A cry, a helpless cry, from a heart full of pain. It touched my heart and my eyes went rheumy. I am sure many of my compatriots, whatever the colour of their politics, ethnicity or religion, felt the same way too. I refer you to the Daily Trust lead story headline of February 18. It said: “Shettima to Jonathan: Let’s tackle Boko Haram.”
A plea from the bleeding heart of the young governor of Borno State, KashimShettima, the man whose admittedly exalted position only the ambitious and the unreasonable would envy today.An invitation to see the Boko Haram for what it is: a national challenge. Shettima and his people bear the brunt of the Boko Haram insurgency. He came into office at a time almost everyone thoughtthe insurgency was a passing nightmare; the storm that would wake up the sleeping giant of Africa and its leadersto the crises of neglect, poverty and the high misery index in an oil rich nation where white collar thieves in high places nonchalantly pocket billions of our common wealth and laugh in our faces.
But here we are.Three years after the young man took office, hoping to make a positive difference in the lives of his people and the development of his state, there is no let up in the violence. It gets worse.Each succeeding week tells thegory story of the enveloping tragedy spiraling out of control in the three north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa: mindless slaughters. According to Daily Trust statistics, between February 11 and 15 alone, 211 people, nine of them soldiers, were killed in Konduga and Gwoza areas of the state. The insurgents struck twice in each of these areas and either wiped out whole families or left orphans, widows and widowers and the destruction of property in their wake.
Every timethe Boko Haram insurgents mow down his poor and innocent people in different parts of the state duty compels Shettima to see the corpses of the innocent and console the bereaved – and all the time wondering, I would imagine, how he, the chief security officer of his state, cannot guarantee the security of his people. It is no small wonder.
Each incident raises genuine fears that the violence now in its fifth year would not end any time soon.And it paints the grim picture of the almost helplessness of a country that appears to have run out of a solution to an insurgency that has caged peace and security and arrested development in the north-east in general and Borno State in particular.
Security is the first duty that our constitution imposes on the Nigerian government. Indeed, a government anywhere in the world has two primary duties – the security and the economic well-being of the people. If a country gets theseright, all other things simply fall into place. It is difficult to put it more strongly than this: this country is not just bleeding from the Boko Haram insurgency; it is in the firm grip of and bleeding from a cocktail of security challenges. Yet, our leaders fiddle.
It would be both patently unfair and uncharitable to deny that the federal government has made efforts to contain the insurgency and end the violence. It has – and at a terrible human and resource cost too. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua sent in the army in 2009 to assist the police to contain the insurgency.
President Goodluck Jonathan has had to use the army and the air force. Yet, the Boko Haram insurgents get stronger and smarter. They appear to outwit our security forces and strike where, when and how they will – and simply melt into thin air to the discomfiture of the entire nation.
The Nigerian state thus faces a challenge from which it can neither retreat nor surrender. I believe it was in this context that Shettima made his heart felt plea to the president. Boko Haram is not Borno, Yobe or Adamawa problem. It is a national problem.
The federal government can argue that no can accuse it of abdicating its responsibility here. The presence of the army and the air force in full force is evidence that it is battling the insurgency. Yet, some of the best minds in security matters have argued that force alone could not rid the nation of the menace of Boko Haram. The stick without the carrot amounts to a scorch earth policy that has never succeeded even in wars between nations. The tongue has demonstrated time and again that it is a more potent force for lasting peace than the trigger.
I thought Jonathan was persuaded by this argument to set up the Galtimeri committee in the first place to advise him on how he could use the stick and the carrot to end the crisis. The committee submitted its report in 2011.I can find no evidence in the public domain that despite his promise to act on the report and “let the heavens fall,” Jonathan did anything about its findings and the recommendations.
Unfazed and perhaps to mollify public criticisms, Jonathan again set up the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North headed by his own minister for special duties, Alhaji Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, last year. Despite its longish title, the primary assignment of the committee was to explore ways and means of getting the insurgents to the round or square table for that matter. The committee has since submitted its findings and recommendations. Again, the president does not appear to act with the dispatch that the desperate and violent situation demands.
I, certainly, cannot be the only one who is worried that the work of this committee will also suffer the fate of several committees set up by Jonathan since he assumed office more than four years ago. It would be a pity, a great pity because it would enlarge the question mark on his commitment to ending the insurgency. No one is in any doubts that Boko Haram is an enormousnational challenge. It is not wise to meet such a challenge through pussyfooting or pious words. Perhaps, there are still elements in the Jonathan administration who see it as a problem confined to one part of the country. And since it does not stop the partying in the other parts why unduly bother? I tremble. So should you.
Shettima said that the insurgents are better armed and motivated than our armed forces. Doyin Okupe, a presidential spokesman, took exception to it, berated the governor and gave him a quick tutorial to dissolve the cloud of his gubernatorial ignorance on matters of security. Evidence that politics has sadly coloured the perception of this national tragedy.
So, if the report of the Turaki committee sleeps in the presidential cupboard and the insurgents continue with their reign of madness and slaughter and the important people dutifully condemn each incident through their spokesmen, the sun would still rise in the east, set in the west, and we would still believe that tomorrow has come for our country.