By Olusegun Adeniyi
The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have issued statements mourning the death of their members. But it may take a while for Nigerians to get the complete picture of Monday’s horrific attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train. My heart goes out to families of the victims who will find it difficult coming to terms with their loss, especially given the tragic circumstance. This attack indicates the magnitude of the existential threat we face as a nation. And because our common humanity means nothing to these criminal gangs, we must come together to fight them.
To begin with, we must accept the fact that vast swathes of our country are increasingly becoming bandit territories. Authorities, at all levels and in all spheres (traditional, religious, civic), need to ask themselves what they can and must do to change this narrative. We must also understand that in the face of a national tragedy, divisive rhetoric and bigotry stemming from petty politics will only compound our problem. In times like this, we must collectively commit to do all we can to take back our country from criminal gangs. There is no place for the kind of toxicity we see on social media. A medical doctor was shot on the train. She asked for prayers on twitter. Some of the responses that followed were, to put it mildly, unprintable.
The Abuja-Kaduna road has been practically ceded to kidnappers who operate freely at several points along the expressway. Many have therefore opted for the train, considered to be safer and more convenient. Not anymore. Before last Monday’s attack, there had been attempts to breach security on the train. It is also not lost on Nigerians that the train attack came only two days after the airport was similarly invaded by bandits. After killing many on the train, including the driver, the gunmen also abducted several passengers who are yet to be accounted for. Dozens were also injured either from gunshots or from fleeing into the bush following the mayhem.
Meanwhile, it is unfortunate that barely 24 hours after the incident, names of those who bought tickets for the trip, along with their telephone numbers, were already in circulation on WhatsApp. Releasing the official manifest to the public without proper vetting to ascertain who actually boarded is insensitive. I hope there will be a proper inquisition into the tragedy. Appropriate lessons need to be learnt for the future. But this is a huge problem that we must confront now as a nation.
At the invitation of my friend and former National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Director General, Major General Johnson Bamidele Olawumi (rtd), I was at the Nigerian Army Resource Centre yesterday morning for the 1st Annual Conference for Fellows and Members with the theme, “Nigeria’s Security in the 21st Century: Issues, Challenges and Panacea.” Before the session started, I had an interesting conversation with the centre’s Director-General, Major General Garba Ayodele Wahab (rtd). But it was the paper by Brigadier General Arnold Onyekachi Okoro that I found most revealing. An officer at the Department of Transformation and Innovation, Army Headquarters, Okoro spoke on ‘Banditry, Ungoverned Spaces and National Security in Nigeria: A Cursory Look of Kaduna and Zamfara States.’
Okoro, who calls Kaduna home, zeroed in some recent tragedies in the state. Kaduna, according to Okoro, has suffered “from the incursion of bandits who migrated from Chad and Niger Republic into Birnin Gwari general area” hence they kill, maim and rape without concern or emotions for their victims. The testimony of Maimuna Ibrahim, one of the victims on the Kaduna train tragedy, validates Okoro’s proposition. “They are young guys, they should be between 18 and 20. They did not look like Nigerians. Some of them had turbans on their heads and they were chanting Allahu Akbar,” Ibrahim told reporters at the St. Gerald Catholic Hospital where the injured are being treated.
Going by Okoro’s thesis, the audacity of foreign bandits has emboldened their local collaborators, whose numbers keep growing: “They occupy ungoverned spaces especially the forest of Alawa, Kamuku and Dansadau where they use as abodes and training areas. They subsequently invade villages in the selected LGAs, both in Kaduna and Zamfara states at will and carry out various atrocities such as wanton killings, kidnapping, cattle rustling, armed robbery, raping women/girls of attacked communities, destruction of buildings/infrastructure, arson, political thuggery, burglary/house breaking and forceful seizures of farm produce and farmlands, amongst others.”
With statistical data on numbers of killings, cattle rustled, farmlands destroyed, persons kidnapped and women raped in different locations and at different periods sourced from the Nigerian Army Periodic Situation Report Archives, Okoro highlighted the causes of banditry in Kaduna and Zamfara States, as well as the effects of the malaise on the people and their livelihoods before proffering what he considers ‘the way forward’ by way of both kinetic and non-kinetic means.
