Boko Haram : The challenges of insecurity in Borno State
The challenges of insecurity in Borno State
By KASHIM SHETTIMA
• Photo: The Sun Publishing
Search for peace, shared responsibility
Robert Fulghum, an American author, “Peace is not something you wish for, it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, something you give away.”
Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let none of us be in the illusion that anyone is doing the other a favour by charting the course of peace, not at all. When you seek peace for a troubled society, you are only seeking peace for yourself because a troubled society is eventually a neighbour to the very distant if not replaced with peace.
So, by gracing this summit, I am not doing favour to anyone, by inviting me, no favour is offered to me, rather, we have only shared efforts that we hope will translate to common peace. To me, seeking peace is but a mutual endowment because I share the wisdom of Elie Wiesel, a Romanian-born Jewish American writer, professor, journalist, political activist and Nobel Laureate who said and I quote: “Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to His creatures, peace is our gift to each other”.
Now, this clearly implies, in my view, that the super rich, the rich, the elite, the middle class and as leaders in particular, we either make things right by improving the living standards of the poor, those beneath and around our neighbourhood so they can have peace of mind and we also live peacefully or we make ourselves and families comfortable, live in highbrow areas, travel abroad when we want for leisure, allow things go wrong and at the end of the day, like it is today, the generation of the poor take up arms and everyone, including those in power, the super rich, the rich and the poor, lives in perpetual fear, with the peace that some of us take for granted disappearing into thin air.
There is no gainsaying that these security challenges have affected virtually all nooks and crannies of the country and have permeated all aspects of our national life. There is no question however that the epicenter of the unfortunate crisis confronting Nigeria is the North East geo-political zone in general and Borno State (of which I am the Chief Security Officer) in particular. I am, therefore, bound by both logic and expedience to confine my contribution to events in that state.
Borno State, one of Nigeria’s federating units, which prides itself as the “Home of Peace”, has been in the news since July 2009 for the wrong reasons. The typical headlines on and about our dear state are coordinated and uncoordinated bombings, sporadic gun battles, raiding of police stations, targeted killings, drive-by shootings, etc. All of these were unknown to us and seemed distant until the 2009 insurgency mounted by the extremist Islamist sect, Jama’atu Ahis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, referred to in common parlance as Boko Haram.
The military conclusion to the conflict, decapitation of its leadership and inability to manage the outcome democratically through established institutions of state may have contributed to the spiraling of the crisis out of control. Borno State has borne the brunt of the insurgency which has led to the loss of so many lives, loss of livelihood of numerous others, burning and looting of business premises, market stalls, whole markets, public schools, recreation centres, etc.
On top of this are the loss of man-hours due to shortened working hours by banks and commercial institutions and the unprecedented loss of man-hours or closure of businesses by those who work at night due to the curfew consequent on the state of emergency. This has affected the informal but widespread sector of the local economy such as suya, shayi, kosai vendors who eke out their living on day-to-day basis. There is no valid statistical data on the economic and social implications of the conflict but they must be enormous. For in spite of the resilience of our people and their faith in our determination to restore peace, normalcy has not returned to our state.
The level of insecurity manifests itself in the following:
1.The wanton and indiscriminate loss of lives, which runs into thousands.
2.The dislocation of the local economy with serious implications for the living conditions of the inhabitants.
3.Closure of schools due to fire-bombing of educational facilities, which has put a lot of stress on existing facilities and created a climate of fear among pupils and parents.
4.The psychological trauma of victims and survivors of the crisis, especially children and young adults.
Peace and Development
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is conventional wisdom that there can be no development without peace. The search for peace has been the major preoccupation of my administration since assumption of office. It is still the most pressing priority, all in the belief that there cannot be development in an atmosphere of violence such as we find ourselves in right now. Even though peace is often defined as the opposite of war, this is not always the case, for peace is not the converse of war. Peace is not only the absence of violence but the existence of a conducive environment for the pursuit of economic livelihood and happiness.
Insecurity in Borno State: The Causes
The circumstances that led to the current unfortunate situation in our state and neighbouring areas arose from long years of neglect and structural violence on our people by successive governments, which had failed to address their deplorable existential conditions. The retreating state, dwindling economic resources, visionless ruling class steeped in conspicuous consumption in the midst of abundant poverty created a fertile environment for Boko Haram to thrive. The violence meted out on our people by social conditions such as poverty, exclusion, want, oppression and fear is more grievous than physical violence.
Any society experiencing these levels of deprivation cannot be said to be peaceful. The transition from physical to structural violence is often imperceptible but predictable.
In more specific terms, we argue that the low-level insurgency playing out in the streets of our towns and villages across the nation, but especially in Borno State, is a direct consequence of a combination of factors, chief among which are youth unemployment and under-employment, acute poverty, political thuggery, endemic corruption, proliferation of arms and ammunition augmented by the peculiar geo-political setting of Borno State neighbouring three countries of Chad, Cameroun and Niger, a sub-region generally known for political upheaval and insecurity, and above all religious extremism and terrorism.
