The government of the day is guilty of an illicit jump. It was too hasty in declaring the defeat of Boko Haram even when there was no empirical evidence to that effect.
It all began with the charge by President Muhammadu Buhari to service chiefs shortly after assumption of office that Boko Haram must be defeated by the end of December 2015. The President might have spoken in that manner in line with his avowals during the campaigns that Boko Haram would become history once he was elected. His charge to the security agencies was, therefore, understandable. But what rankled was the exuberance with which some of his lieutenants approached the presidential directive.
The minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stands out here. He it was who, in December 2015, went to town with the declaration that “we have defeated Boko Haram.” The minister released those triumphal lines so that Nigerians would go home with the impression that the President has delivered on his campaign promise. But much more than that, Mohammed was driven by another consideration. He was interested in comparing notes. He wanted Nigerians to believe that the present administration has succeeded where its predecessor failed. The compulsive penchant for comparison has not helped the policy direction of this government.
The government set sail on this preemptive premise. But because no proper foundation was laid for the show of superiority, the make-belief has not been able to hold water. Now it has collapsed like a house of cards. Government is, at the moment, facing an embarrassment that is traceable to its ill-thought-out declaration. The fortune it laid claim to has been reversed too quickly by the abduction of 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State, by the Boko Haram insurgents that government claimed to have defeated. The embarrassment called Dapchi is, therefore, a self-inflicted red eye. It is the price that government has to pay for indulging in undue triumphalism.
Dapchi, in all its ramifications, has made nonsense of all the declared successes of government in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents. It has also settled the fact that this government does not possess the magic wand. Some four years ago, the drivers of this government were on the opposite end of the divide. They jeered and jibed freely at the government of the time over the abduction of schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State. They labelled the government incompetent and clueless. They said a new order represented by them would change the security situation in the country for good. The propaganda spearheaded by Mohammed worked. The government of Goodluck Jonathan was substantially weakened by the onslaught from the opposition. Regrettably, the messianic posturing has turned out to be a red flag. The turn of events has shown that it was merely pretensious. The only thing the government has going for it is that the opposition of the day is amateur. It scratches issues on the surface. It does not seem to have the capacity to lay bare the foibles and inadequacies of the present administration.
But if the opposition is not up to the task before it, the Nigerian publics are no lame ducks. They know that the present government is merely struggling. They know that it is going through fits and starts. That explains why Alhaji Mohammed is running from pillar to post over the Dapchi abduction. He does not want to be accused of what he accused the Jonathan government of. But the antics have not worked. In the final analysis, he is as confused on the way out of the security quagmire as those he jibed at four years ago over Chibok. Providing us with the age range and classes of the abducted schoolgirls solves nothing. It does not fill any gap.
If the present government wants to make progress, it must purge itself of a certain hangover. It should allow the previous administration to be and learn to look ahead. Right now, it is bogged down by the excess luggage that it has chosen to carry along. Maybe someone needs to remind the government of the goodwill that its principal enjoyed prior to his election as President. When schoolgirls were abducted from Chibok, the Cable News Network (CNN) was here to interrogate the Jonathan administration. It could not understand why such an abduction should take place. It took the Jonathan administration to task. It was in the aftermath of the Chibok drama that The Economist ( of London) endorsed Buhari for President. The magazine said its position was informed by the belief that Buhari as a retired General would be in a better position to fight terrorism.
The magazine also said that Buhari would be better suited for the job because he would command the respect and confidence of the military officers who are directly involved in the fight to root out Boko Haram. Jonathan, not being a courageous President, caved in in the face of all this. He lost the election out of panic.
Nearly three years down the line, the foreign news media that once held Buhari in high esteem have recanted. CNN is unable to visit Nigeria to interrogate the present government. It has simply decided to stay away from the embarrassment, describing Dapchi as a national disgrace. The Economist, before the end of last year, had cause to lament the turn of events in Nigeria. The magazine noted that the government of the day is being plagued with failures across every sector in the governance index. It would be unfortunate if the operators of our government are not seeing what others are seeing. But whether they see it or not, the fact remains that the situation in the country is crying to high heavens for redemption. The most urgent task before the government is the rescue of the Dapchi girls. Chibok took place nearly four years ago. Up till now, over 100 of the schoolgirls remain missing. Government has been promising to rescue them. But that has remained at the level of promise. The #BringBackOurGirls campaigners have also grown weary. Government has refused to interface with them. They are even being harassed routinely. They appear to have given up on the rescue of the Chibok schoolgirls. But Dapchi has compounded the Chibok issue. Government is now faced with a more Herculean task. However, since Dapchi has just taken place, the expectation is that our security agencies should be able to rescue them as quickly as possible. The ongoing blame game between the police and the army is unnecessary. What matters now is the rescue of the Dapchi schoolgirls.
As efforts are being made to unravel the Dapchi conundrum, government owes itself and Nigerians a responsibility to climb down from its high horse. With Dapchi, it has become clear that all the claims about the defeat of Boko Haram are not real. They are deceitful. It does not even make sense to announce the defeat of Boko Haram. If the insurgent group is decimated, Nigerians will not need to be told. They will feel the atmosphere of freedom from terror. At this point, Alhaji Mohammed has to admit that he has erred. He has to publicly withdraw his earlier declaration on the purported defeat of Boko Haram. The insurgents are still a strong force to reckon with.
Government should silently deal with the scourge. Going on air with triumphal declarations as Alhaji Mohammed is given to is not what government should be doing.
•This column originally appeared in today’s edition of Daily Sun. Amanze Obi can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org