The Nigerian government and the Nigerian Army have dismissed allegations by a retired military general that security forces are conniving with deadly attackers across Nigeria, saying such calls are inflammatory and should be disregarded.
Theophilus Danjuma, a former chief of army staff, said on Saturday that Nigerians are being killed at an alarming rate but the armed forces could not curb the bloodshed because they are also involved in it.
"The armed forces are not neutral," Mr. Danjuma said at the maiden convocation of the Taraba State University in Jalingo, the state capital, on Saturday afternoon. "They collude with the armed bandits to kill people, kill Nigerians."
The former defence minister said the time is now for Nigerians to rise up and defend themselves from the killings.
Deadly killings have been recorded in several states across Nigeria since January 2018 alone, but the government has appeared helpless at identifying and bringing culprits to book.
Hundreds have been killed in attacks on villages in Benue, Kogi, Adamawa, Zamfara, Kaduna and Mr. Danjuma's home state of Taraba since January.
The 2018 attacks began in Benue, where about 100 people were murdered across two local government areas on January 1.
Mr. Danjuma said unchecked violence is shifting Nigeria towards Somalia, a country that has been in a state of war since 19991. The East African country is widely seen as a failed state due to the failure of the central government to have any serious control beyond the capital, Mogadishu.
A call to anarchy — Defence Minister
"This is highly uncalled for and is invitation to anarchy and should be disregarded by well-meaning Nigerians," Tukur Gusau, a spokesperson for the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, said in a statement Saturday night.
"The efforts of the Nigerian military towards restoration of peace, security and order in Nigeria are evidently clear and Nigerians continue to show appreciation for changing the security environment from what it was before," Mr. Gusau said, describing the statement he was condemning as having been made by an elder statesman, without mentioning Mr. Danjuma by name.
"The armed forces is well organised and highly professional in discharging its constitutional mandate.
"Therefore, if anyone has evidence of wrongdoing or dereliction of duty against our troops (the person) should please bring forward such evidence through the channel for necessary action," Mr. Gusau, a colonel, added.
He said the military will "not be distracted" by comments like the one that came from Mr. Danjuma.
Comments uncharitable, unfortunate — Nigerian Army
The Nigerian Army also issued a separate statement on Sunday morning, describing Mr. Danjuma's claims as unfair and sad coming at a time of intense military efforts to address the crisis.
"The public is notified that Nigerian Army personnel have had to pay the supreme price for ensuring the sustenance of security in Taraba State.
"For instance, a gallant non-commission officer of the Nigerian Army was beheaded on 16 March 2018 in Takum Taraba State by criminal elements," Army spokesperson, Texas Chukwu, said in a statement.
Mr. Chukwu, a brigadier general, said security agencies are facing political attacks because they refused to be partisan in their operation, especially in Taraba State.
"It is noteworthy to state that at the inception" of 'Exercise Ayem Akpatuma' or 'Cat Race' in Tiv, "the Taraba State Government did not cooperate with the Nigerian Army due to the Army's stance to remain absolutely neutral in the herdsmen-farmers crisis," Mr. Chukwu said.
"The Nigerian Army will continue to remain as such."
Emmanuel Bello, a spokesperson to Governor Darius Ishaku, rejected the Army's claims, saying allegations are strange.
"We don't understand the charge that we do not want to cooperate with the military," Mr. Bello said in a text message to PREMIUM TIMES Sunday morning. "How have we not cooperated? This grave charge has to be explained first before we even begin to know how best to respond."
The spokesperson said the governor works with all security agencies in the state to curb deadly attacks that had left hundred dead within its borders so far this year.
"Meanwhile, we are ready to work with all the security agencies for the safety of our people," he said. The governor "is always ready to work with all stakeholders in the promotion of peace as the chief security officer of the state he works with all agencies."
The statements by the Defence Ministry and the Army echoed what Defence Headquarters told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday night in response to Mr. Danjuma's statement.
An Emerging Pattern
Mr. Danjuma is not the first former military chief with powerful political root to condemn the Buhari administration.
Since January, two former Nigerian leaders of military background have condemned Mr. Buhari for not doing enough to curb the killings.
In January, former President Olusegun Obasanjo openly called on Mr. Buhari to "dismount" from power by 2019. . Ibrahim Babangida, military ruler from 1985 to 1993, said Mr. Buhari has failed to protect Nigerians and should shelve the idea of returning to office after his first term. He advocated for the emergence of a younger leader to lead Nigeria and make it competitive in a modern world.
When Mr. Babangida's statement was released, security agencies went after his spokesperson, Kassim Afegbua, but later released him when they couldn't establish a case of mischief against him.
It is not immediately clear if the Buhari administration had plans to take stiff actions over Mr. Danjuma's comments, which analysts say pack a heavy punch because the retired lieutenant general hardly makes pronouncements.
"And whenever he speaks, he does so from a position of knowledge," says political analyst Liborous Oshoma.
Mr Oshoma said as a former military chief, powerful businessman and the head of presidential committee on rehabilitation of Boko Haram victims, Mr Danjuma must have explored the back channels to get the president to take actions on the killings.
"He probably got frustrated after all his efforts to get the president to act failed," Mr Oshoma said.
He said the president demonstrated little sign of being in charge of the crisis or having the capacity to curb it.
"Before now, the villagers have accused security agents of connivance with the attackers against their communities," he said.
Mr Oshoma, a Lagos-based lawyer, said Mr Buhari's failure to deal with the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, would only convince other powerful voices like Mr Danjuma to call him out.
"Following the January 1 killings in Benue, the I-G said it was a communal clash, but the president didn't sanction him," the analyst said.
"Again, the president ordered the I-G to go to the state, but the man brazenly ignored the order.
"Two months later, he came out to admit that he didn't know that his appointee had disobeyed him.
"Then the presidency announced to the world that the I-G had been summoned and queried, but the man came out to say no one queried him and if anyone has evidence to the contrary, they should produce such," Mr. Oshoma said.
"The president had initially committed a major security blunder by failing to ask the I-G for updates on such a serious national security matter until he was told about it two months later in Makurdi.
"Yet he couldn't fire a policeman that exposed him to such national embarrassment," he said. "So you could see the frustration of Mr. Danjuma and others who are concerned about the bloodshed."
Mr. Danjuma is not the first leader to pointedly accuse the military of knowing about the attacks. Governor Samuel Ortom has repeatedly said the federal government, especially the security forces, knew where the attackers were hiding and their movements, but deliberately looked the other way.
Security agencies denied this allegation, but the killings have continued in the affected states despite the deployment of soldiers there.