25 November 2018
After waiting nearly a week before responding to the news that Boko Haram terrorists may have killed up to 100 Nigerian soldiers, and only responding because of the huge outcry on social media in an election season, President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly summoned service chiefs for an “emergency security meeting” last Friday.
Today, whoever is responsible for the Buhari’s Twitter handle tweeted:
We must resist the temptation to play politics with the tragedy of the deaths of our soldiers. They are heroes on the frontlines,fighting to make Nigeria a safer place for us all. Rest assured that the circumstances that have led to these deaths will be comprehensively addressed.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) November 25, 2018
This is plain ignorance. The security (and insecurity) of Nigerians or that of those whose job it is to protect Nigerians is a very political issue.
Section 14(2)(b) of the Nigerian constitution declares that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. This is the yardstick by which governments should be judged. A failed state is one in which the government can no longer fulfill its basic functions such as protecting its citizens. And no government deserves to stay in power if it can’t properly perform the function of protection of lives and property.
So the claim from Buhari that people shouldn’t “play politics” with what is clearly a political issue is disingenuous to say the least. The opposition has every right to gain political advantage from poor security because that is what opposition means in a democracy – providing voters with an alternative on the basis of delivering essentials such as security.
It is indeed hypocritical of Buhari to attempt to detach deaths arising from insecurity from politics when he did exactly the same thing he is complaining about when he was running for president about four years ago. Then the country, as now, was facing increased violent attacks from Boko Haram. Buhari argued that he was a better option as president because he is a retired general and understood security issues. Speaking at Chatham House in February 2015, Buhari said: “I as a retired general, and a former head of state, have always known about our soldiers. They are capable, they are well-trained and patriotic and always ready to do their duty to the service of their country…. in the matter of the insurgency our soldiers have neither received the necessary support nor the required incentives to tackle this problem [Boko Haram].” He called it “a big disgrace” that the army could not secure the 14 local government districts lost to Boko Haram. He added that if he won the (s)election “no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service. We will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunition to work with. We will improve intelligence-gathering and border patrols.”
Was he “playing politics” with Boko Haram attacks then? No, he was doing what the opposition should do: oppose the government. After the terror attack in Manchester in 2017, Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition in the UK, linked “terrorism here at home” to “wars our government has supported or fought in other countries”. He also said “the responsibility of government is to minimise that chance [of a terror attack]– to ensure the police have the resources they need”. Corbyn pledged a Labour government will put 20,000 more police officers on the streets, accusing the ruling Conservatives of slashing police budgets and reducing their ability to prevent an attack or deal with the consequences of one.
So deaths from insecurity are clearly a major political issue that can’t and shouldn’t be removed from politics. Anyone trying to say otherwise is trying to deflect attention from their failures. Buhari, the candidate, accused the Goodluck Jonathan administration of diverting funds meant for fighting terrorism to corrupt purposes, leaving the troops vulnerable with obsolete equipment. Nigerian soldiers are still complaining about the same issues of not having the tools to do their jobs properly because of corruption. To avoid talking about these issues is doing a disservice to those fighting and aiding those looting the funds meant for the troops.