It has become an all-too-familiar excuse from government officials, as well as security and anti-graft agencies to claim that certain high-profile persons of interest have not been apprehended and subjected to prosecution because they continue to be elusive, even though their influence may continue to loomlarge over the affairs of the country in some cases.
This recurrent incidence has grown into a worrying trend withserious national security and internal administration implications, raising questions about of our internal capacity to preserve or restore order, the trustworthiness of our public officials, the reliability of our internal security and surveillance architecture, and the integrity of the social contract between the government and the hopeful citizens especially around the cardinal principle of guaranteeing fairness, justice and equity.
Examples abound of a variety of cases involving high-profile politicians, militants, terrorists, secessionists and even the supposed easily accessible bureaucracy-trapped and enfeebled civil servants, who suddenly went missing or were declared missing just when they were due a date with justice.
We look at a few of these cases which have stirred national debates and provoked impassioned discourse across the country.
Nnamdi Kanu, one day a colourful public fixture, the next a puzzling myth
The story of the disappearance of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, is quite interesting. In the period leading to his disappearance, Kanu had been very visible, making controversial public declarations at every turn. He walked around flanked by loyal supporters in their thousands like an emperor beloved.
Following confrontation between personnel of the Nigerian Army and members of IPOB in Umuahia, the capital of AbiaState and country home to the polarizing separatist, the story took a rather unexpected sudden turn. Soldiers were said to have invaded his family home, launching sustained attack. Kanu’swhereabouts have been unknown since then.
One troubling question arising from the continued mysterious location of Kanu is how the country’s combined security forces could, months after, still not be able to account for a personality deemed high security risk enough for his organization to be proscribed and declared a terror group, the debatable rationale notwithstanding.
Also, considering Kanu’s wild, even militant following comprising thousands of youths committed to the cause of ‘Biafra or death’, is it not possible that his absence might pose a significant national security threat? Kanu could possibly have gone underground as has been witnessed in history where revolutionaries have been forced to retreat into a more asymmetrical system of engagement, unleashing a far more deadly onslaught than they were previously able to while operating within the mainstream.
Some would also argue that Kanu, who has flirted with the idea of mass-scale violence on different occasions, would be the typical candidate for the likely adoption of such an underground regrouping and remodeling effort.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the security agencies which prioritized the neutralization of Kanuand IPOB as extant threats to national security, owe it to the people and the law to ensure that the question of his whereabouts is settled once and for all, and soon.
Maina, a walking, working ghost
How on earth could anyone possibly convincingly argue that Abdulrasheed Maina is missing? Well, the Buhari administration has attempted to argue his missing status but understandably without much success.
How could someone who has long been on the wanted list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Interpol’s, suddenly resurface in the country, apply for reinstatement into the civil service, move around the country and possibly hold official meetings in line with his planned resumption, have done all these without notice?
And how could the same person suddenly disappear again when his planned reinstatement hit the rocks? This could possibly only happen in Nigeria!
It is incredible that Maina could have returned to this country without being detected and/or assisted by any of the security agencies or other agencies in charge of travel and borders like customs and immigrations.
It is also almost impossible that Maina could have been processing his reinstatement without the active
facilitation of top government officials. The expression of shock by President Buhari and his officials only after the surreptitious plot to reinstate him became public, was nothing short of synchronized drama.
Thankfully, developments from the case proved the official position false. Maina was indeed aided by top government officials who ironically were saddled with the sacred responsibility of preserving the integrity of public institutions. Of particular mention are the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau.
President Buhari must ensure that Maina is found and made to answer to mounting allegations of fraud levelled against him by the EFCC, more so as some revelations have alleged DSS protection for Maina.
But allegations of internal security collusion and sabotage are not the only extra motivation the president needs to personally supervise the capture and prosecution of Maina. His reputation is also on the line. The leaked memo of the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, had disclosed a troubling reality— that Buhari was all along aware of the planned reinstatement of Maina and was even warned against approving it. That Buhari feigned ignorance and appeared to hurriedly act, against his well-established impulse of frustrating gradualism,may have only merely exposed his barely-known and perhaps under-reported capacity for political deceit.
Buhari must salvage his integrity, that of his government, and of public trust. A full-scale investigation must be conducted and all found culpable duly punished under the full weight of the law.
Tompolo, the deafening voice of a Government without a base
Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, is another high-profile name on Nigeria’s missing persons list. The erstwhile commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is quite the controversial figure.
He was a major force when militancy reigned supreme in the oil-rich region and boasted not only of wealth majorly from bunkering, but also of great influence and large following. After his acceptance of amnesty from the Umaru Musa Yar’Aduagovernment, he became something of a rebranded figure. No longer a state enemy, he began enjoying open official backing which included pipeline and other contracts especially under the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan.
But once Buhari assumed office, his fortunes changed. He became a top target of the anti-corruption campaign. He was accused of perpetrating contract-related fraud running into billions of naira and was declared wanted.
He is still wanted and yet no breakthrough has been achieved in getting him to answer to charges against in court, many months after. Tompolo has however remained very vocal, issuing press statement after press statement on issues ranging from threats to resume militant attacks, to developments in his legal battle with the state through the EFCC.
Some have pointed to Tompolo as a likely sponsor behind renewed threats to resume militant activities in the Niger Delta, and they may well be right given his history, his apparently undiminished influence, his famed wealth, and especially, his grouse with the current government.
The government has an urgent task to fulfil if it must be taken seriously. It must ensure that Tompolo is brought to court to answer to the charges preferred against him like should be donein a country where every citizen is equal under the law.
But there is an extra motivation beyond the equitable distribution of justice; there is the need to track Tompolo’swhereabouts and evaluate his dealings since he has been in hiding to determine whether or not allegations of his underground promotion of militancy are true. Considering the central value of oil to Nigeria’s economy and future, this mission must be deemed urgent and absolutely important.
Security agencies, especially intelligence operatives, must earn their pay by mapping out Tompolo’s location and helping to prove that the reach of government in the exercise of its legitimate obligations is truly far; definitely farther than the flight of fugitives from the law.
Shekau, a malignant scourge with many lives
Perhaps the case of Abubakar Shekau, the dreaded leader of the Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, may attract more sympathy than criticism to the government , except of course for the needless lies about his having been killed, repeatedly.
Perhaps no single individual has wrought more damage on Nigeria than Shekau whose brutal reign has led to the murder of thousands of men, women and children, and the displacement of millions more.
He is a known and wanted terrorist not only in Nigeria, but the world over. Like some counterinsurgency strategists have argued, his capture or death may be useful in helping to bring the campaign against the terror group to a path with greaterpotential for quicker resolution of the conflict especially with the presence of a perceived moderate factional leader, Abu Musad Al-Barnawi, whose emergence as the undisputeddominant force in the event of such a development, may pave the way for productive engagement.
Shekau’s removal from the equation may also have a great military impact. The morale of his troops may be significantly damaged, while operational coordination may suffer as well. However, the rather loose administrative structure of terror groups including quasi-autonomous cells may limit gains in the military end.
The Nigerian Army especially owes it to the public to whom it has lied repeatedly about the killing of Shekau, to actually capture or kill him and restore its integrity and public trust. Just like the killing of the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US, Osama Bin Laden, Nigeria must device a strategy entirely dedicated to the killing of Shekau, and quietly pursue it until success is achieved.
The thousands of bereaved families whose loved ones have been brutally stolen from them by the Shekau-led Boko Haram may finally find some sense of justice and semblance of peace in their world shattered by hate and violence.
Shekau cannot continue to remain missing, alive!
RipplesNigeria… without borders, without fears