Buhari’s Barren Fig Tree

By Lasisi Olagunju Ph.D


The leaves do fade and fall away,

Berries rot and sheaves decay ;

The deer is fled back to the field.

That is all your promises yield.

All wind and words, your vows, I see,

Are barren as the fruitless tree. — Lauren Willig


We may soon have a Federal Ministry of Banditry. The government will fund it the way it funds similar outfits in the North. We have a commission treating victims of the interminable Boko Haram war in the North East. And in the Kankara mass abduction and rescue, we can see a national cruise to perdition. Everything appears normal, a buying-and-selling enterprise. There was another abduction and rescue on Sunday that had 80 Arabic/Islamic school pupils as victims. It is no doomsaying to expect more and more of such tragedies. Bandits in the north appear to have as many groups as there are Almajiri cells. One feeds the other in back-and-forth ceaseless streams. Bandits are Almajirai of yesterday and fathers of today’s street boys. Tomorrow’s bandits are today’s boys on the street begging to eat.


It is too late for the North to save itself, that is why you find it appeasing its nemesis. The North West bandits who abducted 344 schoolboys and kept them for six days, where are they and when is the punishment for their crime? The world is asking these questions and is not getting answers. Instead, what we feel is that the characters are privileged felons, forever free to roam and stage the next acts of terror. They appear to be the law under whose jackboots the helpless Nigerian state begs to breathe.


There are other questions. Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State announced on Saturday, 12 December, that 333 students were kidnapped. On Thursday, 17 December, he announced that the bandits had released 344 abducted schoolboys. Where did he get the extra eleven boys? Or could there be more of such captives in the warehouse of these merchants of misery? We did not ask any question. We just heaved a sigh of relief and welcomed back the boys. Just as in Yambo Ouologuem’s ‘Bound to Violence’ (Le Devoir de Violence), Nigeria is inexorably yoked with beastly, demonic savagery.

Distraught victims of Zabarmari massacre in Borno State.

Speaking truth to today’s power has been a very perilous enterprise. If you and I had said last week that President Muhammadu Buhari had not done well in securing Nigeria, the attack on us would have been very vicious. Audacious people who said so suffered insults from creators of alternative realities. But the Kankara mass abduction happened to Buhari and his presidency and the Daura man retrieved himself from his abductors and confessed that he was not the highflying victor that his mad lovers said he was. The old man went on his knees and admitted what has been very clear to everyone with inner and outer eyes. He wrote his five-year security exams, marked the script himself and declared that he had not passed. He said: ”It is our responsibility to secure this country for all the citizens to do their businesses without any problem. We haven’t achieved that yet, but we will keep on trying…I hope next year it will be different.” That was very candid and a repudiation of insulting presidential spins and its witch doctors. The flowery bard who heard those words would use the adjective ‘candor’ to describe the president.


Buhari’s confession of the fruitlessness of his over five years fighting insecurity and his promise of a better outing in 2021 led the wailing me to the Biblical parable of the barren fig tree; it is in Luke 13, verse 6-9: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ The gardener replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”


Friedrich Adolph Krummacher was a German theologian, poet and prose writer who lived between 1767 and April 1845. He wrote his own story of an unfruitful tree and why it had to be barren. It is the story of a greedy farmer who wanted the fruits of whatever he planted for only himself. Everything was about himself and for himself.


The farmer is like Buhari who appointed all his key security chiefs from only his part of the country and expected the whole country to help him fight his wars. “If I plant it on the hill,” said the greedy farmer to himself, “the wind might catch it and shake down the delicious fruit before it is ripe; if I plant it close to the road, passers-by will see it and rob me of its luscious apples – but if I plant it too near the door of my house, my servants or the children may pick the fruit.” Then he planted the tree behind his barn, saying to himself, “Prying thieves will not think to look for it here.” But behold, the tree bore neither fruit nor blossoms the first year nor the second – then the farmer sent for his brother the gardener who gave him the seedling, and reproached him angrily, saying: “You have deceived me, and given me a barren tree instead of a fruitful one. For, behold, this is the third year and still it brings forth nothing but leaves!”


