- Category: Opinions/Interviews
- Published on Wednesday, 04 January 2012 09:12
- Written by Olukorede Yishau/Joke Kujenya
- Hits: 588
It still seems like a nightmare. How she longs to wake up from it. But not this one. Thirteen-year-old Nancy is fast coming to terms with the fact that she has no home any more. Her life now starts and ends in the church. It is not a dream. She is an orphan. She will never again know the feel of the loving arms of a biological father; neither will there be the warmth of a mother’s bosom. There will also be no siblings to laugh and fight with. The days when her father or mother scolded her for one perceived bad act or the other are over. Forever.
Nancy was safe because she did not go to the Mass with her parents and siblings. When the news of the blast got to her, she dashed to the church on time to see the charred remains of her parents and two siblings clustered together in a car that was trapped in the explosion.
Like Nancy’s parents and siblings, Joseph Igbla was also consumed by the explosion. Later this month, he would have been part of the matriculation ceremony for fresh intakes into the IBB University, Lapai, Niger State. His father was happy when the admission letter came. So were Joseph and his siblings. But that dream was aborted forever on Christmas Day and his father, Daniel, has not stopped crying. He has become a shadow of his lively self.
In all, 43 people, including Joseph and Nancy’s family, perished in the disaster which the dreaded insurgent group, Boko Haram, has gleefully claimed responsibility for. Seventy-two others are still receiving treatment in hospitals in Niger and Abuja. The sect also struck in Plateau and Yobe states on Christmas Day, leaving deaths, sorrow, tears and blood in the wake.
The sect has made Borno State almost uninhabitable; its terror machine has made residents of Abuja, the federal capital, live in fear; it has ensured residents of Damaturu, Suleja and Madalla sleep without being able to do so soundly.
The group on Monday was at it again. It ordered all Southerners in the North to return home or face being consumed by their planned confrontation with the security forces, which have been building up troops in its strongholds following President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration of emeregency rule in five states of the North.
The five local governments affected in Borno are Maidugiri Metropolitan, Gamboru Ngala, Banki Bama, Biu and Jere. The five councils affected in Yobe are Damaturu, Geidam and Potiskum. Others are Buniyadi-Gujba and Gasua-Bade councils. In Plateau State, four local governments are affected. They are Jos North, Jos South, Barkin-Ladi and Riyom. The only affected local council in Niger State is Suleja.
The borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic have also been closed.
The ultimatum expires today. Army spokesman Brigadier-General Ralph Isa told Bloomberg yesterday that troops are increasing patrols in the North. The army has deployed two brigades to areas in and around the states of Plateau and Borno, where the Boko Haram group has carried out most of its attacks in recent months. Isa said Christians are not yet reacting to Boko Haram’s threat. “I have not seen anyone move away. Patrols are on and life goes on normally,” he said.
Six days before Christmas, policemen arrested 14 suspected members of Boko Haram and seized explosive devices after four militants and three police were killed in a gun battle in Kano. The security forces a day to Christmas also reportedly killed 68 people suspected to be insurgents.
Still the insurgents found their way into Madalla on Christmas Day and left several families in tears.
On December 8, 2011, an explosion in Kaduna also resulted in the death of 14 people. Goods estimated at N200 million were also lost. Last November 27, churches, homes and the police headquarters in the small town of Geidam were set ablaze in a wave of night time gun and bomb attacks by Boko Haram. This was like a repeat of the orgy of violence in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital on November 5, 2011, which left at least 65 people dead when Boko Haram insurgents bombed churches, mosques and police stations. Inspector-General of Police Hafiz Ringim and National Security Adviser (NSA) Owoye Azazi last week ‘admitted’ that the security forces were helpless. Ringim, after the Madalla church bomb blast, said the police have only succeeded in arresting Boko Haram foot soldiers. Azazi, also speaking after the Christmas Day explosion, said it was difficult policing Nigeria.
Last year was a particularly bad for the country. It was the first time the country recorded suicide bombing and the bomber chose the Police headquatres in Abuja to register his arrival. Before then, there were explosions, but Nigerians were thought to be too cowardly to contemplate suicide bombing. Not any more. If the real cause of the police headquaters disaster was doubted, the attack on the UN House, Abuja erased all doubts about the presence of suicide bombers in the country.
Over 20 people died in the UN House attack. Six people were reported dead in the attack on the Police Headquaters.
Before the declaration of the state of emergency in the terrorism-prone areas, the Federal Government had, through the Joint Military Task Force (JTF), turned the heat on the insurgents.
A source versed in the Boko Haram evolution said the government’s violent management of the group was counter-productive. He said the government, knowing the extremist nature of the group, should have throd with caution and not kill its leader, which was the beginning of its violent attacks on Nigeria.
