by Olusegun Adeniyi
This afternoon in Washington, Senator John McCain, who on a CNN programme last week described the current administration as “the practically nonexistent government in Nigeria”, will be joining Republican hawks like Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (Subcommittee on African Affairs) to hold a public hearing on “#BringBackOurGirls: Addressing The Threat of Boko Haram”. Given the interest the international community has suddenly taken in Nigerian affairs following the abduction of more than 200 school children in Chibok, Borno State, I hope our officials will be fully represented to present a coherent position on the challenge of terrorism in our country.
Back home, Chibok has also become a potent weapon for an assortment of opportunists on both sides of the spectrum. Today, there are political jobbers in religious garbs who have rushed to judgment, attempting to exploit the pain of this national tragedy in promotion of a yet-to-be-declared re-election bid by the incumbent president. On the other side, some otherwise respected citizens who ought to have come out to help find solution to the Boko Haram menace at a time it was still festering and did not do so, or in fact tacitly supported the insurgents in the futile hope that it would help advance their own career, are now finding their voices when it is almost too late.
However, more unfortunate is the fact that rather than stand up to the extremists who for long rejected negotiation and compromise in pursuit of a sinister agenda, presidential handlers have also deployed the politics of blackmail: The narrative that it is because the president is a minority man and “the North wants power” that Boko Haram insurgents have been waging their campaign of terror. That perhaps explains why there was no outrage when 25 students were abducted earlier in March this year nor was there a response when 59 students of a federal government college were brutally murdered in their hostel at about the same period.
Because this narrative that Boko Haram is a recent political device to checkmate President Jonathan has gone for far too long, I enclose for the readers, the chapter I wrote on the issue in my book on the Yar’Adua years. Although it marries the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s abortive plane bombing in the US with the issue of the insurgency, it nonetheless helps to put in perspective the role played by my late boss, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and the trajectory of Boko Haram which predates the Jonathan presidency.
“As a father, and the President of this country, I feel pained and I don’t sleep with my two eyes closed. And, I will not sleep with my two eyes closed until these girls are brought safely back to their parents,” said President Goodluck Jonathan last week in response to the Chibok tragedy. But that was sequel to the brutal assault on his presidency by the international media, especially for allowing his wife to conduct a “public hearing” at the Villa in the course of which she announced that no Chibok girl was abducted. While the president is now battered and bruised on account of the way Chibok was mishandled, it is comforting that he has finally decided to seek help from outside the country in the bid to tackle the Boko Haram insurgents. But the situation is now very tricky.
Today, Boko Haram has become a sword and shield for both the incumbent and the opposition, especially in the politics of 2015. Those who don’t want the president to seek re-election, to which I believe he is constitutionally entitled, argue that his handling of the security challenge (among other failings they highlight) point to the fact that he does not have a solution and should just complete the current term and head back to Otuoke. On the other hand, the narrative of his supporters is that the Boko Haram problem has become seemingly intractable because it is a political one which was designed and packaged by the “born-to-rule Northern oligarchy” to make governance impossible for Jonathan in pursuit of an agenda to force him out of power. Whatever may be anyone’s take on the conspiracy theories, what is certain is that under such a cloud of mutual suspicions and recriminations, the only possible winner is Boko Haram. To compound the situation, there is also a complex game of power struggle at the helm of security apparatchiks.
The former National Security Adviser, (also a former Army Chief), Lt General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, was brought to head Defence Ministry presumably on grounds that he would contain the growing Boko Haram insurgency, yet he has suddenly gone missing on Chibok. His silence, I understand, may not be unconnected with the fact that the law on counter-terrorism puts the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) at the helm of inter-agency coordination, leaving him with a big title that does not command much power under the current dispensation.
According to section one of the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013 which amends the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2011 “The Office of the National Security Adviser (in this Act referred to as ‘ONSA’) shall be the coordinating body for all security and enforcement agencies” and it is vested with four responsibilities: “provide support to all relevant security, intelligence, law enforcement agencies and military services to prevent and combat acts of terrorism in Nigeria; ensure the effective formulation and implementation of a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy for Nigeria; build capacity for the effective discharge of the functions of all relevant security, intelligence, law enforcement and military services under this Act or any other law on terrorism in Nigeria; and do such other acts or things that are necessary for the effective performance of the functions of the relevant security and enforcement agencies under this Act.”
