[OPINION] A Nigerian President On AWOL

Reading Time: 8 minutes

By Benjamin Opene

"We've learned to fly the air like birds, and we've learned to swim the seas like fish, yet we've not learned to walk the Earth like brothers and sisters", said Dr Martin Luther King Jr. during his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Events in Nigerians show a people becoming increasingly tribal and failing to demonstrate any allegiance to their shared nationality. Nigerians are not exactly acting as people unified by the prospects of a common future.

Instead, deep divisions are opening up along ethnic and religious lines. Natives of the Southern and Middle Belt region are now strident in calling for the country's restructuring, with most now preferring outright secession from Nigeria. After more than sixty years of trying but failing to function as one people, it seems the centre can longer hold. But what went wrong and why?

There are indications that the country took a tragic turn at the onset of General Muhammadu Buhari's administration on 29 May 2015. To begin with, it took the president about six months [from 29 May 2015 to 12 November 2015] to actually set up a barely functional cabinet. And when challenged about his rudderless approach to governance, Buhari retorted that "impatience is not a virtue".

A few months later, Nigeria's First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, would start raising the alarm that her husband's presidency had been hijacked and claimed that an "Aso Rock cabal was sidelining the retired army general".

However, the influence and power of this shadowy cabal grew as Buhari spent endless months on his sickbed in the United Kingdom. It soon became apparent that he struggled to physically meet the demands of his office.

Regular and prolonged medical tourism trips without handing over presidential powers to his vice would further strengthen the role of the invisible mafia. What Nigeria ended up with was a "Government" run by religious extremists who allowed Sharia Law in the core Northern States.

Before long, signs of alignment with violent terrorist groups like Boko Haram, Islamic State Province West Africa [ISPWA], and other extremist groups emerged. At the moment, armed groups prowling the Sahel region are steadily drifting southwards and wreaking havoc in their wake.

But rather than mount any spirited effort to confront the worsening security problem, the president seized every opportunity to dash off abroad while Nigeria imploded.

Muhammadu Buhari
Muhammadu Buhari

It is informative that President Buhari had already spent about ten days hiding somewhere in the UK at the time of writing this, bringing the total to about 200 days of such "AWOL" trips since May 2015!

President Buhari left Nigeria in absolute turmoil on the excuse that he was attending the Global Education Summit (GES), which the UK hosted between July 28th and 29th, 2021.

There was actually a viable option for the president to participate virtually, but he chose to travel at the expense of the taxpayer.

Inexplicably, he has remained in the UK for more than one week following the conclusion of the summit, while even President Uhuru Kenyatta, who co-chaired the event, had since returned to his country.

One would expect that any thoughtful leader would maximise any benefits of their visit to the UK by arranging to engage with Nigeria's resourceful diaspora community constructively.

However, he has blatantly chosen not to do so. Indeed, there has never been any record of him dedicating a single day to consulting with the diaspora community whose hard-currency remittances into Nigeria continues to play an important role in the country's development. Annual remittances from Nigeria's diaspora comes only a close second to the annual earnings on petroleum export. These remittances are actually better distributed in terms of the social impact and spread across communities in Nigeria.

But beyond their economic relevance, the Nigerian diaspora is also becoming increasingly assertive in politics with far-reaching socio-cultural influence on home events.

Nigerians abroad are often seen as unofficial representatives of the country within their adoptive communities. Their compatriots back home also consider them valuable role models whose access to relatively modern facilities equips them to lead the way in business, entertainment, sports, academics, music, and other sectors by providing new and refreshing narratives about their native country.

Therefore, it is difficult to see why any progressive-minded leader would refuse to engage constructively with such a vibrant community.

He has consistently ignored protesters asking legitimate questions regarding the failures of his administration. The situation actually got worse on Thursday, 5 August 2021, when Buhari ended up calling the British Police against his fellow compatriots who had gathered at Nigeria House near Trafalgar Square to protest his continuing presence in the UK. But such thoughtless reactions are reflective of the impunity of this president.

The tendency for Nigerians across the world to promptly organise protests whenever and wherever Buhari's presence is announced derives from the actions and inactions of his regime in aiding and abetting terror and tyranny. The genocidal agenda of his administration against indigenous communities have become all too obvious.

Mostly ethnic Fulani gunmen are decimating communities across Nigeria as Nigeria's police and military are ordered to stand down by the authorities and to provide absolutely no protection.

Curiously, the few that dare put up any resistance are promptly declared "terrorists" and will end up getting killed, abducted or hounded out of the country by Nigeria's "security" agencies.

