Buhari is finally losing it on #BringBackOurGirls – 5 takeaways on why this is… foolish

BBOG with President Buhari

by Chi Ibe 

Yesterday, the #BringBackOurGirls movement was on the march again. This time, it was returning to the Aso Rock Villa to meet the president and, as usual, demand reports on the missing girls from Chibok.

But just as they began the walk as usual from the Unity Fountain in Abuja, venue of the daily sit-out, heading for the three-arm zone, they were stopped by security men – mostly the police – around the Ministry of Justice.

Even after the group’s leaders, led by Bukola Shonibare brought out copies of a police permit for the process, the security forces refused to let them past.

If this is shocking, it is because it mirrors almost precisely the reaction of the previous Goodluck-Jonathan government to the agitations of its citizens.

The group ended up pushing past the security men to continue their protests – but the consequences of that terrible judgement by the increasingly intolerant government of Muhmmadu Buhari throws up five takeaways; and they don’t bode well for its future.

  1. #BringBackOurGirls brought down Jonathan

The moral authority of the #BringBackOurGirls has become its strength. To think about it, this is a small band of dedicated soliders focused on what goal – no one will ever forget the missing Chibok girls until they are all accounted for. It’s small enough that sometimes less than 25 people are in its meet-ups. Yet the press and international attention is boundless and ceaseless. It was the purity of that mission – deaf to temporal concerns, stubborn in refusing monetary support, unwavering in its leadership by Obiageli Ezekwesili, unnerving in the discipline of its organization – that made it so lethal in bringing down the obtuseness of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

Poll after poll made it clear, the Chibok Girls were the last straw for many Nigerians that made it clear Jonathan couldn’t keep Nigerians safe – or at least was so perceived. Each time he fought the group, it only got more determined and more effective. Everything he tried failed. #BringBackOurGirls has outlasted him – the movement winning international acclaim each day.

Does Buhari want it bring down his government?

  1. Chibok is what brought him into power

And the guts of the thing? Chibok was the principal reasons Nigerians brough Buhari into government. A huge part of his support across the South West, and many parts of the urban north came because of the tone-deafness of Jonathan. Many people who didn’t vote for Buhari each of the last three times he ran and lost didn’t come out to vote for him the fourth time. They came out to vote against Jonathan.

Buhari was the partisan beneficiary of a non-partisan movement that has now proven its non-partisanship. There is a lethal mix of arrogant cluelessness, trenchant ingratitude, dangerous dismissiveness in turning around to spit on the same aspirations that made him a credible, and acceptable, mainstream candidate – for the first time in his life.

  1. It is fair to make a mistake no one has made before, but to repeat a mistake someone already made?

What happens to these people when they get into government?

What kind of disregard of history made any sane man working with president decide that turning the police to intimidate the protesters would do anything but embolden them, embarrass the government and re-shine the light on its failure to bring coherence to the search for its missing citizens?

This is EXACTLY the same thing that Jonathan did. He attacked the credibility of Ezekwesili and the group she leads. He took policemen and sometimes soldier to intimidate and subdue the people.

It is unbelievable that someone thought it was a bright idea to gather fake protesters together to the venue of the protests to claim that they ‘stand with Buhari’. Stand with him on what exactly? On the continued disappearance of over 200 of his citizens and the surly refusal to give regular account except to ask fruitlessly for the same trust Jonathan did?

It is unbelievable that someone in the protest (Idris King, speaking on behalf of the pro-Buhari group) actually said ‘Chibok was a scam’ – precisely the same words that came from Asari Dokubo, the bulldog from the creeks that underscored just how dangerous the Jonathan bubble had become and how desperately the imperative to unseat him had become. It is a shame that Buhari’s people are no better, probably even worse.

  1. He only strengthens the group’s cause by fighting it

If he thinks he can attack the credibility of the movement, Buhari doesn’t listen or read enough. There was a time when detractors were convinced that Ezekwesili was a tool of the All Progressives Congress. That narrative was driven so forcefully and relentlessly that it was caked into public consciousness as an alternative narrative. The upside of that fact-free insistence is that nobody will for one minute believe that #BringBackOurGirls is a tool for the People’s Democratic Party. So, ironically, the group has become partisan-proof.

When its people leave, it mutates. Maryam Uwais, Hadiza Bala Usman, Tolu Ogunlesi and others join a long list of former front line activists who have left to join this government – yet the movement stands firm, proving that it is no fluke and was no hack against Jonathan.

Each time Buhari fights them, after his wife wore dramatic clothing and wrapped her head in black to sympathise with the same protesters he now despises, the public gets a renewed message – #BringBackOurGirls belongs to nobody, and belongs to everybody.

  1. The international audience he is clearly so passionate about is aligned with #BBOG

Buhari has already lost the world on the economy. He has lost half the world on his half-baked, no-results-obvious anti-corruption crusade, and just on Sunday, a United States congressman, Tom Marino leveled a pointed criticism of the tribalism that appears to drive his government.

Fighting #BringBackOurGirls puts him in the same mind space as Jonathan, without the benefit of a graceful election handover. He will find himself fighting a movement that goes beyond 50 people marching on the streets of Abuja, and it will be a disaster for a government that can barely handle loving criticism even from its own allies – including a federal cabinet frustrated with the stubborn short-sightedness of its leader.

In case no one is telling the president the truth, he has lost the local elite, he has lost the vocal youth, and he is presently on course, steadily losing the streets, inch by inch. By the time he loses the international community, he would be completely and totally finished. And, at the end of the day, Muhammadu Buhari will be exactly equal to Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

And what a big great fall, that will be.

As Ezekwesili tweeted after the shock of the government’s insensitivity yesterday: How the mighty have (greatly) fallen.

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