“I have restrained myself from blaming the previous government for the emergence of Boko Haram, but the fact of the matter is that Ali Modu Sheriff allowed his ego to stand in the way of a dispute between the army and followers of Mohammed Yusuf.. Ali Modu Sheriff mismanaged the crisis by ignoring the situation, and he played into the hands of the insurgents,” Shettima said.
He also said that until a fact finding mission during his courtesy call at the Government House in Maiduguri in 2013, former President Jonathan initially believed the conspiracy theory which said northerners in the opposition were using Boko Haram to destabilize his administration.
“The President’s (Goodluck Jonathan) revelation was an indication that he didn’t understand the crisis before March, 2013. Whether his initial lack of understanding of the situation caused his ineffective response to the crisis before 2013, is a matter for conjecture.” he added.
“I came into office in the midst of the Boko Haram crisis in 2011. As at that time, the insurgents had began serial assassinations and planting of IEDs mainly in Maiduguri metropolis, which was, and now even more so, the most populated part of the State.
Last month, my predecessor Governor Ali Modu Sheriff issued a political statement. In it, he implied that as at the time he handed over to me in 2011, Boko Haram had asserted territorial control and carried out its atrocities within Maiduguri only. According to him, Boko Haram wasn’t in control of local government areas. His statement, designed as it were to aim a cheap political shot, simply stood down both the facts and internal dynamics of the Boko Haram terror strategy. The thesis, yet to be punctured, is that the spread of Boko Haram was a consequence of creating and nurturing the enabling environment that started it in the first place, and that consciously carved out niches for it in governance and society.
Two years before I came into office, specifically, in July, 2009 when the Boko Haram launched its first major, concurrent attacks in Maiduguri, its cells carried out similar attacks in Damasak, headquarters of Mobbar Local Government Area in Borno State. Cells, then yet to become active, existed alongside visible followers in other local government areas. In fact, the Boko Haram which spread to Bauchi (Bauchi State) and Potiskum (Yobe State) from Borno State attacked targets in these states within the same July, 2009. Boko Haram was by this time everywhere in Borno State.
I have restrained myself from blaming the previous Governor but the fact of the matter is that Governor Ali Modu Sheriff allowed his ego to override his actions by failing to amicably settle the violent disagreements that ensued between a group of armed forces and followers of the Boko Haram sect in 2009, who at that time were known as Yusufiyya. Between 2008 and 2009, the late Mohammed Yusuf was a regular critique of Sheriff’s administration in some of his sermons, I do not know the basis of their problems.
Then, in June, 2009, there were disagreements between Yusuf’s followers and an anti-robbery squad code named, ‘Operation Flush’. The disagreements were over the use of crash helmets in Maiduguri which resulted in one of the armed personnel in Operation Flush firing at 17 followers of the sect. I think the security agent said they attempted disarming him or so. It is true that the Boko Haram members had clear disregard for the policy on motorcycle safety (anti-crash) helmet and didn’t wear it. But after a serious incident involving armed forces and a radical Islamic group, a Governor in his normal senses would at least visit victims of the shooting, even settle their medical bills to lay foundation for peaceful resolution and also set up a panel of Inquiry over the shooting of 17 radical sect members.
We all saw how Governor Nasiru El-Rufai quickly set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry over the Shiites crisis with the Army in Zaria, and a white paper has since been issued. But in the case of the June, 2009 Boko Haram crisis with Operation Flush in Maiduguri, then Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff mismanaged the crisis by blatantly ignoring the entire incident. The Governor was in Maiduguri when the incident happened but he neither set up at least a Commission of Inquiry after the incident nor did he visit those shot and hospitalized while he also didn’t send anyone and didn’t settle medical bills of victims.
Sheriff acted as if nothing happened. At the end, he played into the hands of the insurgents. It is possible that some of the insurgents wanted a Jihad to declare their kind of Islamic State and Sheriff’s inactions and negligent disposition gave Mohammed Yusuf an opening to mobilize his followers and declare a Jihad. Radical groups normally seek basis to justify actions. And so, Mohammed Yusuf told his followers that the silence of the Borno Government was an indication that the attack on his followers was orchestrated by the Government and he threatened a retaliation. About a month after his threat, we had the first major attack in July, 2009. It was after that attack that Sheriff set up one committee to look into the whole incident, long after substantial damage had been done.
In 2010, the more vicious Abubakar Shekau emerged on the scene as a more offensive and daring catalyst. He threatened reprisals which have brought us to where we are today. As indicated earlier, the transition from Yusufiyya to Boko Haram under Shekau, dispatch of outposts outside Maiduguri in Borno State and to Yobe and Bauchi, all planned and coordinated from headquarters in Borno, had become contrived fait accompli under Governor Ali Modu Sheriff. We all know for instance, that President Barack Obama opposed the 2002 invasion of Iraq. He was a state Senator then and took part in campaigns against that invasion.