My main take-away from Okoro’s presentation is that the challenge of insecurity in Kaduna cannot be resolved as a stand-alone problem. It is a Northwest problem tied to the expansive forests that straddle Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Niger States. As a solution, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai has repeatedly suggested carpet-bombing the forest area. “I’ve always believed that we should carpet-bomb the forests; we can replant the trees after. Let’s carpet-bomb the forests and bomb all of them. There will be collateral damage, but it’s better to wipe them out and get people back to our communities so that agriculture and rural economics can pick up,” the governor told ARISE Television in January this year.
While I don’t know how that will play out, the point that we cannot shy from is that the situation we are in today demands more than mere expressions of pain and sadness in repetitive presidential statements. We need concrete action!
APC, ‘PDP Emigrants’ and The List
‘Senator Abdullahi Adamu. Unapologetically regionalist, ideologically conservative, unwaveringly, and subserviently loyal to his principal; can’t be toyed (tossed) around by Governors; hard nut to crack with limited tolerance; no nonsense autocrat, allergic to social media. Man of history and experience…’
The foregoing characterisation by Senator Shehu Sani in a tweet last Saturday sums up the man who the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has ‘consensusly’ elevated to the position of National Chairman. A former minister under the late General Sani Abacha and two term governor (1999 to 2007) of Nasarawa State on the platform of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Adamu was also secretary of the party’s Board of Trustees and elected twice as PDP senator before moving to the APC in 2014. The president could not have recruited a deadlier enforcer for whatever may be his agenda for the next most crucial eight weeks as he draws down on his administration and plots his succession.
But the drama of last Saturday also suggests interesting days ahead for the ruling APC. In place of Ife Oyedele whose name was on the presidential list for the post of National Secretary, the governors deferred to one of their own, (Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State whose re-election comes up on 16th July this year) to yield the office to Iyiola Omisore, also a political veteran. A former powerful PDP Senator (as chair of the senate committee on finance and appropriation committee), Omisore in 2014 contested the Osun state gubernatorial election on the platform of the PDP and was defeated by the current Interior Minister and then incumbent governor, Rauf Aregbesola. When Omisore sought the PDP gubernatorial ticket again in 2018 and lost to the dancing senator, Ademola Adeleke, he picked the ticket of the fringe Social Democratic Party (SDP) to contest the election. Although he came third, when the election became inconclusive and supplementary poll was needed to determine the outcome, Omisore aligned with the APC to tilt the balance in Oyetola’s favour and now he can enjoy the reward. In February last year, Omisore formally declared for the APC where he is now effectively the second most powerful man in the National Working Committee (NWC).
Going by provision of the Electoral Act, “Every political party shall submit the list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor in Form CF 002 duly signed by the National Chairman and National Secretary of the Political Party”. With that, who secure APC tickets for the 2023 general election is now firmly in the hands of two former PDP veterans: Adamu and Omisore. Interestingly, majority of the other officers inducted last Saturday into the party’s NWC were also former PDP top guns. Former Cross River State Commissioner for Health, Betta Edu, who defected from the PDP last year along with her Governor is now the APC national women leader. Another former PDP Commissioner in Plateau State, Festus Fuanter is now the Deputy National Secretary of the APC.
However, the issue is not so much that PDP has reincarnated in APC but rather that political parties are no more than platforms to grab power for the average Nigerian politician, as I have consistently argued on this page. Afterall, prominent members in both PDP and APC have criss-crossed parties at different times. So, when you see politicians venerating one party or vilifying another, just ignore their rantings. APC and PDP are two sides of the same coin. It is particularly noteworthy that George Akume who signed the withdrawal notice of other APC chairmanship aspirants last Saturday was not only a two term PDP Governor and Senator, but he was also, early in his political life, a Special Assistant to Iyorchia Ayu, who is now the PDP National Chairman. Ayu, of course, was also a founding member of the APC!
