By Ikeddy ISIGUZO

Mallam Garba Shehu is my friend. The disclosure is important to this piece. I take exceptions to people blaming him for advising the dead rice farmers of Zabarmari in Borno State. What is wrong with his timely warning that should apply to all farmers across Nigeria?

He should be praised not blamed for speaking ill of the dead. He is speaking to the living. Farmers, not only in the North East are being attacked. Whether it is herdsmen nationwide, bandits particularly in the North West, or Boko Haram in the North East, farmers should register with the military before proceeding. The insecurity in the country is not only in the North East that is the only thing that he failed to add.

We have so minimalised the security challenges that we sometimes think only of North East. Who has not heard of the killing of the Olufon of Ifon in Ose Local Government Area Ondo State, Oba Adegoke Adeusi? Gunmen, according to Nigerian Tribune, shot him on his way from Akure. He was not a farmer. There were no rice fields around him. There was no military in sight. It is doubtful if Boko Haram was in the vicinity.

Students, police officers, other Nigerians are killed, injured, or kidnapped for ransom daily. They are not always in farms or anywhere near the North East. Where should they obtain their own military permits?

Are we changing the narratives from the insecurity that the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’adu Abubakar, among other voices, has joined in condemning? Most of the attacks in the North West are on traders or people at home. Do they also need permits from the military to live their simple lives?

Statistics of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, dated 2018, state that 36.5 per cent of the Nigerian population engages in agriculture. Other statistics are as high as 75 per cent. Whatever the correct figure, millions of Nigerians, from Mallam Shehu’s assertion, would require security protection to farm. He should be taken serious, not blamed.

In a season of regurgitating blames, everyone, except President Muhammadu Buhari is being held responsible for the ricocheting security challenges. Now it is the turn of farmers who could have reasoned that Zabarmari, only 20 kilometres from Maiduguri should be safe. They learnt nothing from killed traders and Governor Babagana Umara Zulum who are blamed for moving around without security clearance. Where is safe in Bornu, North East, North West, or the rest of Nigeria? Where are the locations we are to get the military’s permit to live our lives

“Let me be clear, Boko Haram has been massively degraded and its surviving members put on the run. Instead of being hunters, they are now the hunted. In their desperation to stay relevant, they have resorted to the wicked and dastardly act of using innocent under-aged children to carry out suicide bomb attacks. What we are witnessing now are the last kicks of a dying horse,” President Buhari said at the opening of a radio station in Yola on 26 November 2017.

“A dying horse manages to engage in some kicks. These kicks may be dangerous, but they don’t last long. Progressively, they become weaker and weaker until the horse finally gives up,’’ Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information said, in a statement he read on behalf of the President. The report was in Premium Times and other media.

Two years earlier, the President had said that the terrorist group was badly decimated. He alluded to the same dying horse.

On Thursday 3 December 2020, the Minister of Information was gleefully repeating annual stories of the defeat of Boko Haram. “The truth, which will rankle some people, is that Boko Haram is today badly degraded and can only carry out cowardly attacks like the one against defenceless farmers over the weekend,” said Mohammed, told newspaper owners in Lagos, a continuation of his week-long upbraiding of the media for reports on #EndSARS and the government’s performances across sectors.

“No nation, no matter how powerful, is immune to attacks on soft targets. 9-11 happened despite the prowess of the most powerful army in the world. Boko Haram’s only oxygen today is publicity. That’s why they have rushed to release a video claiming responsibility for the killing of the farmers,” Mohammed said.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, had on 20 January 2020 described the spates of attacks by Boko Haram insurgents which had claimed scores of soldiers and civilians as “the kicks of a dying horse”.

We could have been alarmed by the unserious positions of these narratives if everything in Nigeria had not gone beyond shocks. The House of Representatives inviting the President to address its members on security is a massive distraction. Sacking the Service Chiefs is not an issue. Stopping farming as Shehu appears to be suggesting is not the challenge.

The most serious challenge we face is contentment with where we are. The Minister of Information captures that contentment:

“Mr President was elected in 2015 for a four-year term and re-elected in 2019 for another four-year term. No amount of hysterical calls for resignation will prevent him from serving out his term. Before Mr President assumed office, Boko Haram could stroll into any city, especially in the north, to carry out deadly attacks Motor parks, churches, mosques, shopping complexes were not spared.

“Today, that is a thing of the past. Suicide bombers used to have a field day detonating their bombs and killing innocent people. Detonating Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) used to be a deadly tactic of Boko Haram. Boko Haram used to occupy territory, deposing and installing Emirs and collecting taxes. That’s no longer the case.

“These changes are not mere happenstance. They are part of the successes recorded by the military, under this President. Therefore, calling on the President to resign every time there is a setback in the war on terror is a needless distraction and cheap politicking.”

Between Garba Shehu and Lai Mohammed who would you believe? One warns you to keep off war zones, our farms. The other speaks of a dying horse that has been kicking actively for five years.

Please choose wisely.

Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor national issues

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