It was President Bush that dragged the United States to the war in Iraq but then it was President Obama’s administration that suffered the consequence of that war in Iraq and as we have seen, the Democrats lost at the November, 2016 US elections. In our case, we inherited in 2011 a violent group which melted into the public, disguised, silently mobilizing its adherents and deploying its fighters all over the nucleus and contiguous states in the typical fashion of a home grown insurgency with a broader political objective. The Boko Haram insurgency has led to deaths of almost 100,000 persons going by the estimates of our community leaders over the years. Two million, one hundred and fourteen thousand (2,114,000) persons have become internally displaced as at December of 2016 with five hundred and thirty seven thousand, eight hundred and fifteen (537,815) in separate camps; 158,201 are at official camps that consists of 6 centres with 2 transit camps at muna and custom house both in Maiduguri. There are 379,614 IDP’S at 15 satellite camps comprising of Ngala, Monguno, Bama, Banki, Pulka, Gwoza, Sabon Gari and other locations in the state. 73,404 persons were forced to become refugees in neighboring countries with Niger having 11,402 and Cameroon having 62,002.
We have an official record of 52,311 orphans who are separated and unaccompanied. We have 54,911 widows who have lost their husbands to the insurgency and about 9,012 have returned back to various communities of Ngala, Monguno, Damboa,Gwoza and Dikwa. Based on the post insurgency Recovery and Peace Building Assessment (RPBA) Report on the Northeast which was jointly validated by the World Bank, the European Union, the Presidency and the 6 States of the Northeast, the Boko Haram has inflicted damages to the tune of 9 billion US Dollars in the region. Of this amount, the destructions in Borno State amounts to 6 billion US Dollars and they are supported by grim statistics.
A total of 956,453 private houses representing 30 % of the total number of houses in Borno were destroyed across the 27 local government areas in the State. A total of 665 municipal buildings comprising state ministries, LGA buildings, prisons, police stations and power distribution offices were destroyed in Borno. 5,335 classrooms and other school buildings were destroyed in 512 primary schools, 38 secondary schools and two tertiary institutions in the State. 201 health centres, mostly primary healthcare clinics, dispensaries and some General Hospitals were all destroyed. The insurgents also destroyed 726 power substations and distribution lines just like they destroyed 1,630 water sources including motorized boreholes, hand pumps, solar powered boreholes and facilities for piped water schemes. Across 16 local government areas of the State, the insurgents bombed parks, gardens, orchards, game reserves, Green Wall projects and poisoned ponds, Rivers, Lakes and stole over 500,000 cattle. All these were in addition to setting ablaze markets, large scale farms and hundreds of trucks that evacuated farm produce for export to neighboring countries.
Today, hundreds of well-known rich farmers and transporters, among many others of the mercantile class, have become thoroughly pauperized and rendered dependent on food aid. Thousands of children have suffered various degrees of acute malnutrition either due to long stay in captivity and entrapment or due to complex problems associated with the management of IDPs. These include poor humanitarian relief delivery method (initially experienced), and cases of diversion of food by officials and volunteers. Painfully and paradoxically there are also cases of some of the IDPs cashing out their food by selling at below market prices to heartless profiteers.
Those rent seeking IDPs would then return to their camps wearing faces of neglect, hunger and hopelessness. This is the desperation borne out of supposed self-help that sometimes aggravates the scarcity of basic essentials of life among the IDPs.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, of all the impacts of the Boko Haram menace including the hugely expensive and time consuming reconstruction, resettlement and rehabilitation process, as well as supporting security agencies in the discharge of their counter-insurgency duties, I dare say that what has been the worst headache is managing the humongous humanitarian crisis, particularly managing both formal and informal IDP camps.
On one hand, there are IDPs who accept to be registered and admitted into camps. On the other hand, there are those who have set up their own camps themselves. They have defied all entreaties to relocate to the formal camps. In both camps, there are crisis of children and adults living in constant need of food, medications and habitable environment. International humanitarian agencies and NGOs have been of tremendous assistance and so are their local counterparts.
The problem, however, is that there are also the so-called NGOs who are mainly into humanitarian aid to divert donor funds. What is most worrisome in all of these, is that because the people of Borno State are beneficiaries of interventions, our Government is easily accused of not being appreciative when we ask questions. It is true that most humanitarian agencies announce the amount of resources they require or have spent, but certainly, the Borno State Government is mostly not involved in their procurements. Nor in the withheld “distribution” of undelivered humanitarian relief supplies.
