By Simon Shango
The Nigerian media buzzed with news of the visit of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. TY Buratai on Monday 14th September 2020 to the home State of his senior and retired colleague, Gen. Gen. Alani Akinrinade, Osun.
The former COAS had a privilege, courtesy of the invitation extended to him by the Osun State Governor, to speak at a banquet dinner in honour of his visiting predecessor to Osun State, which took place at the Osun State Govt House Banquet Hall.
My heart gladdened at this development in the sense that while overtly, the visit to the State was to commission projects executed by the Nigerian Army under its plank of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); underneath that chanced meeting, lied the window of the COAS interacting with his senior colleague to tap from his rich treasure of experience as the former COAS and later Chief of Defence Staff under the Shagari Presidency in the 1980s.
However, media accounts of the speech of Gen. Akinirinade (rtd) reported verbatim left me with a sour taste in the mouth. It contained somewhat “abominable” utterances which undermined his status as an elder statesman, the office of the President of Nigeria, and even his guest, Gen. Buratai. I found his remarks and message to Mr. President extremely distasteful by the sheer misrepresentations and misplacements of existing facts.
Let me admit ab initio that as peers and people within the same age, who are now regarded as elders, I will be unfair to discuss such sensitive issues publicly. But when it becomes a public document like his speech, it is only wise that I respond to Gen. Akinrinade in the same manner and fashion he ventilated his opinions because he politicized the issues by my judgment.
It was my utmost conviction that Gen. Akinrinade (rtd) having climbed steadily through the ranks in the military to become a Lieutenant General, one expected him to have acted better while commenting on a sensitive matter as the security challenges facing the country. He, however, disappointed me and I believe many other Nigerians. First, the retired General should have sought to discuss these issues in private, rather than making it public.
As an elder, a former colleague of Mr. President in the Nigerian Army and stakeholder in the Nigerian project, there is no way President Buhari wouldn’t have granted Gen. Akinrinade a private audience. President Buhari is a listening President, who respects every elder in the country and even the ordinary Nigerian knows this. The outcome of a private visit would have gone a long way in complementing the enormous successes Buhari has recorded in the fight against insecurities in the country. His assertions on the security situation in the country are misleading and they do not portray him as someone very knowledgeable on the subject matter.
It is unfortunate that Gen. Akinrinade easily bought into the cheap propaganda that the President is a sectional leader who promotes the agenda for a takeover of Nigeria by his Fulani tribe as disseminated by the opposition and his detractors. As an elder statesman, Akinrinade should be at the forefront of championing for a Nigeria that is devoid of division. His age and experience should play a part to convince the younger generation that no President can put his immediate tribe above the collective good of the nation. It is rather unfortunate that he has enlisted into the league of those spreading hate against the President’s tribe.
The former Defence Chief has forgotten that the issue of herdsmen and farmers predates the Buhari administration. As the President and Commander-in-Chief, Buhari has accorded appropriate priority in this regard by putting measures in place to curtail the excesses of the herdsmen on farmers.
For instance, in 2018, the Defence Headquarters kicked off “Exercise Ayem A Akpatema” (cat race) phases I, II and now III; which is operating alongside “Operation Whirl Stroke” (OPWS) in the Middle Belt. It features a Joint Military Intervention Force (JMIF), comprising Regular and Special Forces personnel from the Army, Air Force and Navy, and working in collaboration with the Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Security (DSS), and Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC).
The main aim of these Military operations is to counter armed herdsmen and militia groups operating especially around Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Plateau States and environs. These operations have been very successful in restoring calm to its areas of coverage. The Governors of these states have testified to its workability at different times. And with the successes recorded by these operations, it will be unfair for anyone to say the President does not interfere in curbing the brigandage of the Fulani herdsmen.
Again, Gen. Akinrinade said that the President has performed woefully in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency. But we all were aware when Boko Haram was infiltrating all the nook and crannies of this country prior to Buhari’s emergence as the President and even making ingress into Southern Nigeria. Markets were not safe, neither were schools and churches. As the Centre of attraction, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, was not safe also for anyone. It is a statement of fact that bombs were exploding everywhere in this country prior to President Buhari’s emergence as Nigeria’s democratic leader.
