Nigerian President Buhari’s no show in troubled region emboldens new crop of militants

Until earlier today, the people of Nigeria’s Rivers State were waiting to receive President Muhammadu Buhari whose office had announced would be in Ogoni land to flag off the clean-up of the polluted oil-rich community in the country’s Niger Delta region. But they got a shocking news; the president would not be coming anymore, for reasons that were not disclosed. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would be coming in his stead.

On another day, it would not have been a big issue that a leader changed his mind about travelling to a particular place without any genuine reason, but circumstances surrounding his planned trip made every move sensitive and critical to the future of Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy.

The economy is on the verge of recession and last minute actions are currently being taken to save the economy, but recent attacks¬†on oil installations by militant group Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have reduced Nigeria’s oil output, further worsening the economic crisis of a country that relies on oil for more than 70 percent of government revenues and gas for more than 80 percent of electricity generation. The group has made demands that it wants met before it stops the attacks but the government had adopted a carrot and stick approach to solving the crisis. The fearless militants have continued attacks and even went as far as threatening to kill the president if he shows up in the Niger Delta for the flag off of the Ogoni cleanup. For one, many southerners believe President Buhari abhors the region; the militants share similar sentiment, making stronger their resolve to cripple the Nigerian economy until the man at the helm of affairs accede to their requests.

President Buhari, a retired general has never shown timidity in addressing Nigeria’s security challenges. He had at one time threatened to treat the Niger Delta militants as though they were Boko Haram terrorists. He would do whatever it takes to safeguard the country. But with a late announcement that the president will not be at Ogoni land today after a militant group had threatened to kill him, many have started questioning whether Buhari has lost his fearlessness to old age. Others say his absence could embolden the hearts of the Avengers and potential militants as well. “Don’t be surprised if new militants spring up,” says Ola Lasisi who worked in the creeks of Bayelsa for more than a year. “They are naturally fearless. Now, the president is making it look like he’s scared of their threat.”

The communications team of President Buhari has not been at its best since the former dictator won elections last year, most inexcusable. But Nigeria is a country of tolerant people; none of those responsible for the blunders have been sacked. The team’s fault on this occasion is bad information management. The effects of this remains to be seen.

However, more than the blunders of the communications team, Nigeria’s president has continued to prove right, people who insist Buhari has something against southern Nigeria. Over the past one year of his leadership, the Nigerian leader has visited over 20 foreign countries but he has only visited southern Nigeria once. Even a planned visit to Lagos, Nigeria’s most important city was cancelled just hours before he was expected to arrive at the commercial capital. Vice President Osinbajo covered up for him. The two-day visit was cut to one as Osinbajo had to be somewhere else; millions spent to host the president wasted.

The president hardly give reasons for his actions, especially when he is at home. Usually, most of the important information to have come directly from Buhari had been released outside the country.

While Nigerians pray the president’s latest decision does not worsen the attacks in the Niger Delta, they will also be waiting for his next journey outside the country to hear him explain why he did not show up at Ogoni. Was the general scared of the Avengers’ threat? Very unlikely.