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A genius in his craft, Alhaji Kareem Adepoju aka Baba Wande remains my favourite Nigerian actor. And it all started from the time of the Oyin Adejobi Theatre Group when he was the star attraction in epics such as “Ekuro Oloja”, “Kuye,” etc., before he now came with his own blockbuster: “Ti Oluwa Ni Ile”. However, the play that I would never forget is the one titled “Oba Igbalode” which can be translated to mean “Modern Day King”, even though it was not the role Adepoju played (palace jester called Gbajumo) that is central to this intervention.
With the enthronement of a new king (Tafa Oloyede) came proclamations that were clearly antithetical to the peace of the village and because some of the chiefs would not support him on the road to perdition, the king decided to humiliate them. The first victim was the “Jagun” (Chief Warrior) who was invited over to the palace where many villagers were already seated. Quick as a flash, the king moved from his throne, grabbed the “Jagun” by the legs and before the dazed chief knew what was happening, he found himself on the floor. His mission accomplished, the king gestured to the people, pointed to the disgraced chief on the floor and said with contempt: “E wo Jagun ilu mi!” (Behold, the chief warrior of my village!)
Regardless of the element of surprise and other considerations, what is not in doubt is that the king made his point, however diabolical. That I guess is the message the Boko Haram insurgents are sending by their capture of Vimtim in Mubi North Local Government of Adamawa State. For those who may not know, Vimtim is the hometown of Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh.
About three weeks ago, on October 16 to be precise, Badeh announced a ceasefire deal with Boko Haram in an unsigned and undated statement that was not on any official letter head. Even though that was in itself curious (and I have it on good authority that the statement may have been dictated from elsewhere) field commanders who were caught by surprise nonetheless had to comply by stopping all hostilities with Boko Haram. But Shekau, who has resurrected as many times as he has been reportedly killed, was quick in dismissing the ceasefire as nothing but a scam while “the issue of the (Chibok) girls is long forgotten because I have long married them off.”
On Tuesday, following a Council of State meeting, the Federal Government confirmed that there was indeed no ceasefire agreement. “The NSA was of the opinion that high level contact with the Republic of Chad was made and that there were some persons who acted on behalf of Boko Haram and who claimed to have authority also had discussions with them and there are some Nigerian officials with them. And, of course, no agreement has been reached yet, it is just that the press probably misunderstood what was reported. The discussions are ongoing,” said Governor Godswill Akpabio, who briefed the media after the meeting.
That disclosure, to put it mildly, is rather shocking. What was the sense in asking our troops to commit themselves to passivity while the insurgents were allowed to operate freely based on negotiations that we are now told were yet to be concluded? Unfortunately, nobody asked Akpabio whether it was the press that invented the statement on the ceasefire that came from Badeh’s office or the subsequent interviews by presidency officials who gave Nigerians graphic details of those behind the negotiations and how the abducted Chibok girls would be released.
As one of the people who dared to believe the “Boko Haram ceasefire” because I always want to hope for the best, I cannot come to terms with the fact that our troops were told to stay action against Boko Haram just because talks were going on with some characters. Now that the insurgents seem to have turned the unilateral ceasefire to mean surrender on the part of our military, taking several towns, including that of Badeh, the question being frequently posed on the social media is: If our Chief of Defence Staff cannot secure his hometown and protect his own immediate kinsmen, how can he defend the territorial integrity of our country?
Unfortunately, from Badeh’s body language when he discussed the development with media men in Abuja, he did not appear to share the seriousness of the psychological blow that Boko Haram has dealt him. To be sure, Badeh accepted full responsibility for the catalogue of setbacks that include the botched ceasefire as well as military losses. But it is beyond ridiculous to say that the embarrassment of the terrorists over-running his hometown has no particular significance. Even at that, the whole tragedy should not be reduced to what has happened to Badeh’s hometown.
With mixed messages from the military high command and the apparent low morale of the troops on the field, stories of desertion are now common while Nigeria loses territories to the insurgents almost every day. A report in Daily Trust at the weekend revealed that the insurgents have already seized control of over 20,000 square kilometers in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, a territory bigger than several countries and particularly larger than Imo, Abia and Ekiti states put together. Shekau has since declared the annexed territory a Boko Haram Islamic caliphate with Gwoza as the headquarters while Mubi, the second largest town and commercial never centre of Adamawa State has been renamed “Madinatul Islam” by the insurgents who are effectively in charge there.
Given the foregoing, I fail to understand why the authorities are not paying attention to the fact that we are gradually losing our country to the insurgents. Only on Monday, the Borno State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Zanna Mustapha, said in Yola that going by the ease with which Boko Haram insurgents are capturing territories in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, the entire three North-Eastern states could soon be lost to Nigeria. “If the Federal Government does not add extra effort, in the next two to three months, the three North-Eastern states will no longer be in existence,” he said. “The Federal Government has tried its best but their best is not enough because rather than going after the insurgents, it is the insurgents that are going after us. It is a big shame that the criminals are better equipped than the military and they are just few kilometres from the Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states capitals,” Mustapha said.