He said: “They started their movement in 2001. They were ‘preaching’ and going about within the North here ‘propagating’ their own ideals within the state wearing their palms and kinds of uniforms. But our government did not manage them well. They tried to be pro-active but they ended up being hostile to them. And so, because of the enormity of their resistance, they started fighting back. So, they started targeting police men, especially the ones called “Operation Flash 1” to kill them back. Since then, they made it a raging battle between them and the security forces. But the actual crisis we are now witnessing began in April of 2009 when some of the members of the Yusuphia Movement were returning from a journey and they had an accident. And many of them died in the accident. And as they made to go and bury some of their members that died in the accident, and they were moving in very large numbers of motorbikes, all without helmets. They were then intercepted by the Operation Flash 1 on their way to the grave yard ordering them to go back and wear helmets. And because they resisted, the policemen started shooting them and about 20 of them were hit by the bullets but they did not die. And they took them to the teaching hospital. But when it came to the donation of blood to save the lives of their people, the police drove all of them away from the premises of the teaching hospital, saying that they were preventing the outbreak of a riot or whatever. And they were denied the opportunity to donate blood for their people and they lost them.”
He added: “Afterwards, the late Mohammed held a rally in April and read out what he called an open letter written to the Nigerian President and other leaders. In the letter, he said his group was not going to forgive the shooting of their members and that they would hit back. But my point is the government did not take this thing serious until July of 2009 when things went out of hand. Government did not do anything about that piece of information. In July, they then launched a massive attack on government buildings and police stations and the Operation Flash 1 later discovered that this was not something they could contain.
“Mohammed was thereafter killed and his body displayed like they did to Gadaffi in Libya. Between November 2009 till about June of 2010, everybody thought that it was over. Everything was quiet.
“But by July 2010, they suddenly came out to celebrate what they called the one year anniversary of their leader that was killed. And that was how they started going from house-to-house exposing people who they thought exposed them or reported their members, shooting traditional rulers or anyone they see in uniform and that is what brought us to where we are today.
“So, when Operation Flash 1 could not contain them, it was disbanded and Operation Flash 2 was initiated, and this time around, it was being reinforced with more soldiers. Then, when that could not help, the Federal Government brought in the Special Joint Task Force. And since the introduction of the JTF, the situation so escalated because they did not have the intelligent system to arrest the situation.”
Some police officers are being tried for the killing of the late Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has also carried out trouble-shooting missions. His effort, however, suffered a setback when Babakura Fugu, brother-in-law to late leader of Boko Haram, was killed by suspected members of the sect shortly after his meeting with Obasanjo.
As far as Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima is concerned, much of the activities of Boko Haram are politically motivated. He is of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). The governor’s position makes more sense if the confession of Ali Konduga, the self-confessed Boko Haram spokesman is anything to go by. Konduga claimed that leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) used Boko Haram members to intimidate the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal with a view to forcing the court to cancel Shettima’s election in favour of the candidate of the opposition party. The tribunal was forced to take refuge in Abuja. Shettima’s return to Maiduguri after the tribunal confirmed his election was almost a disaster. His convoy narrowly missed a bomb attack.
Konduga’s confession led to the arrest and trial of Senator Ali Ndume, who though elected on the platform of the PDP, was a foundation member of the ANPP. Twice, he won election to the House of Representatives on ANPP’s platform. He was an ally of former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, who was also implicated by Konduga.
Former Vice Chairman of the ANPP, Gen. Jeremiah Useni, once said Sheriff should be held responsible for the existence of the sect.
But, it may not be totally right to say Boko Haram is a tool in the hands of PDP members, as even PDP members have been at the receiving end of its aggression. Konduga claimed that the group sent threat messages to a former Minister of Works, Sanusi Daggash and Obasanjo. Konduga said Ndume, who was a member of the Presidential Committee on Security in the Northeast until his arrest, scripted the threat messages sent to people by the sect in English language. Konduga has been jailed three years after pleading guilty to terrorism. Ndume is on bail.
Konduga and Ndume are not the only ones on trial. There are others being tried for terrorism on account of their alleged membership of the insurgent group.
Another measure taken by the Federal Government is collaboration with the international community. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe assured Nigeria at a meeting with Gbenga Ashiru, his Nigerian counterpart, when he visited last November, that “in France, we are in complete solidarity with the countries in sub-Sahara Africa and the ECOWAS region on how to cooperate with countries fighting (terrorism).” He added that his country was ready to share information, coordinate intelligence services and provide training. The United Kingdom, United States, Israel and Italy are also helping to crush Boko Haram.
In this fiscal year, the Federal Government plans to spend about N1trillion on security. Much of this, said analysts, may be spent on fighting Boko Haram. Many an analyst have criticised it asking the National Assembly to prune it down drastically.
But how effective have these measures been? Not a few believe that the government has been indecisive on the Boko Haram dilemma. President of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) Joe Okei-Odumakin said “Government has been slow and indecisive on the issue of Boko Haram”. She decried a situation whereby security agencies parade “some haggard looking persons” and then allow the case to fade off.