As it would happen, however, the heads of our security outfits would rather report directly to the president than to the current NSA, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and that lack of inter-agency coordination has led to a situation in which critical information is hardly shared in real time. Nothing has exposed this lapse more glaringly than the recent arrest of some suspects in the Nyanya bomb blast. I have it on good authority that the breakthrough came through the involvement of the foreign security officials who insisted on a multi-agency analysis of all available data that led to cracking the investigation in which some of the suspects who had been on the radar of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) for some time now surfaced on the Nyanya bombing.
However, while the involvement of the foreign security agencies may have its upside, it also has its downsides which may make the fight against Boko Haram more challenging for our armed forces in the weeks and possibly months ahead. I gathered that the ten American agents in our country insist they would work only with Nigerian army officers “whose hands are not stained with blood”, and by so doing could be trying to build a profile of those they believe may have been involved in extra-judicial killings in the fight against the insurgents. What that means in effect is that the involvement of the Americans, the British, the French, the Canadian and the Israeli security personnel on the Chibok tragedy may come at a very high price by the time the smoke clears.
Managing such complexity will not be easy, especially at a time the president is now also confronted with two dilemmas. The first has to do with the condition set by Boko Haram for releasing the Chibok girls which would involve an exchange for some of the insurgents that are currently in detention. To the extent that Boko Haram has not renounced violence, I don’t know how the Federal Government could possibly accede to the request of the sect. Yet not making any concession cannot be an option under the current situation, when the girls are still under the captivity of the insurgents. The second dilemma for the president is the request, a second time, for an extension to the emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States which commenced on May 14 last year.
Now that the political authorities in those states have rejected the extension and there are conflicting signals about how the administration intends to respond to the Boko Haram proposition on the Chibok girls, it is evident that the president has before him a catch-22 situation. Therefore, while finger-pointing and fault-finding may serve a purpose in this political season, they do not in any way advance the cause of our national security and it is important for all who love this country, whatever may be their political or religious persuasion, to appreciate that.But while most of the attacks on the president are unfair, I believe he invited them upon himself.
The fact that the Chibok tragedy was targeted at one of the most vulnerable segments of our society and the future of our country demanded a lot from the president who ought to have recognised the importance of mobilizing our people to share in the grief of the affected families while promising them support, even if he had misgivings about the role of the Borno State Government. Unfortunately, rather than take the lead by addressing the nation on such a big assault on our national sensibilities, the president reacted in an offhand manner in his media chat after which he handed the initiative to a multiplicity of officials who have been contradicting one another. It was the absence of such sense of urgency that led to the rally for the collective solidarity of the Nigerian women and for that I cannot but salute the doggedness of Ms Hadiza Bala Usman (a true daughter of her father), Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, Mrs Maryam Uwais and several others too numerous to mention.
It all began exactly 16 days ago on April 30 when some women and a few men clustered around the Unity Fountain in Abuja to commence the peaceful protest over the abduction of the Chibok girls. Sporting red T-Shirts, the women who had mobilized under the auspices of “Women for Justice and Peace” defied the heavy rains to send a message of solidarity with the Chibok mothers whose children are still unaccounted for. Every day since then, they have been having a daily sit-out at the same spot and have helped to draw both local and international media to the tragedy.
However, because they had stated from the outset that they have a single-item agenda which is to ensure that the Chibok girls are rescued and are brought back home safely to their parents, it has been easy for the women, supported by some men, to draw support for their cause. Last night, I was with them last as they held a vigil to mark the one month anniversary of the capture of the Chibok girls.
The session, which was broadcast live by Channels Television, began at exactly 10pm with the second stanza of the national anthem adopted as the opening prayer. As an aside, even while many of us struggled to remember the lines, the American Embassy Information Officer, Ms Rhonda-Ferguson, sang it flawlessly. In her opening remark, Ezekwesili, who said there might not have been any need for the vigil if the girls had been found and restored to their parents, traced the history of how the whole campaign started due to the inspiration of Ms Bala Usman who suggested that the efforts to find the missing girl should not be restricted to the social media.