Mustapha is not the only person that is concerned about the growing audacity of the insurgents. The latest interview by Ahmad Salkidar, a journalist believed to have close contacts with Boko Haram, is as revealing as it is frightening. He said clearly that the goal of the sect is to upturn the current constitutional order and impose their brand of Sharia on Nigeria. While pointing out the danger we face as a nation from the activities of the sect and the need for the army to be prepared to fight and win, he also dismissed the ceasefire claims, or indeed that there could ever be one, in words that are measured and patriotic.
After reading Salkidar, I am now more worried about the federal government approach to the war against insurgency and I will recommend to the authorities Chapter 22 of Robert Greene’s book, “The 33 Strategies of War”. Titled “Know How to End Things: The Exit Strategy”, Greene had used the idea of the great German General Erwin Rommel who once made a distinction between a gamble and a risk. Both cases involve an action with only a chance of success. According to Greene, “the difference is that with risk, if you lose, you can recover: Your reputation will suffer no long term damage, your resources will not be depleted, and you can return to your original position with acceptable losses. With a gamble, on the other hand, defeat can lead to a slew of problems that are likely to spiral out of control.
“With a gamble there tend to be too many variables to complicate the picture down the road if things go wrong. The problem goes further, if you encounter difficulties in a gamble, it becomes harder to pull out- you realise that the stakes are too high: you cannot afford to lose. So you try harder to rescue the situation, often making it worse and sinking deeper into a hole that you cannot get out of. People are drawn into gambles by their emotions: they see only the glittering prospects if they win and ignore the ominous consequences if they lose. Taking risks is essential: gambling is foolhardy. It can be years before you recover from a gamble, if you ever recover at all…”
The war against insurgency is not easy anywhere in the world and prosecuting it may sometimes involve elements of calculated risks. However, the idea of a unilateral ceasefire to an enemy that is not seeking truce is now looking more like a political gamble, may be even gambit.
As I have had the privilege of telling some of the people around the president, 2015 is not as important as they make it out to be because even if he secures a second term next year, 2019 is almost here so they should be more concerned about his legacy. To that extent, a situation where valuable hours are spent plotting how to remove a speaker just because he changed political party and where the security agencies are overreaching themselves by interpreting the law to score a cheap political goal do not show an appreciation of the challenge we face at a time we should be mobilising all resources and our national will to fight a dangerous insurgency.
The Lesson of Compaore’s Fall
When the end finally came for the dictator in Burkina Faso after 27 years in power last Friday, it was so surreal that Mr Blaise Compaore thought he could still exert his dominance over events by choosing to supervise a transition he had earlier foreclosed with a dubious constitutional amendment process. Not only did the people reject his offer, he is now practically on the run, leaving his country in turmoil. It came to that because, like most African leaders, Compaore did not understand that public office is not what you hold onto forever.
Of the several African presidents who completed their constitution-bound tenure in the last two decades, only eight have left office without seeking any constitutional amendment to extend their stay in office. They are: Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, Mathieu Kerekou of Benin Republic, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, Mascarenhas Monteiro of Cape Verde, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, Alpha Konaré of Mali, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Miguel Trovoada of São Tomé and Príncipe. Of course there was the much-revered Mr. Nelson Mandela (now of blessed memory) in South Africa who pledged to spend only one term as president and stayed true to his promise.
However, three other African leaders have also attempted some contrived but failed constitutional amendments to extend their tenure. They are: The late Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Bakili Muluzi of Malawi and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. In the intervening period, seven long-serving African leaders have secured constitutional amendments that allowed them to stand for a third term in office: Idriss Deby of Chad (president since 1990), Omar Bongo of Gabon (who has been in power since 1967), the late Lansana Conte of Guinea (who was president of Chad from 1984 until he died in 2008), Gnassingbe Eyadema (President of Togo from 1967, also until his death in 2005) and Yoweri Museveni (who has been president of Uganda since January 1986). Sam Nujoma (president of Namibia from 1990 to 2005) sought and secured an extra-constitutional third term after which he left while Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso (who had been in power since 1987) also sought Constitutional amendment that secured for him a term before he was upended last Thursday while plotting for a fourth term.
The list of course does not include Robert Mugabe who at 90 has spent the last 34 years as president of Zimbabwe; Jose Eduardo Santos, who has led Angola since1979, Todore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who has also been president since 1979 and Paul Biya of Cameroun, who came to power exactly 32 years ago today (my birthday and Simon Kolawole’s) on 6th November, 1982!
However, with the 24 hour upheaval that swept Compaore out of power in Burkina Faso last week, many sit-tight African leaders, including those who believe in their omnipotence, should now know that when push comes to shove, power ultimately belongs to the people.
The Verdict Written By Olusegun Adeniyi and Culled from Thisday; firstname.lastname@example.org
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