by Atom Lim
In the last three days, I have heard the strangest arguments about the conduct of the Nigerian army in Baga, where about 200 people are said to have been killed by soldiers.
First, a youth leader argued on Twitter that the army was as much a victim as the community and that the community had failed to expose Boko Haram so it should take much of the blame for its misfortune. “These so called boko haramists are not aliens from america or saudi, they are the same indigenes. The sleep, eat and wake together,” he argued.
Then, yesterday, a semi-literate security guard in Ota told me the army should have killed everyone in Baga since they were accommodating terrorists.
I was yet to get over what I considered his ignorance when, today, I read a Facebook post by Ayo Akinfe, a London-based Nigerian journalist and author of the book Fuelling the Delta Fires.
Among many other points providing context to his conclusion, Mr. Akinfe argued that “We have to address the role of the local communities in Borno State and their relationship with Boko Haram. We need to resolve that if we are to deal with this matter effectively… We now know that they were camped in Baga with the full knowledge of the local community. Do you know that a person who aids or abets in the commission of a crime is treated the same as a principal offender under the criminal law?”
From the thoughts expressed by my friend on Twitter, the semi-literate guard in Ota, and the London-based journalist, I get the sense that in the fight against terror, a community is as guilty as a terror group by virtue of its perceived inaction. I get the sense that any criminal around you is “your criminal” and you are just as guilty.
These arguments are absurd and troubling. They show a complete misunderstanding of the concept of aiding and abetting as inferred by Mr. Akinfe. They conclude that one is a criminal because a criminal lives in one’s neighborhood. I cannot think of anywhere in the world where this is the case.
The way I see it, Borno is a state under siege. Years of terror activities have made residents hostages in their state and this is not their fault. It is also not their fault that the Boko Haram menace continues to drag. The best any civilian resident of Borno State can do is offer information to the security agencies. Even this is not compulsory under law. But let’s say it is; what have the security agencies done to assure informants of protection?
We hear of the FBI’s witness protection programme in which millions of taxpayers’ dollars are invested in giving citizens adequate protection and a means of livelihood in exchange for actionable intelligence on criminal activity. Do any of our security agencies have such a programme in place?
What has been the fate of Borno residents who volunteered information to the JTF or police about Boko Haram? How many informants have been saved from brutal assassination?
If the police and army cannot protect even themselves, their institutions, and officers from Boko Haram attacks in Maiduguri, why should the mai-suya in Baga go and dig his grave by giving information on the sect? Because he wants to be a martyr in a country that will not remember him tomorrow? Get real already!
Are members of the JTF and security agencies not themselves residents of the communities in Borno? The bulk of those who make up the security outfits in Borno have been resident there for at least five years. Are they a different kind of residents because they are security agents? Why haven’t they volunteered the much needed information? What’s their excuse for continually living with Boko Haram and then turning around to kill other residents for living with Boko Haram? Gimme a break!
Looking from the outside, I think no resident of Borno has any reason to risk Boko Haram’s wrath for the state since the state cannot, does not, and will not protect him or her. This is reality.
In any case, we miss the point when we say security agencies are not getting enough information on Boko Haram which is why they are ineffective in curbing the terror. My theory is the security agencies know enough about Boko Haram to quash the sect, if they want to. Otherwise, why do they prefer to kill captured suspects rather than question them? They did this is 2009 when they executed scores of suspects in broad daylight. My conclusion is that the battle against Boko Haram is no longer about information; it’s about political will.
When people like Mr. Akinfe sit in London and pontificate the need for citizen policing and accuse Borno residents of harbouring Boko Haram, I spit. As a Nigerian in Nigeria, I KNOW it is safer to shut your mouth rather than speak to the authorities. Anyone who wants to pretend otherwise should feel free to do so.
Soldiers request to be transferred from Borno. Journalists won’t go there. Rulers have fled. Activists say it’s a no-go area. Yet, we have the nerve to sit in London, Lagos and Ota to make outrageous demands and accusations of the few brave – or helpless – ones who remain there to eke out a living.
Until, and unless, state actors get their acts together and protect civilians, no one should have to risk their lives giving information about Boko Haram. It would be foolish and suicidal to do so. Quote me on this now and always.
– Follow this writer on Twitter: @atomlim