In providing further details to what moved her to initiating the effort, Ms Bala Usman said she could not just understand how more than 200 girls would be stolen from their school and Nigerians would move on as if nothing happened. “That is not the way we are. Nigerians that I know are caring people who are ever concerned about the plights of their neighbours. I just felt that we could not possibly move on with our lives as if nothing happened and even if only we could mobilise five women, we ought to show that we cared. But seeing the number of people that have joined the campaign in the last two weeks, I feel strengthened in my conviction that we are one people and we will stay united until our girls are brought back home alive.”
The leader of the Chibok community in Abuja who spoke next said he had only words of appreciation for the women who had been standing by the people of Chibok in what had become a most trying period. “Seeing this crowd of people in Abuja on behalf of our daughters has given me hope about this country. However, I have heard some people say that no girl from Chibok is missing but we thank God that the truth is now coming to light. Now that a video of being shown, the question should be asked: are those girls being identified in the video cows? Let some people answer that question.”
One of the fathers whose two daughters are still missing (neither of whom was captured in the video) said he felt comforted by the support and prayers of all Nigerians about their plights even when he confessed that he had found it difficult to eat or sleep since the ordeal started. “This is not about religion and we are happy that both Christians and Muslims are praying and fasting on this issue. Some people are trying to bring back slavery to our country but we will never accept it.” His colleague who also has two children among the missing girls enjoined the people to pray for the president and the people around him.
Members of the international community were also represented. For instance, the United States Deputy Chief of Mission to Nigeria, Ms Maria Brewer, offered words of solace and solidarity: “I’m here tonight as both a representative of the United States of America and as a mother. The American people send you our thoughts and prayers for the safe return of our girls. I say our girls because all of us are daughters and sons, sisters and brothers. We stand with you, and we offer you our fullest support. When children are victimised by senseless, evil acts, the many boundaries we divide ourselves by—tribe, religion, nationality—lose their significance. Instead, we focus on our unity. While its easy, and understandable, to be angry about this terrible situation, our best chance to bring back our girls is to set aside our differences, unite, and send a message: we’re in this together. And we’re not backing down. I’m inspired by your spirit of hope and optimism, and encouraged by your peaceful vigil. We will continue to do everything in our power to help the Government of Nigeria bring back our girls back.”
There were other speakers but the message of last night was simple: the girls must return. Yet as things stand, Chibok carries clear political and strategic burdens for the administration of President Jonathan. First, the initial weak and late response of our security agencies before some women in red intervened to draw international support exposes the naked underbelly of the Nigerian state. In this process, the administration is paying the price of all sovereigns that fail to convincingly exert control over sections of their territories. Secondly, the girls of Chibok and indeed all Nigerians have a right to expect and demand that the state to which we all have surrendered our rights should protect us from ourselves and from hostile others.
However, at the end of the day, the ultimate lesson of this tragedy is that we should not have gotten to Chibok in the first place. But we are there right now and how we get out of it is what matters and that is the responsibility President Jonathan bears. What he should know is that the growing international castigation of his administration over the Chibok girls is not necessarily personal. It is merely a rude reminder of the fundamental obligation of the state to its citizens: protection of life and property. It is therefore my hope that the president will harness all his powers and the international support coming to our country to respond to the strident calls being made by our citizens at home and millions of concerned people abroad to bring the stolen girls from Chibok back home to their parents.
Between Mutallab and Boko Haram
I was spending Christmas in Ilorin, Kwara State, with my family on December 25, 2009, when I received a call that would shatter that celebratory mood. The caller said I should tune in to CNN, which had breaking news on Nigeria. I promptly did and glimpsed a rather chilling report: A young Nigerian man had attempted to blow up a United States Delta airlines flight en route to Detroit from Amsterdam. As I tried to make sense of this tragic incident, I got another phone call, this time from the CSO in Saudi Arabia.
