These are strange times in Nigeria – the strangeness of the very familiar.
President Muhammadu Buhari swept into power on 29 May on the promise of “change”. It was meant to be “change” from the inept and corrupt administration of Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan’s failure to tackle decisively Boko Haram terror, particularly his insensitivity in not even addressing publicly for two weeks the kidnap of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Chibok, were possibly the biggest contributory factors in his defeat to Buhari.
Buhari, was helped by the perception that he was a no-nonsense general, who even if he was a throwback to a gone but not missed era, it was hoped by many he would know how to deal with the security issues that plagued the country.
Six months later, it is like nothing has changed.
While running for president he said: “ If you elect me as the president of Nigeria on February 14, 2015, I am assuring you that our government will chase Boko Haram out of Nigeria within two months because it is the responsibility of any reasonable government to secure the lives and property of its citizens.”
Three months into his administration in August, with Boko Haram getting bolder in their attacks, the president gave the military another deadline of three months to defeat the insurgency. It is now December and the end of Boko Haram is not in sight, despite moving the command and control HQ of the army to Maiduguri – the northeast heartland of Boko Haram.
Instead of being defeated, the militants reportedly destroyed a military base in Gulak on Sunday night with the soldiers fleeing and leaving armed civilians to defend their town. On 17 November Boko Haram allegedly captured 107 soldiers and their commanders from the 157 Battalion in Gudunbali. This was only denied over the phone by Chief of Army Staff Lt-General Tanko Buratai.
But a military intelligence officer has reportedly confirmed that the soldiers were missing and the insurgents were said to have driven off with an army T-72 tank and other weapons.
On Sunday night Boko Haram also kidnapped dozens of teenage girls in Bam.
The president, in the meantime, flew from Malta to France. He returned from France yesterday and is expected to be off to South Africa tomorrow. He has now been abroad 14 times since he came into power in May.
Just like Jonathan before him, no crisis in Nigeria is enough for him to cancel a foreign trip.
In March candidate Buhari tweeted: “The countless man hours that will be spent at petrol stations today, will reduce our productivity as a nation. This should not be so.” It is so today. The country has been ground to a halt for about a month due to fuel shortages, power supply has returned to “normal”, which is an average of six hours a day for the lucky ones, the economy is going south as oil prices plummet, there is a low-intensity civil war raging between Fulani herdsmen and farmers around north-central Nigeria and beyond, but the president prefers to collect air miles.
This “as you were” type of “change” should come as no surprise. Buhari claimed he was taking his time to appoint ministers because he needed time to ensure he appointed credible people. After taking five months to make the appointments, he ended up handing jobs to the likes of former governors Babatunde Fashola, Rotimi Amaechi and Kayode Fayemi, who have been part of the political elite since 1999 and have little credibility from their time as governors.
Buhari also chose a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman and Second Republic minister, Audu Ogbeh, as minister for agriculture. One of the first things Ogbeh said on taking office was that he would continue the policies of his predecessor.
In the five months before the new ministers took office, the Permanent Secretary in the agriculture ministry Sonny Echono said “not much has changed in terms of policy” from the previous administration.
Many are now seeing that not much has changed in policy, action, inaction and insensitivity towards the plight of the majority of Nigerians.
The only thing that seems to have changed is that many of those who raged against Jonathan’s similar globetrotting while Nigeria burned seem to have lost their voices.