By the late 1980s, graduate unemployment in both the public and private sectors of the Nigerian economy had started becoming an issue, and with the placement of embargo on employment by governments at all levels in the 1990s, the problem assumed an endemic proportion. Graduates of tertiary institutions were thrown onto the streets, secondary school leavers who could not proceed to higher institutions thereby making them idle, hungry and fending for themselves, and therefore, making them easy prey for advocates of all manner of anti-social behaviour and criminal tendencies.
The advent of the boom in the 1970s and the resultant easy access to petrol-dollar were to lead to the near total neglect of arguably the largest shock absorber and driving force of the economy. One attendant consequence of this situation, among many others, was the collapse of the agro-allied industries, especially in the northern states. Majority of our people were forced out of agro-based labour, thus joining the bandwagon of the unemployed resulting in acute poverty stretching down to the level of the average household.
To make matters even worse, the north east geo-political zone is by far the least patronised over the years by the federal government in terms of the presence of capital projects and programmes. The combined effect of all these on the exacerbation of poverty, neglect and deprivation can only be imagined. Little wonder then that the north east zone of which Borno State is an integral part is, even by the contention of the World Bank, one of the poorest sub-regions in the world.
In addition to the foregoing was the advent in the 4th Republic, i.e. the current democratic dispensation, of political thuggery at an unprecedented scale. Departing from the traditions of the previous democratic republics, thuggery came to assume an institutional dimension with groups such as Ecomog in Borno, Kalare in Gombe, Sara-Suka in Bauchi and Yan Tauri in Kano, Area Boys in Lagos, Bakassi Boys in the East, to mention a few, holding away. As we all know, their stock in trade includes but is not limited to ballot box snatching, attacks on (and even killing of) perceived and real political opponents and putting general fear and insecurity in the minds of the people and making politics generally violence-prone.
In fact, in many cases they are being used as political bodyguards, thereby taking laws into their own hands and unleashing terror without recourse to the rule of law, and I dare say, with impunity.
To say that corruption has become endemic in Nigeria, is to state the obvious. The criminal resort to the massive stealing from the commonwealth of Nigerians by public office holders and other state officials has served as a major impediment for national development and for alienating and frustrating the vast majority of the Nigerian people, especially the youths. The situation has in no small measure served to breed crime and terrorism in Nigeria in general and in our dear state in particular.
The relatively higher level of proliferation of arms and ammunition in the north east axis can be attributed to the instability and armed conflicts experienced in some African countries, including Chad, Sudan, the DR Congo, the Central African Republic and Libya. Being the gateway to Nigeria from North and Central Africa, and given the porosity of the international borders our state share with Chad, Cameroun and Nigeria, Borno State has served as a natural route for the passage of illegal persons, arms and ammunition into Nigeria.
The situation has greatly assisted the cause of the Boko Haram insurgency and other forms of violent crimes being perpetrated in the country. It is this objective economic, social and political condition prevailing across the length and breadth of Nigeria and the north east of Nigeria of which Borno State is the historical nerve centre that an emergent form of Islamist extremism represented by Boko Haram has exploited and fed on for its survival. It is therefore only appropriate, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, for me to dwell briefly on the disturbing phenomenon currently afflicting our state.
Over the more than one thousand years that Islam has taken its roots in Borno, it, indeed, has affected the lives of our people positively, and has, through its doctrines, guided our daily lives and interpersonal relations ranging from social to economic interactions. As an integral part of our existence, the Borno region stands proud in its Islamic history that had been long in existence even when Usman Dan Fodio was waging jihad on communities. In this regard, even the emergence of colonialism in 1900 recognised the fundamental supremacy of Islam and its values and did not alter and or manipulate the Islamic values and traditions. The virtues of tolerance, being your brother’s keeper, good neighbourliness, social justice, accountability and honest leadership were – and still are – the hallmarks and enduring legacies of Islam in our state and, indeed, our lives.
Borno was a model, a standard of what was good in the African culture, a pride of the Blackman everywhere and our history was compared to that of the Ottomans and Sa’adi Morocco, some of the oldest and most impressive dynasties in the world. Borno as a society was, and still remains, a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic as well as multi-religious society. This heterogeneity often referred to as a melting pot was sustained by a tolerance of dissenting views. Tolerance, moderation and accommodation were the traits that made us great as a people and as a society. Once the fundamental right of the other person to hold opinion is abridged, there can never be peace and harmony.
The current state of insecurity and deplorable state of affairs is not unconnected with the attempt to impose the opinion of a small group on a larger society, a situation which clearly abridges the freedom to freely hold and express one’s opinion which is fundamental and inalienable in any given society.