On Tuesday, 8 September 2020, a Benue indigene Terwase Akwaza aka Gana, was allegedly removed from a Benue State Government official convoy and murdered by the Nigerian army in cold blood.

He was killed in the presence of Benue Government officials, who were escorting him to a peace deal initiated by the state government. Nobody has been held accountable for the extrajudicial killing.

In late June 2021, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, a pro-Biafra political activist, was abducted at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, and severely tortured for eight days before he was illegally returned to Nigerian authorities while in a visibly dire state. He is still held incommunicado in Abuja, Nigeria.

Another famous freedom fighter, Chief Sunday Adeyemo, aka Sunday Igboho, was also arrested at the Cadjehoun International Airport in Cotonou, the Benin Republic, on Monday, 21 July 2021.

The arrest was at the behest of the Nigerian authorities. He is still embroiled in extradition battles from the West African country back to Nigeria, where he faces several charges that could ultimately end him being handed capital punishment.

The case of Omeyele Sowore, a pro-democracy activist and founder of the Sahara Reporters, is the ultimate demonstration of the Government's ongoing violations of basic human rights. Sowore was arrested by the authorities on 3 August 2019 and has since had several violent attempts made against his life. Currently, the conditions of his bail deprive him of virtually all of his fundamental human rights.

The brutal crackdown against these freedom fighters stands in stark contrast to the rather accommodating attitude extended to violent bandits of mainly Fulani origin.

These Fulani are the invaders, the aggressors, the kidnappers, the murderers and the Jihadists. Yet, their kind is also in charge of the State security apparatus that refuses to prevent the ongoing genocide.

On the rare occasion when victimised Nigerians are offered some protection through community effort and defensive vigilante groups, leaders of such groups are promptly outlawed, and the leaders declared terrorists.

Curiously, the authorities would actively persecute pro-democracy activists, freedom fighters and peaceful ethnic nationalists but re-integrate captured members of Boko Haram and ISPWA into the Nigerian military. The apparent disparity in treatment has left many Nigerians asking "why".

The deduction, therefore, is that Buhari is executing a mischievous ethnic and religious agenda. He certainly supports the broader Fulani people of the Sahel region in West and Central Africa.

There is well-documented evidence to support claims of heavily-armed Fulani terrorists being ferried into Nigeria from neighbouring countries to sustain the genocidal missions against indigenous populations. Sadly, people trapped inside are not able to organise themselves to resist the onslaught against them.

It is not helpful that the western press ignores the growing humanitarian crises and the brutal crackdown against their colleagues in Nigeria. The visible consequences of this docility become apparent in the actions of a brutal regime now conducting its affairs with impunity.

There is also an increasing number of internally displaced persons within the country. Many communities across the food-producing belt had been specifically targeted, and huge areas of the crop were deliberately destroyed. The situation now makes Nigeria a major contributor to the refugee crises in other African countries and the epicentre of a looming famine.

Amidst the chaos, there is no indication that Buhari is committed to improving or safeguarding the lives of Nigerians.

While he consistently travels around the globe searching for his own healthcare, he has made zero effort to improve the health infrastructure in a country of over 200 million people. In every index used in measuring performance and other critical matters of State, he has consistently failed.

Buhari has also failed to live up to expectations as an unbiased statesman as he continues to exhibit parochialism and nepotism at every opportunity. He pointedly ignores certain regions in almost every national appointment requiring equal representation. Through his actions or inactions, he consistently sends out the message that his priority is the advancement and welfare of his ethnic Fulani.

Therefore, this unhelpful attitude makes it much more difficult for Buhari to engage with the thriving diaspora community who originate from areas in Nigeria where the president prefers to ignore.

After all, these communities are dominated by Nigerians who succeeded through hard work and merit. Such ethics espousing self-development are almost alien to someone like him, and he would struggle to connect with or share the progressive ethos that powers such outstanding achievements and excellence.

As more social and political groups and town hall associations in the diaspora take on the noble cause of calling President Buhari's fledgling regime to order and to demand restructuring or secession, it is vital that the campaigns and protestations must now advance beyond roadside protests.

There is a need to synergise and make representations to agencies related to the cause, such as the World Human Rights Commission. Bringing up Nigeria's widespread violations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and engaging actively with the necessary Protocols to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights should all be the next logical steps to pursue.

Finally, every pro-democracy activist and lovers of freedom are better guided by these eternal words from Samuel Adams, "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget ye were our countrymen".

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