It was through him that I knew that the Nigerian involved was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, son of Alhaji Umar Mutallab, who retired as chairman of First Bank of Nigeria in December 2009 after serving on the board for 13 years. Well respected in the Nigerian corporate world, Mutallab had also served in the Federal Executive Council between 1975 and 1978 first as minister for economic development and reconstruction and later as minister of cooperatives and supply. It was the son of this prominent Nigerian whom I know personally and for whom I have tremendous respect that was allegedly involved in terrorism.
Having apparently been fully briefed, the CSO apprised me of some of the details as we reviewed the implications of the tragic incident at a time when the president was out of the country. We both agreed it was necessary for the VP to be kept up to date on the incident and that the Nigerian authorities had to be seen to be on top of the situation.
After speaking with the CSO, I placed a call to the VP, who had been informed of the development. I explained how exigent it was to have seamless information management at that point and also informed him that I would be returning to Abuja the next day. After speaking with him, I called the information and communication minister, Professor Dora Akunyili, who was in Enugu, to intimate her of the details I had and the need for us to work closely so we could manage the fall-out.
I barely slept that night as I exchanged calls and text messages with both the ADC and the CSO in Saudi Arabia. I had no doubt in my mind that the Mutallab saga was going to change all the calculations surrounding the absence of the president. The ADC had informed me that he was in touch with the American ambassador in Nigeria, Dr. Robin Sanders, whom he said had hinted that it was important for the president to be available to speak with President Barack Obama at very short notice. Although the impression I got in my interactions with Saudi Arabia was that the president was ready to talk with the US president if the call was made, I would later learn this was practically impossible at the period. While the president was still very much conscious, the ailment had badly impaired his speech and made him hardly audible. You could not possibly put someone in such a state on the phone to speak with the most powerful man in the world. His handlers in Saudi Arabia recognized this fact.
I was also worried about my secretary, Rosemary Amaechina. She was travelling to the United States and had mentioned Delta Airlines, but I never imagined she would be on the same flight. It turned out she had been on the same flight and had actually sat three rows away from Abdulmutallab and had watched the whole ugly drama as it played out. What a fright the incident must have given her!
Back at home, we were beginning to feel its bitter aftermath. The United States government had decided to impose stricter measures for US-bound Nigerian passengers. In what was no more than a knee-jerk reaction, the Homeland Security administration immediately included Nigeria as a ‘country of interest’ in the war against terrorism, while some members of Congress were pushing for Nigeria to be included in a list of ‘terror-linked’ nations.
It was a development that could not be allowed to stand, especially given that within 24 hours, preliminary investigation had established that though a Nigerian, Farouk had actually spent less than 30 minutes in the country before the botched attempt. He flew into the country on December 24 from Ghana aboard Virgin Nigeria. His passport was scanned for entry at the immigration point at exactly 20.08pm and was again scanned for departure to Amsterdam at 20.35pm. It also emerged that some people within the Nigerian security agencies, as well as officials of the American embassy, had been alerted to the fact that Farouk could be a potential threat to the US.
The VP convened a meeting of the security agencies on December 26 for full briefing on the incident and the approach Nigeria should adopt. It was resolved that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should proceed with a diplomatic démarche that it was more productive for the American authorities to collaborate with a willing Nigerian government to combat terrorism.
Farouk’s father was also invited to meet with the VP, but somehow the meeting never held though he had sessions with the National Security Adviser and other top government functionaries. He would later be invited by the US Congress. It did not take long for the authorities to piece together Farouk’s story; he was the last of Mutallab’s 16 children by two wives: Aisha and Jidda. Aisha, the second wife, who hails from Funtua, Katsina State, like her husband, is mother to Farouk, who was born in 1986.
Farouk’s story reveals a remarkable tapestry. After his primary school, he spent most of his formative years outside Nigeria; he had his secondary education at the British International School in Lome, Togo, an elite school that reputedly admits students from about 40 countries. Upon completion of his secondary education, Farouk enrolled at the University College, London, in 2005, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2008. Although Farouk hardly stayed in Nigeria and would visit only for holidays, family members and neighbours on the Ahman Pategi Street in the posh Unguwar Sarki area of the northern city of Kaduna described him as an easy-going fellow who was passionate about his faith.
