If the event of last week in the hitherto peaceful Borno State is anything to go by despite reports that 'security' expenses are now running into billions of naira, coupled with the deployment of security personnel, precisely armed soldiers that have acted with brutality and impunity, which resulted in the killings of innocent civilians whose offences were either for growing a full beard or dressing in a way that symbolizes their faith.
The mass exodus of mostly young men and women, who were largely victims of brutality by the security agents from the state, has resulted in the virtual relocation of the seemingly confused Governor Kashim Shettima to Abuja and the glaring failure of the Joint Task Force (JTF) to work on security reports in their operations. There is also the sudden disappearance of the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Garbai Ibn Elkanemi, to Kaduna, who sources say, did this for the fear of his life and the loss of confidence by citizens of the state on government's ability or otherwise to find the best way of addressing the Boko Haram insurgency,
The federal government considering the seeming confusion and dilemma in Maiduguri Government House and the series of professional blunders so far made including the infamous utterances of the Chief of Army Staff which brings more harm than good to an already fragile security situation in the state must go back to the drawing board and if possible make reasonable compromises for the sake of solidifying the nation's national security which has arguably suffered the greatest threat since the Nigerian Civil War.
For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the security forces have engaged in a blind and focus less 'war' against a faceless extremist group that is willing to sacrifice live in the cause they believe in. If the experience and virtual defeat, of the world's self-acclaimed super power, United States, and in other places like Vietnam and most recently Afghanistan is anything to go by, the initial belief of a country such as the US to fight such wars has woefully failed and has now resulted in secretly talking with the Taliban leaders to find a peaceful solution to the stalemate.
This is after over ten years of invasion and war with staggering expenditures running into trillions of dollars. President Goodluck Jonathan, in some experts’ opinion, should ignore any contrary, selfish and politically motivated security advice and utilize current conventional security approaches to such issues.
In this regard, those that are privy to the activities of the State Security Service (SSS) offered their professional approach to the crises, but regretted that action. This was seen as the best option in finding a solution to crises of insurgency. But it is being frustrated and undermined by the army and the police with virtually no positive results to show except for human casualties, misery and the increased squalor on already helpless citizens of Borno State.
Desert Herald findings revealed that so far, more than one million people have left the state capital; most of them using the back of trailers and tippers as the only alternative vehicles to convey them to Damaturu, Potiskum and other safer places. The Borno refugees, which pundits believe were created by the alleged indiscriminate killings by the army can be seen without shelter in Damaturu and Potiskum. This situation, as gathered by this reporter, has prompted Governor Ibrahim Gaidam to call for an emergency Security Council meeting. Sources at the Damaturu Government House told this reporter that the Council, even though no cabinet was in place nearly two months after Gaidam was sworn in, may approve emergency relief and discuss how best to settle the Borno refugees scattered across the state.
Apparently disturbed by the JTF's impunity and disregard to the rule of law which resulted in several deaths last week, prominent citizens of Borno State under the aegis of the Borno Elders Forum have called on Pres. Jonathan to order the immediate withdrawal of soldiers from the streets of Maiduguri. They told the president that military intervention and the use of maximum force against civilians instead of their real target have failed to stop the Boko Haram insurgency.
The Borno Elders Forum further lamented how the military subjects civilians to untold hardships which have resulted in the mass exodus of people from Maiduguri.
The statement by the Elders Forum which pundits and critics of the ANPP regime in Borno said was more or less a declaration of loss of confidence on Governor Shettima who has been fighting three 'wars' at a time; battling to save his exalted seat from emergency rule, the impending threat that is coming from the Election Petition Tribunal as well as managing the Boko Haram insurgency which nearly consumes his life penultimate week when he went for the third day prayer for late Alhaji Ali Kokoro in Maiduguri.
The elders said since the coming of the new government the crises in Maiduguri has been deteriorating. They also confirmed the claims of many citizens that “soldiers have been burning down cars, killing innocent passersby, looting private properties, harassing innocent passersby and even raping young girls. Military intervention is not the solution. The presence of thousands of weapon-brandishing soldiers on the streets of Maiduguri has turned the situation into a nightmare, the worst Maiduguri has ever seen. Hundreds of youth have been shot and killed by soldiers for no known reason other than they are young people. Many communities have been sacked and people in their thousands are fleeing Maiduguri and the level of human suffering in Maiduguri has reached its peak and Borno is faced with horrific and horrendous humanitarian crises.”
In view of what they described as the embarrassing and unprofessional handling of the insurgency by the military, the elders comprising of imminent statesmen called for the “immediate withdrawal of all soldiers from the streets of Maiduguri. Government should as a matter of urgency provide relief materials to all the victims and immediately rescue the people fleeing the state. The government should engage the sect members in honest and positive dialogue since they have already presented their demands”.
