Jonathan, Buhari and their toads of Boko Haram war, By Festus Adedayo
NEWS DIGEST – Sometime in year 2000, being his next of kin, I received a scraggly letter by post from the Nigerian Army that my younger brother Bankole, then of the Sokoto Battalion, had been killed in the Sierra Leonean war. A part of me was killed too. Till today, neither his corpse, his entitlements nor any other solitude did we, his family, receive from the Nigerian Army. Riled and disconsolate, I remember writing a piece in the Sunday Tribune then entitled My brother, the soldier hero where, parodying Mazisi Kunene the Zulu poet, I told God He had drawn a battle line between us with this open declaration of enmity. My heresy provoked hundreds of calls and correspondence to me. I couldn’t live through this calamity. I am convinced this is the lot of families of hundreds of soldiers that Nigerian government martyrs daily in this interminable combat with the Islamic insurgents.
So, when ex-President Goodluck Jonathan stirred the hornet’s nest last week by unveiling his memoir, My Transition Hours, he reminded me of a deep scar in my heart that is yet to be healed. Jonathan had recounted how Buhari and his foot soldiers used the tripod of Boko Haram insurgency, abduction of Chibok schoolgirls and fuel subsidy to shove him out of Aso Rock in 2015. He had hardly finished the launch of the book when on Monday, November 19, 2018 to be precise, the insurgents struck again. Reports claimed that over 70 soldiers of the Nigerian Army were brutally killed by the terrorists, in an attack on Metele village in Guzamala local government area of Borno State. The terrorists were said to have overrun 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele and in the process, carted away large cache of arms, ammunition and military equipment. They reportedly littered corpses of dozens of soldiers on the road.
There is also this tear-jerking story currently trending on Facebook entitled “Boko Haram killed K., my cousin.” The writer had said and I quote him verbatim, “We haven’t seen his corpse. His old mother has been asking questions, but our collective lies have kept her going: my mother’s death hit her hard enough: her son’s would be worse. First he was in Lagos. Then posted to Yobe when terrorists made it their new catch. Then Borno. Then blackout for two years. 2017, they declared him “missing in action” long enough to be dead. We mourned him and moved on. Tall, athletic K., “I’m going to be Soja”, he told me that day at Da Martina’s house in our maternal home. We were 11, bursting with ambitions. He went through the contours of military enrollment and arrived the village one day in camouflage, to native celebration.
“The last time we saw, he said a lot about the war on terror and why it would never end: how military moles leak attack plans to Boko Haram to get soldiers ambushed; how some Northern soldiers are sympathetic to the terror cause, failing to shoot or cover colleagues in battle; how strange helicopters drop food supplies for terrorists in Sambisa; how felled soldiers are buried secretly; the anger and loss of morale among the rank and file. It was going to be his last military operation, he told me, but I thought he meant to resign, not die.
“When we were processing his death papers at an army office, I spoke to some soldiers who had returned to base for some function or paperwork. They lamented how soldiers from certain regions were mostly posted to go and die in the Northern flashpoints of terror. They said many things I can’t put here. We are in one deep mess, people, and your government is never going to fix it.
“This morning I remember K., yet again. Anonymous, both in the telling of his story and in his own death. No corpse, no grave, nothing but darkness as reward for Nigerian patriotism. I have not mentioned the official peanuts given to the dependents of felled solders. I have not given a fuller account of the plots and deprivations going on. And the trending video has not even said anything yet. We have not talked about the media silence on the grief of civilians living in the Northeast. There’s no point, for we do not have a government.”
We may continue to play politics with the up-scaling and worrisome number of dead Nigerian soldiers in the hands of the insurgents, with government throwing its hands up in the air like helpless kindergarten kids. Only the soldiers’ family members know the gravity of the losses. I have been led through this thorny route before and I know the sustained pains it leaves on the feet and in the heart.
