By Alabi Wiliams
Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State was exasperated last week. Twice he ran to Aso Rock, Abuja, to confer with the Commander-in-Chief, President Jonathan on the ceaseless pounding of hapless Borno communities by members of the outlawed Boko Haram. Shettima lost his cool and poured out his heart to media men who mobbed him to extract latest information.
Seeing what the man has to go through everyday and every week, going to despoiled communities and watching citizens die and homes plundered, I think the man should be pardoned for losing his cool. Anybody and any governor could have as well thrown up his/her hands and cried out loud.
The new wave of attack is horrendous. Since the Islamic militants were cornered to a region in the northeast, after they had been sufficiently beaten from the flanks of Yobe and Adamawa states, they are fighting back with the last of their breath. They are doing it with so much anger that they do not bother about consequences. In their savagery, they do not spare women and children and they take special delight in inflicting horrifying pain. And you wonder, are these fellow Nigerians? I have heard many people ask that question, which they are prompted to do when they see and read the desolation that is left behind after every vicious visit from Boko Haram. What level of hate could drive fellow Nigerians to script and execute this ton of fiendish violence on their fatherland? Are these characters truly Nigerians?
At times like this, the most convenient thing to do is to engage in blame game or begin to act out of confusion. The menace in Borno, as far as Borno citizens are concerned had gotten out of hand. They expected maximum protection from Nigeria, but in spite of the emergency rule and the huge defence budgets of the last three years (plus that of 2014 which is in the making) there seems to be no respite for communities in remote areas of Borno.
What Shettima said was what the average Borno citizen and many Nigerians would have said. In this moment of desperation, so many expressions have to be pardoned because we are all in an emergency. The Borno experience is painful and frustrating for citizens. For Shettima to say that rag tag members of Boko Haram have superior firepower over well-trained members of the Nigerian army is not an expression all Nigerians will be in sympathy with. Is it on the basis of training or armament?
On the one hand, when a detachment of Boko Haram descends on Konduga or Baga community and are able to ward off members of the Joint Task Force (JTF) and their civilian collaborators for hours, kill, destroy and take hostage of 20 or more teenage girls from their schools and escape with them into their hideouts, you could mistake that for superior firepower and intelligence. Parents of the school girls, relations of those who were mindlessly murdered and terrified survivors do not have any other evidence to hold on to, to justify claims that the Nigerian army is better trained and motivated to secure their lives and property.
On the other hand, to use the platform of a national television to say that the army does not have capacity and motivation to deal with the enemy called Boko Haram is not a complimentary statement for the Nigerian State. If it is not corrected, it could embolden the marauders, it could send wrong message to the enemy, the international community and other citizens. It could weaken the collective resolve to deal with the situation; it could dampen the enthusiasm of the military and also cheapen the Nigerian State in the eyes of the international community. To that extent, statements credited to the Presidency, to the effect that what Shettima said was not the correct position of the army is to be expected. The military also came up to denounce that position and all of that must be expected. It is not a personal thing because the government owes Nigeria a duty to defend by words of mouth and action the integrity of the country. It is the wish of the enemy to see that the State is weakened and polarized, but it is also the responsibility of government to dispel all manner of propaganda that do not serve the interest of the country.
The Borno governor made bold to confess that politics is fuelling the insurgency and that, to me, was the kernel of all the tantrums. That was the vital information that all stakeholders must interrogate in order to move closer to solving this matter once and for all.
At the inception of the insurgency, it was alleged that Boko Haram was supposed to be a militant wing of the Borno political class under former governor Ali Modu Sherrif. A commissioner in that government, now deceased, was alleged to be the link between that government and the sect. All of that information used to be in the public domain, but not many people will bother to remember because we prefer to cover facts and trade blames.
I remember that the first leader of the original Boko Haram, Mohammed Yussuf, who was killed, allegedly in police custody was not an unknown quantity in the Borno State of that era, as well as Bauchi, where the sect also operated some cells. Therefore, the political origin of Boko Haram, as a follow up to Shettima’s lead might not be obscure. That is if stakeholders are willing to follow that lead.
Recently, Modu Sherrif, who had been out of circulation showed up in a convoy in Maiduguri. Borno indigenes allegedly pelted him with rocks because they see his hands in the trouble they are now swimming. But the State, to the best of my knowledge is yet to debrief Sherrif of all he knows about the politics of Boko Haram. Perhaps, the intelligence departments have done all of that and in line with their trade have refused to brief Nigerians. But following that lead from Shettima, I urge stakeholders to trace the politics behind Boko Haram.
Late national Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Owoeye Azazi, at a forum in Delta State in April 2012, also alluded to the politics behind Boko Haram. He blamed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for having a hand in the insurgency, but failed to elaborate. As an intelligence expert, the man couldn’t have been jiving, but Nigerians were impatient with him. Some felt the man sat on the entire defence budget and could not rout the ragtag Boko Haram. I remember that Azazi used to be the sparring partner of a particular columnist, whose ethnically partisan theory was that the defence budget itself was the stimulant for Boko Haram. But after Azazi’s untimely and painful demise in a helicopter crash, Boko Haram did not crash.
At many levels, therefore, it could be debated that politics has indeed driven Boko Haram up to a point where the marauders turned deaf ears to everybody. At a point, Boko Haram was made to look like the military wing of the some interests. The fiercely contested 2011 presidential election could lend some credence to this perception. It was as if the PDP had stirred the hornet nest by insisting on the Jonathan candidacy and the body language was that even if he won, he would be taught some hard lessons. And no sooner had he become president than bombs were raining all over the place, in Suleja, Kaduna, Abuja, Kano and it was like the predication to make the country ungovernable was coming to pass.
While all that was happening, some persons feigned indifference, as if to say, ‘didn’t we tell you?’ It was a difficult moment for the Presidency, especially as the opposition refused to assess the situation on its merit. The impression was that the Presidency was a lame duck and clueless. What else to say at a time the Police High Command in Abuja was bombed. Military cantonments were targeted and bombed with ease. The government was on the verge of loosing the game when the idea of state of emergency was broached. Even that option did not sell easily because it was subjected to political interpretations. Even with the partial emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, the battle is still fierce.
So, will politicians heed Shettima’s plea and put politics aside in order to deal with this trouble? Will the governor and his colleagues allow for full emergency rule in order to give the military some allowance to rein in the insurgents?
It is clearer now, that if there were some who expected to profit from anti-state activities in the manner of Boko Haram, they have miscalculated grossly, because the rain does not fall on one man’s house. We have all suffered hugely as a country. Just like in the Niger Delta, when some persons armed militants in order to profit politically from their anti-state activities. We all lost hugely and are now paying dearly to repair the damage. It should be very clear, that no one benefits from a disorderly Nigeria.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Alabi Williams/Guardian