• The N70M monthly Operation Flush Expenditure
• The Military Brutality against Citizens
• PDP’s Politics behind State of Emergency
If there is any doubt that Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, is in a dire security problem, the events of Tuesday June 7, 2011 have obliterated such doubts. Those who lamely reasoned that with time, the Boko Haram debacle in Borno State will wane must have also been forced to eat their words by the same events. The day was replete with daring multiple bombs and gun attacks that shock everybody and sent the message that unless very concrete measures are taken to nip it in the buds, the security challenges occasioned by the endless attacks would make Borno ungovernable and possibly turn it into a lawless society.
Three bombs went off at three locations within the city of Maiduguri in the afternoon and soon after sporadic gun fire said to have originated from members of the armed wing of the Suffiyya movement were heard putting Maiduguri in terrible security breach resulting in people running from and to all directions with some racing to pick their kids from schools while others rushed towards their homes to safeguard their families.
The deafening explosions rattled the city and while security agents battled to contain it, it resulted in pitched gun battles across the city. Contrary to official report that always under declare the rate of damages and number of casualties, dozens of people as confirmed by our reporters died as a result of the quagmire. Gradually, Maiduguri is becoming just like Somalia where outlaw groups have taken over and where no government exists. So far, the impact and presence of government can only be felt on the streets of the capital city where armed soldiers that have failed to contain the killings and terror, are accused of terrorising innocent residents in the name of illusive search of the sect members and sometimes with even cases of alleged extortion from citizens whose economy has partially been destroyed by the persistent uprising and curfew. At the beginning, a count of the number of people killed was known but the frequency at which the killings take place has become so astronomical that no count is kept anymore. The Boko Haram sect, who engaged security forces in a fire fight in 2009 following some earlier skirmishes on the streets of Maiduguri, were successfully routed but the extra judicial killings that took place of the leader of the group, Mohammed Yusuf and dozens of other followers instead of following due process of law by arraigning them before a competent court of law, were condemned by the United States, the European Union, Amnesty International and other national and international Human Rights groups. Pundits said the inability of the federal government to successfully prosecute Police Officers that acted with reckless impunity by killing late Yusuf and many others couple with the resolved of the former governor, Ali Modu Sheriff’s refusal to dialoque with the sect members and see the possibility of repeated calls to compensate the families of those that were successfully captured but summarily killed, was the single factor that resulted to the current Boko Haram debacle.
As a result and precisely a year later, the group resurrected and began an armed struggle of guerrilla nature, coming out discreetly from their hideouts, picking their targets patiently and executing them. Soldiers, policemen, community leaders, politicians and others whom they perceived to have one way or the other aided their “persecutions” have all been targeted and many were killed. This way, a number of people got killed around the state and as at the time of writing this piece, more people have been written to by the sect members promising them death as a result of which most have left the state altogether. Among those that unceremoniously left Maiduguri as a result of deterioration of security in the state and the rampant killings include the family of the former governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, his father, Galadima Modu Sheriff and many ANPP politicians in the state.
Although both the federal and Borno State government have in the past been ignoring the reality by chasing shadows adopting maximum use of force in fighting highly sophisticated radical Ismamic militants whose operational base is not yet known to the securities; sect members that always act like ghost in reaching out to their target victims. Governor Kashim Shettim on assumption took a more wiser approach of reaching out to the leaders of the Boko Haram but his initial effort is already being truncated and frustrated by what insiders said was advices from sycophants which makes the governor to commit the first divertionary blunder that most of the series of bomb blast and gunfires in Maidiguri is being organised by political opponents of his party and government. By implication, the PDP in Borno categorically said he is referring to them on issue they (PDP) said was caused by Shettima’s predecessor’s (SAS) autocracy and ineptitude.
The history of Boko Haram sect is one that is knitted around government’s inability to take measures to ensure justice and fairness. Right from the beginning, Muhammed Yusuf was said to have been encouraged and bankrolled by ex Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, who wanted to use the group’s numerical advantage for political reasons. The late Buji Foi, Ali Sheriff’s Commissioner of Religious Affairs and erstwhile Treasurer of the Boko Haram sect, was said to have been planted by Ali Sheriff. Foi was also extra judicially executed by the police even though he too, like Yusuf was caught alive. The issue of extra judicial killings could be traced to allegations that the speed with which they were carried out suggested haste by some people in the corridors of power to hide something. The commission of inquiry set up by the federal government to investigate the uprising was said to have returned a guilty verdict on former Governor Ali Sheriff and the then Commissioner of police but government has been unable to either release the white paper on it or even to make the content public while some sources said the outcome of the inquiry was manipulated by the former governor whose family were also among the casualties of the recent Boko Haram killings.