And if you clinically dissect this mounting casualty in the hands of Boko Haram and our soldiers’ seeming incapacitation to successfully rout them, corruption will be at its cusp. It is akin to what Eddie Iroh, in his Toads of war and Victor Nwakwo in The Road to Udima, called the evils of corruption and war-profiteering which prolonged the carnage of Biafra. Iroh’s trilogy; Forty-Eight Guns for the General (1975), Toads of War (1979) and The Siren in the Night (1982) reacted to the gory and unpleasant experiences of the war from the Biafran perspective, he being a desk editor for the Biafran War Information Bureau. Someday, the revelation will come out that Buhari and Jonathan’s governmental effeminacy has ensured the interment of the bones of thousands of our soldiers, even as both exhibit palpable incapability to stop the toads of Boko Haram war at the top echelon of their governments and among huge epaulettes military top brasses. These elements swallow cash meant for armaments, which in turn fattens their stomachs, like the bulging tummy of a toad, leaving the soldiers to literally fight, with their bare hands, insurgents who are armed with sophisticated armaments.
The spat generated by My Transition Hours between Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari is gaining currency in political analyses at the moment. Even though the Buhari presidency, like a pack of hounds, descended on Jonathan’s claim, with the aim of tearing its flesh into pieces, the fact remains that those tripodal issues of Boko Haram, fuel subsidy and Chibok girls and perhaps a fourth, to wit Jonathan’s perceived effeminacy at the sight of power – couched as cluelessness – and a fifth, his estimated inability to stop the drift of massive corruption in his government, indeed contributed to his exit. Using this claim as the premise of our argument, my task here in this piece is to do a conservative analysis of, not whether indeed Jonathan was the architect of the five stormy winds which eventually blew him off the coast, but to wrap up the argument by proposing an interrogative query. The query is that, if indeed those five canons were the nemeses of Jonathan in 2015, has his substitute in Buhari effectively resolved the issues, in which case he should continue to stay in office? If not, should Buhari be Jonathaned in 2019, for the sake of justice?
I remember legendary Ogbomoso, Oyo State-born poet and minstrel, Ogundare Foyanmu.. Waxing lyrical in his usual sexist manner of condemning the female gender, in his vinyl, Ojowu ‘binrin, Foyanmu had condemned the filthy housewife who has no regard for cleanliness of the house and her own physical appearance. In the same album, the highly talented praise singing poet, renowned for his huge physical size, a bad right eye and very dark skin pigmentation, gave kudos to the Nigerian military for its display of bravado in wars fought for the liberation of the country. In contrast to Foyanmu, Ken Saro-Wiwa, writer and activist executed by the Sani Abacha government, in his Soza Boy, seeks to defoliate the green leaves of soldiery. Written in rotten Nigerian English and published in 1985, the novel canvasses an anti-war narrative. Set at a period of the Nigerian Civil War, its protagonist, Mene, naïve about soldiery, had gone into it believing that it would make a man of him and attract to him his girlfriend, Agnes, as well as opportunity to use his military uniform to impress his village people of Dukana. The moment he joins the military, Mene soon finds out that hunger, deprivation and death are most times the lot of soldiers.
And I begin my interrogation from the constituency of Saro-Wiwa and Foyanmu – the Nigerian military and the insurgency of Boko Haram. There have been back and forth arguments on who had greater grips of the insurgents between Jonathan and Buhari. While this analysis is handicapped about the correct statistics of casualties during the Jonathan era, it was apparent that the insurgents had a field day while Jonathan reigned. They invaded military bases, took over towns in the North East and inflicted mayhem of notorious credentials without let on the people. The insurgents’ bloodletting was so bothersome that many people believed that it gained notoriety because the North, whose ruling class was alleged to be stoking the insurgency for political reasons, would easily rein in the animals in human skin once power vacates the yanminrin tenant in the Villa. This narrative was fueled by Buhari’s unabashed statements which seemed to suggest that the insurgency was native to the North. Recall that on June 12, 2013, as candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Buhari, speaking in Hausa, on a Liberty Radio programme, Guest of the Week in Kaduna, had attacked the Jonathan government’s clampdown on Boko Haram, accusing it of killing and destroying the insurgents’ houses while the Niger Delta militants were given special treatment. “You see, in the case of the Niger Delta militants, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua sent an aeroplane to bring them, he sat down with them and discussed with them, they were cajoled, and they were given money and granted amnesty. They were trained in some skills and were given employment, but the ones in the north were being killed and their houses were being demolished. They are different issues, what brought this? It is injustice,” Buhari had said, a statement akin only to his notorious “your people are killing my people” riposte to late Governor Lam Adesina while complaining about alleged killings of Fulani herdsmen in Oyo State in 2012.
