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Why Can’t President Buhari Address The Nation?

Written by Abimbola Adelakun 
Since the first and only time President Muhammadu Buhari faced the nation during the presidential media chat, he has been more or less aloof. Except for some official occasions, and a random interview or address with a foreign medium in the past, he has mostly hidden inside the safety of Aso Rock. Now and then, his aides speak to the nation on his behalf through their shoddy press releases, but that is as far as it goes. 

At the rate at which we are going, Buhari will eventually qualify for the most aloof President in the history of Nigeria.

Now, there has been a lot of violence in the land and Nigerians’ anger at the seeming lack of control by the security is palpable. Should Buhari not be addressing the nation on the state of things? 

One of his committed followers, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, recently hinted that Buhari would address Nigerians – eventually – but only to announce his plans for his second term in office. In other words, Buhari will speak to Nigerians, at his own time, and only over an issue that concerns him. The things that are causing Nigerians’ angst will probably be incidental to the great speech he plans to make to announce his ambition.

There is a lot going wrong in Nigeria, and most of them are far more important issues than Buhari’s electoral future. Monday last week, suspected ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram militants abducted over 100 schoolgirls from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College in Dapchi. For the second time, these schoolgirls were the target of raging marauders who seem to have a thing for girls who attend schools. It makes one’s head spin how the Chibok incident has been repeated within a mere four years. The déjà vu is startling; almost as if Nigeria did not learn a thing from the prior incident. Whatever that happens – the outright lies, the half-truths and the head-spinning incompetence – it is all politics to the occupant of Aso Rock Villa. God forbid they need a third strike to learn. The way and manner both previous and present governments responded to the mass abduction make for a whole course in crisis mismanagement. One day, historians will cite Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari for all the wrong reasons of administrative incompetence.

The incoherent and foggy accounts of the incident are troublesome. Why can’t President Buhari address the nation on these issues to at least reassure us that something is being done to save the girls? The 2018 reaction, so far, is almost no different from the one of 2014 under President Jonathan who confronted Chibok with lethargy until the foreign media and their hyperfocus on Nigeria at the time pushed him to action.

Then, there was his wife, the former First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, who turned the pain and trauma of the victims’ families into a cheap Nollywood stunt. Barely after the display of “motherly concern” that drove her to summon those involved in the incident, she turned the dogs loose on those who were campaigning on behalf of the girls. And on another side were the group of deniers who insisted that Chibok never happened, that it was all just a ploy to make Jonathan’s government look bad. Never mind that neither Jonathan nor his wife nor the Nigerian army ever contested the veracity of the incident, yet their inveterate support for Jonathan’s government made them insist they knew Oso more than the mother of Oso.

I still wonder how the conspiracy theorists manage to accord so much coordination to the Nigerian government that they would pull off such a scam with almost 300 families and not a single person in the whole of Chibok has come out to debunk the story. We are talking of a government who, with all the personnel at their behest, could not even pull off the national budget heist successfully. But somehow, they managed to recruit almost 600 crisis actors and get them to lie about an abduction for four years?

When Chibok happened, consistently APC yielded maximum capital out of the incident, crying at the top of their voices that the government of the day was incompetent, and that they could do better if given a chance. Their raucous noise over the politics that attended the Chibok girls’ abduction almost drowned the suffering of the victims. Till now, more than half of the girls are still not back home.

Today, and now, there is Dapchi. The location and time have changed but the story remains the same. Just like Chibok, the mass abduction of Dapchi has all the inglorious footprints of Chibok: there has been confusion over the actual number of the victims, the government has lied that they have been rescued, the press has been prevented from interviewing the parents of the girls and, snafu, history repeats itself.

Rather than a thoughtful and empathic response, it is all just games. Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, declared that the latest abduction was the ploy of Boko Haram to embarrass the Buhari government. To him, the only victim here is the President who is safely ensconced in Aso Rock. Not the poor girls and their families who did not ask for this. One would be generous to think that Mohammed is merely narcissist, I think he is also obtuse and hypocritical. When they were the opposition government, that kind of comment was exactly what he would have mined into immense political capital.

Now that the Dapchi incident has happened, it is time to be more realistic about the nature of Boko Haram attacks. First, the Nigerian Army needs to stop, perpetually, denying the operational existence of the Abubakar Shekau’s and Abu Musab Al-Barnawi’s factions of Boko Haram. If they are not killing Shekau, they are chasing Al-Barnawi. If they are not breaking up Sambisa forest and clearing it of all insurgents, they are busy declaring victory. Yet, the guys will soon show up in another video to mock their efforts. The sooner the Nigerian Army stopped playing childish games with Boko Haram, the better for everyone. This way, we can ask the needful questions of what it will take to finally defeat Boko Haram.

School abductions are more likely now. Every terrorist group craves publicity and they come up with spectacular attacks like this one to yield the maximum effect. Those that abducted the Chibok girls probably had no clue that that single event would yield them global publicity and turn Shekau into an international figure of notoriety. After he must have seen how much purchase he got from the media sensation around the abductions, and the money he made from negotiating with the girls, they also saw an opportunity. The Dapchi attack is well-timed, close enough to elections to make Buhari panic about the negative publicity and be corralled to do their bidding. There is a need for a security architecture around the schools, particularly the ones in the problem areas. We need to see the government addressing the precarity of life and existence in the attack-prone zones. Mr. President, over to you. What is the plan? What is your government going to do?

- Abimbola Adelakun for The Punch