Present Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, on whose shoulders some hope of resolution of the crisis rests, has so far proved to be as at sea as anybody. He has made so much noise about initiating talks with the sect members in order to dissuade them from their armed struggle.
In a number of press interviews, Kashim Shettima has sounded like a man in a genuine pursuit of peace with Boko Haram by suggesting amnesty for them and other measures to rein them in. But many said the governor is making too much noise and taking the whole issue to the press by untimely revealing what suppose to be a secret contact between him and the Boko Haram sect.
To begin with, the Borno State government has not been able to establish contact with them and apart from playing to the gallery, the government does not seem to be making any headway in reaching out to the group. In fact, the Boko Haram group has on several occasions rejected the kind of peace moves of Kashim Shettima and has instead promised more mayhem. In any case the issue of amnesty is beyond the powers of the state Governor. The offences for which the Boko Haram are alleged to have committed or are committing are within the purview of the federal authorities.
It has the same implication with the Niger Delta criminally minded armed militancy in which several people have been killed. Even before the emergence of the late Umaru Yar’Adua regime, several others have resorted to tough armed response to the Niger Delta crisis deploying soldiers who bombed and occupied the creeks in hot pursuit of the criminals. At the end, Yar’Adua came up with the so-called amnesty programme which costs the nation billions of dollars. This year alone, the Jonathan administration has announced it will spend a total of N100 billion to prosecute part of the amnesty deal. The expenditure of billions by the FG is happening at a time of more threat by the so called militants of the Niger Delta against the interest of the federal government. Considering the escalation of destruction and killings in Borno many concern citizens are asking why is the federal government dithering on applying the same approach to the Boko Haram issue? Why is the Borno State government asking for more troops instead of applying pressure on Jonathan to be more proactive, sensitive and amenable to peace overtures to the sect? When the family of the 70-year old Baba Fugu, father in-law to the late Muhammed Yusuf, went to court to challenge the old man’s murder by the police, the court granted damages worth One Hundred Million Naira that has not been enforced till today. Baba Fugu reported himself to the Police Commissioner when he was told that he was wanted, but the man was killed even when he was not known to have any relationship with the Boko Haram other than the fact that Yusuf was married to his daughter. Those are the series of silent issues the authorities always delibertately avoid to discuss and to find solution to and instead spending millions on security that has woefully failed to make impact. Insiders lament that a lot of officials are benefitting from the security vote hence the lacklustre attitude in addressing key fundamental issues that may result to reconciliation and lasting peace.
Each month, the Borno State government reportedly coughs out a total of Seventy Million Naira for the upkeep of the soldiers and policemen deployed to the state, but yet rather than nip the problem in the bud, the security outfit known as Operation Flush has become so highhanded and callous that they have turned their guns and anger on the hapless citizens of the state. The people of Borno State are today more scared of the soldiers and policemen than the Boko Haram. Dozens of innocent people have been rounded up and detained for upward of a year now on the pretext of involvement with the Boko Haram with no concrete proof or evidence. Every day, young men, some of them with proof of being students are being arrested, tortured and detained in police cells and army locations under very dehumanising conditions with no iota of proof of their culpability. Some of those detained have been moved to other states and the Federal Capital without anybody establishing their guilt. Idris Malam, a retired policeman told reporters in Maiduguri that the security approach adopted by the top security chiefs is not only faulty but ungodly. ‘’The moment a shooting takes place in any neighbourhood, the Operation Flush operatives will rush to the scene and round up young men and claim that they have arrested the culprits. How can any gunman who committed an act hang around the scene of the crime to be arrested just like that?”As a result many young men that were used as scapegoats for the failure of the security agents to apprehend the real perpetrators of the killings were radicalise.
