In an interview with SaharaTV, the senator describes a video, in which a young girl who had been raped was on her knees begging her attacker. “They [the girls] said when they rape them, they shoot them,” the senator said to SaharaTV’s Rudolf Okonkwo, “therefore the girl after being raped, she curled down to the man, kneeling down and begging him to please be patient.”
This report comes two months after the girls were abducted from their school in Chibok.
The senator stopped by SaharaTV’s New York studios on the 24th of June, the same day he visited the United Nations to appeal that they send aid to his constituents who had fled to Cameroon for fear of Boko Haram attacks.
In the extensive interview, he discussed the condition of the kidnapped Chibok girls, conspiracy theories surrounding Boko Haram, the ramifications of the group’s terrorism, as well as his reasons for visiting the UN, amongst other issues. The senator expresses that he doesn’t think the Nigerian federal government and military are doing enough, “because still Boko Haram will go to villages and kill people and then go without being chased.” He believes that the group persists simply because they are “neglected by the Nigerian security.”
In Senator Zanna’s opinion, President Jonathan of Nigeria has to change his priorities, “It is not this presidency that he should look at,” said the senator, “but let him look at the future of Nigeria, and the future of Nigerians.”
Rudolf: It’s been 70 days and people across the world have bought into this campaign, they want to see that these girls are freed. What is the situation now in Borno?
Senator Zanna: I left Nigeria almost three weeks now, but I have been getting in touch with my people and I’m enquiring about what is happening. I am also talking to different people who happen to know the movements of Boko Haram and what is going on about the girls and all what-have-you. But up till today I don’t think a breakthrough is made by the government in getting the girls out. There is a rumour, not a rumour per say, but a statement from a friend in Cameroon, who lives at the border area, telling me that Boko Haram and the government are in conversation, they are negotiating. That was before I left Nigeria. But up till today, nothing came out of it. I asked him, “what is happening?” He said the government is ready to release the detainees which they requested, but they don’t want to release or give them money because they are still fighting. Which is also, I buy that idea that if they are going to get more money, they may buy weapons. But my conscience is telling me that it is better to get those girls out and then go after the Boko Haram. To take them out is most important. Let them feel, let the government feel if their own daughters are in these particular girls; are they going to behave the same way? So as far as I’m concerned, although there are some moves to get them out, but because of the level of the insecurity in that area, particularly Boko Haram’s capacity, and the government don’t want to improve the capacity of the Boko Haram. It is reasonable, but it is very important for them to get those girls out.
Rudolf: A lot of people are worried, after 70 days, how are they feeding the girls, how is the health of the girls. Do we know anything about that?
Senator Zanna: Actually the information I’m getting, some of them are very disturbing. Although I don’t want to mention but they are just raping the girls on camera and even showing them on video, releasing it to the public. Somebody told me that they were shown being raped, and in turn, it is the girl who was raped that came out kneeling down and begging the man to be patient. Do you know the reason why? They said when they rape them they shoot them. Therefore the girl after being raped, she curled down to the man, kneeling down and begging him to please be patient. So disturbing. And although I didn’t see the video, the person narrated to me, he said he had the video, and he was narrating to me, and look at the situation. And then the other scenario is that the Boko Haram are now out of funds, they are not getting enough food. So they are going from one village to another, taking the little the villagers had, and going away. In fact most of the villages are almost moved out of their villages and moved to cities or gone into the neighbouring countries. So more or less they don’t have any chance of getting food. So I don’t know what they’re going to do, if food is not available are they going to sacrifice to give it to the girls. And then, the other information I have, because you know the kidnap is a continuous process which they have been doing before the 200 and after the 200. So in their position, there are up to 500 or over 500 women who are being taken from the streets, on the main roads where they are traveling, or they go to the villages and collect them; all kinds of abductions.
Rudolf: People are also asking about the international community that offered to help and send in support staff, America sent in troops and soldiers. Why is it that we’ve not seen any kind of action, even if the Nigerian side are not effective. Why are the international group not being effective in terms of taking action.
Senator Zanna: You know Nigeria being an independent country, the international community are very careful in their conducts. But they will really have or they’re in a burden of guilt if they do not do anything about this situation because the situation is more than disturbing. Maybe the government did not give them permission to go, particularly America, they’re in Chad. I don’t know after my departure they must have moved into Nigeria, or they’re doing something, I don’t know. But they did not go direct to Nigeria. They are in Chad. So I don’t know what is going on with the government. Since I am not around, I don’t have much information on the relation between the foreign countries and Nigeria’s government.
Rudolf: Can you tell our viewers what brought you to America? You were saying before you came on air that you went to the United Nations.
