By Nur Alkali
Your Excellency, the President, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, we all here, on behalf of our various communities that we represent are highly honored to receive you on your two days official visit to Borno state. We thank Your Excellency for this kind gesture. Your visit to the state was long awaited particularly within the period of the crises we have all passed through.
We are also aware that Mr. President has been briefed regularly on the crisis which has engulfed this state for the last five years through various sources.
Whatever may have been told to you, Mr. President, may not be as authentic as coming here by yourself to see things for yourself and to interact with the representatives of the various communities assembled here in this town hall-like setting.
To be frank everyone both within here and in the streets would like to talk and the version of the message they would communicate maybe different and diverse. But the theme of the messages will be the same—that the sectarian conflict since your government ordered the first fire to be shot to “nip in the bud a potentially dangerous situation” has brought a great deal of hardship to the peoples in their homes, in the streets, in the markets and on the farmlands.
Everyone did his or her best to absorb the shock, bear the pains, and tolerate excessive cross-fire that went on. There is hardly anyone in this meeting who has not lost a close relation, family member or very close friend.
This town is full of orphans, fathers and mothers without their children, lost men and women, some in detention, some in hiding and some incapacitated—a tale of horror, grief and agony. In this crossfire more innocent people have died.
The nature of the operation is frightening. When the militants kill one soldier, a whole ward or street is put on fire and dead bodies often litter the street.
We lack information or statistics of innocent peoples who have died or kept in detention and how many of the militants were actually, killed, arrested and detained. Markets are closed, shops destroyed, road blocks in all major and minor roads.
Mr. President Sir, we urge you to personally investigate this situation of horror and terror because the extent of damage done is enormous.
H.E., the Governor of Borno state Alh. Kashim Shettima continues to appeal for calm and tolerance because as he says “hard times never last forever”. Borno had seen many conflicts in the last one thousand years, both natural and man-made, but we have always come out of these much stronger, confident and resilient. We shall come out of this one too and bounce back to peace, harmony and stability again.
The time to do this is now, that the combatants have announced a ceasefire publicly and called for a dialogue. Mr. President even if it is one person who came forward to call for peace, he should be received with open arms and reintegrated into the wider society. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. There is no doubt that there is a general suspicion and fear and almost certainly these fears are genuine—particularly in a situation where even people who go to claim dead bodies are considered suspects and detained without any hope for trial.
There is nationwide call for amnesty or better still, pardon to be granted to the militants in such a way the militants in the Niger Delta were granted. If I may recall Mr. President, your call for the militants to come into the open as a condition for amnesty to be offered to them is inappropriate as the situation of this sectarian conflict is different from what obtains in the Niger Delta where as you stated, the militants actually came out to be received.
In the Niger Delta, the situation was different because many of them were already operating openly and well known to the security forces and the government. The nature of the two conflicts are different.
Here you are dealing with people who believe they are fighting on the basis of some ideology, not necessarily religious or political but fundamentally social and the desire to bring about certain changes in the ways of life of the society.
Even then, if one may recollect, in the case of Niger Delta, late President Umaru Musa Yaradua granted them pardon before they talked about ceasefire. They were heavily compensated, rehabilitated, and given all kinds of job to do. Some of the responsibilities given to them are such as policing the oil bunkering and piracy going on in our high seas—as a situation of getting the thief to catch a thief.
Here, the issue is more doctrinal and ideological and in case where the militants believe that their success is death. It is a worldwide phenomenon that young men and women with no jobs, no proper education, stricken by poverty and neglected by their society, simply take up arms to fight what they consider as injustice. Their being called Boko Haram is confusing because they themselves did not give that name to themselves. Their being killed, destroyed, maimed, has only helped to infuriate them further while their doctrines and ideologies continue to rage on. They gather sympathy and membership from the thousands of orphans, widows and widowers which further strengthens their position.
Borno is the only state of the federation which has common borders with three sovereign nation states, Cameroun, Chad and Niger and the whole corridor linking the Lake Chad to the river Nile and the Mediterranean coast is a theatre of war. The factor of insurgency and movement of displaced persons in places like Southern Sudan, Darfur and recently Central African Republic, with people trading in small arms has compounded the situation even further.
Mr. President, Sir, we are dealing with a more complex problem and the application of our solution remains faulty. There is no alternative to the dialogue which Your Excellency has repeatedly considered unacceptable. But the truth is that, in conflict resolution and crisis management, dialogue is an internationally accepted concept and where people have begun to talk about peace, they should be granted the pardon and the earlier we commence, the better.
The dialogue or even multi-logue through various fronts may not be something that could be achieved in one month, one year or even more, but let us begin by working out the required strategy and serious approach to the solution, one day we will strike on the real issues at stake and overcome the problem.
Use of force breeds more violence and crisis and as HRH, the Shehu has raised in his speech yesterday, and I quote “what peace and tolerance do not achieve, violence and intolerance can never achieve”.
Mr. President, we sincerely appeal that, before you leave
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Borno state you will assure everybody the commencement of dialogue, grant of a pardon, rehabilitation and compensation for lives lost, homes destroyed and properties lost or stolen. This I believe is the minimum expectation from every person living in Borno and the rest of Nigeria.
May Allah guide us along the right path to overcome these challenges, Amin.