Another problem with the soldiers and the mobile policemen is that they have been allegedly extorting money mindlessly from the people. They tend to be unmindful of the reasons they are deployed and they have turned their presence into a money making venture. From the Baga road Motor Park up to the Sir Kashim Ibrahim interjection to the University of Maiduguri road and the Dikwa road, several check points have been mounted to harass and extort money from motorists particularly from commercial vehicles plying goods and animals. The alleged extortion is done openly and shamelessly. Police and military brutality too has been on the increase as many people have been humiliated and maimed in the state. Houses have been raided where cash and valuables have been reportedly stolen by the security operatives while several unwholesome conducts against the soldiers including alleged rape of married women and young girls have been reported in people’s houses. Sheik Aminu Abubakar, a scholar in Maiduguri, asked how the police expect the same people they brutalize to offer information to them. ‘’There is no way the police could make any progress as they lack basic human relations values. You cannot expect people who lack respect for you to come forward with information for you, it is not possible. Many of our relatives have fallen victims of their brutality and acts of impunity. Sadly, the government is not doing anything about it.’’
An ex labour leader in Borno State who spoke on condition of anonymity also accused the Borno State governor of bad faith and alleged that the fact that the Governor is publicly pointing accusing fingers at the direction of opposition politicians says a lot about the governor’s seeming lack of direction. ‘’How can he be accusing opposition politicians who contested for offices in the last elections for the killings when we all know that these killings started long before the just concluded elections?’’ Another resident of Maiduguri Alhaji Modu Kachalla also claimed that Kashim Shettima is not likely to achieve any success in making peace with Boko Haram because he does not appear to be sincere in dealing with the problem.
But while Governor Kashim believes he is committed to dialoque with the Boko Haram sect, there is so much envy about the possibility of succeeding in tackling the uprising by some members of the opposition PDP in the state. Obviously, they don’t want him to take the credit of containing the killings. It is now clear that a certain faction of the PDP in the state is working secretly for the imposition of state of emergency in the state. The opposition according to sources believe that under state of emergency, it will be easy for them to get favourable judgement from the Election Petition Tribunal in the state. Notwithstanding Shettima’s premature utterances and his claim of political undertone on the Boko Haram crises, what has so far become glaringly undoubtable is the young governor’s determination to contain the security crises in the state and above all to provide grassroots oriented leadership. Already and at the time of increased tension, Governor Shettima had visited the popular Monday Market, reduced their tenency rate by half and paid for six months to all shop owners in the market. He has also make commitment to increase students scholarship allowance from a migger N3000 to a minimum of N25,000. He has also within two weeks of his swearing in as governor approved the immediate employment of 1000 Doctors and Nurses in the state to provide emergency and immediate services to the decaying and neglected health sector in the state.
With all permutations made, it is increasingly becoming necessary for very radical measures to be taken by both the state and federal government to stop the carnage. While some politicians are becoming convinced that only the declaration of a state of emergency can deal with the problem, this writer believes that considering the failure of both the army and police to put the situation under control over the years, the multi million naira security expenditure and the nature of the Boko Haram operations coupled with the idea, ideology and what the sect said they what to achieve, no state of emergency under any military ‘power’ can contain the crises. Pundits averred that the best option if it will not be politicise the manner it began, is the proposal suggested by Governor Shettima with the backing of the Federal Government. It is also an issue that requires less noise and to avoid engaging the media at least in this stage. The general view of the people of Borno is that the incumbent governor despite the initial shortcomings is not only capable of succeeding in containing the Boko Haram debacle but is honestly committed to finding a peaceful way to settlement rather than concentrating on the use of force that has woefully failed over the years. Whether last week meeting with VP Namadi Sambo, Governor Shettima and the security chiefs at the office of the VP will make any impact remains to be seen.
If Shettima eventually succeed in bringing order, peace and reconcile with the Boko Haram sect even as many people expresses skepticism of the likelihood of achieving that in view of recent controversies the governor’s claims generated coupled with the antecedents of some of his close leutenants, the governor will write his name in gold in the history of Borno and would have succeeded where his boss, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff glaringly failed. Certainly, and before the dream of the people of Borno is hopefully achieve, Governor Shettima will continue to face tough challenges particularly from the activities of the Boko Haram and from the opposition PDP. His ability or otherwise to succeed remains to be seen.
Tukur Mamu is the Publisher/Editor-In-Chief of DESERT HERALD newspaper. He is also an award recipient of the United States Congresssional Recognation for Excellence. He can be reach on [email protected]