We, as a society, have had our fair share of instability and even wars in our chequered history, including the sacking of Birnin Ngazargamu by the jihadists in 1808, Rabih’s invasion and occupation in 1893 and the Maitatsine riots of the 1980s. In all these crises, destructive and vicious as they were, the wars did not degenerate into killing of innocent souls, targeting of public recreational centres, places of worship in a sustained and protracted manner, as we sadly witness today. The targeting of innocent and unarmed civilians, regardless of their ethnicity, race and or religious beliefs, is alien not only to our norms and culture, but to the fundamental doctrines of Islam.
Distinguished guests, going by the present spate of things, how can a true Muslim explain, let alone profoundly justify, the current unfortunate cold-blooded murders and bombings in the name of Islam? Islam means “peace and submission to the will of God” and thus it should remain so, in both theory and practice. This was the understanding of our forefathers, theirs is the true meaning of Islam in both letter and spirit.
In the history of our society, our leaders had responded to the challenges of their day, similar in gravity, similar to the unfortunate situation we are undergoing today, with utmost sense of restraint and without recourse to violence. The response of the Borno leadership under Sheikh Muhammad El-Kanemi to the attack in Borno and allegations of un-Islamic practices at the beginning of the nineteenth century was clear, simple and straightforward. In his efforts to ensure peace, he carried out a series of theological, legal and political debates through letters with Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, and later with his son, Muhammad Bello. “We are Muslims and Muslims do not harm innocent souls, much less fellow Muslims; any interpretation or understanding of Islam which justifies killing of innocent people is condemnable and should be rebuked in toto”.
Distinguished guests, long years of peace, progress and social harmony for which Borno has come to be associated with the world over were hinged on the concepts and principles of tolerance and moderation. We must then return to the basics and embrace the path of tolerance, forbearance and moderation if we are to progress as a people, as a society, a state and to compete nationally and internationally. A situation where the name of our dear state, an epitome of peace, degenerates to signify violence with evoking fear to outsiders, and trepidation in residents, leading to lack of free movement to attend day-to-day activities, is clearly unacceptable.
Our administration has already clearly stated its readiness to open channels of communication with all aggrieved sections of the society with a view to bringing this despicable trend to an end. Our doors are open for constructive dialogue and a speedy resolution to this state of insecurity. I say unto you my brothers what Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, said at the burial of his brother, Wali Ahmed Karzai, some few months ago.
“….My message for them (Taliban) is that my countrymen, my brothers, should stop killing their own people. It is easy to kill and everyone can do it, but the real man is the one who can save people’s lives”.
Islam always sanctioned the killing of non-Muslims and the destruction of their places of worship. In the early phase of Islam, when Muslims were persecuted by the Makkan pagans, they sought refuge in present-day Ethiopia, under a Christian king, Negus. The Muslims stayed in Ethiopia for 15 years and all entreaties by the Makkan leaders for Negus to deport them were rebuffed by the just, Christian king. Allah (SWT) has said:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Qur’an Ch. 2:256).
Once again, I wish to beseech my brothers in the Jama’atu Ahlul Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad to lay down their arms and come and dialogue with us for indeed this is the only way we can move our beleaguered state and country forward.
The way forward
We are committed to the development of our state and the first step to achieving this is through peace building, conflict transformation and mediation. I have, times without number, and at different fora, called for dialogue as the best route to peace and development. This is based on our firm belief that all conflicts, no matter how difficult or intractable they look, are ultimately settled through dialogue.
For us in Borno State, as we will outline clearly in the course of the presentation, building peace out of our current precarious situation remains our priority development agenda. This is a priority because our conception of development is people-centred. It is about real improvement in the existential conditions of our people. We are committed to the human security paradigm, which is based on the twin concepts of freedom from fear and freedom from want. This is the surest way of guaranteeing peace and security.
This government is committed to open, transparent, accountable and inclusive governance. This way, our people will learn to trust their leaders and bridge the trust deficit between leaders and the led. For lack of trust and deficit of leadership are some of the underlying reasons for our current predicament. We are committed to fully cooperating with the federal government and all its agencies in the bid to restore peace in Borno State. However, because we believe that an enduring and sustainable peace cannot be built by military force alone, we have decided to embark on measures aimed at restoring peace. Some of these include but are not limited to the following:
1.Openness and transparency in governance at levels with a view to earning the confidence of the citizens so that they can see government as truly theirs. Government must not only work but must be seen to be working for us to rekindle our people’s confidence in government and their elected leaders. Democracy is about the people owning the process.
