Guest Columnist

The Scandal from Zamfara, By Reuben Abati

We owe our colleague and compatriot, Kadaria Ahmed a debt of gratitude for leading a group of Zamfara stakeholders to bring to local and international attention the mayhem and chaos going on in her home state of Zamfara State, which resulted in the killing of innocent Nigerians, the disruption of mining activities and the reign of what can best be described as sheer madness. The video on the Zamfara protest has since gone viral, with the intrepid journalist, daughter of Zamfara, Kadaria Ahmed calling out the Governor of the state, and the President of the Federal Republic. The image of Ms Ahmed, standing out there un-cowed, unbowed, courageous and outspoken, with an orchestra of men hailing her and urging her on is an image that will remain etched in my memory for a long time to come. I salute Kadaria’s courage and heroism.

Kadaria Ahmed

We need more persons like her. Persons who can stand firm in the face of tyranny. Persons who can lead citizens to positive action. Persons who can call a spade by its name. Courageous men and women who can expose the idiocy of executive arrogance. I am particularly proud that Kadaria is one of our own. Media men and women often get blamed for the malfeasances of others. All over the world, they are treated as victims and fall guys: it was refreshing seeing one of our own standing again at the barricades to defend in the field of action, one of the finest virtues of the journalistic trade: the capacity to speak truth to power. Thanks, Kadaria, for giving Nigerian journalism and the tradition of activism a necessary shot in the arm, at a time the push was most needed. This daughter of Zamfara, this beautiful daughter of the North West, had fought on behalf of the people of Borno, Benue and Plateau and the missing girls of Chibok and Dapchi. When it came to the turn of her own people, it was good to see her taking to the barricades and standing firm. She says she has not been able to visit home for about a year.

She speaks for many Nigerians who are on exile in their own country. They can’t visit home because their homesteads have been turned into killing fields. It is not all the people in the Internally Displaced Camps in the country that represent the full population of displaced persons: there are many others who are stranded within this country who can not go home out of fear and despair, many of our compatriots from Borno, Benue, Plateau, Barkin Ladi and other parts of Southern Kaduna and Adamawa are stranded, they can’t go home, not anymore, and yet weekly or monthly, they receive sad tales about their relations who have been killed or abducted or their sisters who have been raped and murdered. In the video in which Kadaria Ahmed featured prominently, a distraught lady reported that her brother has been abducted in Zamfara and the villains are asking for a ransom of N200 million.

Abdulaziz Yari

Kadaria Ahmed adds that the Governor of Zamfara state is “the most useless Governor in the history of Nigeria”. This may be a very harsh assessment, which speaks to the depth of her feelings and anger. But many Nigerians can relate to that. There are many Nigerians who consider the Governors of their state, useless, irresponsible, and indeed, stupid. Ms Ahmed was drawing attention to a major Nigerian malaise: the failure of leadership which results in sundry social crisis and the over-prioritisation of politics over and above good governance and common sense. According to her, the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdullaziz Yari has since abandoned his responsibility as Chief Security Officer of Zamfara State. We we were told he gave up that function. He resigned. Candidly, what kind of man abandons his people to their fate?

We were also told that Yari spends most of his time in Abuja. Many Nigerians can also relate to that. Nigeria is supposed to be a Federal system. But we have this unfortunate system where state Governors spend more time in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, shaking tins and begging for hand-outs from the Presidential table. Other levels of government in what is meant to be a Federation are at best beggars, seeking a share of the national cake. When a state gets a bad Governor, he practically relocates to Abuja, to promote the culture of sycophancy and slavishness. I may not agree that Abdullaziz Yari is the “most useless Governor in the history of Nigeria”- the word history is too ennobling- nonetheless, I can name at least two other Governors that I consider more useless who may not necessarily fall into the framework of “Nigerian history” but let me say that I know one thing: Kadaria Ahmed is very truthful and blunt.

In that video that has now gone viral, Ms Ahmed also called out the President of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari. She reminded him that the buck stops at his desk and he has a responsibility and a duty to defend the interest of the people of Zamfara state. She told him that the people of Zamfara state voted for him in 2015 and gain in 2019, and they deserve his attention. This our sister sef? She was practically calling the President of Nigeria an ingrate! Kadaria! But the rhetoric worked. It had to take a protest by Kadaria Ahmed a few straggling men, and others, cowering behind an alpha female, calling out everybody for President Buhari to take notice of the crisis in Zamfara state. And what did he do? He issued a statement from Jordan, where he is attending a conference on the Middle East – how does that really concern us, the lazy wonks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have not yet told us- but the President tells us that he is the “one of the unhappy leaders in the world.” How pathetic.

Our President is “one of the unhappy leaders in the world!” Ha. Please fetch me tissue paper. I need to clean my tears. If the President is looking for the meaning of sadness, he should visit the families in Zamfara, Birnin Gwari and Kakangi who have lost their loved ones. He should go to Benue and Plateau states and find out what is going on, He should go to Southern Kaduna and feel the people’s pains. He should go to Sokoto and find out what has gone wrong. We are definitely not talking about his own happiness here. We are talking about the happiness of the Nigerian people and their right to decent, safe and secure livelihood. It is the duty of the President to discharge that responsibility and lead all of us to what he himself and his campaigners call “the next level”- whatever that means.

