by Hassan Gimba
I wrote the following on March 1, 2021. With what is happening, I find it still relevant, hence repeating it today.
I had intended to continue with the topic, ‘Nigeria and Presidential Democracy: Any Better Alternative? (3)’ but I had to suspend it; it is more of a proposal for the future. I had to look at what was immediate. Boko Haram (translated to mean Western education is a sin) advocates are threatening to overwhelm the North and impose their creed on a docile, perhaps Janus-faced, like people.
Since kidnapping for ransom became a fad on the Abuja-Kaduna road and in the bushes of the northwestern and central states of Nigeria, I started shouting here that it is a financial drive by Boko Haram. The kidnappers belong to their economic arm. They are only ignorant foot-soldiers being used as cannon fodder.
On December 24, 2018, I wrote on this page: “In the North West, armed bandits, perhaps Boko Haram with another face, are threatening to take over with Zamfara State almost under their control. It is under their control, well, almost, because they ransack communities at will, kill, maim and take as many as they can with them for ransom. The bandits can come to a marriage gathering and just demand the bride-to-be and she would be handed over to them, with thanks.
“The North Central has become a traveller’s nightmare—from Rijau, Birnin Gwari, Gwanin Gora, Rijana through Kaduna and down to the suburbs of the Plateau. One travels at one’s own risk as even four-star generals are not safe, being killed at will. Herdsmen kill every moving object and sack villages, burning everything to ashes. Kidnappers are also having a field day. Are some of them, especially the herdsmen and kidnappers, another face of Boko Haram, getting them the much-needed cash?
“Our security apparatuses possibly need a total overhaul and help from elsewhere. There has to be synergy among the different actors, and there is the need for modern policing methods and the revival of community policing.”
Yet two weeks later I again wrote: “We have been at war for quite a long time, but it became even more apparent with the return of the Dapchi girls. There was a real ceasefire when the girls were returned, the type we see in areas that are in a state of war, like Syria, Columbia with the FARC rebels and in parts of Congo and Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army operates.
“It is an actual war when a militant organisation can ‘force’ the Nigerian government to sit with it and an agreement brokered by international bodies under the international Law of Armed Conflict.
“The president was quoted as ordering his service chiefs not to allow the abductions of girls again. A citizen, in the first place, would expect the president to tell his service chiefs not to allow the abduction of any citizen, not only schoolgirls. All citizens are citizens and want to feel equal before the law or before the eyes of their president.
“Farmers and voiceless Nigerians are being abducted by those who have declared war on Nigeria, but we have allowed them to play the music while we dance to the tunes.
“And it is this sort of thinking by governments that makes the militants strong. The ordinary citizen sees them as strong and comes to see that his government cannot protect him. It makes the ordinary citizen lose confidence in the country. Little wonder some abducted Nigerians have switched allegiance while others hail the terrorists (as happened in Dapchi) as ‘saviours’ because the people of Dapchi and elsewhere saw the power that should live with their government being exercised by enemies of the state.
“What has happened to our intelligence-gathering ability, especially in front-line states like Borno and Yobe, that Boko Haram fighters would gather, strut confidently, and move in convoys, sacking military bases, villages and towns, at will? Yet our army cannot confront them without support from the air force? The implication is that our soldiers are no match for them.”
It is quite a wonder how scores of marauders riding motorcycles with sawed-off silencers can leave the bushes, come to towns, operate for hours and pick hundreds of students and return to the bushes unchallenged. In the not-so-distant past, our security agencies used to have operatives called “stool pigeons”. They were the backbone of human intelligence (HUMINT) gathering. Our security agencies could deploy them in strategic areas/locations as tailors, shoe shiners, water vendors, etc.
Now, such HUMINT operatives can be scattered across the towns such that the moment insurgents or their economic arm, the bandits, come out, the operational headquarters of our security agencies will be aware. They could be farmers, hunters, villagers and even herders who are all over the place.
The way the innocent child sees their father as a superhero who will give it protection is the way the innocent citizen should consider his country. Unfortunately, we are learning the hard way that in Nigeria, no matter what happens, life goes on. The people’s innocence has been deflowered, but most importantly, their confidence in their country has been shot to pieces. We should fear the day when the citizens will no longer have respect for a government or society that cannot protect its own.
But such is even what is already happening. For instance, it is because the government has not lived up to the expectations of the citizens that concerned individuals like Sheikh Ahmad Gumi are taking the bull by the horns. And on the negative side, we have people like Sunday Igboho taking the law into their hands to “rid their areas of menace”.
The terrorist is by nature a leach; give him an inch and he will take a mile. But the worst aspect of the whole thing is that it is as if the federal government is not aware that it is dealing with ruthless, very intelligent terrorist organisations that see whatever they are doing as mind games.
Because we have failed to protect the weak, governments are not concerned about the plight of abducted individuals; the bandits have now become more emboldened. They go for those that the government must talk about. And it is working for them because in doing so, they are forcing the hand of the government to do what they desire: the abolition of western education.
Our schools are no longer the safe havens they used to be. Students and staff leave in fear of those who will come and take them unchallenged. The worst is that even if they kill one while doing it, nothing happens. Students have been shot to death in the recent kidnappings, yet the kidnappers are being thanked for “releasing” others. Who is to be held accountable for the death of the student? Is there anyone willing or ready to make someone pay for that crime?
So, the government on its own is now closing down schools—exactly what the terrorists want. For how long, not even the government knows. More numbers are now being added to our millions of out-of-school kids we are yet to do anything for or about. What will Boko Haram-orchestrated out-of-school children be doing? Any plans by the government for them or would they be roaming the streets with their minds idle, becoming the devil’s workshop? Does that sound like the death knell of education in Nigeria, specifically the north?
As long as they (Government) will not bring criminals to justice, as long as we continue treating them (criminals) with kids’ gloves, so long shall we continue to play into their hands. They see how others were given “amnesty” and “deradicalised” for taking up arms against the state, wreaking havoc on communities and letting blood flow. They see that the worst that can happen to them is “condemnation”. But condemnations, like rebukes, are meant for those who recognise your authority over them. This class of criminals does not recognise the condemning authorities.
Of course, one can understand the dilemma facing the government. On the one hand, there is the need to assuage public outcry and parents’ concern, hence the negotiations. On the other, the military and various intelligence agencies are finding it hard to end the menace posed by the insurgents and the bandits who are being fed with enough seed money to recruit, train and buy more arms. It is Hobson’s choice for the government.
I want to leave us with a short story written by one Aigg Giwa-Amu: The President was informed. The information got to him at 11 pm on that fateful day. He placed a call to the Deputy Governor of the State and told him tersely “… if by 10 am the next morning, your sons in the Niger Delta do not release the hostages, grass shall not grow in that region for the remaining part of my 4 years Presidency…”
The deputy Governor went into the creeks that night to negotiate the release of the hostages. They were released at 9 am the next day. They were Italians, British and French. That President was Olusegun Obasanjo. That deputy Governor was Goodluck Jonathan.