Commenting on the reckless manner with which high profile government officials are handling the matter, which is believed to contribute in fuelling the crises precisely the latest made by the Chief of Army Staff, the elders cautioned that “Government agencies and senior government officials should desist from making inflammatory remarks over the current situation.”
But in a defying and obviously misleading statement, which pundits averred may aggravate the crises, JTF's Public Relations Officer, Colonel Victor Ebbaleme, described the claims by the elders and the victims of the military brutality as baseless and uncalled for. He blamed members of Boko Haram for planting explosives at residential areas which they claimed damage houses and vehicles of law abiding civilians and not their men as alleged.
Even though security for lives and properties since the coming of the JTF had worsen and so far remained a mirage, Colonel Ebbaleme want to inform the helpless citizens that are devastated by both the Boko Haram activities and the army that “they are assured of security and (they) should go about their normal businesses as those leaving town are motorcycle owners in search of means of livelihood as a result of the ban (on motorcycle operations) by the Borno State government,” the statement said.
Such statements, according to pundits, are false and misleading as it is considering how young girls, married women and young men in their thousands are leaving the state capital by whatever means to escape the brutality of the soldiers goes to show how government policies on how to tackle the uprising is inconsistent and inept, while others even say there is so much double standard in it.
The statement against the presence of the army in Maiduguri and their activities was signed by Shettima Ali Monguno, Alhaji Garba Abba Satomi, Alhaji Bukar Bolori, Alhaji Usman Gaji Galtimari, Alhaji Kyari Sandabe, Brigadier General Abba Kyari (rtd), Air vice Marshal Al-amin Daggash (rtd) and Shettima Ali Kidaji and the Chief Imam of Idaini, Babagana Asil. Others that also endorsed the statement include Ambassador Ahmed Yusufari, AIG Zanna Laminu Mamadi, AIG Muktar Alkali, Alhaji Tijjani Bolori, Alhaji Bulama Mali Gubio, Alhaji Umar Abba Shuwa, Alhaji Ibrahim El-Zubairu, Mallam Ibrahim Mustapha and Alhaji Gambo Gubio.
In their own assessment of the lingering crises in Borno, which seems to go along the line of SSS, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) under its Chairman Board of Trustees, Lt. General Jeremiah Useni, who led a 19-man ACF delegation to Mr. Jonathan and VP Namadi Sambo, said Boko Haram is a product of political thuggery and cautioned security agents against the use of force to quell the crises. He advised that emphasis should be on intelligence gathering. He said selfish politicians created Boko Haram in a bid to foster their political ambitions and appealed to the government to use dialogue as a way of resolving the crises. “Like in war, the soldiers must be working on information on the Boko Haram. Innocent ones would definitely be killed in the process of trying to dislodge the Boko Haram members from their base. We (ACF) abhor the use of violence in whatever form. We believe there are due processes through which we can voice our complaints. So, why should we kill to satisfy our grievances?” he cautioned.
But beyond what the ACF and others alike see on the surface regarding the Boko Haram imbroglio, pundits say the ACF leaders should have preached to Mr. Jonathan on good governance and the need to always do justice to the legitimate yearnings of the people and above all be sincere in fighting corruption, which they believe was the genesis of the armed struggle in Nigeria today. They lamented and advised that unless government is sincere and committed to using the resources of the country to the benefit of the common man, restiveness and all kinds of crime will remain in the system. They also called on the immediate prosecution of all those at the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency, particularly the former governor of the state, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
It is no longer news that former governor Sheriff was briefly detained and interrogated in Abuja last week by the SSS over his generally perceived culpability in the Boko Haram emergence and their eventually armed struggle. As the governor of Borno State, Sheriff was widely seen to have instigated the Boko Haram uprising when he ordered his infamous Operation Flush to shot at members of the sect who are on their way to the graveyard to bury one of their own for refusing to put helmets and later directed the extrajudicial killing of the sect leader, late Muhammad Yusuf, his former commissioner Boji Foi, Yusuf's father in-law and several others.
Desert Herald learnt from an insider that the SSS has blamed Sheriff for instigating the crises and his passport was seized by the SSS and therefore banning him from travelling outside the country until after a full investigation about his alleged culpability is completed. The SSS, according to an insider, is probably convinced that the Boko Haram demands and reconciliation with government cannot be done successfully to the satisfaction of the sect members without prosecuting Ali Modu Sheriff and his alleged collaborators in the killings spree.
Note- This story has been previously published in the Desert Herald newspaper.