A retired intelligence officer and the Waziri of Ringim in Jigawa State Sagir Mohammed faults the idea of using the military to quell civil unrest. He said: “The problem is that we are using the military for a role it is not trained to play. When you invite the army, you don’t invite them to make peace; soldiers are trained to kill. That is why after a war, you withdraw the soldiers and let the police maintain the peace.’
President of the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) Shehu Sani agrees with Sagir. Sani said: “Government should apply the same carrot as it applied in the Niger Delta. Violence and bombing, whether it is done by MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta) or Boko Haram is still violence. You cannot allocate hundreds of millions to train Niger Delta militants abroad so that they stop bombings and sabotage of oil pipelines, and you say you want to use force on the other people. It is not possible if peace is what we desire.”
He added: “They wasted time and resources inviting (the Sultan and emirs) to the Villa. No emir in northern Nigeria can talk to Boko Haram. They don’t have links with them. They (Boko Haram) see the Sultan and the emirs as part of the political establishment. The government must talk directly with the insurgents.”
Special Adviser to the President on Ethics Sarah Jubril does not believe government should be blamed for the crises. She recently decried what she saw as a criminal silence by northern elders. Her position tallies with that of the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Ayo Oritsejafor, who is of the opinion that some of the leaders find it difficult to draw the line between religion and national issues. He said: “A lot of those who are supposed to solve the problem are looking at their religion.”
But secretary, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Garba Mohammed would not agree that northern leaders are not committed to efforts at fighting terrorism. Rather he said Boko Haram members are not willing to dialogue because they do not trust government.
That is why a Benin-based lawyer Tony Chigbata said: “Let all the ethnic nationalities come to a round table and agree that we should live together or that we should disintegrate. And if there is going to be a form of disintegration, the modalities are going to be worked out and it is to be a gradual process. If we say we are going to live together as we have been living together, because the truth is that we have been living in pretence”.
Another lawyer, Francis Njoku, said: “ The security forces should be able to infiltrate this group so that they will be able to dismantle them from inside.”
Instructively, Sani, who said Boko Haram is led by a spiritual leader, Imam Shekau, and has an 18-member Shura, or council, said: “Citizens are afraid of cooperating with the government out of fear that they will be targeted by the group. The Nigerian police have not, over the years, been well trained or equipped in handling terrorism issues of this kind due to the corruption in the service.”
He urged the Federal Government to design a political and economic programme, which should include working with state governments in the northern part of the country to set up an Almajiri Foundation, which he said should be used to document all Koranic schools in the area and take steps to incorporate them into the modern education system. His reason is that the current system gives room for abuse as the clerics in the loose Koranic schools have a hold on the thousands of the Almajiris. He said: “You can see one cleric in command of about 4,000 students, and if he tells them to move against the state, they simply move irrespective of the consequences.”
Niger State Governor and Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) Dr. Babangida Aliyu, in an interview in the January 2012 edition of Africa Today, a magazine published in London, blamed the insurgency in the North on injustice, youth unemployment, breakdown of the family system, neglect of the traditional institution, poor planning and the brainwashing of youths by those he described as mischievous Islamic clerics. The governor said these problems must be addressed for the region to be peaceful.
According to him, “If you were told 10, 20 years ago that a Nigerian could be bombing a place, you would say not in northern Nigeria. So, it means our planning and our level of intelligence information have not been useful. Our research and development should reflect the new thinking of how to marry these competing groups.”
Aliyu said there is an international dimension to the crisis. “We must not also run away from the international dimension of this crisis. Borno is a border state to Chad. We know what is happening in Sudan. We know what has happened in Libya. We know when Gaddafi was alive, the kind of relationship he was having with some of these neighbouring countries,” he said.
The governor called for negotiation with Boko Haram and other aggrieved parties, explaining, however, that “negotiation with these people does not have to be a formal government negotiation.”
President, Association of Industrial Security and Safety Association of Nigeria (AISSON), Dr. Ona Ekhomu, believes the government and the people have to be proactive.
He said: “The problem we are witnessing these days is the result of institutional collapse. We have no people doing street patrolling to protect the citizens. And even when they carry terrorism cases to judges, they are afraid to touch certain cases. These boys are very potent. They have people’s numbers and they call. There is a progressive collapse in every sector.”
Former Commissioner of Police Mr. Frank Odita said government should stop treating Boko Haram as an Islamic sect.
Odita said: “Government needs to note their extreme acts of violence.If people get scared to come and invest in our country, we will lose out and our overall development would suffer and the multiplier effect of it will be great. We must find out who are behind all this, unmask them, because the Boko Haram can’t be taken as fighting mere Western education when all that they are using to perpetrate their acts is totally Western. If indeed, they are fighting everything Western, they should be living under the trees. They have threatened the Nigerian nation enough and it is time for us to really find out who is our enemy and deal with it.”
Only then will there be no more cause for a child to be in Nancy’s position or a father to go through Daniel’s ordeal. (Olukorede Yishau/Joke Kujenya/The Nation)