Thursday 28 April 2016

11 Months After: President Buhari and Nigeria’s Security Challenges

President Muhammadu Buhari
by: Ogenyi Okpokwu

Just a few months ago news of Boko Haram hoisting flags of its imagined Caliphates across large areas in the North eastern part of Nigeria was no longer news.

At some point Nigeria had lost territory to the tune of 14 local governments bigger than the size of Gambia. Insecurity was the order of the day, oil bunkering, kidnapping, armed robbery etc. were prevalent everywhere.

I know a few critics may want to argue that President Muhammadu Buhari has not done enough, that things are still generally tough, but one aspect where even the die-hard critics of the president cannot deny success is his handling of the security of the country in this little time he has been in charge.

In the years before President Buhari came to power, tens of thousands of people were killed in Nigeria by Boko Haram, even as millions more were displaced. Most towns and villages in the north eastern part of Nigeria were deserted. Economic activities in these areas came virtually to a halt.

But as soon as the president came in, the first three foreign trips he made was about tackling the insecurity back home. He had promised severally during his campaign that he will do everything possible to reverse the trend of Nigeria losing territory to insurgents.

Few months after he was sworn in, he changed the service chiefs and gave the military chiefs a mandate to come up with a plan to end the insurgency in three months. That was the turning point. With a commander-in-chief that inspired confidence, the service chiefs got to work, while spending more time on the theater of action than we use to know.

One cannot go into the operational tactics that were deployed since we don’t have the details of how they did it, but the testimonies are there and evident for all to see.

The military have taken back virtually every space that Boko Haram held sway. Pictures are splashed all across the media showing soldiers in liberated territories with thousands of hostages including children already orphaned by Boko Haram being set free, many displaced people returning back to their homes in towns and villages deserted for years.

The same troops that we saw fleeing from Boko Haram fire power are now the ones pursuing and taking back territories, I understand the President took a lot of time and detailed investigation before arriving at his choice of the Service Chiefs, apparently the president did not make a mistake.

I recall the collective impatience that was expressed when Mr President was taking his time to arrive at the decision. But since these appointments, the welfare of the officers and men of the military services became priority, while the chiefs lead by example by being at the fore front.

The president’s focus is not just on tackling the insurgency at the expense of other security worries in the country, kidnapping has also been tackled with more vigor across the country, major successes has been recorded against the scourge of kidnapping in the country.

Before this government came to power, pipeline vandalism and all other forms of sabotage to national infrastructure were on the increase but now the government is tackling this issue with some vigor unlike in time past where such national asset where put under the care of militia leaders.

This government has drafted in the army to partner with other security agency to ensure the security of our national infrastructure and this is already yielding the desired results. A major ring of pipeline vandals in Lagos state were captured recently in a joint operation by security forces led by the army.

The government has also renewed its fight against oil bunkering. The Navy has made tremendous success lately in apprehending vessels used by oil thieves. This operation has improved security on our water ways and it has also help improve the revenue of the government.

At this time of falling oil prices, losing revenue due to activities of oil bunkerers would be double jeopardy for the country, that is why President Buhari moved fast to address this issue.

The foregoing is a clear demonstration of how President Buhari has progressed in the fight against corruption and tackling insecurity – two of the most pressing matters for Nigerians and therefore deserve focus.

We must however be mindful that four year will go by rapidly. If the other focal areas – economy, housing, transport, health, education, trade, industry, manufacturing, and sports, to name a few – are to wait for Mr President’s perfect touch, the queue may never be exhausted.

I must also point out that the successes recorded in security and anti-corruption fight were the product of Mr President’s appointees implementing his vision with dedication. What happened in these two focal areas should be adopted by other appointees of the president as templates for implementing his vision as they go about their assignments.

This should create a quick win situation as all sectors are able to make progress simultaneously should be able to change the fortunes of the people a great deal. As a person, I have always believed that once you are given an assignment with the necessary tools and mandate for implementation, there is no need to keep studying his body language before rolling up your sleeves and getting down to work.

You also have no reason to start waiting for further directives when the goals have been spelt out. Every single day, I wish it was possible to make Nigerians understand that those who should make it happen have already been appointed by Mr President and that it is now their duty as citizens to make all the president’s appointees sweat it out.

Since we are fortunate that most of the ministers and heads of agencies have social media presence, a perfect opportunity presents itself for us to task them on why they cannot continue to wait for a Mr President that has already spelt out their assignments.

Instead of paying pointless compliments on their Facebook pages and Twitter timelines, we should actively engage them and drive home the message that they should do their work.

Other Nigerians that chance on the opportunity to share the same physical space with these office holders should do the rest of us the favour of passing the message across. We should be bold to let them know that they cannot be waiting to claim the glory of other sectors in the name of collective responsibility. And we must do this without falling for the ethno—religious claptrap that prevents speaking truth to power in Nigeria.

My message to the appointees is simple. If the President can secure assurances from the World Bank to fund part of the rehabilitation of the northeast because of the progress made on the security and anti-corruption fronts, the other ministries and agencies can also make the kind of progress that will trigger domestic and international support. I seriously do not see how President Buhari can step into every federal office to personally make things happen; definitely no way.

Furthermore, on the part of citizens, just as their support in tackling Boko Haram assisted the military, they must pitch in to make other sectors of the country succeed.

They must end the culture of chronic acquiescence of not challenging what they see going wrong in the public sector as I think this has been the bane of previous administrations. We must now constructively prod those that President Buhari has entrusted with national assignments to meet our expectations.

It is my belief that as the president begins implementation of his first budget, this approach that I have suggested will make it possible for us to begin to see improvements in the quality of life of citizens across the country. As we are overcoming our security challenges, laying the foundation for lasting development should begin in earnest.

- Ogenyi Okpokwu is National Coordinator, Conference of Minority Tribes in Nigeria based in Abuja.

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