The seeming recent castigation of the military by Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum has revived new posers in Nigeria’s grapple with terrorism. That poser is: who is the Nigeria military fighting in its anti-terrorism war? The answer to this poser would be instructive in how Boko Haram’s campaign of terror would be ended.
The Borno State Governor’s convoy had come under attack from gunmen as he made his way to go distribute relief materials in a part of the state. The jury is still out as to whether that attack was the handwork of Boko Haram or something more insidious that could herald new variables in the security breaches that are plaguing the Lake Chad Basin.
If these new variables do arise, they will not be quite new in the sense that the people of Borno state and environ are no strangers to treachery from people who should ordinarily protect them by virtue of the responsibility imposed by their office. These leaders however turn around to be the very thorn in the flesh of their constituents. Scholars have traced the root of Boko Haram to the political class, which empowered fanatical hoodlums to advance their political fortunes; they engaged in treacherous acts like promising the strict implementation of Sharia code to impassioned youth just so that they can use these urchins to deal with political opponents, something that is not quite possible in a country governed by a secular constitution, only to walk back on the same promise when they have gained office.
It bears mentioning that opportunities were lost to tame the genie that was set free from the bottle in the early days of Boko Haram. Rather than owning up to the crime they have committed in producing the conditions that created the terrorists, politicians in Borno misled the whole of Nigeria until the terror group was born. Latter efforts by the military and security agencies to clear the state of these criminal met with all manners of resistance. Some of these politicians went as far as providing shelter for wanted Boko Haram members and this is not forgetting that under the previous administration, the political class in Borno state freed scores of high-profile terrorists by simply citing orders from above whenever troops arrested them.
The tantrum thrown by Governor Zulum is therefore worrisome because it flags other prospects in the nation’s anti-terrorism war. Just who is the Nigerian Army, the entire military, fighting in Nigeria’s northeast? This question is pertinent because there is more than meets the eye if the governor of Borno state is the one verbally, and even actively, putting the military down for terrorists. It raises the possibility that while the officers and men of the Nigerian Army and the other military branches are patriotically laying down their lives to defeat Boko Haram, politicians, with some as high ranking as the governor, are actually interested in sustaining the insurgency. Only such interest will make Governor Zulum diss the military to the point where he thinks local hunters could do the job.
Whatever support Governor Zulum plans to give local hunters to protect his state from terrorists would certainly lead to the total eradication of Boko Haram if same is extended to the Nigerian military. A quick note here is that support in this sense does not refer to buying Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), feeding allowance or mundane material support because giving those to hunters will not yield much. One can safely infer that the kind of support that Zulum has in mind when he mentioned hunters as alternatives will involve rallying the traditional and religious institutions behind them in addition to rapidly rebuilding communities so that the people will have the sense of purpose that will empower them to reorganize into societies that will contribute to defeating the insurgency.
But Zulum is not doing any of these in support of the government troops, rather he is pursuing an agenda that has all the markings of being inimical to the collective desire for peace by Nigerians. His attempt to set the troops up by crying about sabotage in the military when he is not the President or the Chief of Army Staff smells foul. It shows that something is wrong and curiously it appears he was given a script to act by those that have decided against the run of play that the service chief must leave office on the erroneous impression that they must be converted into civil servants, a position that has now been dismissed by better informed Nigerians.
The politicization of the terrorist activities in Borno state has taken a dangerous direction in that the politicians have become vociferous in attacking the military even when it is apparent that is they who need lessons in patriotism because if there is anyone that wants the crisis to continue it is Borno politicians with their associates and not a patriotic military. The extent to which they have thrown caution to the wind is such that one of them, Zullum’s cabinet member went on record to accuse that the the military is in Baga to trade in fish. While nothing can be farther from the truth than this, the damage is nonetheless done because the local population will withhold support from the military on account of spurious tales like this. It seems Governor Zulum’s outburst was not a spontaneous reaction but something that has been rehearsed to further sour relations between the local population and the military. He will have to prove that he did what he did without malice.
Even when malice has been ruled out for Zulum, his associates and the political class in the state, it becomes necessary to interrogate if and how they benefit from the insurgency. At the start of the insurgency, the political class had hired these terrorists to snuff the life out of opponents, they had used their “boys” to commit copycat opportunistic crimes that were attributed to terrorists, politicians have benefitted from violence keeping people away from voting so that they can win elections in which they are not popular, they have gained from collecting allocations that they not have to account for since they can use Boko Haram violence as justification for not executing contracts for which they and their cronies have taken money. None of these political criminalities diminished under Zulum, who may now be aiming to worsen the insurgency so that the political class of that state may further rape its treasury. Maybe unknowingly, the governor is caving into a political class that prefer that the state continue to remain in perpetual chaos than the peace which the military has continued to fight to gift Nigerians.
Unfortunately, this same military is now being accused of sabotaging government’s efforts in Borno State. One would be right to ask, “what efforts?” Can Zulum show his administration’s blueprint towards ending the insurgency? He should ask the neighbouring states what they did to make their states unattractive to Boko Haram terrorists. He should think of calling for a summit of Borno sons and daughters to debate the issues.
The Governor cannot take such proactive step as long as he continues to fraternize with Borno’s political class, the cause of the problem and fuel that has kept its fire burning. For him to marshal the bravery needed for such shift he must first stop his predisposition to blame game and addiction to lamentation. Borno might have been suffering for long but the solution lies within Zulum’s grasp alongside his associates in the state. Additionally, he must accept that the military, other security agencies and the Civilian JTF alone cannot solve the problem. There must be leadership and public mobilization against the Boko Haram terrorists and that is where he comes in as the Governor, in whom the electorate have entrusted the mandate to restore their lives to normalcy.
For the sake of the people of Borno state and families that have borne the brunt of the insurgency, let us all hope that Zulum does not get his wish of having the military leave Borno state for him and his hunters. Should that happen, Zulum will not have the luxury of staging an attack on himself because the beasts that the political class of his state has reared will tear him to shreds.
What the Governor should do is to play his own part, which includes learning to keep quiet and shun theatrics while calling his associates to order so that the military will know what enemies it is fighting on behalf of the nation.
Muhammadu is a public affairs analyst and wrote this piece from Abuja.