Borno state once regarded as the “home of peace and hospitality” can definitely not boast of that anymore. It is a little over a decade now that the war against insurgency began, in the same period it has been more of a roller coaster for this particular state.
At the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2012, 2013 and 2014, three states were mainly affected the most – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. However, since 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as president and thereafter new service chiefs emerged, even the biggest critics of the government agree that there has been massive improvement and success in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists across the country. From About 14 local government areas under Boko Haram control across the country to zero local government areas under their control by early 2017.
The army was losing territory in the early days of the battle or as seen in some video sometimes fleeing. But the same army under the leadership of Lt Gen Tukur Buratai changed the narrative and turned the tide. They put the insurgents on the run, and took back all territory hitherto occupied by the terrorists. From About 14 local government areas under Boko Haram control across the country to zero local government areas under their control by early 2017.This was a remarkable turning point in our history.
Many that were in Internally Displaced (IDP) camps were already returning home. The Buhari government was commended both home and abroad for these successes.
However while the progress and successes were sustained in states like Adamawa and Yobe, for Borno it is not so. I have pondered hard and tried to understand this trend. I wondered if it could be because of the way the insurgency started initially. If our memory is refreshed, I am sure we all remember how this Boko Haram menace itself started in Borno around 2007 when local politicians armed thugs and used them against opponents and for election purposes, of course after winning elections same youths were abandoned, from there they moved on to other groups under some religious guise and began terrorising the people.
Like fuel on fire their doctrine spread fast and more jobless youth were recruited into their fold and before the Nigerian state realised what was going on, it already had a hydra headed monster to deal with. Of course due to several reasons best known to the political elite in Borno state, we didn’t really see much vigour coming from them in condemning or rally support for the then federal government to tackle the criminals at the early stage.
Rather than unity of purpose amongst the elite then to support the efforts of the government and the military to erase the insurgents, the body language of the elders and stakeholders in the state was not encouraging. They criticised almost all government’s efforts then. They accused the military of high handedness in their attempt to crush the criminals.
Fast forward more than a decade after, the story remains the same. Whereas some other states have witnessed significant restoration of peace and order, Borno remains a major challenge. The amazing thing is the position of the elite is not so reassuring. As was the case several years ago when they demanded the withdrawal of the army from the streets of Borno during the days of President Jonathan, they have returned however subtly to make such frivolous demands again now.
One begins to wonder where the real interest of these elite and elders of Borno state lies. The truth is that the boko haram menace started in Borno state by Borno people, whether misguided youths or not. They are sons and brothers of the elders and elite of Borno. The problem of Boko Haram will not be sorted by military might alone.
The cooperation and support of Borno people and elders will be greatly required. We need to know what effort the elders and elite of Borno are making to preach peace and rally support for the work of the soldiers to win the war. What we hear daily is anti-army rhetoric from almost all levels of the elite society. The same army that has continued to pay the heavy price with the sacrifice of its men and women just so peace is returned to Borno state.
This is why I consider as unnecessary the recent consistent bashing of the army by Gov Zulum, agreed that the army like every other institution in the world may not be perfect but, they are the only singular reason after God, anyone in Borno can close their eyes to sleep. They are the ones that have to be on guard 24 hours of the 365 days in the year just to protect the lives and property of the good people of Borno state.
Issues around insecurity and fight against terrorist organisations are delicate topics that require great wisdom to handle. Gov Zulum appears to want to tow the populist line, which may not be too useful for success in the war against terrorist.
Whilst other states of the north east are celebrating a return of peace to their communities, farming activities picking up plus family life peaking. Borno’s case is not so. A little progress today, another slip backward tomorrow. What can be the reason for this flip-flop in this state? Is there something Borno is not telling us?
Zulum who is quick to criticise the army at the slightest slip and perhaps forgets to acknowledge many of their successes against the insurgents must tell us more about the “Borno Boko Haram” We don’t want to believe that Boko Haram terrorists and Borno are Siamese twins that cannot be separated. Zulum must come to equity with clean hands.
Is there anything the elite are doing that is festering the Boko Haram menace? Truth is, without the help of Borno people Nigeria cannot win the war against the terrorists in Borno state. Several ambush attacks on the military are carried out in areas where some locals may be aware of activities of these criminals who sometimes sojourn in particular communities for days before launching attacks against the army. It is crucial that the elite and elders of Borno take the campaign to their local communities on the need to support the military to end this war, so that peace can return to Borno as it has returned to the other states that had similar insecurity challenges.
Many of the Boko Haram/ISWAP fighters and collaborators are Borno sons and daughters. It is time for the elite and elders of Borno to come together and contribute their quota to the success of the war against insurgents. It is time to take the message to their local communities. The solution to end the war that started in Borno lies in Borno state, amongst Borno people. It will be futile waiting for people from outside Borno to come fix the problem while the Elite and elders of Borno stay aloof. Let charity begin at home!
It is time to cooperate and support the effort of the Buhari government to end this war once and for all. It is my fear, if this is not done now that a man like Buhari is president, will there be another opportunity soon, to get a man with this level of commitment and sincerity to end this menace?
Zulum and the elders of Borno state must seize this opportunity and moment to support the federal government and the Nigeria military to end the war now. Let the elite and elders expose and reject the sponsors and those aiding the activities of the terrorists. Once the local support is denied the terrorist, it is my strong belief that within a very short time the army will finish off the remnants of the criminals. However, before that can happen the elite of Borno must be in unity of purpose on the need to eliminate the terrorists from their midst as soon as possible.
Dr Okechukwu, a university lecturer, writes from Owerri, Imo state