A good number of the reactions to President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement that Nigeria has joined the Islamic Coalition Against Terrorism, show quite clearly that many Nigerians do not fully understand the president’s motives for this decision. With the rise of the Boko Haram Terrorist group of the past few years, Nigeria faces a threat such as no other in its entire history and existence. Desperate times require desperate, unusual, measures.
The girls in Gwoza who were raped by militants do not care where the help comes from as far as they will eventually be able to move about freely without fear of being kidnapped and used as sex slaves. The mothers in Bama whose sons were slaughtered before their eyes do not worry whether Boko Haram is defeated by a Christian or Muslim coalition. The hundreds of thousands in IDP camps are concerned simply about when they can safely return to their homes and resume their normal lives. For these ones most hard hit by the Boko Haram terrorists, whether the help they so desperately need comes from the United States of America or from Saudi Arabia does not matter.
One of the main thrusts of President Buhari’s campaign was the war on terror. He promised that his administration would bring an end to Boko Haram, and set about doing just that as soon as he was elected, travelling to different countries and meeting with various heads of state to discuss the way forward on the issue. At the time, no Nigerian worried that President Buhari was seeking help from the West. No one worried about the ideology of those willing and able to help our country to defeat terror. Nigerians were simply united with their President in a determination to bring Boko Haram to an end so that our brothers and sisters in the northeast can resume their normal lives.
It is on account of these people and their desperate situation, and on the basis of national interest only, that President Buhari accepted the offer, with both hands, of assistance from G7 countries at the commencement of his administration. Religion was not a consideration then. It is also not a consideration now that he has made the decision to embrace help in fighting terror from the Middle-East. The safety of Nigerians and the total annihilation of Boko Haram is of more importance than the unfounded worries of Nigeria’s so-called Islamisation.
Those efforts by President Buhari led to several gains, including the technical defeat of Boko Haram by the end of 2015 as he had promised during the election campaigns. Once again, our Commander-in-Chief has sought help where he believes our country will benefit and the religious affiliation or ideology of our benefactors should not be the paramount consideration. It is simply one of those cases where the enemies of our enemy has become our enemy. The enemy of terrorists all around the globe is our friend. The fears that our country’s membership in this coalition will draw Islamic State, ISIS’s attention to Nigeria are too late. As the President has repeatedly maintained, it is Boko Haram that proclaimed allegiance to ISIS, thereby dragging us into the global terrorism network. By pledging allegiance to ISIS, the terrorists already drew the international terror group’s attention to this part of the world. ISIS proudly and openly accepted this proclamation of allegiance. They have their sights set on us already. Terrorism is heathen and knows no religion. It can only be defeated by the unity of entire humanity. Criticism of the membership of this alliance only shows our disarray and a lack of unity against terror and will only make the terrorists happy.
The fears of so-called Islamisation are strange and unfounded, and meant only to feed the fear and suspicions existing among Nigerians. With a precedent as shown above, it will be unkind and uncharitable of anyone to accuse President Buhari of executing deception. In an unusually harsh commentary, this country's most respected newspaper The Punch on Sunday succeeded in exactly doing this. Read this:
"The presidency’s doublespeak on Nigeria’s membership of the Saudi Arabia-led anti-terror Islamic coalition is unfortunate in the extreme. In the beginning, an aide to the president on media and publicity issued a statement to the effect that the president had declined Nigeria’s membership of the coalition and therefore did not attend its meeting while on a diplomatic visit to Saudi Arabia.
But barely two weeks after, President Muhammadu Buhari himself confirmed Nigeria’s membership of the coalition in an interview with a foreign television station, Al- Jazeera. Buhari, who never tabled such a sensitive matter before the National Assembly, said there are terrorists in Nigeria who have claimed to be Muslims. So, according to the him, “We are part of it because we have got terrorists in Nigeria who claim that they are Islamic. So, if there is an Islamic coalition to fight terrorism, Nigeria will be part of it because we are casualties of Islamic terrorism.
"This explanation is simplistic, to say the least and does not do any good to expected political astuteness of President Buhari. In the main, membership of any such coalition is unacceptable for it offends the sensibilities of Nigerians in their diverse inclinations and should be reversed." Sensibilities offended? Can anyone face the more than two million unhoused, mostly Muslim refugees displaced by terror now being fed, almost exclusively by Christian charities that it is offensive them, or that it matters to them who, between Christians and Muslims is supplying the next meal? The one who raised a tent over their heads?
Let me say that the presidential aide in question is no other than myself. Although I write statements emanating from the Presidency, I don't choose what headline writers will use to caption those stories. To that extent, it is untrue of anyone to say the President had ab initio rejected a membership of the coalition against terror.
What the President said, to paraphrase him, was that "we may not be with you, but we will support you in every possible way we can." This does not presuppose rejection. Even if it was one, nothing says that a government cannot move or adjust its position based on new, superior facts as we individuals do in our daily lives.
That some of the criticism against the President is coming from opposition Senators is even more absurd, showing a lack of judgement and discrimination- or even worse. It holds up a mirror to the PDP's cluelessness and total absence of strategy to defeat Boko Haram terrorism. The party's projection of itself as better than the APC in this regard is hobbled by their own record of indecision and serial abdication on Chibok girls as disclosed by Ambassador Packock and greed, corruption and a general incapacity to drive the anti terror war.
A set of politicians who failed to confront or attack terrorism while in power have no right to challenge President Buhari's hounding of them. To global acclaim. Trivia smells. There is a need for a new fragrance in the air.
By Garba Shehu
SSA to the President (Media and Publicity).