President Buhari’s one-day visit to Maiduguri on Wednesday has again raised great expectations for the beleaguered city. For a one-day visit it was remarkably a success. Even from my own perspective, that is inclined to be cynical, I adjudge it a success. Much different from his immediate last visit. That visit in February last year must have been a public relations nightmare for the president’s handlers. Meant to have been a swift condolence visit to the people of Maiduguri, in the aftermath of a devastating attack by Boko Haram insurgents on commuters forced to sleep outside Auno, which left over 30 people dead.
The president flew in from a foreign trip direct to Maiduguri. Unfortunately, what went viral of that visit in the media was the motorcade of the president being booed by street urchins. Obviously some lapses in the president’s handlers’ wisdom left a window for your usual mischief makers to enact that scenario.
This time the handling of the visit was more prescient and in my view professional. News of the visit filtered surreptitiously into the media as a rumour, which only became official two days later. A better organised affair this time, the visit went smoothly. The president was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd that followed him from the airport to commission projects at Jimtilo and Muna and many other places all the way to the Shehu’s Palace.
From all indications Maiduguri gave a rousing welcome to the president, probably a sign that the relative peace within the city had lulled the psych of the citizens to think that all is becoming well.
Maiduguri has been one of the most visited cities by the president, touching its grounds every year since 2017. As he moved around the city this time, and at every stop, the president was once more his politician self, making the same promises he had made before.
This time, as in earlier times, it was how he would end the Boko Haram’s reign of terror. He followed that up, and firmed it, at the closed door meeting he had with the bigwigs of all the security forces, at the Maimalari Cantonment along Baga Road, which also serves as the headquarters of Theatre Operation Hadin Kai.
His promises to the fighting men of the supply of ‘critical combat enablers including high calibre weapons’, gradual rotation of troops and commitment to their welfare must have invigorated them. They must have needed this pep talk because, to be honest, things have not been too well for them on the ground.
The troops are virtually holed up in Maiduguri and the scattered high grounds in the northern parts of the state, at the mercy of perennial hit-and-run attacks of the insurgents.
Elsewhere, the president had pledged that the prospecting of oil and gas in the Chad Basin would continue. But as with all other activities of government, this will have to await the banishment of the insurgents. Most of Northern Borno where the oil fields are situated has become the playing field of the Boko Haram insurgents and one cannot countenance any prospecting there, in the nearest future. In any case the area around the hub of the oil prospecting activities, in Gajiganna settlement of Magumeri LGA, is heavily infested with insurgents and rendered virtually inaccessible.
The president also made a pledge to give Maiduguri an independent power source though it is not clear whether that would be solar or gas powered. The city has been groaning under the yoke of darkness since January when the insurgents destroyed the national transmission line into Maiduguri. All efforts to repair the line and restore electricity to Maiduguri have stoutly been repulsed by the insurgents. This promise is apparently contingent on finishing the war with the insurgents.
The visit has once again given the Maiduguri citizens an opportunity to celebrate, but the fact remains, that the city is under severe strain as a result of a ballooning population in the last few years. The city had been made to take in hundreds and thousands of its displaced kith and kin who were terrorised and chased away from Northern Borno by the insurgents. Maiduguri, today, has the largest concentration of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Once the centre of commerce in that region, there is little trade going on now and many industries have gone under.
The city is actually besieged. It is the only Nigerian capital city that cannot safely be reached through the highways. There are at least five highways running into Maiduguri, most in reasonable conditions, but none can be traversed without the fear of vicious attack. Commuters who frequent these highways would tell you that the fear generated by these terrorists on the highways is always palpable. For some years, the only surviving safe corridor, the Damaturu highway, had in the last many months been rendered unsafe by repeated attacks.
At the conclusion of the visit, I guess the president must have left with the immense goodwill shown to him. Maiduguri citizens have suffered untold deprivations over the last many years. The pledges made by the president, even though rehashed, has given the city great expectations. They will hold him to his promises.