By Owei Lakemfa
It seemed a depressing day. Sunday July 18, 2021. News filtered that another military aircraft had crashed or been shot down. That would have been the fifth military aircraft lost in seven months by a debt-ridden country, facing serious insecurity and barely coping with grinding poverty and hyperinflation.
My thoughts were not really on these, they were more on the soul or souls that might have been lost. But as the news or rumours gathered strength like a strong hurricane, the good news came from the military that this was fake news; in fact, no military jet had been in the air that day.
However, as I settled down to other matters, a video started circulating showing an helicopter conveying a Nigeria Air Force pilot, Flight-Lt. Abayomi Dairo who had survived and evaded capture when bandits that day, shot down an Alpha Jet he was flying on a mission over the boundaries of Zamfara and Kaduna states. Happiness enveloped the country; nobody was interested in the loss of another military jet or the earlier denial of the military, for this was indeed, a miraculous escape by a young pilot.
The jet he was flying had explosives when it was hit, and the flight controls were destroyed. He ejected, aware he was right in enemy territory and would certainly be executed if captured. To add to his nightmares, on hitting the ground, he sustained a fracture in the neck, a strained foot and experienced a painful back and chest. Yet, he was able to cover almost 30 kilometres evading capture despite not having had any food or water all day.
However, critical questions remain unanswered. Are those capable of bringing down a jet fighter really bandits? Why would bandits whose main preoccupation is to kidnap for ransom, acquire anti-aircraft military hardware? If indeed they are bandits, is it the case that they have mutated into an insurgency variant?
In that case, are we not at war? Again, given repeated claims by some governors and the Presidency that many of these so-called bandits are foreigners, is Nigeria not being invaded? Is it a case of the country’s leaders misdiagnosing leprosy as scabies (Craw-craw)?
The next day, there was more good news for Nigerians as 100 children and women abducted in Zamfara State on June 8 by bandits, were released. There was no explanation why there were no males amongst them. As in all cases, the police claimed no ransom was paid. So, was it a case of the bandits in festive mood releasing their victims to celebrate the season?
Another cheering news for Nigerians came; that the first batch of six A-29 Super Tucano aircraft bought from the United States have arrived the country after being flown across Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Spain, and Algeria. We are told that these are quite deadly combat aircraft that would decimate those waging war against Nigerians in Nigeria. The miraculous survival of our gallant pilot, release of so many women and children and the arrival of the Tucano aircraft were like a gift at this period of Sallah. On Tuesday, Sallah day, there was breaking news that jammed the airwaves.
After the Eid-el-Kabir prayers, President Muhammadu Buhari, dressed in a sky blue flowing robe with heavy security around him, trekked some metres from the prayer ground in his hometown Daura to his homestead! As a reporter, I wondered whether that was news. As a former Editor, would I have flashed that as breaking news and not the important message of hope to Nigerians the President gave? It then occurred to me that I might be missing the point the President’s handlers were trying to make. He was supposed to have travelled to Britain for his medicals on June 25 and return in the second week of August. So perhaps they want to prove that despite missing his medicals, the President is still strong enough to walk.
It can also be an attempt to show Nigerians that despite advancing age, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is still quite strong and capable of leading the war against terrorists, bandits and insurgents. It is equally possible that the point the Presidency is trying to make is that Katsina State is safer than when Buhari visited in December 2020. During that visit, bandits on December 11, kidnapped some 300 boys from the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara. They spent six days in captivity before their release in neigbouring Zamfara State. President Buhari’s advertised walk might also be a way of showing Nigerians that he remains a crowd puller.
Such cheering scenario is dampened by the fact that many parts of the country are still under siege. Outside the North East where the war against Islamic insurgents has raged for about a dozen years, the epicentre of mass killings and banditry in recent times, has shifted from Plateau to Benue, Zamfara to Katsina, Niger to Kaduna State. The killings in Zango Kataf area of Kaduna State has turned the territory into a huge waste land. The Atyap Community in the area announced that in the latest attacks, 42 persons were killed, seven injured and 338 houses set ablaze. It claimed that the community was attacked for seven days without the military coming to the aid of the victims. Expectedly, all schools and religious centres have closed and economic activities and farming have ceased.
In trying to think through all these, I reflected that the country is at war virtually everywhere. In the North East especially in Borno and Yobe states, with the remnants of Boko Haram and their new foreign masters of the Islamic State. In the North Central from Niger, Nassarawa and Benue through Plateau on to Taraba, with rampaging terrorists. In the North Western states of Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna, against increasingly powerful bandits; in the South West with Yoruba nationalists; in the South East with pro-secessionist groups and limited skirmishes in the South-South which is also threatened by deadly banditry.
The reality is that the Nigerian security forces are incapable of winning all these battles or wars. What common sense dictates is that instead of fighting on all fronts, the Buhari administration should pick what battles to fight; rather than run in circles around the country and achieve little, it should negotiate with some groups.
In all humility, I also suggest to the administration to give some listening ear and thought to the Sallah advice of the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, SCIA, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III. Especially where he declared: “It is no longer a story but a reality, people are in dire need of the leaders’ commitment to addressing the high rate of poverty, insecurity, and hunger among other numerous challenges.”