President Muhammadu Buhari is not an autocrat who is running a non-inclusive government dominated by his northern brothers while sidelining southerners and trying to decimate the opposition, the Nigerian government said on Sunday in an angry reply to calls by an American congressman that the President Barack Obama administration should be careful with the retired Major-General turned democrat.
Congressman Tom Marino sent an open letter to American Secretary of State, John Kerry, describing President Buhari as an autocrat who has failed to run an inclusive government as well as holding accountable soldiers Amnesty International accused of killing hundreds of civilians in their war against Boko Haram in the northeast. The letter was published by ThisDay newspaper and republished on various other online newspapers.
The Congressman asked Mr. Kerry to press the Obama administration for a stop of military assistance to Nigeria.
He said in the letter written on 1 September that there were clear signs “the man who once led Nigeria as a military dictator might be sliding towards former autocratic tendencies”. He described the anti-corruption war being fought by Mr. Buhari as selective, an allegation the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, had levelled against the Katsina-born politician.
“Of additional concern is President Buhari’s selective anti-corruption drive, which has focused almost exclusively on members of the opposition party, over-looking corruption amongst some of Buhari’s closest advisors. Politicising his anti-corruption efforts has only reinforced hostility among southerners,” he said.
He added: “I would urge the U.S. to withhold its security assistance to the nation until President Buhari demonstrates a commitment to inclusive government and the most basic tenets of democracy: freedom to assemble and freedom of speech. A logical start towards this commitment is for the Nigerian government to hold accountable those members of the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Military complicit in extra-judicial killings and war crimes.
“Human rights groups like Amnesty International have widely documented torture, inhumane treatment, and extra-judicial killings of defenseless Nigerians since President Buhari took office.
“In the last six months, Nigeria’s military has unlawfully killed at least 350 people and allowed more than 168 people, including babies and children, to die in military detention.
“The Secretary to the Government of Kaduna State even admitted to burying 347 of those killed in a mass grave. And while President Buhari promised swift condemnation, his words rang empty. Instead of swift reforms, Buhari chose to reinstate Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, who Amnesty International revealed was in charge of the Nigerian military unit that executed more than 640 unarmed, former detainees.
“Also, in separate incidents concerning the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Nigerian Army has killed at least 36 – the real number is likely higher – people since December 2015 in an attempt to silence opposition and quell attempts by the group to gather publicly”.
The congressman described Mr. Buhari as a military head of state whose previous reign was cut short by a military coup but who has refused to embrace an inclusive government in his second coming.
Mr. Buhari was overthrown by General Ibrahim Babangida in a military coup in 1985. One of Babangida’s foot soldier, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, who later became National Security Adviser under the Goodluck Jonathan administration is in jail undergoing trial over charges that he used billions of dollars meant to fight Boko Haram for personal and political use. The courts have granted Mr. Dasuki bail three times but the Buhari administration has refused to released him.
The opposition PDP has accused Mr. Buhari of trying to decimate them and of appointing mainly northerners.
The U.S. Congressman said “of President Buhari’s 122 appointees, 77 are from the north and control many of the key ministries and positions of power. Distrust is already high in Nigeria and favouring Northerners for key appointments has only antagonized the issue.
“These appointments are also primarily Muslim in the north and Christian in the south, adding a religious aspect to long-held regional biases.
“Of additional concern is President Buhari’s selective anti-corruption drive, which has focused almost exclusively on members of the opposition party, over-looking corruption amongst some of Buhari’s closest advisors. Politicizing his anti-corruption efforts has only reinforced hostility among southerners”
But in an angry reaction on Sunday, the Federal Government described “as sadly out of tune with reality” the published letter from US Congressman Tom Marino to Secretary of State John Kerry, asking the US to withhold security assistance to Nigeria on the strength of some imaginary infraction by the Buhari Administration.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Sunday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said Congressman Marino was “poorly informed about the issues he commented on, wondering why he did not take the pains to get first-hand information from the US Embassy in Nigeria or any other credible source before engaging in what is nothing but a ‘propaganda of his own imagination’.
The Minister said by asking the US to refrain from selling warplanes and other military equipment to Nigeria based on “a faulty premise”, the Congressman has demonstrated a poor understanding of global security issues.
‘’Insecurity anywhere is insecurity everywhere. Had Congressman Marino understood this, he would not have made the kind of call he made concerning the US security assistance to Nigeria. The Boko Haram insurgency that Nigeria has decisively dealt with under President Muhammadu Buhari is not just a Nigerian problem but a regional and international crisis,’’ he said.
Mr. Mohammed said Congressman Marino definitely did not have “Nigeria in mind when he wrote that the US should withhold security assistance to Nigeria until President Buhari ‘demonstrates a commitment to inclusive government and the most basic tenets of democracy: freedom to assemble and freedom of speech’.
”An Administration that operates purely on the basis of respect for the rule of law and a strict adherence to constitutional order is not one to deny the citizens of their constitutionally-guaranteed rights. This Administration therefore does not need the goading of Congressman Marino or anyone for that matter to do what is right.
”Concerning running an inclusive government, had Congressman Marino done his home work before dispatching his letter, he would have realized that no part of the country is left out in the distribution of political appointments, for example, or in the appointment of Ministers, which was done in accordance with the Constitution that mandates that the President must appoint at least one minister from each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory”.