In this year, prominent Nigerians especially in the presidency made many controversial statements that would continue to linger in the minds of the populace for many years. Our correspondent, Faruk Shuaibu chronicles some of the remarks that raised dust in the polity.
Zabarmari: Shehu’s security clearance for farmers
Following the killings of over 76 farmers in Zabarmari, Jere Local Government Area of Borno State by Boko Haram, the nation was in mourning when President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in an interview with BBC’s Hausa service asked rhetorically if the farmers had clearance before visiting the farm.
When asked if the farmers were to be blamed for their death, he responded, “Not exactly, but the truth has to be said. Is there any clearance by the military, which is in total control of those areas? I have been told by the military leaders that they have not been so advised.”
He added that since there is no military presence in every corner of the regained territories even though people are ready to go back, some of the areas have been mined, thus, “mine clearance has to be carried out first.”
Before the Zabarmari incident the presidential spokesperson was in the news when he tongue-lashed former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In September, Obasanjo had after reviewing the state of the nation accused President Buhari of mismanaging the country’s socio-economic development as old fault lines that were disappearing “are popping up under him.
In his reaction, Garba Shehu countered Obasanjo, saying “the difference is clear. From the lofty heights of Commander-in-Chief, General Obasanjo has descended to the lowly level of Divider-in-Chief.” Considering the status of Obasanjo as a respected elder statesman in the country and Africa at large, eyebrows were raised.
‘Only 10 Katsina students were abducted’
The biggest of all was Garba Shehu’s claim on the abduction of students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State.
Like COVID-19, the claim by Garba Shehu will linger in the minds of Nigerians for a long time. On the day, the state governor, Aminu Bello Masari disclosed that 333 students were kidnapped, Garba Shehu punctured it, saying only 10 of the students were ferried away by the bandits. However, the statement turned out to be untrue as 344 students were released by the bandits on Thursday.
A day after the schoolboys were released, the presidential spokesperson took to his Twitter handle to apologise for the inaccurate figure he gave to the public, saying it was not in any way to downplay the seriousness of the issue but that he was misinformed.
A one-man army – Adesina
The controversial statement is not limited to Garba Shehu, it revolves around the presidential spokespersons. A former Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Professor Ango Abdullahi, had knocked the present administration over its poor management of insecurity in the country.
Prof. Abdullahi who is also the Chairman of Northern Elders Forum, (NEF) had expressed sadness that “poverty is getting rife in the north where the president hails.”
Responding, a presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, described the group as a one-man army without credible members and had antipathy against President Buhari, due to their preference for another candidate in the 2019 election.
Adesina’s words; “Hearing that title, you would think the body was a conglomeration of true elders. But the truth is that NEF is just Ango Abdullahi and Ango Abdullahi is NEF.
“It is a quasi-organisation that boasts of no credible membership. We are not surprised by this latest statement by Prof. Abdullahi, and our past position on what his group represents remains unchanged: a mere irritant and featherweight.”
IGP should release my staff – Aisha Buhari
Another controversial statement in the presidency was the one by the First Lady, Hajiya Aisha Buhari. In a tweet, she urged the Inspector General of Police to free some of her staff detained during a standoff with the president’s aide and nephew Sabiu Yusuf, popularly known as Tunde. Gunshots were fired in the villa at the climax of the fisticuff.
She said, “That COVID-19 is real and still very much around in our nation is not in doubt. Consequently, I call on all relevant government agencies to enforce the Quarantine Act signed by Mr. President and ensure no one is found violating this law and the NCDC guidelines especially on interstate travel without the necessary exemptions for the movement of essentials. Anyone who does that should at the very least be made to undergo a 14-day mandatory isolation no matter who the person is, no one should be above the law and the Police command will do well to remember that.
“Finally, I call on the IGP to release my assigned staff who are still in the custody of the police in order to avoid putting their lives in danger or expose them to COVID-19 while in their custody.”
Amotekun is illegal – Malami
At the peak of the moves by the South-West governors to establish Amotekun, a security outfit in the region to tackle the rising insecurity in the area, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami labelled it as illegal.
Specifically, Malami said; “The setting up of the paramilitary organisation called “Amotekun” is illegal and runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) has established the Army, Navy and Airforce, including the Police and other numerous paramilitary organisations for the purpose of the defence of Nigeria.”
Citing the above reasons, he stated that “No state government, whether singly or in a group has the legal right and competence to establish any form of organisation or agency for the defence of Nigeria or any of its constituent parts.
As such, “it is sanctioned by the provision of Item 45 of the Second Schedule of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) authorizing the Police and other Federal Government security services established by law to maintain law and order.”
He maintained that if the governor’s had consulted his office, he would have provided them with proper information and guidance. However, Amotekun has seen the light of the day. It has been established by the state governors after the state lawmakers gave it legal backing through the enactment of laws.