by Obi Nwakanma
Last week, Vanguard reported a curious drama during the State House briefing after the meeting of the National Executive Council, between State House Correspondents and the Minister for Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed. It seemed like the Buhari cabinet did not have much to talk about. There is of course much going on. Boko Haram is still killing and pillaging. The Chibok girls are as good as lost. To remove the sheen from that fact, the President was reported a while ago to have pointedly told parents of the girls of Chibok to go home as there’s not much else he could do for them.
Well, that’s very disappointing because President Buhari and the APC made it a cardinal point of their election promise to return the kidnapped girls of Chibok to their families as soon as they are installed in government. Not to return the girls will amount to a breach of trust and a failure to fulfil a cardinal electoral promise. Goodluck Jonathan lost Nigerians, and began to lose his re-election following the massive international outrage that accompanied the kidnap of the Chibok girls.
The Jonathan administration was vehemently criticized for its slow and half-hearted response, and for its inability to mount a strategic rescue operation to get back the girls from their captor. The loss of the Chibok girls was Jonathan’s greatest undoing, and it is actually in my thinking right after all, that for that alone, he deserved to lose the presidency. Right under his watch over two hundred young women disappeared from a boarding school. This was more than a security lapse, it was a clear failure of national security. It required a great operational capability to move that number of people through many borders, and it needed only a decayed or frayed security system to permit that. Because the president failed to protect these citizens of Nigeria to whom he had sworn both allegiance and service, he did not deserve to be returned to his job as president.
In actual fact, Jonathan’s slow response, and the campaign mounted in protest grew to frenzy. In the end, he went to the National Assembly and secured $1 billion in supplementary funding for his national security operations to fight Boko Haram, and mandated that operation on his National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. If truth must be told, by the time of the elections, Jonathan’s new strategy had put Boko Haram on the run, degraded its operations, and the tide had turned very clearly. Another three to six months of sustained action at the level may have seen the end of Boko Haram by now. But it was already too late for Jonathan’s government. He had waited far too late in the day to mount a serious counter offensive against the Islamic insurgency. It was too little too late.
But there were visible signs of an impending Boko Haram defeat at the eve of Jonathan’s departure, on the strength of which Mr. Lai Mohammed, the Minister for Information, and Chief spokesman of this administration, no sooner in the life of the current administration was almost too quick on the draw to claim victory and the defeat of Boko Haram. Lai Mohammed was quoted at various times to say that Boko Haram, “technically” had been defeated and “degraded.” But six months later, Boko Haram is still there, and under the watch of this administration, has mounted even bolder, more ferocious attack, and on a greater killing spree than was possible under Jonathan.
The Buhari administration has thus far failed in its promise to defeat Boko Haram. The significant push-back achieved at the twilight of the Jonathan administration has been lost. There is no clear-cut policy on the insurgency by this president except to move his military headquarters and put more boots on the ground. But an insurgency such as this requires a different strategy of counter-insurgency beyond traditional warfare techniques, and Jonathan’s last strategy before his electoral defeat had come to understand this.
Meanwhile, the Buhari administration is busy conducting a killing spree of unarmed Biafran protesters in the South East of Nigeria, while Boko Haram insurgents are running wild in the North East. Something clearly doesn’t add up here, but back to Lai Mohammed. His critics have dubbed him “Liar Mohammed,” an unkind cut from his name, “Lai.” I have always liked the name, “Lai” because a great friend of mine from the University was called “Lai” and he was a great guy. Besides, I will not go so far as calling a Nigerian minister, “Liar,” but it often takes a great alchemist of untruths and distortions, to do the work of pure propaganda, as Mr. Mohammed has often done for the current administration.
His strategy when everything fails is, “blame Jonathan.” So, in this last briefing of journalists, only two items were lined up: his attempt to explain the president’s numerous foreign travels, which has recently come under severe criticism, and his need to blame Jonathan for everything else. Reporters wanted to know a bit more – the radical slide of the naira, Boko Haram, the budget-padding scandal, the administration’s economic projections. But Lai Mohammed was in his element. Blame Jonathan.
To justify the president’s increasingly expensive and wasteful foreign trips, the minister said, “You cannot run an economy by being isolated.” True enough. But that is why we have a Foreign Ministry and a foreign minister. Trained diplomats would not tell the Telegraph in London as the President recently did that “Nigerians are mostly criminals.” Such a statement is not meant to inspire or invite investor confidence. But what did Lai say? Blame Jonathan. Buhari has to travel because Nigeria had a pariah status under Jonathan. That is a lie, minister.
Nigeria’s international standing actually improved under Jonathan. But this blame Jonathan game is getting old and worrisome.
Budget goes missing, blame Jonathan. Buhari travels, blame Jonathan; Boko Haram continues to strike, blame Jonathan; Naira crashes, blame Jonathan; Economy worsens, blame Jonathan. One truth is clear: Jonathan revived the comatose railways, rebuilt long run-down federal highways, re-equipped the Armed Services, built twelve new Universities, and expanded the middle class. Above all, his greatest achievement was that Nigerians felt true liberty and freedom: no Nigerian lived in fear of government’s persecution, and he brought to an end, the spate of assassinations and kidnappings that marked the height of national insecurity before him. He wasn’t without achievement.
Jonathan greatest undoing was the kidnap of the Chibok girls and his slow response to it. Lai Mohammed’s attempt to place the current failures of the current administration on Jonathan is both laughable and tragic. What is increasingly clear is that the APC had no plan to govern. Buhari’s first steps in government was all wrong: he started by alienating an entire segment of Nigerians, and he was too slow to respond to the realities of the crisis in the international oil market.
Rather than pick up from Jonathan running, he crawled for six months, and seemed startled and confused by his own electoral victory. That period of inaction for six months when he failed to organize his government, stanch leakages, and establish necessary reforms has led to the current crisis with the Naira in a freefall, and the economy leaking badly like a wicker basket.
Buhari’s economic policy that limited the circulation of money has led to a crisis of production and distribution. When he finally presented his budget, it became clear to Nigerians that this president is the one who really has no clue what running a contemporary nation is about in the 21st century, and the Tsunami that is about to hit him if he fails to reposition his priorities. He is already nine months in office, and he is still blaming Jonathan. Come three years hence this government will still be blaming Jonathan. Blame Jonathan is, it seems, the Buhari administration’s most consistent domestic policy. O ma bloody se o!
Obi Nwakanma is a columnist with the Vanguard, where this article was first published.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.