After graduation from University College, London, his father sent him to a university in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was to complete a postgraduate degree in business administration in January 2009. Farouk indicated his interest in pursuing a summer course in Arabic in Yemen in July 2009, and his father consented, given his son’s flair for Arabic and since Farouk had undertaken such a course in Yemen before.
While his father was happy about his son’s zeal and interest in matters pertaining to faith, he became worried when he refused to return from Yemen, not even when his elder brother wedded and everybody in the family was expecting him to come home. This prompted the father to call all the prominent clerics whom he knew the young Farouk had respect for, so that they could plead with him to come back home.
One of those scholars whom Farouk’s father believed could speak with him was Dr. Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, whose late illustrious father, Sheikh Abubakar Mahmoud Gumi, founded the Izala movement in Nigeria. Then pursuing a doctoral degree in Saudi Arabia, Gumi is a respected Islamic scholar whose views the elder Mutallab believed his son could not discountenance. What he did not know at the time, however, was that Farouk had been so indoctrinated by Al-Qaeda in the Peninsula that he already had his opinion of what jihad entailed and what his own expectations as a believer were.
But the fact that Farouk knew Gumi would create its own problems following the aborted blow-up because, at the instance of the American authorities, the scholar was arrested in Saudi Arabia on February 24, 2010. Sheikh Yusuf Sambo Rigachukun, a prominent Islamic cleric, had to write to the Saudi authorities, pointing out that Gumi had lived in Saudi Arabia for almost two decades and had never run afoul of the law. Similarly, Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State and the Emir of Zazzau asked President Jonathan to intervene on Gumi’s detention. The Jamaatul Nasril Islam (JNI) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) also waded in.
With the pressure on the federal government, and following representation from Alhaji Mutallab, who knew the circumstances that led to his son’s meeting with Gumi, Vice President Namadi Sambo had to visit Saudi Arabia on the issue. It was his intervention with the Saudi authorities that eventually led to Gumi’s release.
Although he tried to ensure his son received appropriate guidance with regard to the essence of Islam, Alhaji Mutallab sensed something sinister when, in August 2009, Farouk called to inform him that he was no longer interested in pursuing his postgraduate degree, and that he would be staying in Yemen to pursue another course that he would not disclose.
The father became more distraught when Farouk sent a text message a few days later, informing him that he was severing all contacts with the family and that he would discard his mobile phone’s SIM card after that message so that attempts to reach him would be futile. It was after this message that the father decided to inform his friend and former national security adviser, Lt. General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau1, about his experience with his son.
First, Gusau alerted one of his protégés in the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and subsequently advised Mutallab to formally report at the United States embassy in Nigeria. The father did, expressing his fears that Farouk was being radicalized and sought help for him to be located. Nothing, apparently, was done until Farouk re-appeared on the flight from Amsterdam, which he nearly blew up, putting Nigeria on the American radar.
Apparently, Nigeria’s listing as a ‘country of interest’ by US Homeland Security was informed by some unrelated events. The decision was seemingly aided by the fact that Farouk’s case was coming after a series of incidents involving a group called Boko Haram, whose activities had been well documented by the American authorities.
The history of the sect can easily be traced to 2002 with Muhammad Yusuf, a native of Jakusko in Yobe State, as its spiritual leader and founder. His rise from relative obscurity to prominence in the Salafi Islamic religious circle (Wahabites) derived from the fact that he was a close disciple of the late Sheikh Jaafar Adam. So prominent was Yusuf within the sect that at a time he was regarded as heir to the pulpit at Muhammadu Ndimi Mosque in Maiduguri, where Jaafar Adam used to conduct annual tafsir in the month of Ramadan.
With time, however, Yusuf began to introduce some unorthodox beliefs—including aversion to western education and a call for jihad to oust the secular status quo—within the Salafi circle. He also began what was considered a rigorous proselytizing campaign to capture impressionable minds, especially among the youth who frequented the mosque.
