In his piece on Tuesday, ‘The Death of Ahmed Gulak’, Dr Reuben Abati attested to the character of the late Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan with whom he worked. He also spoke about the danger his gruesome murder portends, especially at this period in our nation. I didn’t know Gulak as well as Reuben, but I found the deceased politician and lawyer a very friendly man with whom I enjoyed a good laugh whenever and wherever we met. I therefore commiserate with his family as I pray God will offer them comfort at this most difficult period.
Of concern to me though is the manner in which the police have handled this tragedy. The two statements released last Sunday following the incident were unprofessional and dangerous. In the first statement, the police actually blamed the victim: “Gulak left his room at Protea Hotel without informing the Police nor sister agencies in view of the fragile security situation in the Southeast and Imo in particular. He left without any security escorts while the cab driver took irregular route to the airport…”
I do not understand how a respectable security agency could have authored such an insensitive statement shortly after someone was killed. The second statement released a few hours later was worse. The Police claimed to have “neutralised the killers of Ahmed Gulak”. That is the language of mobsters, not a civil institution responsible for maintaining law and order in a society. Besides, suspects are supposed to be tried in a court of law to ensure that innocent people are not punished for a crime they did not commit. Questions therefore remain as to how these alleged killers were identified and the process leading to their being “neutralised”.
Ordinarily, in a crime as heinous as homicide, you expect culprits to be arrested so that information can be extracted regarding motives and whether other actors were involved. It was particularly important in this case of a high-profile politician who had unwittingly been dragged into the politics of Imo State in the past three years. For the sake of those who may not remember, Gulak was the chair of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) gubernatorial primaries committee in Imo State in the prelude to the 2019 general election. The exercise ended in acrimony before the party headquarters intervened to disband the committee but nonetheless upheld the result announced by Gulak.
Perhaps because of that involvement in Imo politics, it is true that Gulak needed to have taken extra precaution. But that cannot justify the kind of statement put out by the police following his death. Gulak was in Owerri as a consultant for the National Assembly committee for the review of the Constitution. If a citizen cannot move freely in their own country, then we have a serious problem. Even at that, with less than 200,000 active policemen (the remaining are on guard duty with our ‘Big’ men and women) in a nation of more than 200 million people, the force does not have near enough personnel to shield every prominent citizen.
More disturbing of course was the second statement as to how the police were able to apprehend and deal with those they concluded were the killers based on the eyewitness account “given by the driver of the vehicle that was conveying Ahmed Gulak to the airport before the attack”. It was this driver who “gave a vivid description of the assailants and the vehicles they used in carrying out the attack.” Which is why the belated statement by the Southeast governors that the security agencies should “arrest the perpetrators and make them face justice” is rather ridiculous. How do you arrest men that have been ‘neutralised’?
Few people have been an eyewitness to murder but many of us have been involved in (or witnessed) ghastly accidents and armed robbery attacks. The trauma that follows does not normally leave victims with the presence of mind and photographic recall credited to this driver who, according to the police, described that the assailants “used a Toyota Camry 2005 model with silver color; Toyota Sienna 1998 Model with golden color; Toyota Hilux with white color; and a Lexus RX 330 with golden Color. (Registration numbers are withheld for security reasons).”
The next course of action was to pursue the alleged killers. Again, let’s complete the story from the police: “Having established the identity of the assailants and the description of the vehicles used in carrying out the attack, the teams further got details of the direction the hoodlums have taken. With further leads, the team was able to establish the location of suspects. The suspects were rounded up at Afor Enyiogugu junction in Aboh-Mbaise Local Government Area. The hoodlums were met distributing onions to locals from a trailer they confiscated. The trailer was loaded with onions from the northern region of Nigeria.”
