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The President in Borno and Yobe

13 Mar 2013

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The Horizon by Kayode Komolafe: Email: kayode.Komolafe@thisdaylive.com


As President Goodluck Jonathan himself said, it was reassuring that he visited the trouble spots of Borno and Yobe last week. He finally visited the two states where the Boko Haram insurgents have been perpetrating violence claiming thousands of lives. At the risk of repeating a cliché, it would be in order to say that the President’s visit was better late than never. The visit was doubtless made amid the challenging security situation that has come to define the two states and a host of others in the north.

As if to demonstrate the gravity of the situation on ground, shortly after the President’s departure from Maiduguri, explosions rocked the city and the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno State impounded three anti-aircraft guns and other weapons believed to be used by Boko Haram. Meanwhile, it was in a helicopter that the President had to shuttle between Damaturu (where there is no airport) and Maiduguri where he spent the night last Thursday.


It was certainly not expected that  the President would go on  a picnic when  calls were made on him before last week to visit the two states where people bear the brunt of the Boko Haram violence. The point was that a visit by the President and Commander-in-Chief would send a message that that the federal government would not concede an inch of the territory of the republic to Boko Haram or any other group bent on unleashing violence. Those who clamoured for the visit had a purpose for the suggestion. The visit was to give the people moral solidarity and to send the right signals that the federal government is in charge of the security of the whole federation. It was to be a significant step towards finding a solution to the problem.


So to what extent could the president’s visit help in achieving this purpose? To start with, there seems to be a conceptual problem on the importance of the visit on the part of Aso Rock. On the eve of the visit the presidential spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe, chose to abuse some governors who defied the security threats to hold their meeting in Maiduguri. The governors belong to parties that are merging into All Progressives Congress (APC). Okupe accused them of “opportunism”, “political recklessness” and staging a “media circus and stunt“. The Aso Rock propagandist spoke as if the governors needed entry visas from Abuja before visiting Maiduguri.

He said the federal government provided security for the governors during the visit. By the way, is it not the constitutional duty of the Nigerian state to do so for the governors or any person for that matter? You would think the governors were done a special favour by Aso Rock because security organisations did their job professionally. He did not help the situation with such comments. In fact, Okupe is the one to be accused of reckless propaganda in the circumstance. His vituperations were simply pointless. His job description may include abusing anyone suspected to be doing what may annoy the President, but in this case there was no reason why what the governors did should annoy Okupe’s boss.

If with a wrong body language, his principal would not act like a commander-in-chief by moving swiftly to assure the people of Borno, Yobe and other states in  making  the overdue visits, Okupe should not compound the problem by abusing those who decided to show patriotic initiative. Okupe’s statement demonstrates the wrong reading of the situation in Aso Rock. He has reduced a grave situation to a game of who is stealing the show. Pray, is that the issue? Such a trivialisation of a national tragedy is grossly unfortunate. The issue is not who goes to Maiduguri first; the important thing is that timely steps should be taken in showing leadership in a crisis situation. That is the point  Okupe is missing. And sadly so.


Beyond Okupe’s  pre-visit outbursts, it is more significant to ponder for while what Jonathan told the people of Borno and Yobe states. Here again, there is a lot to worry about in the government’s conception of the problem. It has been estimated over 3,000 lives have been wasted in the course of the Boko Haram violence. Socio-economic lives have been paralysed in the states afflicted with the violence. The economies of those states would need to be revitalised. Already, the North East is seeking a N100 billion-rehabilitation scheme.  The President told the people of Borno that the activities of the JTF would continue. He said the government could not grant amnesty to “ghosts” in response to calls for such amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents

. The President was reported as saying that if  Borno elders  would not move against Boko Haram, “they should be ready to live with the pains that it has created and perhaps forget the issues of development... So if you elders will not condemn it (violence), you will continue to suffer under the terror of Boko Haram because without peace, we cannot develop Borno”. Now, that is an unfair response to those who have lived with terror all these years and are looking forward to a presidential succour. What the situation requires is a moral balm and not such unhelpful tough talks. How on earth can the people be ready to live with pains? When a people’s pain is so detected, it is duty of government to find a relief.


The President is certainly justified to express outrage at the killings of soldiers and other security men in the JTF, but if there are complaints by the people about the way JTF is performing its duty, the thing to do is to determine the veracity of such claims. External observers are also raising similar concerns. It should be acknowledged that the JTF itself recently refuted allegations of human rights abuse by an international human rights organisation.  Meanwhile, the crux of the matter is that Jonathan should not pass on to the Borno elders the leadership responsibility for security and indeed a definitive solution to the problem.

The constitution puts the “welfare and security” of the people as the primary purpose of government and not that of Borno elders or any other group for that matter. So the security of the Borno and other states is the duty of Jonathan’s government. The Borno elders do not control security budgets and extra-budgetary votes.  They don’t control any force to counter Boko Haram. The other day, one of the elders, General Mohammed Shuwa was killed in one of the most secure parts of Maiduguri. That is not to deny that the elders have roles as community leaders in assisting government in finding solutions to the problem. Indeed all-good citizens should support government’s genuine efforts at finding solutions.

The truth, however, is that the Borno elders and others members of elite in the crisis-prone areas can only muster a moral weight. All what should be expected of these elders should perhaps not be more than open condemnation of the mindless killings, moral suasions and call for sanity. Long before now, the Borno elders had made public their proposal for solving the crisis, which is a fair mixture of security and political  solutions. 


It is perhaps instructive that while Jonathan talked tough Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno of Borno State, who lives with the nightmare, was drawing the President’s attention to “issue of peace negotiations especially with the recent offer of cease-fire made by the leadership of the Jama’atu Ahlil Sunnah Lidda’awati wal Jihad, Boko Haram in common parlance”. A committee set up by the Northern Governor’s Forum has also made similar suggestions about peace options. As Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto recently pointed out, the peace option represents one the “little windows” which should be left open to see what purpose it would eventually serve in the circumstance.


All this boils down to the broad strategy of this government to defeat terror anywhere in Nigeria. And like any strategy, the one required in this situation must have components that are not mutually exclusive. The suggestion of amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents  by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, has been criticised by those who have perhaps ruled out political solution as a component of the required strategy to solve the problem. It should not be forgotten so soon that the Sultan has been very clear in condemning the violence and disowning Boko Haram as an exemplar of Islam. He once said: “There is no conflict between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, there is only a conflict between good people and evil people”.

So if political solution is a component of the broad strategy the suggestion of an amnesty should not be found so offensive. If there is peace negotiation, granting of amnesty under certain conditions which the government many insist upon becomes a possibility. The call for amnesty is certainly without prejudice to the job the security organisations have to do on ground. The wisdom in the Sultan’s suggestion is that since force alone has not solved the problem, the window of peaceful resolution should not be closed.  


The President should offer more than tough talks; in the light of the various suggestions he should take another look at his strategy to defeat terror.

Tags: Backpage, Boko Haram, Borno elders, Goodluck Jonathan

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