Eventually, he had to part ways with his spiritual leader, Jaafar Adam and was sent packing from the Ndimi mosque by the mosque committee. He moved to Daggash mosque, where he continued the same teaching. His daring and scathing verbal attacks on the government portrayed Yusuf as a fiery and intrepid cleric and this obviously endeared him to the common people, who began to see him as a champion of the downtrodden.
Members of the political elite in Maiduguri were, however, taking note, and Yusuf was considered no more than a nuisance. It was therefore no surprise that the Daggash mosque committee also expelled him within a short time. That was when his father-in-law, Baba Fugu, gave Yusuf a piece of land at the Railway quarters, where he built a mosque and an adjoining house he dubbed ‘markas’, from where he continued his preaching, drawing followers from the city and beyond. His initial followership was largely from among secondary school students and primary school pupils who abandoned their studies on the ground that western education (‘boko’) was a sin (‘haram’), hence the name Boko Haram. As he got more followers, his power and influence also grew.
Ultimately, Yusuf and the late Adam became archenemies, spewing verbal attacks on each other’s views and interpretations of Islamic tenets. Adam was vociferous in exposing what he described as the folly of Yusuf’s views on western education and the ‘jihad’ whose advocate he [Yusuf] had become. He also warned against the indoctrination of impressionable minds.
These opposing views quite naturally degenerated into violence. Twice Yusuf’s disciples reportedly made failed attempts on Adam’s life in Maiduguri. Yusuf would later be paid in his own coin when some of his lieutenants also became more radical, claiming he had become too soft in his approach and thus splitting from his camp to form a splinter group they named Taliban.
In September 2004, the group launched an armed uprising from a village called Kanamma in Yobe State on the border with Niger Republic; they had renamed the village Afghanistan. They attacked police stations, and troops had to be sent in to restore order after several people had been killed. The soldiers engaged the group in a two-day battle in which many sect members were killed, some were captured and others went underground.
This attack caused the group to keep a low profile for a year, but by then the activities of Yusuf had attracted the attention of security agencies, which on several occasions arrested and charged him to court. But his lawyers always managed to secure freedom for him. A few months later, the splinter group re-emerged and launched attacks on some police stations in Bama and Gwoza in Borno State, where they killed policemen, including an assistant police commissioner, carted away guns and ammunition before running into the Mandara mountains on the border with Cameroon.
The army was sent in, accompanied by helicopters. They engaged the sect members in a mountainous battle, and in the process, scores of the attackers were killed while the rest crossed the border into Cameroon. The Nigerian government alerted the Cameroonian authorities, whose gendarmes succeeded in arresting five of the militants and handed them over to Nigeria.
Following that encounter, Yusuf felt he had lost committed members of his group, who were gradually becoming hostile towards him for what they perceived as his weakness and moderate views. In mid 2005, he made overtures for reconciliation to the splinter group, and there was some reintegration.
After this, Yusuf rose from a poor preacher to a wealthy cleric living in opulence and driving SUVs around the city, where he was hailed as a hero for his criticism of the government and his call for Sharia law. His preaching—recorded on CDs—which he daily doled out, were hot cake in the city and beyond, selling in thousands.
In April 2007, on the eve of the general elections in the country, some unidentified men stormed Jaafar Adam’s mosque in Dorayi, a suburb of Kano city, at dawn and fatally shot him and three other worshipers while he was leading the morning prayers. The attack was later followed with an invasion of a mobile police detachment in Panshekara neighbourhood, during which 13 policemen were killed. Soldiers were drafted to the area, and the gunmen eventually crossed the Challawa River, behind the abandoned water works they camped in, and fled.
A few days earlier, the gunmen had launched a pre-dawn attack at the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) office and killed two officers on night duty. The incident was thought to be a robbery attack until the night of July 26, 2009, when Yusuf’s men struck again, invading and attacking several police posts and public buildings in parts of Bauchi, Borno, Kano and Yobe states. At this point, the president decided that the Boko Haram menace had to be confronted frontally.