I don’t know why it was important to say where the trailer loaded with onions originated unless the intention was to incite at a period respected stakeholders in the north were restraining their youth from possible reprisal attacks. And then, after the account of how the police officers gallantly killed “the six hoodlums who carried out the killings and four other members of their gang”, the police completed their tale: “The assailants were identified as members of the proscribed IPOB and ESN. The driver who drove late Ahmed Gulak and a co-victim who survived have all identified the dead body of the IPOB/ESN members positively as their attackers and also identified the three vehicles recovered as those used by the attackers.” Case closed!
Let me be clear. I am not defending IPOB and ESN whose operatives may indeed be culpable. But the murder of a high-profile politician that could have engendered crisis as well as the security challenge in the Southeast requires more rigour than what we have seen in recent days. The orchestrated attacks against both the personnel and barracks of police formations and the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are clearly a direct affront on national security and an undisguised attempt to undermine our democracy and fragile unity. To deal with these challenges, the security agencies must deploy their best intelligence assets and be thorough and open-minded in their investigation.
Last month alone there were ten attacks against INEC in the five Southeast states of Abia, Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra. All by ‘unknown gunmen’. On 9th May, they attacked the Ohafia local government INEC office in Abia; on 13th May, they took down the commission’s office at Udenu local government in Enugu; on 16th May, the madness had moved to the INEC headquarters at the state capital. On 18th May, there were three coordinated attacks in Ebonyi State INEC offices: One in Ezza North local government, another in Izzi local government and the third in Ebonyi local government. On 23rd May, the attacks were at the commission’s offices in three states: Enugu, Anambra and Imo. While that of Enugu took place at Igboeze local government, that of Imo happened at Ahiazu Mbaise local government. In Anambra, the attackers went for the INEC state headquarters in Akwa. And on 30th May, the gunmen were at Njaba local government INEC office in Anambra state. The attacks against the police have been more daring and devastating. Since the violence started early this year, more than a hundred of their officers and men have been killed and dozens of their facilities (including barracks and operational vehicles) have been destroyed. We need the security agencies to fish out these criminals (and sponsors) and bring them to justice.
Meanwhile, I saw the challenge posed by IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu coming many years ago. On several occasions—including at my 1st October 2017 Platform lecture (A Nation on Edge: Which Way Nigeria?)—I raised concerns about a possible escalation if not handled carefully. Sadly, what I predicted six years ago is now coming to pass. In my 12th November 2015 column, ‘The Man from Biafra’, I warned that by arresting Kanu and giving him attention, the authorities were helping his cause. This is what I wrote in the piece: “…One thing we should not discountenance is that there is a generation of Igbo born after the civil war who believe they (or their parents) do not have a fair deal in Nigeria on account of the war. There is therefore a persecution complex that is deeply ingrained. It is perhaps for this reason that even those who do not agree with Kanu and may actually detest him and his message are keeping silent—essentially because there is some value in what he is doing in a nation where, to borrow the words of a senior colleague, such antics have become ‘a maximalist bargaining position’. The way things are, by arresting Kanu, keeping him in incarceration and denying him his rights under the law, the authorities are simply playing into his hands. Somebody like him needs to be made a ‘victim’ in order to take his cause to the next level. That is the platform that the federal government is unwittingly providing to the guy who is already attracting international attention…”
I made the foregoing deduction six years ago and today, we are in serious crisis because of the choices we have made or refused to make. While the problem of Nigeria did not start with President Muhammadu Buhari, I do not believe he is handling the IPOB challenge the right way. Making some strategic concessions for the sake of peace in a plural society is not a sign of weakness. But he has consistently refused to do that, even when there were glaring opportunities to do so. His statement on Tuesday is also predictable and rather unfortunate. I understand that no government will give in to criminal blackmail. But there are also times when leaders recognize that force offers no enduring solution, especially to a problem that will not go away.
As I also once argued on this page, when things are so bad that young people seek salvation in a past they never experienced, the challenge should be how to deal with the lingering injury that fuels such misplaced nostalgia. It is therefore important for the administration to interrogate why more than five decades after the end of the civil war, the Biafran experience continues to evoke so much passion, so much anger, so much appeal that throngs of youth from the southeast have found a war cry for all manner of dysfunction in our nation. The challenge is that we are gradually losing our country.
