In early October this year, the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, addressed a joint press conference at the behest of President Muhammadu Buhari. At the said press conference, the Ministers of Defense, Information, Police Affairs as well as the Chief of Defense Staff were in attendance.
The Minister of Interior had solemnly declared that:”Nigerians have the assurance of all of us that their security is guaranteed. So we are here to assure you that you’re safe, that is why we’re here from the instructions of the president that you’re safe, and that each day, going to December, our safety and security will be better.
“What we face mostly now are clashes of cowardly attacks from those that have been routed in one locality or the other, moving to give a false impression that they’re still strong. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate them altogether and restore total peace in every inch of all of the Nigerian soil; that we’re going to do by God’s grace, by December of this year.
“It’s standing tall but ….we’re determined to ensure that every inch of Nigerian soil is safe. The determination is there and the order has been given.”
Coming not long after the government accorded the armed forces “full freedom” to extirpate trigger-happy terrorists, kidnappers and bandits who killed, maimed and traumatized Nigerians, we have seen an uptick and upscale in sorties by the Nigeria Air Force. These sorties, across the North West and North East, and without much of a single collateral damage, is an eloquent testimony to professionalism by the Air Force and the provision of accurate information by our intelligence services.
One after the other,and with precision, a sizable number of terrorists, and their fiendish leaders, has been neutralized. On more than one occasion, after terrorist camps and enclaves had been strafed, intrepid members of the Special Forces have mopped up the remnants of terrorists. This, in itself, is a measure of increased and salutary synergy and collaboration amongst our armed forces.
The Abuja-Kaduna train service, which was halted some eight months ago, following a dastardly attack and abduction of some passengers by terrorists, resumed last week. Motorists who hitherto shunned the Abuja-Kaduna high way of death in droves now ply it, even if with trepidation.
The pressure on the terrorists is so severe that, like in gang-land where criminal groups partake in fratricidal turf wars, Boko Haram and ISWAP, are reported to be at each other’ s throat.
In spite of these good tidings and gains, the war on terror is far from being won or mission accomplished. And the December deadline, which the government appointed for itself to “ensure that every inch of the Nigerian soil is safe”, has ineluctably arrived and is upon us.
As I write, after our arrival at December, terrorists and their fellow travelers kill, maim and abduct with abandon in Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Plateau, Niger and Borno States.
The terrorists still control large swathes of land. One or two of the terrorists, such as Bello Turji Kachalla, who escaped elimination by whiskers, continues to kill, abduct innocents and to throw bellicose tantrums. Farmers are reported to be paying the terrorists huge sums in lieu of harvests in certain jurisdictions. Not even the high and mighty are spared the mendacity of these terrorists and kidnappers who prowl most of the States in the North.
My surmise is that when the government issued the December deadline, it did so informed by three compelling considerations: To bring the war on terror to a decisive and final end; to pave the way for the conduct of the 2023 General Elections in a tranquil atmosphere; and by creating an enabling environment for the elections, to further lend credence to the President’s oft-repeated pledge to bequeath a legacy of credible elections which he inherited and from which he benefited.
But as things stand, we have not arrived at a peaceful pass and the 2023 General Elections are imperiled. Even though the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) had articulated a framework for IDP Voting, which it deployed in 2015 and 2019, and has recently updated, the insurgency had, in the past, been restricted to the North East geopolitical zone. As at now the entire Northern landscape has been afflicted. As if that were not bad enough, hoodlums have lately gone on a burning binge of INEC offices in the South West and South East.
Heightened insecurity has serious and adverse implications for the conduct of the 2023 General Elections and their credibility.
First of all, if violence continues unabated, voters are likely to be scarred from turning out in large numbers to exercise their franchise. Second, as we saw during the conduct of the off-season Anambra governorship election in November last year, ad hoc staff, fearing for their lives, abandoned election duty at the eleventh hour and in droves. We are likely to see a repeat of this scenario unless the insurgents and criminal elements are brought to heel before the elections. Third, if voters keep away from the polls, the outcomes of these elections are not likely to reflect the true wishes of the people. Neither are the winners likely to secure mandates that are robust.
In the light of the foregoing, and if truly the government is determined to bequeath a legacy of credible elections as it professes, then it must up its game by extirpating
these terrorists, effective, immediately.
One would have thought that since the December deadline was heralded by a major joint conference, its arrival would also be greeted by a commensurate and muscular press conference in which the country is brought up to speed and re-assured about the war on terror. True, the President made the point of attending the annual Chief of Army Staff Conference at Sokoto where he exhorted our armed forces to maintain the tempo in all the their theaters of operation and to redouble their efforts at information gathering with a view to comprehensively defeating all forms of security threats confronting the country.
That, in my humble view, does not suffice, especially given the huge store Nigerians and members of the international community set by the 2023 General Elections and the consolidation of our democracy. A major press conference, the type addressed in October by the Minister of the Interior, will enable the government engage with Nigerians, update them and assure them that the government is in control. It will also enable the government to dominate the narrative on the war. As it is, what we have is the semblance of a government that is not in charge. And in such a situation, the follower ship is not inclined to repose full and robust confidence in the government.