Coming on the eve of his departure for a twice-postponed state visit to Brazil, there were suggestions that the president should shelve the trip on account of the lives of policemen that were lost. But he argued that it would be improper to do so given that the trip had been postponed twice, and besides, he noted, the security agencies were in control of the situation. Before we departed for the airport, he met with the NSA and security chiefs as well as the service chiefs to whom he gave this directive: deploy troops to the area and fish out all the leaders and members of the extremist sects involved in the attacks. The president further directed that security be beefed up in all neighbouring states and security personnel placed on full alert to ensure that the attacks did not spread elsewhere. He also used informal channels to reach out to emirs and prominent Islamic leaders in the north to rally support against Boko Haram. I had told State House correspondents to proceed to the airport ahead of our convoy as I had secured the commitment of the president to field questions before our departure. At the session, the president expressed his heartfelt sympathies with the families of the gallant police men who lost their lives while defending their posts from the senseless attacks, as well as other innocent victims who may have been caught in the unjustifiable mayhem. He also reaffirmed his determination to deal decisively with all those whose misguided beliefs and actions promoted violence and contempt for the rights of others and undermined national peace, stability, and security. Indeed, the soldiers deployed to tackle the Boko Haram sect fulfilled the president’s mandate when they captured its leader, Yusuf, alive with what was no more than a minor injury on his arm. In the euphoria of the moment, the army commander of the operation, Col. Ben Ahanoto, allowed his men to take snapshots of Yusuf with their mobile phone cameras, before they handed him over to the police.
The story turned awry, however, when a few hours later journalists were shown the bullet-ridden body of Yusuf, who was said to have died in a shoot-out with the police. Meanwhile, Ahanoto had spoken to reporters on record that he had personally captured Yusuf and handed him over to the chief of police in Maiduguri. He said Yusuf had a wound on his arm, which had already been treated. The police, however, insisted that Yusuf had been fatally wounded.
There were reports that the attack on the police station by Boko Haram members was a response to an earlier attack on the sect members in the course of a funeral procession. They were said to have been accosted by the joint police/army task force called Operation Flush for not wearing helmets while riding motorcycles. In the altercations that followed, tempers had flared, with policemen allegedly killing about 17 of the sect members. This was said to have been the genesis of the crisis, but there were also allegations that the subsequent order for the killing of Yusuf and Alhaji Buji Foi (a former commissioner for religious affairs in Borno State) after they had been captured alive was given by certain political leaders in Borno State. There may not have been any credibility to the allegations, but Boko Haram members believed it and were out for revenge.
The suspicion of extra-judicial killings, however, spurred a reaction from the police commissioner of Borno State, Christopher Dega, who said Yusuf “was in a hideout, and the forces went there, and there was an exchange of fire. In the course of that confrontation, he sustained his own injury. He was picked up, and he later couldn’t make it.”
This was different from the first police version, in which Yusuf was said to have been fatally wounded while trying to escape from custody. This version had indeed been corroborated by Usman Ciroma, the spokesman to the Borno State governor, who told the Associated Press: “I saw his body at police headquarters. I believe he was shot while he was trying to escape.”
Yusuf’s financier, Buji Foi, who had been arrested and driven to the police headquarters in Maiduguri also died under curious circumstances. Unfortunately, there are video recordings of Foi’s execution still circulating on cell phones. I was shown one by a police officer! The same fate befell his father-in-law, Alhaji Baba Fugu, who also reported at the police station but never came out alive.
Human Rights Watch said that the reports of Yusuf’s killing were extremely worrying. “The Nigerian authorities must act immediately to investigate and hold to account all those responsible for this unlawful killing and any others associated with the recent violence in northern Nigeria,” said Corinne Dufka, the group’s senior West Africa researcher. In a statement issued in Geneva, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay also expressed her concerns. She called on the Nigerian government to investigate Yusuf’s killing and bring offenders to justice.
When the BBC published the photograph that showed that Yusuf was alive when captured by the army, I knew we could no longer keep quiet and that the point had to be made that extra-judicial execution had no place under the rule of law. As, I however, waited to see the president, who was in a meeting with the VP, I made the mistake of openly voicing my concern about what I considered extra-judicial execution. This did not go down well with the governor of Gombe, Alhaji Danjuma Goje, who was also waiting to see the president. “Segun, I sometimes wonder on whose side you really are. This is someone who killed several policemen and innocent people, and all that concerns you is what some human rights noisemakers would say,” he charged.