Senator Zanna: Yes I went to the United Nations simply because, there are so many people in my constituency from Banki area, from Kala-Balge area, Gamboru Ngala, I’m sure you remember Gamboru Ngala where about 500 people were killed by Boko Haram. And these people, even those who are close to the border, they go into Cameroon, spend the night, come back the following day, to spend their day. So there are a lot of refugees across the border, and they are not allowed deep into Cameroon. they are just by the side of the river. Some of them are in Fotokol, some of them are in Dabanga, some of them are in Banki, I mean Kolofata, and some of them are in Amchide. Nobody is taking care of them. They are just there, no food, no any facility for human existence. So therefore I became disturbed, I said let me come and at least get audience with the United Nations so that they can at least form a camp around that area. People are really really afraid to live in Nigeria.
Rudolf: Are the Nigerian government aware of this, that people are moving into Cameroon?
Senator Zanna: They are aware. I gave an interview to BBC at that time when the Kala-Balge people and Gambarungala people were moving to Cameroon. They told me they want to move to Cameroon and they’re now packing. I told them yes go on move because you are not being protected. Since you inform the government to come and protect you and they don’t come. You informed them of an impending attack, nobody comes to rescue you. So what is left for you is to move into Cameroon, where maybe you may be safe. So that interview I granted over 3 weeks now. So therefore I don’t think the government is not aware, because the relief agency organization, NEMA, are aware. They wanted to send goods to that place, but even the transporters are not ready to transport food to that area. So therefore what is left for us is to tell United Nations to come through Cameroon to give food to those people.
Rudolf: This question is about the presidential committee that was set up to look into the kidnappings. They’ve turned in their report and yet there are some people out there who believe that this kidnapping of these girls didn’t happen. What do you say to such people?
Senator Zanna: I think they are not fair, at the same time they are not humans. If they say this did not happen, then they are not human beings. If you are sycophantic to government, you shouldn’t go to that extent, where the lives of people are involved. Particularly vulnerable people like schoolgirls. You know? Even after the abduction there were a lot of killings that had taken place. But the attention of the world is on those girls, why because they are women, and they are very young, at their tender age, and if somebody is not sympathetic to that, and coming to deny that this has not taken place, I think he is not being fair to human community.
Rudolf: Now last two weeks, there was an attempted bombing in a church in Owerri, Imo state and it was blamed on Boko Haram. And a few days after, there was a convoy of vehicles traveling to the east with governors. They were stopped by the military in Aba area and they were all called suspected Boko Haram fighters. How do you react to that, how do you see the government approach (particularly the military) to Boko Haram insurgents, both in the north and other activities across the country.
Senator Zanna: What is most important for the government to do is to go and chase Boko Haram who are harassing people in the bushes of Borno state, not going to intimidate people who have gone for their daily needs, particularly in my state where the Boko Haram prevalence has been going on for the past 3 years. Most of the young men now travel southwards in order to be safe, both from the Boko Haram and from the intimidation of the military. Then, if they are not going to survive in those areas, or in other parts of nigeria, then where else are they going to go? So this is a conspiracy theory. Nothing like that, nobody, nobody, will ever attempt to go and do Boko Haram activities in the East. It is never possible. So if you don’t want people to live in your, in another area of Nigeria, or I don’t know where we’re heading to. It is really very dangerous.
Rudolf: Thats the next question I have because that incident didn’t happen. But if it had happened, it would be “Boko Haram attacked Owerri.” What reaction do you expect that would have followed? Or lets say an attack happened in Lagos, what would be the fate of the country? Have you thought about, have you imagined what would happen?
Senator Zanna: I think from the beginning, been thinking, that what is happening in Borno state is a conspiracy theory, although the Boko Haram is inexistent. But generally, some people have taken over the Boko Haram itself, and then pretending that the Boko Haram is inexistent. And then they now recruited vulnerable children, or conscripted into the perceived Boko Haram, and these boys don’t know anything. 15 years old, 16 years old, 20 years old maximum,and they are being unleashed on the community, trained, and given guns. And a young man of 20 years and below, having a gun in his hand, nobody is coming after him, you know, he will go and do any kind of crime, and that is what is happening. So some people must have cashed in after the Boko Haram thing has been started. Because last year around June/July, the Boko Haram were chased out of all the major cities. And then there is no any such bush that can cover Boko Haram groups from the military. Even though they are saying the military don’t have incentives, they don’t have enough guns. Even with that, the Boko Haram don’t have enough training to withstand a military attack. It’s never possible, I don’t believe it.
Rudolf: Now, let’s go to the conspiracy theories because they are so many and I want to give you the chance to dispel, you know that area more than anybody else. You know what’s going on. So let’s go to the first theory that the Boko Haram insurgents are a Northern plan to make Nigeria ungovernable for Jonathan. Do you buy that theory?