The gardener, when he saw where the tree was planted, laughed and said: “You have planted the tree where it is exposed to cold winds, and has neither sun nor warmth. How, then, could you expect flowers and fruit? You have planted the tree with a greedy and suspicious heart – how, then, could you expect to reap a rich and generous harvest?” Greedy people never win. I hope Buhari learns from his own admission of failure and mend his nepotistic ways.


Apart from Buhari and his bad behaviour, two other things are fundamentally wrong here. We love to plant the wrong tree in our farm and expect it to bear fruits. The soil of Nigeria itself is resistant to good seedings, it is structurally toxic. A whimsical presidential hope or promise will return a failure again next year. So, what is the way out of this or we just resign to the daily doses of death and banditry? I asked a very senior colleague at the weekend. We discussed long, deep and agreed that the answer is in breaking down the structure of this bedridden behemoth called Nigeria. We went further on to interrogate the futility of sending out soldiers to police the country.


He told me: “You cannot have a plural society of this size with different world views, values, standards and levels of exposure and have only one policing system. This is the only federation with that kind of foolish arrangement. In any case, where is the executive capacity to run such from Abuja? We have seen its disastrous failure.” In Britain, there are 43 police formations, each independent of the other. Canada, as of 2018, had 177, with 141 of them as stand-alone police services. In the US, there are 17,985 police agencies. Every university with a student population of no fewer than 5,000 in America is expected to have its own police independent of the sheriff called local government police in other climes. India has Federal and state police service with its large cities having their own police forces under their respective state police. “That, in my view, is what we have to fight for. Buhari is too parochial to see this. He can’t bear to hear of other zones or states having instruments of coercion. What is he afraid of? He cannot continue to endanger our lives by his own private agenda…,” my senior said.


Now, I go back to the Biblical parable. The last line of the narrative tells us that a tree cannot remain barren forever and expect to be pampered forever. Ornamental trees have no place in orchards. Nigeria has been mismanaged to barrenness just as pig-headed incompetence has turned out Buhari’s regime as unfruitful in securing lives and property. And, a tree that won’t bear fruits will be asked to go. There is an end to every period of grace; Buhari’s own is in its fifth year with a very sad harvest of victims – dead and dying. He has, however, asked that he be given a sixth chance to prove that he is not a comprehensive failure. But, what happens next year if Buhari’s fig tree still bears no fruit? What choices have we? He said “I hope next year will be different.” What kind of dark promise was that from a president who asked his predecessor to resign because of similarly persistent insecurity?


Today is December 21 – next year is about eleven long days away. Every day has been bloody and nasty this year – not just for the poor in the North East and the North West and in parts of Niger and Kaduna States. The only safe persons everywhere in Nigeria appear to be the rampaging bandits and their Miyetti Allah friends. The past one week, for instance, has been horrific for everyone everywhere. From Kaura Namoda where the Emir suffered gun attacks on Friday; to Edo where the Head of Service was kidnapped on Saturday; to Mahuta where 80 Islamiyya school children were abducted on Sunday, the promise of security next year raises a red flag for all.


In matters of life and death, even 24 hours is a long time. In other words, review this year and the scalding waters that have passed under its horrid bridge and agree with me that Buhari’s promise of security next year is a very long shot. What happens between now and that next year? Or rather, between last Thursday when he made that pledge and now, how many more have joined the murdered and the abducted? You heard what happened between Maiduguri and Damaturu at the weekend? The murdered and the abducted, how many were they? Who is next? What will happen going into next year? Buhari also said those that would remain in charge of our security services in 2021 “would be extremely busy.” And I ask: busy doing what? Busy burying the dead in mass graves or busy negotiating the release of many more school kids? What, really, is the meaning of busy?


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