We had a hot exchange on the matter and since he saw the president ahead of me, I was not surprised when my principal bluntly refused to discuss the matter. It was a difficult period, because while I worried about the image of the government, I could also understand the anger of the police, whose men were brutally killed. Photographs of the murdered officers were so gruesome that it was not difficult to comprehend the raw emotion that could have led some people into taking the law into their own hands. Some of these photographs were handed to the president. While I appreciated his feelings, I also believed jungle justice, no matter the provocation, cannot be justified by agents of the state. To compound the situation, someone posted a video stream on YouTube of Yusuf’s interrogation by the police after he was captured and shortly before he died.
While I dodged all the enquiries about the matter, I was determined that the president would not remain silent on the issue, and an opportunity came when President Boni Yayi of Benin Republic visited. At the instance of the president, I had started a regime of joint briefing between him and any visiting leader. As the president escorted his guest to the rostrum, I put in his hand a piece of paper. In it I wrote that I had been reliably informed that the question the correspondents were interested in was on the Boko Haram killing and that he should be prepared to respond should it be asked.
Predictably, it was the first question, and the president responded that it would be investigated, together with all the events that led to it. “Yesterday I directed the NSA to carry out a post-mortem with the security agencies as a first step, so that we can have a full report of what happened during the crisis, including how the leader of Boko Haram was killed as well as the circumstances under which he was killed.
“Now it is after we get this report that we will determine what actions to take, whether we need to carry out further investigations into the entire matter, because it is really a very serious issue. I have been emphasizing since this administration came into power on our stance on the rule of law, and everybody in this country and all the officials are clearly aware of the stance and indeed my personal commitment and firm belief that it is the rule of law that will anchor good governance and progress in this country.
“When issues like this happen, we do not rush into taking precipitate actions. We try to investigate to make sure that we get the facts as they happened. So, this is the action that I took when I came back from Brazil. Yesterday I met with all the security agencies, and we decided on this course of action.”
The president sounded very convincing. Yet I knew there was no investigation with regard to how Yusuf had died, and it was unlikely there would be any. The investigation he had ordered was the usual one on Boko Haram, because, with regard to Yusuf, the disposition of the security agencies was that two wrongs had become a right. Since Yusuf and his men had murdered several policemen in cold blood, they believed that justice was served with his death, regardless of how it was carried out.
Indeed, as a proof that there was not going to be any investigation, the army commander who handed Yusuf over to the police was recommended for dismissal. His offence: allowing the photograph of Yusuf to be taken after capture! It took the intervention of an aide to the president for the career of Ben Ahanoto not to be abruptly terminated. The aide argued that dismissing an officer who was carrying out a lawful order would be grossly unfair, especially when it came to light that even the interrogation of Yusuf (before he met his death) was also on the internet.
What was never in doubt was the president’s resolve that the spectre of Boko Haram had to be completely rooted out. Against the background of a growing population of idle youths, especially in the northern part of the country, the president was of the firm conviction that preachers of incendiary messages, like Yusuf, were a danger to society. But the circumstances of the Boko Haram leader’s death remain till today a permanent sore to the image of Yar’Adua’s administration, which had made respect for the rule of law its cardinal objective.
A Borno State high court would later find the police guilty of unlawfully executing Yusuf’s in-law, Baba Fugu, and awarded N100 million in damages to his family. Babakura Fugu, 40, a schoolteacher and eldest son of the deceased, had sued the president, Governor Ali Sheriff, and the inspector general of police for his father’s alleged execution while he was in police custody.
Justice Mohammed Mustapha, in his judgement, also granted the prayer that Baba Fugu’s corpse be exhumed from ‘wherever it is’ and given to his family for proper burial, and that the respondents should publicly apologize to the family. The family had told the court that Baba Fugu’s corpse had been buried along with other corpses in a mass burial despite their appeal for its release.
I am not aware that the government ever complied with this ruling, given at a time when the president was battling for life and Jonathan was already acting president.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Olusegun Adeniyi/Thisday