The big news this week is the reported death of Abubakar Shekau at the hands of the ISWAP faction of Boko Haram. This time, Nigerians appear to believe he has really been killed because the information did not come from the army. Previously, the army had reported numerous times that they had killed Shekau only for him to later appear on video to mock them. Their efforts to eliminate him since 2009 failed because his hideout in Sambisa forest is impregnable to the Nigerian Army. However, the ISWAP forces, which set out with armoured vehicles and mounted guns, drove in a column from the shores of Lake Chad straight to his headquarters and eliminated him. Is Sambisa forest ungoverned territory to Nigeria’s armed forces alone? There are reports that the bombardment of ISWAP locations by the Air Force has made life difficult for them, pushing them to seek to takeover Sambisa forest, which has more cover; so our armed forces played a role in what ultimately happened to Shekau. Nonetheless, I would have preferred that he was captured by our troops, as there is no joy in another faction of terrorists becoming stronger.

Significant parts of rural Nigeria have become ungoverned due to the activities of well-armed terrorists, bandits and kidnappers, who are on rampage against the people, the police and even the army. Educating our children has become a major challenge as students of secondary and tertiary levels of education have become the major victims of kidnappers. Some of the schools, which have witnessed attacks in the past few months, include Government Science College, Kagara in Niger State; Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State; Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation and Greenfield University, both in Kaduna State; and recently, Abia State University. For years, the attitude of the Presidency was that they would crush the terrorists and bandits. The president has repeatedly told Nigerians that he had directed service chiefs to devise new strategies that will end the attacks by the insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals and return life to normal. He has said it so many times that he certainly appears to talk as a broken record.

More recently, however, he also appears to have lost hope. Following the release of 27 students abducted from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka in early May, the president appealed to the bandits to release the others kidnapped: “The President appeals for the release of the students of the Greenfield University and all other citizens held in captivity, expressing the strong determination of his administration to ensure that Nigerians live in a country where everyone can move where they want, when they want without the fear of kidnapping and banditry.” Why would hardened criminals making millions daily from their dastardly activities listen to an appeal? They are getting away with murder, rape, arson and sequestration of citizens.

Concerned by the drift towards anarchy, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) raised the alarm that Nigeria was becoming “ungovernable”, partly because the president was unwilling to listen to advice on charting a way forward. They demanded that:

President Muhammadu Buhari directly speaks to Nigerians on the crisis of insecurity, rather than speak through his spokespersons;
The President convenes a national conference geared towards implementing restructuring and devolution of power.

These demands were repeated subsequently by the Southern Governors Forum and many others. Rather than respond, the President went off to France to beg for more money to govern. The Senate President and the Minister of Justice both stepped into the fray, condemning all those who are making demands for national dialogue and restructuring. They appear to believe that the concerns of the people can be dismissed and nothing would happen. They are wrong. As the Bishops said: “It must be clearly stated to the Federal Government that if they continue to ignore the constructive criticisms and recommendations of Nigerians from every sector, the country will collapse and become ungovernable.”

It is already happening. The Nigerian Army cannot go into Sambisa but ISWAP can. Police stations are being burnt and their personnel killed all over the South-East and South-South. When the police go into hiding, so that armed civilians won’t kill them, then we are in deep trouble. The Inspector General of Police has just announced an operation to retake control of the South-East from the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Eastern Security Network (ESN). The need for retaking the zone is an indication that they have lost it.

Some APC Governors were in Calabar yesterday to beat the drums and celebrate the defection of Governor Ayade of Cross River State from PDP to the ruling APC. They are completely focused on manoeuvres to retain power in 2023. They are not aware of the fire on the mountain. While they were dancing, the INEC Chairman reminded the country this week that there has been a spate of arson and vandalization targeting the Commission’s facilities and property that has become profoundly worrisome. He announced that in the last three weeks alone, three INEC Local Government offices in Essien Udim in Akwa Ibom State, Ohafia in Abia State and Udenu in Enugu State have been set ablaze by unidentified persons. On Sunday, 16th May 2021, the INEC State office in Enugu suffered yet another arson and vandalization in which parts of the building were ransacked and several vehicles razed. This past Tuesday, 18th May 2021, two more INEC offices in Ebonyi and Ezza North Local Government Areas of Ebonyi State were burnt down and materials including ballot boxes, voting cubicles, generating sets and office furniture and equipment were completely burnt down.

According to the INEC Chairman: “Surely, these attacks are no longer freak events but appear to be quite orchestrated and targeted at INEC. Clearly, these are acts of unjustifiable aggression which may undermine the Commission’s capacity to organise elections and dent the nation’s electoral process. The facilities of the Commission are there to serve the local communities for the most fundamental aspect of democratic governance, which is elections. Therefore, targeting such important national assets and repositories of electoral materials that took time and enormous resources to procure cannot be justified.” There is clearly signs to indicate that if these targeted attacks continue, the elections themselves may not hold and our democracy would be in jeopardy.

Leadership is about reading the tea leaves and acting proactively for system maintenance. There are consequences for not acting as and when due. The consequences are not in our collective interest. Oga President, listen to Nigerians.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.

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