As Buhari visits troubled states
In response to the intensity of public pressure, the Presidency announced last week that President Muhammadu Buhari would visit five States – Benue, Rivers, Taraba, Yobe, and Zamfara – which had been targets of vicious attacks by some violent Fulani herdsmen.
He indeed commenced the visits by going to Taraba where he told critics that it was not his style to ‘rush to crises’ spots, preferring to ‘monitor developments from Aso Rock.
The President has also visited Benue State, a state where over seventy citizens lost their lives in a bloody attack from the notorious herdsmen. To all intents and purposes the visits have come late.
In the modern world, response by leadership is expected to be prompt and consolatory. And it would seem that the President lacks the compassion which the father-figure of the nation ought to display in times of emergency.
Also, the emerging narrative that the Inspector General of Police disobeyed the President’s order that he should stay back in Benue State in the aftermath of the crisis cast the government in bad and uncomplimentary light.
This is sad. It reinforces the widely-held belief that the President is not fully in charge of the situation in the country.
How could the Inspector General openly defy the President and remain on the job? Is it true as once asserted by no less a person than the nation’s First Lady that a cabal has seized the President to the detriment of the collective interest?
Was this why the President summoned all stakeholders to Abuja days after the Benue genocide instead of paying a visit to the hundreds of grieving families? Certainly, something is terribly wrong with the lackadaisical approach of Mr. President to the burning issues of the day.
The apathy shown by the Benue populace during the visit is an indication that there is intense disenchantment with the President’s handling of the crisis. The roads were bare. The crowds that had come to welcome him in the past deliberately stayed away.
In a democratic setting, this is a strong message to the leadership. It is a message of rejection, disappointment and protest. If the President held the people in so much disdain, why should they troop out to welcome him to their State?
The philosophy behind leadership, particularly leadership at the national level, iterates promptness and compassion in times of disaster.
The national leader is entrusted with resources, human and material, to alleviate the misery of the people. In a democracy where the leaders are elected in an open plebiscite, it is important that the fears of the people are quickly addressed. That way, the people feel that the President or leader cares.
At such a time, the state responds with short term measures. That is where the psychology of physical presence is needed. It is a morale booster. But President Buhari, sadly and stubbornly stayed away from the scene of the disaster that is gradually tearing the nation apart.
He should wake up from the stupor he has created or has been created for him. He sounds aloof, detached from the currents of the country. He has not taken a firm stand on the herdsmen matter.
Some of his agents have also been insulting in their comment to the Nigerian people. The Minister of Defence and the Inspector General of Police, for instance, have made reckless and unsympathetic statements on the matter.
The visits to the affected States belated as they are should still serve to address this situation. Mr. President is expected to heal wounds and to make policy pronouncements on the crisis that has engulfed the middle belt. He is expected to strengthen security. He should give orders that the perpetrators of the dastardly acts in all the five States should be brought to book.
The Police in Rivers State prove this point as they acted promptly, traced and neutralized the scoundrels who slaughtered innocent worshippers on January 1st in that State.
The same cannot be said for the other states. Are those gun-toting vagabonds and criminals masquerading as herdsmen above the law? Are they allowed if it is true, to engage in reprisal killings? Revenge in the modern State is in the hands of government.
Self-help in the name of revenge is criminal. If the government by design or default allows this to thrive there would be complete breakdown of law and order as ethnic militias would then spring up across the country.
As the visits continue, the President should take firm actions and give directives to the security agencies that would give comfort and solace to the affected States.
As if in contempt of the authority of the President, hours after he left the crisis zone some more attacks took place in Benue and Plateau States. This is a slap on the face of the Nigerian State.
Finally, relief packages should accompany the visits as well. Preventive measures against further attacks should be taken and the president should prime the military to ensure that the nation does not degenerate into anarchy.
The Guardian editorial