The Buhari government actually made public demonstration of routing the insurgents upon coming to government in 2015. Armaments, jet fighters and military hardware which was public knowledge that the Obama government declined to sell to the Jonathan government – for whatever reasons – were made available to the new Buhari government, thus making the news of the Buhari rout very believable. While the soldiers were allegedly combing the Sambisa Forest where the messengers of Mephistopheles were domiciled, Lai Mohammed, the government’s Goebbels, kindled the oil of the propaganda by stating that the insurgents had almost been totally decimated. Buhari himself picked the encore of this claim. At a time, the Nigerian government claimed that Shekau, leader of the insurgents, had been killed. It almost declared a public holiday! Shekau however came out almost immediately to mock government’s claim. All Nigerians saw and which got them bothered was that blood-soaked news of Shekau’s apostles killing Nigerians in their hundreds went on unabated. Even till today.
The abduction of Chibok girls is only ancillary to the above. It is on record that Jonathan was so consumed by his theory that Boko Haram is a creation of the Northern elite that he didn’t believe initially that hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped from Chibok. His naivety, manifest in how he dithered from taking action, further cemented claims of his cluelessness in government, which the Buhari propaganda machine vended with aplomb. As if aping nature which incubates life scenarios in binary, Dapchie girls were also kidnapped by the insurgents under Buhari, as a counterpoise to the Chibok narrative. The Buhari government only reclaimed a fraction of the Dapchie girls, the world knows, by paying huge ransom to the insurgents.
On the fuel subsidy payment, while this singular issue promoted to the front burner the massive corruption that undergirded Jonathan’s government, the cancerous nature of fuel subsidy corruption under the Buhari government is also said to be legendary. Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, had not long ago announced annual expenditure on fuel subsidy as having escalated to over N1.4 trillion. He described the expenditure as ‘under-recovery’ for supply of petroleum products throughout the country. Rumours have it that it is layered with monumental sleaze.
Like Jonathan, Buhari has exhibited lack of understanding of the gravitas of government. Either as a result of flakes from his health challenge or his natural laidback attitude, the Buhari government is full of fury and no bite. It is no rumour that government today is being run by a combine of very lethal power apparatchik with Buhari only a rubber stamp. While Jonathan was physically agile but mentally incapable to understand the enormity of governmental power, Buhari is not only mentally incapable to understand power, he is too feeble to stop its drift into the hands of surrogates.
On the score of corruption, while this carcinogen swam ashore naked under Jonathan, the few public examples Buhari made of the naked monster have forced the octopod to continue its swim underneath the water, hidden from public glare. If Buhari does not know that corruption in his government shares common skin pigmentation with Jonathan’s, he is either hiding behind his finger or he is playing politics with the truth. The decision on what to do with him in 2019 is in the hands of the Nigerian electorate.
The people of Enugu State must have been pleasantly shocked that their two-term former governor, Sullivan Iheanacho Chime, at last found voice to acknowledge his predecessor, ex-Governor Chimaroke Nnamani as the architect of his being governor of the old capital of the Eastern Region. Chime, while addressing a press conference at a pre-book launch briefing on his memoir entitled An Honour to Serve, said he chose to dedicate the book on his eight year stewardship to his predecessor, for giving him the opportunity to serve. According to him, “I would not have had the opportunity to serve if he did not bring me into his government,” he had said, while making it clear that he did not fall out with the former governor as insinuated in some quarters. Rather, said the ex-governor, Nnamani decided to leave the Peoples Democratic Party and joined another one. Chime was quoted to have said: “He saw way back what I saw in 2015 and left the party. So, I have no issues with him.”