Senator Zanna: I don’t buy. Because I am from Borno, and I am Kanuri, and then the Boko Haram, I think 60/70% of them are Kanuri. These are disgruntled young men, who are being brainwashed by a particular young man of 50 years or even less than 50 years and then they took arms against the government. They are very few. I don’t know how the whole thing got developed. And then some people might have cashed in and then told the president that the Northerners are now doing this in order to sabotage your government, and he bought that idea, and therefore he don’t care what is going on in Borno state. And these people have exploited maybe the innocence of the president, I don’t know how and they have succeeded because they have succeeded in killing innocent individuals and they have succeeded in getting a lot of money out of the government, because we budgeted about a hundred billion naira to fight Boko Haram. But to my dismay, I think even a thousand guns were not bought from that money. Where has that money gone to? So it is a double edged sword - on one part they are raping the country, on the other part they are killing individuals, either on religious basis or sectional basis or they’re fighting the government or whatever, so they have achieved.
Rudolf: Now let’s look at another theory that it was a plan by the government security agencies to make sure that the 2015 elections will not hold in the northeast so that President Jonathan will win reelection. Do you believe that?
Senator Zanna: I think it is more than that. Because if it is a political like the succession or their fighting for the success of Jonathan, it’s a different thing. But now it is taking another dimension. Look at this Owerri issue. If you look at it, we are inching towards definite crisis. Just forget about what is happening in Borno. If people who have travelled to other parts of the country are now chased and framed as Boko Haram then it is getting more dangerous than anybody can imagine.
Rudolf: This is the third one. It says, people are saying that it is an FBI, CIA plan to bring about America’s prediction that Nigeria will break up in 2015. What do you think about that?
Senator Zanna: I haven’t looked at that angle. I haven’t looked at that angle. I thought it is a local issue, you know, and then it has become a national issue. But, to think that other countries are involved in this conspiracy, I think I didn’t look at that, and I will now seriously start looking at that angle, now.
Rudolf: So, so far the president has been talking about doing things to deal with this situation. Are you satisfied with the way he’s been handling this?
Senator Zanna: I am not satisfied, because still Boko Haram will go to villages and kill people and then go without being chased. For the first time, I was happy on Saturday when the villagers went and attacked Chibok village. There are some villages around Chibok area. And they killed about 28 or 30 people, and then the villagers gathered and started fighting the Boko Haram. Eventually the military came and joined them and for the first time, a bomb was used by the Nigerian fighter jet to bomb the Boko Haram. I hope they can continue. If these things are taking place on a daily basis, wherever there is an attack, I don’t think Boko Haram will ever exist or they may even survive for even two months. They are unleashing a terror on the people just because they are being neglected by the Nigerian security. So now that what had happened on Saturday, if the military persists on that, I think I will be the happiest person in this world.
Rudolf: Now let me ask you, because the National Security Adviser, Dasuki, and the minister of Defense, they’re all from the North. Have you met with them, and have they been able to explain to you, even if it’s in private, what is actually going on, why is it that the military and the security agencies are not able to control what is going on. Because we hear all the time that Jonathan has this plan, or Jonathan is planning this. But are they part of the plan of the government, or what is their own take on this?
Senator Zanna: I don’t know of the minister of defense, I never met him, I never met the minister of defense. But Dasuki, I used to go there and inform him of the movements of Boko Haram, what is going on, if there are some killings I go and inform him, why is it that this is happening, you better caution your military, you know, on these activities, and then why are they negligent on the killings that is going on. I used to interact with him. But he’s saying that we will do something, we will do something, and beyond that he had never told me anything, you know. So I don’t know whether their presence in the government is very important or not, I cannot say.
Rudolf: Now the international community the UN you met here, are they responding positively, what are they going to do?
Senator Zanna: I will see them today.
Rudolf: And you want them to assist the people that have moved out…
Senator Zanna: Assist the people that have moved out of the country. Because even those people who are living within Borno, need a lot of assistance, but the international community don’t want to go there because they are not satisfied with the conduct of the military; or the security agencies. So they don’t think they are going to be protected. So for this reason, I will not even going to ask them to go now. But those who are outside the country who are in Cameroon, let them go and assist those people, it’s very important. because there will be...we are already in a humanitarian crisis.
Rudolf: Right, we have few minutes left. Let me just ask you. Looking at the campaign, #BringBackOurGirls campaign, are there other things you want ordinary Nigerians to do to help to keep the issue in focus, especially demanding that government should take action. Is there anything else you want Nigerians to do.
Senator Zanna: The Nigerian people must rise up to tell the government that it is important to restore the image of the country, because people are losing confidence in the government and governance of Nigeria now. So if President Jonathan is ready to save his image and then to see that people will live peacefully within Nigeria as one, then he has to do something about it. It is very very important. As of now, people have lost confidence, they don’t have confidence in his governance. So he has to look at that. If he is being misguided by the people who are around him, let him wake up. That is my advice to him, because he has to save his image. It is not this presidency that he should look at, but let him look at the future of Nigeria, and future of Nigerians.
Rudolf: Thank you so much Senator Zanna, thank you for coming to our studios. That was Senator Zanna discussing the issue in the Northeast especially Borno State and Boko Haram.