Naja’atu Muhammed has quite a few “firsts” to her name. She was the first female president of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria students’ union. She was the first woman to be elected senator in Kano State. This afternoon it appears she has become the first person to call out the Nigerian political and military class on national TV for terrorism.
The firebrand activist, whose late husband Bala Muhammed, then a political adviser to governor Abubakar Rimi in Kano State, was killed by a rioting mob in 1981, was speaking as chairperson of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) annual Chibok girls lecture in Abuja today. She started off stressing the need for identifying causes before looking at solutions.
In her view, the causes of the crisis in Nigeria’s northeast were ecological – the drying up of the Lake Chad, and the “irresponsibility of the military and political elite”. Once she got that out of the way, it didn’t take long for her to warm up and started calling out names.
Watch her speech below:
She named and shamed “Ali Sheriff” for starting Boko Haram. Ali Modu Sheriff was a two-term governor of Borno State (the epicentre of the Boko Haram crisis) from 2003-2011 and one-time caretaker chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Muhammed alleged that Sheriff armed and used Boko Haram as political thugs and even made one of them a commissioner in his government. The thugs then became too powerful and couldn’t be controlled by the likes of Sheriff.
She then spoke about how the military “cashed in” on the insurgency as former president Goodluck Jonathan was spending 2bn naira ($5.5m) a day “on security”. She said “terrorism is now a multi-billion dollar industry” and revealed that she served on a committee that indicted the military for getting rich from the insurgency. She also alleged that there was no house in Borno State in which the military had not “plundered, raped or killed”.
She mocked current president Muhammadu Buhari, who was “supposed to be fighting” corruption as she claimed that current military leadership was “an extension” of those that looted in the past. She added that the military plunderers were still serving and the government was “sustaining and retaining” them.
Muhammed blamed the political elite for “cashing in on poverty” of the people and turning them into “slaves of religious and ethnic manipulation”. She asked the audience if they have ever seen the child of a governor campaigning during an election, adding that the president’s children don’t get involved. The dirty work for the politicians was done by the children of the poor.
Muhammed challenged the legitimacy of the Nigerian government by declaring that “we don’t have a nation, we don’t have a country.” She explained that the primary responsibility of a government was to “secure the territorial integrity of the nation” and to protect lives. A failure to do this means the government “lacks legitimacy”.
She called for a “thorough overhaul of the military”, adding that the Buhari government has failed to do this because they “don’t give a hoot”.
Muhammed didn’t spare the Nigerian public with her fiery rhetoric. She said anyone that continues to see Nigeria’s challenges “through the prism of religion or tribe” was “part of the problem”. She ended with condemning those that sit on the fence as either a “coward, hypocrite, or both”. She left to a standing ovation as Harriet Thompson, the British deputy high commissioner in Abuja who was in the audience, tweeted:
Brilliant speeches from Naja'atu Bala Muhammad & @T_Bakare Red hands from clapping. Citizens, your politicians should serve you not the other way round. Nigerians, help your women take their place – starts with education #BringBackOurGirls @UKinNigeria https://t.co/EV8uCvi13r
— Harriet Thompson (@HCThompson001) April 14, 2018