Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari 

Last Monday, The PUNCH ran a blistering editorial on the parochial pattern of President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments. And on the same day, PUNCH online carried a story on why a militant group recently aborted a planned declaration of a Republic of the Niger Delta. The president and the militant group are at loggerheads, yet it is remarkable how the articles demonstrate their commonality and illuminate a problem with Nigeria.

Buhari seems impervious to criticism regarding his parochial appointments. After the uproar over the appointment of special advisers, one would think that the retired general would begin to reckon with obvious sensitivities, sensitivities for which the constitution wisely prescribes an accommodation. What has happened instead is an audacious pattern of regression in regional balance. Rather than redress past lopsided appointments, he is aggravating matters by firing Southern officials and replacing them with Northern Muslims.

This begs for explanations. Might Buhari be so implacably parochial that the criticisms run off him like water on the back of a duck? Could it be that in his quest for a government of integrity, he can only find prospects among Northern Muslims? Might he be psychologically disposed to trusting primarily those who share his cultural and religious background?

Nigeria would be in the deepest of trouble if any of the above is true. Alas, given the solid record of nepotistic appointments, as amply summarised in The PUNCH’s editorial, one is hard pressed to find palatable explanations.

This raises another series of questions: Are Buhari’s advisers and members of his cabinet speaking out? If they are not, why not? Are they under his spell, believing that whatever Buhari does is what Nigeria needs? Or do they fear for their jobs? If they are speaking out, is Buhari just ignoring them?

At the minimum, the pattern of appointments suggests a messianic approach to governance. That is, messianic in the sociological, rather than theological, sense. It is the perspective that society’s problems can be solved only through one person’s vision, and nothing else matters in that singular quest.

Remarkably, this is the same perspective that is emerging from the newly formed Niger Delta militant groups. Actually, the older groups also manifested this tendency to some degree. The new ones are just asserting it more audaciously.

When the Niger Delta Avengers first announced their presence, the news release included a warning to Niger Delta leaders not to meddle in the group’s undertaking. “It is not your business,” they said rather incredulously.

In a recent release, a related group, the Adaka Boro Avengers, issue a similar warning. This time it was directed more specifically at one of the original militant groups, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

“We are … saying this for the benefit of President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigerian government to stop wasting their time with those greedy fellows that call themselves MEND because nothing good will come out of them rather than sabotage,” The PUNCH quoted ABA’s spokesman, Edmos Ayayeibo as saying in a statement.

“Everything they are saying, not even one will be accomplished. We will never agree with anything they say and henceforth MEND should watch their back because we have tolerated them for a very long time…. Enough is enough, since they want to set confusion in the Niger Delta we will start from them.”

This is much like a declaration of civil war within the Niger Delta. Yet in the same statement, ABA’s spokesman had stated, “We adhere to the voice of our people, because our struggle is for the Niger Delta people and not for selfish reason.”

That raises the question, did the people authorise ABA to declare war on MEND? Did the people get a chance to decide whom they would rather have press their cause? For that matter, when ABA decided to declare a Republic of the Niger Delta, how were the people consulted?

Clearly, this is another messianic approach to the affairs of the people, much like Buhari’s. The NDA and ABA seem to be saying to critics and rivals alike: “Shut up, we know what is good for you. And if you don’t shut up, we will deal with you.”

According to the ABA spokesman’s statement, the group called off the declaration of the Republic of the Niger Delta following appeals by several Niger Delta notables, including ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and the first governor of Rivers State, King Alfred Diete Spiff. In a fuller story on Tuesday, The PUNCH reported that the declaration may have been aborted because of a large contingent of troops sent to the area.

If the ABA aborted the declaration at the behest of the Niger Delta chieftains, that is a good sign. At least the group is heeding legitimatised leaders of the people. But that doesn’t diminish the implication of its apparent claim to be the sole voice of the region. If there is an overarching lesson of Biafra, it is that secession is not something to be undertaken on the whim, regardless of the provocations. It requires a real consensus and thought-out plan. Above all, it is a last recourse.

Back to Buhari, he too apparently doesn’t see how his parochialism undermines his mission for Nigeria. As The PUNCH editorialised, favouritism in appointments is itself a form of corruption. Actually, it is a much more serious form of corruption. After all, Nigerians are better off with a corrupt government than one that will dismember the country. Mercifully, a principled and astute fight against corruption shouldn’t result in such a choice.

Militant groups such as NDA and ABA didn’t emerge because of Buhari’s lopsided appointments in favour of fellow Northerners and Muslims, but it is aggravating the grievances that gave rise to them. And the impunity of the administration can only inspire impunity in the militants.

Nugget of Wisdom

Justice Learned Hand, founding Chief Judge of the 2nd Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals (1948-1951), writing of the importance of diverse opinions in democratic governance: “The First Amendment … presupposes that right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues, than through any kind of authoritative selection. To many this is, and always will be, folly; but we have staked upon it our all.”



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