I am sure that journalists who covered the pre-book launch briefing chose the angle of his acknowledgment of Nnamani’s effort in his governorship as the thrust of their story because it was newsworthy. Chime’s eight-year reign was spent deconstructing the same man he has now openly acknowledged as his mentor and dismantling of the fabrics of a government he, Nnamani, ran wherein Chime served as the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice..
Enugu people must also have taken with a grain of salt Chime’s claim that he did not fall out with Nnamani because every day he spent in the Lion Building as governor, he threw bile and vinegar the way of the man who fought virtually everyone else to make him governor in 2007. Being a stranger to such high-level embrace of Judas Iscariot, this writer, who was a witness to the process of plotting the graph of Chime’s mutation from Enugu’s Attorney General to being the governor of the state, watched as an otherwise trusted friend and ally in Sullivan became the pallbearer of the dream to sustain a legacy of development in Enugu.
As the clock of handing over power to another person ticked, sometime in 2006, Nnamani was consumed by the hunger to hand over power to a technocrat, rather than a politician. For eight years, he had built a political family widely identified as Ebeano, made up of politicians and technocrats. He was both loved and hated by the elite who saw his government as deconstructing their ancient vice grip on the Coal City. In virtually all Nnamani’s policies was manifest the attempt at ensuring that the people Frantz Fanon called the wretched of the earth who are also hewers of woods and drawers of water, had a place in government. For instance, the elite felt he had deflowered the innocence of Enugu elitism by allotting plots of lands at the GRA to Fanon’s crew, to their chagrin. Persons without any godfather rose to becoming ministers and commissioners upon his nomination, once he discovered that you oscillated on same wave length with him on the score of mental acuity. Nnamani’s main offence was that he had the temerity to redraw the map of those who mattered in the administration of Enugu State.
Nnamani had a number of fine gentlemen to pick from as his successors. He had the Nsukka-born medical doctor, Dan Shere who, at the time of his exit, was the state’s SSG; Ayogu Eze, who had served him both as commissioner for information and Special Adviser; Ike Ekweremadu, who he catapulted from serving as his Secretary to Government to being a Senator and once fought unsuccessfully to make Senate President (the story of Ekweremadu’s tread on the same path that man who demanded twelve shekels of silver trod would be told too someday); gentleman-to-the-hilt, Frank Nweke Jnr who was minister of information at a time when going the Lai Mohammed propaganda and lie route was unfashionable; and many more. He however singled out Chime, his classmate at the high school whom he brought on board in 1999, first as Special Adviser on Legal Matters and subsequently as Commissioner of Justice.
Someday, historical events re-constructionists would stumble on what exactly led to the schism between Chime and Nnamani. For, Chime declared a fight even before he was sworn in as governor. His transition committee was made up of the same people who fought Nnamani to a standstill in Enugu for eight years. The parting gifts he gave to prominent persons in Enugu on the eve of his relinquishing the governorship, Chime ordered that they all be returned to the Government House. The suspicion was that Chime, whose father was Minister in the First Republic, was one of those who beefed Nnamani’s audacity to reconstruct the elite ladder in Enugu State. So while Nnamani fought and vanquished all his traducers in Enugu, he forgot to realize that an enemy existed within, in the person of his former Attorney General. The serpent he failed to identify and remove from the precinct of his political family eventually stung him and put asunder all his dreams for Enugu. Nnamani ipso facto suffered almost a decade of banishment from the house he built, on account of this misreading of Chime’s eight-year plastic loyalty.
I am yet to have a copy of An Honour to Serve; it will be exciting to read Chime’s reading and account of that intersection when Nnamani literally ensured his transfiguration from an ordinary laidback lawyer in government to a man who held the destiny of the old capital of the Eastern Region. I am aware that Chime had no penny in the budget that made him governor and rode on the shoulders of his friend and boss to becoming what he eventually became. Why would any reasonable person stab such a benefactor in the back?
Festus Adedayo is a columnist with the Nigerian Tribune Newspapers.