In an attempt to improve the living condition of our people, we have embarked on numerous programmes of job creation, skills acquisition, poverty alleviation, empowerment and capacity building programmes. Specifically, government has compensated all victims of the recent crisis as submitted by the committee set up by government which collated the data. Procurement and distribution of 5,000 Keke-NAPEP tricycles and 100 buses to ease intra-city transport within and outside the state capital.
It has also purchased foodstuff worth N2 billion and distributed same and collaborating with micro-finance banks to provide soft loans to our farmers and traders. Government has visited Egypt and Thailand to borrow experiences to increase food production in the state, especially farming in the Chad Basin, and entered into memorandum of understanding towards changing farming methods. The whole mantra is on increase in yield and we intend to unleash the potential of our youth by investing N10 billion into the agricultural sector.
In the same vein, government has put in place a machinery to create 500,000 jobs to address grassroots socio-economic empowerment drive, total overhaul of the education sector, infrastructural renovation and improvements and putting in place quality assurance monitoring taskforce and enhancement of the feeding system to encourage children to attend and stay in school. In addition, vocational and farming skills acquisition centres are being provided and rehabilitated while all our dormant industries are receiving attention and very soon they will engage substantial number of the unemployed.
We are also collaborating with all donor agencies and relevant federal agencies such as ETF, DFID, IDB, UBEC, the EU, etc to access funds for the development of the state. The ultimate aim is to engage the pool of unemployed and redirect their energy to productive use while restoring their dignity and self-esteem. This way, some of the drivers of radicalisation will be eliminated. So far, N7 billion has been spent on education, N3 billion has been kept aside for the take-off of the state university next month (May 2012).
In the health sector, government has commissioned five new general hospitals at Rann, Briyel, Chinob, Askira and Gudumbai, and for our first year anniversary, intends to recommission the fully rehabilitated general hospitals at Dikwa, Kwaya, Kusar, Ruwan, Zafi, Nursing Home, Maiduguri and at Biu and adequate drugs/vaccines have been provided to kick out polio and other killer diseases in the state.
2.Our politics should be devoid of thuggery and violence. It must be conducted in decorum and the winner-takes-all syndrome should be de-emphasised for an inclusive and participatory democracy. Those who suggest that the Boko Haram insurgency is a response to failure of the democratic experiment are not far off the mark.
At our level, consultation and consensus building is a continuous exercise. We have engaged and continue to engage stakeholders such as traditional rulers, religious leaders, opinion moulders and other stakeholders in the search for peace. Very soon, we shall convoke a Borno Peace Summit where a comprehensive roadmap to sustainable peace shall be drawn up. The retreating state, dwindling economic resources, visionless ruling class steeped in conspicuous consumption in the midst of abundant poverty created a fertile environment for Boko Haram to thrive.
However, all these measures require collective effort of all the states of the federation and the federal government to reduce idleness, serious effort at providing quality education to all citizens irrespective of where they come from, re-orientation of the Nigerian political processes and elimination of thuggery and violence in the system while ensuring that honesty and fear of God is entrenched in the political dispensation. No society can achieve its objectives in a chaotic environment as peace and harmony are prerequisites for any meaningful development.
For those opposed to any form of rapproachment with the Boko Haram, I refer you to what John F. Kennedy famously said: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate”. Life is a continuum for the resolution of conflicts. Unless we want to engage in an endless war of attrition, it is irrational and defeatist to foreclose any discussion with the sect, especially with the moderate elements of the Boko Haram.
Pursuant to this partnership, we call on the federal government to immediately engage all stakeholders and initiate the process of articulating a comprehensive blueprint for addressing the scourge of poverty and deprivation in Nigeria. I specifically enjoin the federal government to come up with a marshal plan for the north east geo-political zone in the same way it did for the Niger Delta to tackle the twin menace of poverty and insecurity. Integral to that marshal plan should be the recharging of the dwindling Lake Chad, the water resource which has the potential of positively transforming the lives of more than 30 million people.
Finally, while thanking the organisers of this security summit once again, I would like to reiterate that for every problem, there is a solution and therefore, we should give serious thought on how best to solve these security challenges using internal mechanism through honest and sincere leadership, elimination of poverty, ensuring the provision of education for all and re-awakening our consciousness about the concept of God, religion and world existence to ensure social justice, equality and access to means of livelihood and fundamental human rights of all people of our dear nation.
I am optimistic that the outcome of this summit will unchain us from our current quagmire and create a path for the attainment of peace, unity and brotherhood. I leave you with the word of Richard Nixon, “The greatest honour history can bestow is the title of Peacemaker. This is our summons to greatness”.
Thank you for your attention and ma’assalam.
•Hon. Kashim Shettima, governor of Borno State, delivered this paper, titled: The Imperatives of Peace and Development: The Challenges of Insecurity in Borno State, at the recently concluded International Security Summit on Terrorism and Other Related Crimes organised by The Sun Publishing Limited, in collaboration with QUE Communications Limited.