By Fr. Benjamin Achi
The issue of insecurity engendered by insurgency, banditry and Islamic extremism has been a biting recurring decimal in the Nigerian political space for a very long time now. The past administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had a lot to grapple with keeping the country safe and secured and actually seemed to have run out of ideas and was totally overwhelmed at some point by the ugly situation which kept growing from back to worse. The kidnap of the over 200 students of a Girls Secondary School at Chibok, remains an ugly watershed in the annals of the country’s battle with insecurity especially under the Jonathan administration.
In the campaign trail building up to the 2015 elections, the candidates of the two major political parties, the then ruling People’s Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress, made strong verbal commitments to fighting the problem of insecurity to a standstill. While the past administration dwelt on apologetics in defence of their policies and actions and left promises to improve on the gains and successes they claimed to have recorded in that regard, the APC, consistent in their expression of strong reservations about the past administration’s handling of the country’s security, promised a change in the status quo. For the whole time, General Buhari talked tough, promising to give all those who have worked in concert to deny the citizens of the country some good sleep, a good run for their money.
When Mohammadu Buhari finally took the reins of power following that unprecedented concession of defeat by the then incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, expectations of a good number of Nigerians especially with particular reference to security were indeed high,and justifiably so. One would not be held wrong to have expected that a retired general of the Nigerian army should have a better strategy and effective response to the various shades of insecurity plaguing the country. Those who had lost faith in the past administration because of its perceived poor handling of the country’s security challenges were therefore quite hopeful that a Daniel had finally come to judgment with the emergence of President Buhari. But not everyone shared this stance. Those who have had their ears on ground all along and have been following the rhetoric and body language of Mohammadu Buhari, prior to his ascendancy to power, consistently voiced their fears and even outright doubts whether a Buhari presidency wouldn’t even end up bringing more of gory tales than glad tidings about safety in the polity.
And the nay Sayers weren’t just crying wolf. They had their reasons; they had their facts. Among other many submissions of the present commander-in-chief that betrayed his sympathetic stance towards Islamic extremism, he was once quoted as stating in categorical terms that “a fight against Boko Haram is a fight against the North”, a statement that up till today, has not been denied officially by General Buhari. (The present government has been notorious for its proclivity to make denials and never accept responsibility for anything. To be best knowledge of this writer, it hasn’t happened in this case). That assertion was made at a time that the Jonathan administration seemed poised to bring all cards to the table to bring insurgency effectively to an end. And when also at a certain point negotiation was considered, the terrorists never equivocated in their singular choice of Mr. Buhari as their principal negotiator. Those who were at home with the foregoing, were therefore never in anticipation of any miracle but even seemed to have already had their minds better disposed for the woes of the present day. Regrettably, all indices have proven them right. What the country has experienced in the past six years in terms of insecurity has simply made the events of the past years mere child’s play. Since 2015, things have gone further down south; the country has literally become one big crime scene, one of the world’s biggest killing fields and is today in bits and pieces. In spite of the claim of the Buhari administration that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated” (an expression yet to be fully understood by many), the group has continued to wax strong and operate with inexplicable audacity, tormenting the North East Region of the country relentlessly. The notorious Fulani killer herdsmen continue to get all the more emboldened, widening the constituency of their murderous escapades all across the country. And just from the blues, banditry has suddenly turned into such a luscious business, a money spinner of some sorts. The country seems to have simply gone to the dogs.
Now, one thing is common with all the aforementioned groups. Each has Islamic extremism underlying their activities. And what is the greater tragedy? That we have a government in place which, in spite of repeated assurances of coordinated action against these groups, has been practically missing in action, treating the issue with kid gloves, thus corroborating the position of many critics and political analysts, that the present administration has remained sympathetic to these groups and has only been speaking from the two sides of its mouth. All along, there has been this repeated question of whether the present government with all its promises of righting the wrongs of the past in securing the country and its peoples is incapable of delivering on that promise or simply lacks the political will to do so. Many have got legitimate reasons to settle for the latter, given the facts on ground. A clear example is handy. In recent times, a certain Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, an Islamic cleric of note in the country, has embarked on a strange and obviously questionable activity of romanticizing with the bandits. He has held a round of meetings with those cut throats in the full glare of the camera and never denied being aware of their whereabouts. As if that was not shocking enough, he has granted series of interviews to a number of mainstream media outfits, both print and electronic, reeling out strong apologetics in defence of those enemies of the state and working so hard to paint them in the brightest of colours. Referring to those men as bandits is nothing short of calling the spade by its name. That is the stance and the thinking of many a Nigerian, but Gumi thinks differently. He has variously decried such designation as unsavoury, and has been heard countless times, stoutly defending the nefarious and sinister actions of those armed men.
That Sheikh Gumi has continued to maintain this unholy romance with the bandits, is not as shocking as the fact that the government of the day has practically turned a blind eye and doesn’t seem to find anything wrong with his activities. Till today, Gumi walks the streets not only a free man, but with head and shoulders high as this one great peace ambassador sent from the celestial courts- no caution, no questions, no reprimand of any sort for such an obviously very dangerous man in a country whose government claims to be fighting terrorism in all its shapes and forms.
While many Nigerians including this writer were still working hard to wrap their heads around the Gumi question, the murderous intents of yet another Sheikh expressed in volumes of words, hit the light of the day. Sheikh Ali Pantami is not just another Nigerian citizen out there, but a sitting minister in the present federal cabinet, heading no less a ministry than that of communications and digital economy. What else could be more ridiculous, than the fact that a man considered dangerous enough to be added in the terror watchlist of another country is back here considered good enough to not only be in public service, but to head a very sensitive federal ministry, where he is saddled with the responsibility of taking far reaching decisions affecting the life of the citizenry. With the volume of pain that Islamic extremism and terrorism have brought to the present world, there is no sane clime, where a man credited with five percent of Pantami’s support for extremist groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, would be walking the streets free. The fact that Isa Pantami has, up till this moment, retained his ministerial position, and only ended up with very weak denunciation of those dangerous submissions, speaks volumes. It tells exactly what the position of the present government is on the issue of extremism. It seemed to have further pulled down the veil on the pretences of the present government in the fight against terrorism. The fact that Sheikh Pantami made those submissions long before he got into public office is equally telling enough. If he was still considered good enough for a ministerial position in spite of that poisonous baggage, hasn’t that provided a wide enough window from where we can peep and evaluate the mindset of the one who made such an appointment? And what do we say to the fact that this nominee was presented to the country’s national assembly for screening and still got the nod of the house? How would one describe such an exercise? Now, there have been calls from many quarters since these revelations, that Sheikh Pantami be shown the door in the event that he sticks to his guns and refuses to resign, (which seems to be the case at this point). Why has that not happened? All these questions go to tell us what we are really up against in this country presently. We have a country where Islamic extremism is growing in leaps and bounds, with such extremists emerging in different shapes and forms and getting stronger and stronger by the day and then there is a government in place which not only seemed from inception to be sympathetic or favourably disposed to those, but has some of such extremists in its ranks and strategic positions. The situation even gets scarier when one imagines that Isa Pantami, may not be the only one in the federal cabinet, or holding any such position of authority or influence, who holds similar extremist views as his, or even worse. Thanks goodness for these revelations. Anyone who does not know how precarious our situation is at this point, is either not thinking or is in obvious denial of the truth.