Beyond Buhari and Northern Elders feud

Last Sunday harsh criticism of President Buhari’s handling of our security challenges by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has once again brought to the fore the debate about the need for alternative approach to the handling of our crisis of nation building. The forum’s criticism of President Buhari’s administration did not come as a surprise. The forum worked against his ambition during his first three failed attempts to win the presidency and supported him neither in 2015 nor 2019. The case against Buhari according to Abubakar Atiku who got the forum’s backing in 2019 was that Buhari is not Fulani enough. He was probably considered too independent minded while his romance with the poor convinced them he was not going to be a president of law and order which are necessary to sustain a caste system especially in the north.

If there was a surprise at all, it was the government spokesmen resort to name-calling. After all, the forum merely stated the obvious. The ‘recent escalation of attacks by bandits, rustlers and insurgents”, they claimed “had left the people of the North completely at the mercy of armed gangs who roam towns and villages at will, wreaking havoc”. The body went on to accuse “the administration of President Buhari and governors of losing control over the imperatives of protecting people of the North, a constitutional duty that they swore to uphold.” And finally it was their view that “the people of the North had never experienced this level of exposure to criminals who attack, kill, maim, rape, kidnap, burn villages and rustle cattle, while President Buhari issues threats and promises that have no effect”.

The Presidency’s response to the grave allegations was the dismissal of the forum as “a conglomeration of fake elders” whose “antipathy against President Buhari, and its preference for another candidate” could not stop the president’s re-election in 2019. But for the presidency, it did not just rained but poured during the week, in spite of its scathing acidic words.

Early in the week, there was a massive demonstration by Katsina indigenes who reminded the president that Abuja is not his father house just to let him know charity begins at home. A few days later, the Indigenous People of Katsina based in Abuja issued a statement saying Katsina residents now live in perpetual fear and are not sure of the safety of their lives and property. As they put it: “we have watched with a heavy heart how our people are being slaughtered like sheep and goats,…watched helplessly how communities are being invaded and how families and kindred are being wiped out by bandits while security agencies appear helpless.”

It was also in the same week, Senator Abubakar Kyari (Borno) took the case of his people to the senate. He narrated how the latest Boko Haram attack on a village in Gubio Local Government Area of Borno State on June 9 left over 90 persons killed and over 50 critically injured.

Senator Ali Ndume who admitted the killings that had been going on in the last 11 years in the north has been complicated by added issues of banditry, herdsmen conflicts and other security challenges in the North-central. He urged the Federal Government to “immediately begin the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Nigeria’s Security Challenges as a way of addressing the nation’s current security challenges”.

It must be said that Katsina, the President’s home state, which has been under siege in the last four years shares similar fate with southern Kaduna where bandits, insurgents and herdsmen received settlement funds from government only to seize Kaduna-Abuja roads for several months forcing travellers to use train or airline; Taraba, where Theophilus Danjuma, former Defence Minister after accusing the police and soldiers of aiding the killer squad, called on Nigerians to embark on self-defence to protect their lives and properties. In Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa, the mindless killings have become periodic rituals. In Zamfara the deployment of police and army formations, tanks, fighter jets and helicopters has not stopped mindless killings.

As against a government coherent strategy to confront the above tragedies, government spokesmen as usual reassured us that the president “is steadily and steadfastly focusing on the task of retooling Nigeria”. I am not sure Nigerians have problems with President Buhari’s good intentions and his commitment to the Nigerian project. What Nigerians have problem with is strategy.

The president’s response has similarly brought little relief. According to him, “ending insurgency, banditry and other forms of criminality across the nation is being accorded appropriate priorities and the men and women of the Armed Forces of Nigeria have considerably downgraded such threats across all geopolitical zones”. Not many Nigerians who have become used to the president’s sanctimonious sing-song since 2016 will take that seriously. The president also spoke of how “the security agencies can nip in the bud any planned attacks in remote rural areas”. He did not say how they will do this with his unyielding opposition to state policing.

And finally, the president revealed that “the government had expanded the National Command and Control Centre to 19 states of the federation, resuscitated the National Public Security Communication System and commenced the implementation of the Community Policing Strategy.”

Solution to our crisis of nation-building is not more centralisation but more devolution of power. Except for the northern governors including those of the besieged states, Nigerians want local policing and not community policing controlled by the federal government.

In the north where Fulani constitute about 20% of the population, all emirs just as all governors, national assembly representatives and state houses of assembly members are said to be predominantly Fulani. The Fulani emirs and chiefs owned all the land while Hausas according to some recent studies own land only as a tenant of the local chief and must pay rents in form of produce every year. It is therefore understandable while northern governors are opposed to local policing.

President Buhari however has a unique opportunity to change this narrative in the north because of the support he enjoys among the ‘talakawas’ that consistently gave him 12 million northern votes since his involvement in presidential contest, the reason he was detested by the northern hegemonic class. The ongoing revolts in Sokoto, Zanfara and Katsina are evidence enough that the current caste system in the north where 90% of the 10 million of out of school pupils are children of the poor is a recipe for more violence in the near future.

It is also now clear that the old strategy of integrating a few non-Fulani through marriage, business and politics can no more serve the needs of 21st century northern Nigeria. Tafawa Balewa, a southern Bauchi minority whose grandmother according to Richard Sclar, his autobiographer wanted all Fulani out of their area or killed emerged prime minister only to fight Ahmadu Bello’s wars against Awo instead of Nigeria’s battle. In 1966, while the west was burning, he waited patiently for the premier of the north to return from Saudi Arabia before declaring state of emergency as demanded by students of the University of Ibadan. The waiting became too late for him and for the country. Like him, Gowon and Babangida fought wars on behalf of the northern hegemonic class. Buhari perhaps still has an opportunity to be remembered as a Nigerian leader.

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