Reading the interview Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) granted Daily Trust which was published on Wednesday, May 22, 2013, I am compelled to raise historical issues that put the former military Head of State’s words in perspective.
Buhari blamed President Goodluck Jonathan for the insurgency by the militant sect, Jamā’a Ahl al-sunnah li-da’wa wa al-jihād, commonly referred to as Boko Haram and asked the President to resign saying, “Jonathan should vacate and give way to a competent hand to govern the country”.
Buhari further said: “When the Niger Delta militants started their activities in the South-South, they were invited by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.
An aircraft was sent to them and their leaders met with the late President in Aso Rock and discussed issues. They were given money and a training scheme was introduced for their members. But when the Boko Haram emerged in the north, members of the sect were killed.”
Buhari may wish to note that President Jonathan never supported militancy and criminality in the Niger Delta at any time in his political career. Furthermore, the administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua used a combination of carrot and stick to end the militancy in the oil rich region.
Stick was used in the form of heavy military intervention in the form of the Joint Military Task Force which routed the militants by way of ground attacks and aerial assault with the use of Nigerian Air Force jets and helicopters. After this initial pacification, the carrot was introduced whereby the administration offered an olive branch for those wishing to embrace dialogue. Those who accepted the offer of dialogue came out of the creeks and dialogue took place leading to the conditional amnesty (militants were made to surrender their weapons and renounce violence before they could benefit from the amnesty).
Buhari may or may not be aware that these same steps were taken by the current administration with regard to the Boko Haram insurgency.
The Jonathan’s administration in fulfilment of its constitutional responsibility to maintain law and order and enforce the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria empowered the security forces to check the insurgency. As a democrat and listening leader, President Jonathan’s ears were opened to the cries of the people in the affected areas and after meeting with different informed groups agreed to employ the dialogue option and called for the leaders of Boko Haram to show themselves.
In furtherance of his desire to peacefully resolve the insurgency, President Jonathan inaugurated the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, under the leadership of a cabinet minister, Tanimu Turaki, Minister of Special Duties.
A week after the President’s initiative, Boko Haram rejected the amnesty proposal yet the President kept faith with the committee and met with them as recently as a week ago and in furtherance of that meeting, he issued orders for the release of certain classes of detainees held in connection with the insurgency.
With the detailed historical time lines provided above, it is obvious that Buhari’s statement castigating President Jonathan for not treating Boko Haram as others were treated is not factual and borne out of insufficient study of historical facts.
Buhari also accused the President of using undue force on the insurgents, saying “In Bama and Baga towns, military personnel were reported to have been engaged in extortion and sometimes rape of women. And because a soldier was killed in Baga, the whole town was sacked by the military. This is not the best way the military should have acted when they were sent to restore law and order in a town. How can a responsible government allow its people to be killed in this way.”
Let me say that I appreciate Buhari’s concern for the victims of the Boko Haram attacks on Bama and Baga. However, he should be reminded that the President had ordered an investigation into the incident at Bama. The investigation is being carried out by qualified persons and Buhari ought to wait for the results of this investigation before apportioning blame. Members of the Nigerian armed forces are sacrificially laying down their lives to protect Nigerians and they deserve more loyalty from us all, particularly from one who was once their Commander-in-Chief.
But going back to history, Buhari is reminded that this is not the first time that terrorists have unleashed mayhem on Nigerians.
Buhari is reminded that in February and March of 1984, the Maitatsine sect under the leadership of Musa Makaniki unleashed violence in Yola. A conservative estimate is that 1000 people died during those riots and half of the residents of Yola in present day Adamawa State were rendered homeless. The military was unleashed on the sect by the military administration of the same Buhari who was then the Head of State. Similar charges as the ones made today by Buhari were made against the soldiers sent by his government to quell the Maitatsine riots of 1984. They were accused of undue force, destruction of property, raping women and killing civilians. Many human rights groups and activists including J. Peter Pham, the Director of the Michael Ansari Centre at the prestigious Atlantic Council have documented what took place during those riots. In putting down the Maitatsine insurgency, the military incurred collateral damage. Yet, Nigerians understood with Buhari. Did anyone call for his resignation as military Head of State because of the incident?
Also, it is a historical fact that Maitatsine riots again flared up more than a year after this in April of 1985, this time in Gombe in present day Gombe State, while Buhari was still the Head of State. Hundreds of people were killed and the military again was called in. There was collateral damage and Makaniki, the arrowhead of Maitatsine, escaped to Cameroon and was not caught until 2004 when Olusegun Obasanjo had ascended to power. To the best of my knowledge, nobody called on Buhari to resign even though he could not apprehend the leader of the sect.
Is it too much to ask that Buhari show the same level of understanding that Nigerians showed to him in 1984-1985 to President Jonathan?
Some issues should be beyond politics. Anytime an elder statesman calls into question the abilities of the armed forces, it goes a long way to weakening their morale and resolve which are precisely what should not be weakened when we face an insurgency such as the present one.
I will like to advise Buhari not to see security as just a job for the government. It is a job for everybody. In other nations, when terrorists strike, politicians close ranks and unite against the terrorists. Our case in Nigeria should not be different. And indeed, I have cause to thank National Assembly members from Buhari’s party, the Congress for Progressive Change, who saw wisdom in the President’s declaration of a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states and voted in support of the declaration. This is precisely the type of multi-partisan collaboration that will see Nigeria achieve her developmental goals.
•Omokri is Special Assistant on New Media to the President