The fight against Boko Haram and other forms of criminalities have received priority attention under the Buhari administration and the men and women of the Armed Forces of Nigeria have considerably downgraded similar threats across all geo-political zones. In fact, all the Local Governments and territories that were hitherto taken over by the Boko Haram insurgents in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states have long been recovered and are now occupied by displaced indigenes of these areas who were hitherto forced to seek a living in areas far from their ancestral homes.
More than a million displaced persons have returned to their homes and communities across the Northeast, since 2016. Thousands of hostages have been freed from Boko Haram captivity, including the majority of the Chibok schoolgirls abducted in April 2014, and 105 of the Dapchi Girls abducted in February 2018.
I think, with these efforts, history will always smile on President Buhari. And people like Gen. Akinrinade, who have chosen to be economical with the truth need to rather support the President to do more, since securing the nation is a collective effort and does not rest with one man.
Gen. Akinrinade also raised the issue of the President’s appointments not reflecting the heterogeneous composition of our country, Nigeria. What the General fails to comprehend is that President Buhari has never refused to honour the constitutional requirement to appoint people across the country in his government. But be that as it may, every President would prefer to appoint people that he/she would work closely with based on their competence, loyalty and trustworthiness, and not their ethnicity or religion. And the president has not hidden this fact. Moreover, all the actions and inactions of the administration will be solely placed on him after his tenure.
Gen. Akinrinade sounded sarcastic as if much is not done on the welfare of the security personnel. But credit must also be given to President Buhari for taking the interest of the military and other security agencies seriously. We are all aware of how the previous government diverted monies meant for the purchase of arms and the welfare of our security for personal use.
The Buhari administration has not only made sure that our security agencies have enough arms to fight terrorism and other forms of criminality, the government has approved and implemented new salary packages for the Military and Police. It has similarly, established a Nigerian Police Trust Fund as a public-private sector vehicle for alternative sources of funding security activities. This has gone a long way to motivate our security personnel to put in their best.
Above all, though, the request by Gen. Akinrinade to the COAS for more projects in Osun states is most baffling. May I kindly remind him that the Nigerian Army is not a projects development and execution agency. It is only Gen. Buratai’s leadership foresight and feeling for humanity that has introduced CSR projects from the Army’s meagre resources.
Again, agitations for succession as alleged by the retired General, have been with us in this country for a long time and this cannot be placed on the doorsteps of President Buhari. I am sure that Gen. Akninrinade knows this. As far as I am concerned, the President has done his best to keep the country as one.
Looking at the motley of problems he inherited, there are obvious signs that the country is heading towards the right direction. Statesmen like Gen. Akinrinade needs to seek the private attention of the President and offer genuine suggestions and advise; not by playing to the gallery or swimming in currents of politics like others.
Again, with all the noise and allegations that the President does not support the restructuring of the country, people like Gen. Akinrinade have suddenly forgotten that President Buhari and his party, the APC included devolution of power, true federalism in their manifesto. The party constituted a restructuring committee in 2019, headed by the Governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai. That committee has submitted its report to the party caucus which the President is a member. The President too endorsed the outcome.
But one thing people have failed to understand is that restructuring lies with the National Assembly. The President is not a military dictator; he cannot change anything by decree. Sovereignty in Nigeria now is vested in the National Assembly. Before restructuring can take place, there must be an act of the National Assembly to create that referendum. It is not the President that would do it by fiat or by Executive Order. It must go through the National Assembly. But already some Southerners like former President Olusegun Obasanjo are already kicking against the idea of the proposed constitutional amendment.
Let me again touch on the issue of herders/farmers clashes. The allegations that farmers have been forced to abandon their farms as a result of insecurity and as such famine is imminent is totally false because most of our displaced people have returned to their farms as a result of the stability in the security of the country.
More Nigerians have taken advantage of the opportunity in the agri-business sector initiative put in place by the government through the food security initiative, where the government is promoting “Grow What We Eat” and “Eat What We Grow.” The CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme and other similar schemes have rather attracted more farmers. With these initiatives and bumper harvests that we have experienced from the previous years, Nigeria cannot be borrowing grains from neighbouring ECOWAS countries as the retired General alleged. Akinrinade should know better.
Chief Shango is a veteran journalist and wrote from Abuja.