Northern Security Chiefs, Buhari’s Mea Culpa by Eni-B
Perhaps for the first time in the life of the Buhari administration, all the security chiefs jointly addressed the media Thursday last week. At the press conference, National Security Adviser Mohammed Babagana Monguno led Defence Minister Bashir Salihi Magashi; service chiefs, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin (Chief of Defence Staff), Lt. Gen. Yusuf Tukur Buratai (Army Chief), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas (Naval Chief) and Air Marshal Sadique Saliu Abubakar (Air Force Chief); Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu; and intelligence chiefs Yusuf Magaji Bichi (Department of State Services), Ahmed Rufai Abubakar (National Intelligence Agency) and Mohammed Sani Usman (Defence Intelligence Agency) to express the president’s disappointment with their failure in arresting the worsening insecurity in the country. Buhari, through Monguno, for the first time publicly chided the security chiefs in what could be described as his mea culpa, his acknowledgement of his error, while vowing not to accept any more excuses for the heightened insecurity in the country.
Standing out like a sore thumb at that press conference, in a country whose peoples are overly sensitive to their ethnic, cultural and religious diversities, is the lop-sidedness in the composition of the top security chiefs, zonally. Only two – Olonisakin from Ekiti State in the southwest and Ibas from Cross River State in the south south – out of nine security chiefs are from the south. Monguno and Buratai come from Borno State, and Abubakar from Bauchi State in the northeast; Magashi, Bichi and Usman come from Kano State, and Rufai from Katsina State in the northwest; and Adamu is from Nasarawa State in the north central. Yet, insecurity, particularly in the north, has been on the upswing in the last five years of this administration. Boko Haram insurgents, an extremist Islamic group that Buhari had promised to decimate within three months when he first took the presidential oath in May 2015, have made scorched earth policy an article of faith in some parts of northeast, particularly Borno, kidnapping and killing and maiming and raping, and in the process turning hundreds of school girls into sex slaves. In the northwest states of Katsina and Kaduna and Sokoto and Zamfara, bandits and rustlers strike at will, leaving in their wake death, blood and tears. And in the north central states of Nasarawa and Niger and Kogi, bandits, armed robbers and kidnappers have long had a field day sowing death and destruction. The common denominator among these non-state agents of violence is that they fight for no higher purpose; they simply kill the people and burn down communities for the fun of it.
Raiding from the north down south are gun-totting herders and kidnappers on the loose, attacking farmers, destroying farmlands, raping women and killing for sport. Before now, state governors, political, religious and community leaders, and socio-cultural organisations across the southern zones had called on the security agencies to stop the killings, even cried out to the president, and long demanded the removal of the service chiefs, and their reconstitution to reflect the country’s diversity, but all to no avail. But for the recent spate of protests in Katsina, organised by the Coalition of Northern Groups; the Northern Elders’ Forum’s trenchant condemnation of the administration’s inability to handle the reign of armed gangs; Sultan Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar III desperately crying out from the Sokoto Sahel; and more importantly, the US denunciation of the “senseless and brazen killings of civilians”, Buhari may not have had the sense of duty to call out his security chiefs. Even then, the president’s yellow card to the security chiefs not a few Nigerians have said didn’t go far enough; many individuals and groups have in the last two years, and rightly so, called for their removal.
Although the problem of Boko Haram insurgency, violent communal clashes, kidnappings, and insensate criminality predated this administration, the insecurity situation has deepened and widened and worsened under Buhari in the last five years. Indeed, it wouldn’t be uncharitable to conclude that on the strength of his performance, or lack of it, that Buhari, with his leadership style, his policies, his utterances, his actions, no inaction, has enabled non-state actors of violence. For clarity, let us examine these one after the other.
The president’s leadership style for one! Bruna Martinuzzi, an author, columnist and presentation skills trainer in an article, “The 7 Most Common Leadership Styles (and How to Find Your Own)” itemises some primary leadership types as: the autocratic leader who believes he is the smartest and makes decisions without input from his team; the authoritative leader who is visionary and shows the way for others; the pacesetting leader who sets the bar high and ruthlessly pushes his team; the democratic leader who shares information with, and seeks opinion from, team members before making a decision; the coach leader who seeks to develop the talent and unlock the potentials of his team; the affiliative leader who gets up close and personal and supports the emotional needs of his team; and, the laissez-faire leader who lets his people swim with the current, and exercises the least amount of oversight.
