The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) Monday told the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government to leave Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese Matthew Hassan Kukah out of the issues around delay in delivery of weapons from the western countries.
Rather, it said, the federal government should review its strategies in the war against insurgency and terrorism.
NEF Director of Publicity and Advocacy Hakeem Baba-Ahmed stated this during a television interview on the African Independent Television, AIT, monitored by Blueprint in Abuja.
Baba-Ahmed was speaking on the Presidency’s decision to blame Kukah and opponents of government for the perception of the United States government of poor Christianity and Islam relations in Nigeria, believed to be responsible delayed supply of fighter jets to the country.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu had in a statement Sunday alleged that the cleric provided quotes to a new book written by former US Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, which the Presidency observed, was not likely to conclude that Nigeria has improved in any front.
On the delayed delivery of Tucano fighter jets to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency, the statement had said: “In 2015 the then newly-elected Buhari government requested US military support in the form of Super Tucano jet fighters for the Nigerian Air Force. The Nigerian military, security, and intelligence services repeatedly made this request.
“The US administration of the time concurred: the delivery of such jets would help deliver a critical turning point in Nigeria’s struggle against jihadist terrorists across the Sahel.
“Yet two years later, that jet delivery was rescinded, the reasons given that unless Nigeria improved its religious relations between Christianity and Islam then US support would not be forthcoming in this, and many other areas.
“Such views were compounded by the constant lobbying of US Congress by the opponents of the Nigerian government who had lost the previous election, and many of their southern religious supporters – including Bishop Mathew Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Diocese of Sokoto, who, unsurprising, provides a supportive quote for the dustcover of the new edition of Campbell’s book. (Kukah even took to addressing the US Congress himself, briefing his audience on the history of coups in Nigeria–without, of course, mentioning that none had occurred since 1993, some 29 years ago).
“Fortunately, now today under a new US administration these jets have been delivered, and with it, a serious blow against the terrorists – with the supreme leader of Islamic State in West Africa and scores of other leaders of the group eliminated in airstrikes.”
NEF faults presidency
Faulting the Presidency’s position during the television interview, the NEF publicist said Nigeria had problem procuring weapons because of the conduct of the armed forces and related agencies on human rights issues, dealing with prisoners of war and people caught up in conflicts.
Baba-Ahmed said: “You know, the presidency spokespersons have a way of deflecting criticism by making it personal. When you say that there is a shortfall in the quality of government, they find something to stick you with.
“People like Bishop Kukah and I, are used to this. We don’t take it seriously. This, this organization should be criticized and must be criticized, and those who are ready to do so should be willing to take some of the words that Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina recycle every once in a while when we point out certain facts about the failings of President in terms of securing the country.
“But the truth is, maybe they know this, maybe they don’t know, Nigerian Government has problems procuring weaponry from Western countries, because these countries, in most cases have standards regarding conduct by their armed forces and related agencies, in terms of dealing on human rights issues, dealing with prisoners of war, dealing with populations caught up in conflicts.
“Everybody knows this. They will not sell you one bullet unless they are satisfied that you’ve met certain criteria. And they have raised issues over and over and over again. The Nigerian government knows this. But they need to improve the conduct of the Nigerian military, in the fight against the insurgency, against terrorists. They know this.
“And when someone points them out, either it is because of lethargy, it takes them a long time to adjust, or perhaps the challenges of the conflict doesn’t allow them to make adjustments while they’re also fighting, I don’t know what it is, but whatever it is, it is true that if we have met, or comply with standards, set by countries that should give us weapons, well, sell us weapons, we would have a lot more weapons that we have now.
“So, whether it comes from Bishop Kukah, or it comes from me, we made this point. We want to buy weapons from some countries, improve the way we wage this war. It can be done; it must be done if you want these weapons.
“You certainly don’t want to go the option of some other members of the government who say procure weapons from anywhere in the world, or just bring in mercenaries to fight a war for you.
“So, I agree with Bishop Kukah that the government needs to review its attitude, some of those issues raised by countries that are creating problems, well, seemingly creating problem for us in terms of selling weapons, and that the onus is on us to improve those conditions. It’s fact and we need it now.”
On 2023 elections
Speaking on the forthcoming general elections, NEF said: “We must not go to the 2023 elections with the current state of insecurity or a worse state insecurity, not just because of the elections, but because the life is getting worse by the day and it’s time to reverse this trend.
“We cannot continue to live like this. Every inch of this country has one form of security challenge or the other and there are solutions to them. It cannot be that there are no solutions to the insecurities.
“So, if we can, if there are solutions, you have to ask, is the problem with the people who are supposed to find the solution? Are you saying that we can’t deal with bandits and kidnappers and IPOB and ESN and people who are making billions of money from oil theft and using it for other illegal activities?
“There must be something wrong in the way we are running the country. We should say so. We should raise our voices and demand that the people we voted into office, the President, the National Assembly, governors, they must do better. We can’t live like rats hiding in holes and running away every year from criminals.
“We just can’t. We’re tired. If they can’t operate the country, there is an option. There is a provision in the constitution for stepping down if you can’t perform the most basic function available to you, which is to protect and secure citizens.
“That’s what we’re saying but a few people thought that is extreme but it is a statement of fact.”