There are a number of similarities General Muhammadu Buhari shares with Mitt Romney. Buhari has contested and lost three presidential elections in Nigeria, while Romney lost the U.S. presidential election in 2012. Before that, he had run and lost the Republican nomination for president in 2008. Romney lost the 2012 election because his approach to politics is exclusionary. He was unable to mobilise votes from sections of the American society that he prejudiced by his ultra conservative views, especially on immigration and women. Similarly, Buhari has been a champion of a very narrow political base: the educationally and socially excluded northern Nigerians who have been undone by the cruel Northern oligarchies. Buhari remains unappealing in the largely Christian Southern parts of the country because of the divisive views he has expressed publicly on the delicate issue of religion and ethnicity in Nigeria.
Mitt Romney presumed he could bully Barack Obama – a black minority but the 44th elected president of the United States — into electoral defeat in 2012. Mitt Romney was nevertheless humbled as Americans emphatically re-elected President Obama. The bully tactics of Buhari against President Goodluck Jonathan, elected from a minority region in Nigeria, is well-known and exhibited by Buhari’s threat of violent aftermath to his loss of the Presidential election.
However, during the campaign for the U.S. presidential election in 2012, Mitt Romney showed his understanding that the United States holds its military in high esteem even as America projects its power to the world. During the bitterly fought campaign, at no time did Romney undermine the U.S. military by underrating its achievements while amplifying its weaknesses even under President Barack Obama. This is one vital area Buhari is dissimilar to Mitt Romney.
Nigeria has been faced with a most unfortunate counter-insurgency battle against Boko Haram since 2009. But until recently, Boko Haram was entirely a Nigerian insurgency, whose members were fellow citizens. For this reason, President Goodluck Jonathan rightly exercised restraint in confronting militarily the Boko Haram menace, seeing that it wanted to exploit the very delicate North-South, Christian-Muslim cleavages. Those who vilify the President as slow to respond, say so on the basis of a mistaken and counter-factual notion that conflicts of this nature could be easily bombed out of existence.
Unfortunately, Buhari and the All Progressive Congress (APC) have failed to recognise that in winning the battle against the insurgents, the preservation of the country is of utmost importance and that the military needs all the encouragement it could get. Buhari and the APC for a long time refused to empathise with the federal government and the military in the unfortunate incident of the insurgency. Rather, the sympathy of Buhari was with the insurgents; he described the campaign against Boko Haram as a campaign against the North. His party played up the weaknesses of the military. With unexpected naivety, Buhari and the APC told the world the Nigerian military is ill-equipped and ill-motivated. Nobody needs to tell Buhari how misguided he was because he has found it convenient to change his stance now that he needs votes from beyond his “North.”
The counter-insurgency against Boko Haram has been unsurprisingly difficult. Boko Haram’s tactics and operations are like those of guerrillas and terrorists. The Vietnam War is an ever-fresh reminder that an asymmetric warfare will always confound orthodox tactics and conventional military might. Around the world, the war against terrorism continues to get bigger and its geography continues to expand in apparent defiance of military might. While it might be possible to kill some terrorists, bombing the ideologies behind terrorism is something else altogether.
Although the Nigerian military was challenged in terms of procuring equipment for its men to fight Boko Haram, a militarily heavy-handed immediate response would nevertheless have come under sharp criticism. This was the case over a year ago when a determined military resistance of Boko Haram’s attempt at seizing a northern territory of Nigeria resulted in the accusation of heavy-handedness by Amnesty International and other sections of the international community.
But like every insurgency, Boko Haran has hit a trajectory whereby public angst against it and response to it (while observing necessary civilised norms in military engagement) become justified. The case of the kidnapping of the “Chibok Girls” united Nigerians in calling for more confrontation of the Boko Haram terrorists. It also brought Boko Haram into international opprobrium, such that today the United Nations is backing actions to see off the insurgents, and the United States has been more forthcoming with pledging assistance.
The counter-insurgency against Boko Haram has validated President Goodluck Jonathan as an astute leader and a statesman. He has waited for the right moment to ratchet up military response. The kidnapping of the Chibok Girls and the threat of Boko Haram to disrupt the 2015 general elections have become the fitting rallying points for the generality of Nigerians and the government to finally confront Boko Haram. At this time, President Jonathan has shown that his response to Boko Haram is not limited to the use of the military. The President has founded special schools for millions of out-of-school hapless Nigerian children in the North. A development blueprint for the region is also in place. The government has also overcome the challenge of equipping the military. Suddenly, as in the last three weeks, and under the same President Jonathan, the Nigerian military has become known for gallantry against Boko Haram.
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