The venue was the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium and the event was the kick-off of the presidential campaign of the then opposition All Progressives Congress, a platform that was hurriedly put together by major opposition parties to oust the then ruling (now opposition) Peoples Democratic Party from power.
On that bright Saturday afternoon, 14th of February, 2015, the presidential candidate of the party, Muhammadu Buhari, took to the podium in the beautiful city of Port Harcourt to reel out his three-prong agenda for the country if voted into office.
In a terse address to the hordes of party supporters as well as Nigerians who took time off their busy daily schedule to watch the live telecast, Buhari, a former military head of state, a retired two-star general in the Nigerian Army listed the focus of his government to include the fight against corruption, insecurity and economy.
Buhari, who is reputable as a man of very few words, lamented the sorry state of the country, especially the poor handling of worsening security by the then incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, and vowed to ‘decisively’ confront the problem headlong.
His exact words, “The fundamental issue facing this country is insecurity and the problem of the economy which is being made worse by corruption. I assure you that we are going to finally assemble a competent team of Nigerians to efficiently manage the country.” At another campaign venue, he even promised to lead the fight from the front and not from behind.
Speaking 12 days later in London, the United Kingdom, precisely at Chatham House, the new poster boy in the political arena was even more direct in his appraisal of the prevailing security situation at that time when he vowed to rout the insurgent Boko Haram Islamist sect ravaging the North-East within six weeks of assuming office.
Addressing his audience that included members of his entourage and world-renown policymakers, he again pooh-poohed the Jonathan led government for paying too little attention to the worsening insecurity in the country with a vow to reverse the trend as ‘a tested general’.
With a little over six years into his leadership, the country has seen the issue of insecurity spiral out of control with a call on the president to admit that Nigeria is contending with something much more serious than the touted acts of banditry.
To observers, who have expressed worries, the spate rather than abating has further escalated. They have called on the president to declare a final onslaught on bandits, admitting Nigeria is at war with rampaging elements that have carried the trade some notches higher.
To be fair to Buhari, the insecurity problem predates his regime but most watchers find it very discomfiting the dangerous turn it has taken from a mere insurgency that was mainly confined to the northeastern fringe to a monster that is threatening to consume the nation.
The monster seems to be having a field day in virtually all the corners of the country unrestrained prompting suggestion in some quarters that Buhari and his officials might either be aiding it or merely standing akimbo and aloof while the nation goes to ruin.
A few indicators of the dire and precarious situation we are in would suffice to buttress my views. It was widely reported that some criminal elements had on July 18 this year shot down a fighter jet belonging to the Nigerian Air Force somewhere in between the Zamfara and Katsina borders.
Emboldened by the unwillingness or perhaps inability of the government to nip the situation in the bud, the same criminal elements two days later shot down another fighter jet but this time, the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, escaped to tell his tale of woes.
It was also recently reported in foreign journals that the Nigerian Air Force paid a sum of N20m to people suspected to be bandits to retrieve a 12.7 calibre anti-aircraft gun which “posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been planning to fly to his hometown” in Katsina State, a claim debunked by the spokesman of the force, Edward Gabkwet.
In all these, the response of the government has been muted with just words of reprimand to those in this trade of death and agony to refrain or risk incurring the wrath of his regime.
Perhaps even more scary is the claim by the visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to his host and counterpart that some elements that had tried to oust him from power are currently hibernating in Nigeria. Yet again, no response from the nation’s highest quarters to this weighty claim.
Knowing the extent to which extremists would go to further their aim and objectives which in most cases are not noble, the assertion of Erdogan should not be brushed aside as gibberish talk but rather as a subtle call on Nigeria and its government to gird their loins with a view to tackling the existential threat staring us in the face.
Passengers on the Abuja-Kaduna rail line who have been pushed away from plying the road linking the two cities became the latest victims of these criminal elements. Those who boarded the train had a raw deal when they became victims of a bomb attack that saw significant damage to the recently completed facility. Yet, no official reaction from the seat of power to a serious national emergency.
The one official reaction came from the management of the Nigerian Railway Corporation who blamed the incident on those it referred to as hoodlums. No arrest, no indication of the government setting up an inquest. Business as usual you will say?
Several calls have been made by respectable voices from virtually all corners of the country but there appears to be this seeming lethargy on the path of the Federal Government to listen prompting heightened fears and apprehension in the land.
So far, those who have made the call include institutions such as the National Assembly. Though some of its members have been making the call for some time, the upper legislative chambers, The Senate, in plenary on Wednesday, September 29, adopted a resolution for the Buhari-led executive arm to deal frontally with banditry across the country with full military force.
The motion was sponsored by members representing Sokoto East, Ibrahim Gobir, and eight others. Sokoto by the way has become the hotbed of banditry in the country as with most states of the North-West.
Lending his voice to the clamour for action was the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, at the presentation of the state’s Security Incidents Report for the Third Quarter of 2021 recently.
El-Rufai should know because his state has been at the receiving end of the orgy of violence being carried out by bandits and he used the occasion to express his frustration saying he had written several letters to the Federal government on the issue since 2017.
His position is that a decisive measure needs to be taken by declaring bandits as terrorists to allow the military to neutralise known bandits without consequences under international law.
But who will tell the president that Nigeria is currently at war when these individuals and institutions are being ignored? The answer to the poser will take some time to come considering the style of Buhari and his handlers to issues relating to insecurity in the country.
Oladipo is a Lagos-based journalist and public historian