I will come back to this issue another day, but my main concern today is the use of ‘consensus’ as a tool for political manipulation. While consensus is not a bad idea, you don’t arrive at consensus by threats and force as happened last Saturday. My concern stems from the fact that the APC may have found a dubious formula to foist on their members some unpopular candidates in the name of consensus for the upcoming general election. On Monday, I was with Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State who spoke highly of Dayo Israel, the young man who was adopted as the National Youth Leader last Saturday. But less than 24 hours before I met the Katsina governor, I also encountered a young APC member from Kaduna State who expressed bitter disappointment that Olusegun Dada was forced to withdraw from the race. He claimed to be at the convention and that majority of the young APC members from the north were backing Dada. I don’t know Israel (who many people describe as brilliant and resourceful) or Dada but what kind of democracy are we building if we cannot even allow young people to elect a leader of their choice?
I hope the APC will not deploy this ‘consensus’ option to pick its presidential candidate. But I will not be surprised if the party does, given the political history of the president. In his first attempt, Buhari obtained the presidential ticket in that way. On 7th January 2003, as I once recalled, I witnessed the dramatic national convention of the defunct All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in Abuja. The presidential contenders then were the late Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, Rochas Okorocha, Pere Ajuwa, late Harry Akande, late Chuba Okadigbo and Buhari. Having realized that if the contest were allowed to proceed Okorocha would most likely pick the ticket, the governors came up with the ‘consensus’ option at the last minute. The idea was for Buhari to be endorsed as presidential candidate with Okadigbo as running mate while others would withdraw from the race. But the governors and party leaders merely opened themselves up for the onslaught of the aggrieved presidential aspirants led by the immediate past Ohanaeze president, Chief John Nnia Nwodo.
Before announcing his withdrawal from the race at Eagle Square that night, Nwodo said: “My heart bleeds that our great party is about to be destroyed. The process that has characterized this convention is totally without transparency and as I speak to you now, all of you wearing accreditation cards do not have your name on it. It could be dashed to anyone. As I speak to you, none of you has seen a dummy of the ballot paper that you are about to vote with.” As Nwodo spoke, one could see embarrassment written on the faces of the ANPP Governors and other leaders as bemused Nigerians watched the political tragicomedy on live television. But Nwodo was not done yet: “As I speak to you now, all presidential aspirants have been denied the opportunity of effective participation in arriving at this so-called consensus. In all humility, my brothers, and sisters, I do not lend my name to this charade. I cannot stand on this ballot to disgrace the democratic process…”
Having spoken to several APC stakeholders, I am aware of the content of each of the three different letters sent by President Buhari to the chairman of the party’s (now defunct) Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe (the first, on 25th February; second, on 1st March and the third, on 15th March) and the forces behind the different lists. I am also aware that at the last minute, APC governors checkmated not so much the president but those they believed were using his authority by blocking certain nominees for the positions of National Secretary, Deputy National Secretary (North), Deputy National Secretary (South) and National Organising Secretary.
It is bad enough that we do not know where those who seek to preside over our affairs stand on the problems confronting us as a nation or how to tackle them. The challenge will be compounded if, by any act of omission or commission, party rules are manipulated to advantage some aspirants against others. At a time we need to pull together to fight insecurity, nothing can be more dangerous than creating internal dissension from which desperate politicians can feed. I hope there are people wise enough in the two parties to understand what I am talking about.
Congratulations, Samson Itodo
The appointment of the YIAGA Africa Executive Director, Samson Itodo to the Board of the Koﬁ Annan Foundation affirms the Biblical proposition that when a man is diligent in his work, he will stand before kings. Member of the Board of International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Samson has also served as Research Facilitator for the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) before his current elevation to the Accra-based Anan Foundation Board. “At a time when half of the world’s population is younger than 30, and as urgent challenges require improved and more inclusive governance at all levels, his (Itodo’s) expertise and commitment to the inclusion of young people in politics and effective leadership will bring great value to our work,” according to the statement by the Board’s chair, Elhadj As Sy.
Highly cerebral, Samson is without doubt one of the most promising leaders not only in Nigeria but across Africa. I wish him all the best in his new assignment.
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