Reading the interview Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) gave to Daily Trust which was published the 22nd of May 2013, I am compelled to raise historical issues that put the former military Head of State's words in perspective.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) blamed President Jonathan for the insurgency occasioned by the militant sect, Jam─ü'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jih─üd, commonly referred to as Boko Haram and asked President Jonathan to resign saying “Jonathan should vacate and give way to competent hand to govern the country”.
Buhari further said “When the Niger Delta militants started their activities in the South-South, they were invited by the late President Umaru Yar’adua.
An aircraft was sent to them and their leaders met with the late President in Aso Rock and discussed issues. They were given money and a training scheme was introduced for their members. But when the Boko Haram emerged in the north members of the sect were killed”.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) may wish to note that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan never supported militancy and criminality in the Niger-Delta at any time in his political career. Furthermore, the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar'adua used a combination of carrot and stick to end the militancy in the Niger-Delta.
Stick was used in the form of heavy military intervention by way of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) which routed the militants by way of ground attacks and aerial assault with the use of Nigerian Air Force Jets and helicopters. After this initial pacification, the carrot was introduced whereby the administration offered an olive branch for those wishing to embrace dialogue. Those who accepted the offer to dialogue came out of the creeks and dialogue took place leading to the conditional amnesty (militants were made to surrender their weapons and renounce violence before they could benefit from the amnesty).
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) may or may not be aware that these same steps were taken by the current administration with regards to the insurgency occasioned by Jam─ü'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jih─üd or Boko Haram.
This administration in fulfillment of its constitutional responsibility to maintain law and order and enforce the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria empowered Nigeria's security forces to check the insurgency. As a democrat and listening leader, President Jonathan's ears were opened to the cries of the people in the affected areas and after meeting with different informed groups agreed to employ the dialogue option and called for the leaders of the Jam─ü'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jih─üd or Boko Haram to show themselves.
In furtherance of his desire to peacefully resolve the insurgency, President Jonathan inaugurated the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the Norththe 24th of April 2013 at the Presidential Villa Abuja under the leadership of a cabinet minister, Tanimu Turaki, Minister of Special Duties.
A week after the President's initiative, Jam─ü'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jih─üd or Boko Haram rejected the amnesty proposal yet the President kept faith with the Committee and met with them as recently as a week ago and in furtherance of that meeting he issued orders for the release of certain classes of detainees held in connection with the insurgency.
With the detailed historical TimeLines provided above, it is my considered opinion that Major General Muhammadu Buhari's (rtd) statement castigating President Goodluck Jonathan for not treating the Jam─ü'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jih─üd or Boko Haram as others were treated are not factual and are borne out of insufficient study of historical facts.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) also accused the President of using undue force on the Jam─ü'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jih─üd or Boko Haram saying “In Bama and Baga towns, military personnel were reported to have been engaged in extortion and sometimes raping of women. And because a soldier was killed in Baga the whole town was sacked by military. This is not the best way military should have acted when they were sent to restore law and order in a town. How can a responsible government allow its people to be killed in this way”.
Let me say that I appreciate Buhari's concern for the victims of the Boko Haram attacks on Bama and Baga. However, Buhari should be reminded that the President ordered an investigation into the incidence at Bama. The investigations are being carried out by qualified persons and Buhari ought to wait for the results of those investigations before apportioning blame. Members of the Nigerian armed forces are sacrificially laying their lives down to protect Nigerians and they deserve more loyalty from us all, particularly from one who was once their Commander-in-Chief.
But going back to history, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) is reminded that this is not the first time that terrorists have unleashed mayhem on Nigerians.
Buhari is reminded that in February and March of 1984, the Maitatsine sect unleashed violence in Yola under the leadership of Musa Makaniki. A conservative estimate is that 1000 people died during those riots and half of the residence of Yola in present day Adamawa state were rendered homeless. The military was unleashed on the sect by the military administration of Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Similar charges as the ones made today by Buhari were made against the soldiers sent by his government to quell the Maitatsine riots of 1984. They were accused of undue force, destruction of property, raping women and killing civilians. Many human rights groups and activists including J. Peter Pham, the Director of the Michael Ansari Center at the prestigious Atlantic Council whom I have personally met and who is alive today have documented what took place during those riots. In putting down the Maitatsine insurgency, the military incurred collateral damages. Yet Nigerians understood with Buhari. Did anyone call for his resignation as military Head of State because of the incidence?
Also, it is a historical fact that Maitatsine riots again flared up more than a year after this in April of 1985, while Buhari was still Head of State, this time in Gombe in present day Gombe state. Hundreds of people were killed and the military again was called in. There were collateral damage and Musa Makaniki, the arrowhead of Maitatsine escaped to the Cameroon and was not caught until 2004 when Obasanjo had ascended to power. To the best of my knowledge, nobody called on Buhari to resign even though he could not apprehend the leader of the sect.
Is it too much to ask that Buhari show the same level of understanding that Nigerians showed to him in 1984-1985 to the President?
Some issues should be beyond politics. Anytime an elder statesman calls into question the abilities of our armed forces it goes a long way to weakening their morale and resolve which is precisely what should not be weakened when we face an insurgency such as the present one.
Finally, I would like to advise Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) not to see security as just a job for the government. It is a job for everybody. In other nations when terrorists strike politicians close ranks and unite against the terrorists. Our case in Nigeria should not be different. And indeed, I have cause to thank Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the House of Representatives from Major General Muhammadu Buhari's (rtd) party the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) who saw wisdom in the President's Declaration of a State of Emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states and voted in support of the declaration yesterday. This is precisely the type of multi partisan collaboration that will see Nigeria achieve her developmental goals.
Reno Omokri is Special Assistant to the President on New Media