, and if they are lucky that unscrupulous human traffickers do not dupe them, then they must still cross the Mediterranean Sea in a dinghy. It makes the 1943 Anglo-American landing in Sicily look like a picnic.
Internally, another migration is taking place, with our youths migrating from reading books to Facebooking. Everywhere you look, people have their heads down calling, texting, browsing, chatting, pinging, twitting and selfie-ing. Few people visit the Local Government Reading Rooms or the State and National Libraries anymore. Although Education officials often moan “the collapse of reading culture,” our universities are awarding First Class degrees in record numbers. Teachers of the Facebook Age apparently have a digital marking scheme. Yet, neither major candidate spared a thought for this internal migration, which has more debilitating potential than Trans-Saharan migration.
Two years ago an energetic movement called Not Too Young To Run stormed this country and for a time it looked like youths were about to climb on top of the political pile. They even got the president to endorse a bill to lower the age for which one could seek high office. As these idealistic youths soon found out, Not Too Old To Run is more like it. Next time they would seek a law to clamp an upper limit to the age by which one can seek high office.
I did not see a mention on either platform of the days when the oil wells run dry, which we understand is not too far away. Even before the wells run dry, the Whiteman could migrate from hydrocarbons to renewable energy, in much the same way that he migrated from horse-drawn carriage to trolleys to steam engines to coal-fired railways to cars to turboprop planes to jet engines to space ships, all within one hundred and fifty years. What is our plan for that eventuality?

Body double: I’m not Jubril, I’m the real me – Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari reacted for the first time on Sunday to rumours that he is not the real person elected by Nigerians but a look-alike double from Sudan, known as Jubril.
He declared: ‘‘It’s real me, I assure you. I will soon celebrate my 76th birthday and I will still go strong.’’
President Muhammadu Buhari was speaking in Krakow, Poland, when he met Nigerians living in the country.
For sometime, the media space has been awash with claims that the Nigerian President is an impostor.
However, Buhari has reaffirmed his authentic identity, describing the authors of the confusion about him as ‘‘ignorant and irreligious.’’
‘‘A lot of people hoped that I died during my ill health. Some even reached out to the Vice President to consider them to be his deputy because they assumed I was dead. That embarrassed him a lot and of course, he visited me when I was in London convalescing… It’s real me; I assure you,’’ he declared.