As things stand, there is a greater burden of law enforcement in the Southeast where insecurity has become an offshoot of a troubled chapter of our national history. Since the police (whose personnel and barracks are being taken out by these criminals) have proved ineffective, troops are being deployed to restore order. But this is very tricky. Moreover, elements of partisanship have also amplified other factors at play in the Southeast. For instance, in Imo State that is becoming the epicenter of the crisis in the region, we also have confrontations between and among powerful political gladiators and an atmosphere of free for all criminality engendered by unemployment and scanty opportunities.
In all this, security agents must be extra sensitive to the peculiar complexity of the southeast. We expect the military to pay attention to the rights of ordinary people in their line of duty. For the police in particular, the challenge is one of professionalism. The rudiments of thorough investigation of crimes before drawing conclusions is the minimum expectation of a public whose sensitivities have already been agitated. Unfortunately, the manner in which the Gulak assassination has been handled is not exactly a glowing tribute to responsible policing in a part of the country where national security already faces a challenge mired in a bloody history.
Indeed, the Gulak murder may have added an extra ugly dimension to our basket of headaches well ahead of a potentially turbulent election season in 2023. I hope the authorities recognize the dangers ahead. In 2005, the United States National Intelligence Council, in a document entitled ‘Mapping Sub-Saharan Africa’s Future’, had predicted the “outright collapse of Nigeria” as a nation-state within the next 15 years. At the time, President Olusegun Obasanjo described the report as “glib talk” arising from “dubious or diabolical benchmarks.” But Obasanjo did not ignore the report. He passed it to the National Assembly with a covering letter where he wrote: “I am sending this to you not because I am alarmed by the report but because if we know what others think of us and about us, we can prevent what they project for us.”
Despite the avalanche of such reports today, there is neither any sense of urgency nor even a response from the authorities to some of these negative projections about the future of our country, including by those who are not neutral. In the latest edition of the influential ‘Foreign Affairs’ magazine, former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell and Harvard Kennedy School Emeritus Professor, Robert Rotberg magisterially conferred on Nigeria the status of a ‘failed state’. In February 2011, five Professors at the University of Mississippi, United States, did a research titled, ‘Failed State 2030: Nigeria – A Case Study’. This was their conclusion: “While religious and ethnic violence are commonplace, the federal government has managed to strike a tenuous balance among the disparate religious and ethnic factions. With such demographics, Nigeria’s failure would be akin to a piece of fine china dropped on a tile floor—it would simply shatter into potentially hundreds of pieces.”
To ensure these dire predictions do not come to pass, there is much work to be done. Not only by government but indeed by all stakeholders in the Nigerian project. But it is the responsibility of President Buhari to lead the charge. Is he ready?
Mrs Ahmed @ FCDA
In March last year, I had cause to be at the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) office to register a complaint about the access to my house that had been blocked by a new construction in the area. I met the then Executive Secretary, Umar Gambo Jibrin and his Directors who had just returned from a visitation. Jibrin invited me to his office and asked his directors to join the conversation. Although I was meeting all of them (including Jibrin himself) for the first time, they treated me with courtesy and I exchanged contacts with everyone at the end of our meeting. The Director, Urban and Regional Planning, Mrs Zaliha’u Ahmed, was particularly engaging and from that time we have continued to communicate.
As a regular reader of my column, she especially expressed interest in my wife’s school project (Not Forgotten Initiative) for less-privileged children and I could see her passion on social issues in our conversations. I was therefore delighted when I read on Monday that Mrs Ahmed had broken the Abuja glass ceiling with her appointment as the FCDA acting executive secretary, following the mandatory retirement of the incumbent. She is the first woman to hold the position in the 45-year history of the agency created in 1976 to “oversee the infrastructural and physical development (planning, design and construction)” of the FCT.
I wish Mrs Ahmed all the best in her new assignment.
• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com