Kadaria Zamfara protest

I have an idea: President Buhari is probably the only Nigerian President since 1999 who has curiously and surprisingly retained dead woods in his team for four years. He should as he seeks to constitute a new cabinet, sack all his service chiefs and re-jig his cabinet. They may be his kinsmen or friends, but they are not helping him. He needs to do something drastic about the Nigerian security architecture and the governance team as well. He The office of the President is not a place for a functioning Godfather and an avuncular presiding officer. President Muhammadu Buhari must think out of the box if he is serious about moving this country to “the next level”, and let us make this additional point, with due respect: some of the ideas and initiatives that President Buhari needs will not come from the compromised APC henchmen that he surrounds himself with. I don’t want to imagine how Kadaria Ahmed will describe these henchmen. She is so independent-minded she may just conclude that they are weak and incompetent, and there will be enough evidence to prove her right. But what the heck, Kadaria, these same men got the President a second term! And you too have been accused, most recently of being a Buhari promoter!

But by the way, the Nigerian government has since taken notice of what is more popularly known as the #MarchforZamfara protest. The President has issued a statement. He needed to be prompted to do so! The security establishment and the Nigeria Police have also said that they are extending something they call “Operation Puff Adder” to Zamfara state. Whoever throws up these names must be a comedian. We have heard of Operation Python Dance. Do pythons dance? We have heard of Operation Crocodile smile? Do Crocodiles smile? And now Operation Puff Adder. I beg. There is serious humanitarian crisis in the troubled states of the North East, the East and the North Western parts of Nigeria. It is about time the Nigerian government realised that we are talking about human lives. These days, when Nigerian authorities announce that 60 persons died in Sokoto and 50 were murdered in Zamfara and five others committed suicide in the South West, or five husbands killed their wives in the Mid-West, they make it sound like it is small number, out of 200 million, but hey, when will our government at all levels begin to realize that every Nigerian life matters? This is the strong message Kadaria Ahmed and her likes are putting across. Don’t tell them to bugger off. And I say: all the male chauvinists who have been attacking her on social media should go see a shrink.

My take: Operation Puff Adder sounds like a knee-jerk response. As for Governor Abdullaziz Yari, he should just keep quiet. Whatever he says can be further used against him. And when President Buhari returns from the luxury trip to Jordan, he should visit Zamfara state and other troubled parts of Nigeria to publicly demonstrate his “unhappiness”. There has been so much talk about the role of foreign miners in the Zamfara crisis. Can we just be reasonable for once? The problem in Zamfara is not about foreigners. It is about us, about Nigeria – the failure of leadership, the idiocy of the governing class and the dividing lines that continue to make this country so pathetically vulnerable. As things stand, it looks like the government of Nigeria only responds to emergencies when people go out to protest. This is the ultimate take-away from the #MarchforZamfara protests.

INEC: Kogi and Bayelsa Gubernatorial Elections

The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has announced that the commission will soon reveal the time-table for Governorship elections in both Kogi and Bayelsa states. He made this known while defending the commission’s 2019 budget estimates before the joint National Assembly committee on INEC. The elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states are termed end-of-year elections. But first, we are glad to hear that INEC was fully funded in 2017 and 2018, under the open envelope system. Many Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government that have appeared before the National Assembly have had cause to complain about poor funding, that is- the failure of government to respect the terms and provisions of the Appropriation Act. INEC wants more money and expects to be fully funded again in the 2019 budget. I have no problems with that. The Chairman of the Senate Committee and his counter part in the House of Representatives more or less commended INEC for a job well done in the 2019 General election. I don’t know about that. I certainly have a different opinion. But it is good to see that INEC, despite all its tribulations, and loss of face, is moving on and thinking ahead. But while doing that, INEC and its Chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmood may as well be reminded of a few points:

1. Not many Nigerians are pleased with the conduct and management of the 2019 general election, and before it, the elections in Ekiti and Osun states.

2. Most Nigerians are convinced that INEC as it is, is heavily compromised. They do not believe that it is an independent institution. The coming elections and the outcomes of the litigation over the 2019 elections provide INEC an opportunity to restore public faith and confidence
3. We hope that INEC will take proper stock of the 2019 general election and learn and imbibe certain lessons and use its institutional framework to make appropriate amends.

4. NEC should be seen to be supporting the amendment to the Electoral Bill as proposed to ensure greater transparency and credibility in the conduct of elections. The failure of card readers and the spectre of vote-buying made the recent Nigerian elections look more or less like a clever contrivance with pre-determined outcomes.

5. Kogi and Bayelsa are very sensitive states, where the people have developed a high level of political consciousness. The only thing that INEC owes the people in those two states is to conduct free, fair and credible elections and refrain from “the scourge of in-conclusi-vity”.

6. INEC’s reputation is at stake. Professor Mahmood should begin to worry about how history will remember him and his tenure. He should pay some attention to that and may be he should start by paying attention to public perception. All the persons before him who boasted “ I don’t care” ended up in the dustbin of history.

7. There is the silence of the mortuary and anger in the land. INEC should not put fire to that anger. INEC is already looking ahead, the people are looking at the past and the present. All timelines may collide in the future, and all architects will be called to account.

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