Either by nature or nurture, Buhari’s leadership style can be classified as laissez-faire, the principle of which the president himself described as belonging to everyone and no one. In other words, Buhari only knows Buhari. Is it any wonder that the president, in the last five years, could hardly be bothered with any matter that doesn’t affect his election and personal enjoyment of presidential office? Writes Martinuzzi, “On the surface, a laissez-faire leader may appear to trust people to know what to do, but taken to the extreme, an uninvolved leader may end up appearing aloof. While it’s beneficial to give people opportunities to spread their wings, with a total lack of direction, people may unwittingly drift in the wrong direction…” Indeed, no Nigerian leader has been as distant, and aloof, to the goings on in his government the way Buhari has been. There are too many competing and conflicting power centres. Aides create their own mini-empires and work at cross-purposes. The president is there like he’s not there; there’s no cohesion, no oversight, no clearinghouse, no fear of sanction for bad behaviour. The result is self-evident. At the Presidential Villa, First Lady Aisha Buhari has been on incessant public spat with her husband’s family members for control. The leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is in disarray. Buhari has failed to concretely deliver on the tripod of his campaign promises – tackling insecurity, fighting corruption, and reviving the economy – on the strength of which he was elected in 2015.
Buhari’s laissez-faire leadership style has been unhelpful in the battle against Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast and banditry in the northwest. There’s no cohesion, no co-ordination among the armed services; the army deploys troops to insurgents’ enclaves without air support, air force jets bombard Boko Haram camps without the ground troops to mop up operations. The NSA and service chiefs play cat and mouse games, avoid holding strategic meetings. Serial claims of killing scores of bandits, or hundreds of insurgents, or technically degrading Boko Haram become hollow with every such claim countered by indiscriminate violent attacks on innocent civilians, or bloody ambushes of soldiers in the theatre of war. Security chiefs do not seem to feel the pressure of presidential oversight perhaps because Buhari’s peculiar non-challance.
The administration’s policy of rehabilitating repentant Boko Haram members smells. A group of anarchists, in the name of Islam, take up arms against the state. They bomb and kill and rape and maim and burn down communities. Rather than bring those captured in war to justice by prosecuting them, the government rehabilitates them, some allege, even recruit them into the military, while the battle is still on as their erstwhile comrade-in-arms are killing our soldiers and burning down civilian communities. It is difficult to comprehend the woolly thinking behind this policy. It creates the impression that criminality is rewarded, and may not be unconnected, willy-nilly, with the mutation of other criminal gangs in the north west and north central.
The utterances of the president and his aides also appear to enable the agents of violence. A few examples will suffice. Sometime in 2016, when the Benue State government was making efforts, through legislation and robust policy implementation, to nip in the bud the herders’ bloody attack on farming communities and destruction of farmlands, Buhari had urged mourning victims of a massacre to accommodate their countrymen. The administration’s then Defence Minister Mansur Dan Alli had also justified herders’ violent attacks by blaming their victims for farming on cattle routes. And presidential spokesman Femi Adesina, at the height of the controversy surrounding the opposition to the establishment of cattle colonies in every state of the federation, had appeared to explain away, if not justify, herders’ violent attacks on farming communities while answering a question on the ancestral attachment to land in some parts of the country. “Ancestral attachment?”, he had asked scornfully before adding, “You can only have ancestral attachment when you are alive. If you are talking about ancestral attachment, if you are dead, how does the attachment matter?” The president’s communication strategy has indeed been galling. Where he should talk to the people, he talks at them, that is, when he talks at all. The presidency mistakes abuse for engagement, contempt for empathy, campaign for governance, and pettiness for statesmanship. There is an arrogance in communication that would have been laughable were Buhari’s leadership not so terribly poor.
A good leader understands the need to combine two or three leadership styles, particularly when administering a country in a state of war. With his laissez-faire approach, Buhari has not served the nation well as he has failed to uphold the security (and welfare) of the people, which Section 14 (2b) of the 1999 Constitution says shall be “the primary purpose of government”. The president, with his style and policies and utterances, is perhaps the single biggest cause of the deteriorating insecurity situation in the country. With a critical self-examination and a change in strategy, he could also be the solution. Having acknowledged the failure of the security chiefs, perhaps Nigerians would begin to take Buhari seriously when he appoints new service chiefs and doesn’t shy away, as he is wont, from holding them responsible whenever they fail to rein in the terrorists in different guises or disguises. After all, little Chad Republic did show us recently how to deal with Boko Haram, comprehensively.