The Murtala Muhammed Foundation have asked me to speak about my experiences and lessons for our diverse country and this brings me to CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND THE PRAXIS OF INACTION.
For me, the most critical experience and lesson I have had and learnt within the last five years, has been the power of conspiracy theories and how they can strongly undermine the fight against insecurity and the management of the humanitarian crisis. In the first place, the Boko Haram insurgency grew from strength to strength because of an initial conspiracy theory which began after the 2011 general elections.
Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen, after the Boko Haram carried out its first suicide attack on the headquarters of the Nigerian Police Force in June 2011 and a later attack on the UN building in August, both in Abuja, a conspiracy theory emerged immediately alleging that the Boko Haram was set up by Muslim-majority northern leaders to target Christians and make Nigeria ungovernable for His Excellency, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
Given the fact that both attacks took place in June and August, which were within three months after President Jonathan was sworn-in, this conspiracy hypothesis immediately assumed a life of its own. Those who believed the theory did not care to recall that the first major attacks by Boko Haram in Borno and Bauchi states which took place in June 2009, had occurred under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, a Northern Muslim from Katsina State. The proponents of this ridiculous conspiracy theory didn’t care to recall that a Northern Muslim from Kaduna State was actually the Director-General of President Jonathan’s 2011 elections campaign. Surprisingly, when it suited their narrow political agenda even pro-Jonathan northerners propagated that the insurgency reflected the collective will of the Northern opposition to undermine the federal government.
What that meant in effect, was that the theory changed from all Northerners using Boko Haram to undermine Jonathan into a narrower theory that northerners in the opposition were using Boko Haram to destabilize Jonathan’s administration. The end result was an alibi for the state not to admit its failure to rout the Boko Haram at the earliest opportunity.
It appeared the President himself initially believed the conspiracy theory. For instance, when he visited Borno State on Thursday, 13th of March, 2013, President Jonathan requested to meet differently with officials of the Borno State Chapters of the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Jama’atul Nasril Islam. The President neither invited nor stopped me from participating but I understood he wanted to meet each group without me. Both meetings were arranged for the President without me knowing the agenda.
To his credit, I must acknowledge, President Jonathan was actually on a fact finding mission because the following day, during his courtesy call at the Government House in Maiduguri, he said that officials of the Christian Association in Borno State had told him that Boko Haram was not targeting only churches and Christians but rather, had attacked many Mosques and killed many Muslims. President Jonathan went further to say that from his findings, the Boko Haram had actually attacked more of majority Muslim communities in the State.
The President’s revelation was an indication that he didn’t understand the crisis before March, 2013. Whether his initial lack of understanding of the situation caused his ineffective response to the crisis before 2013, is a matter for conjecture. But Borno people consigned to the receiving end of poor policy articulation and response, were simply victims of the resultant inaction or paralysis. And they paid with their lives and property, for which the Nigerian Constitution in its fundamental derivative principles, compels the state to use its exclusive possession of the organised means of violence to guarantee.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, what got me very much upset was the Chibok schoolgirls’ abduction of April 14, 2014 and the conspiracy theory that followed it. That abduction gave me the impression that the correct lessons were not learnt at the Presidency despite President Jonathan’s personal findings in Borno. For instance, rather than the Federal and State Government combining strength towards rescue efforts, a conspiracy theory was immediately created that denied that an abduction of the poor schoolgirls was real. The theory presumed that key politicians in the opposition APC, cooked up the abduction story mainly to embarrass President Jonathan and the PDP.
Days later, when the Bring Back Our Girls campaigns began, the theory was changed from cooked abduction story to saying yes, there was abduction, but the abduction was designed and masterminded by the opposition led by our administration. Meanwhile, the failure by the state to perform its constitutional duty in rescuing the schoolgirls and bringing back the Sambisa forest into the Federal Republic of Nigeria, by whatever means necessary, were glossed over as an embarrassed nation sought refuge in yet another conspiracy to undermine a Christian and Southern President. As God would ordain it, President Goodluck Jonathan, in May, 2014, constituted an investigative panel to gather facts regarding the abduction. The panel had credible persons from all segments including representatives of the majority Christian community in Chibok, serving and retired personnel of the armed forces, local and foreign-based women and civil rights activists, journalists and some persons believed to be very close to both President Jonathan and his wife.
The panel met all stakeholders from heads of security establishments, leadership of the West African Examination Council in Borno State, and the panel was also in Chibok to meet agonizing parents and community members. After an exhaustive investigation, the panel submitted its report to President Jonathan. The Presidency didn’t disclose the content of the report and didn’t point any more accusing fingers at Borno State Government. I remember that the Thisday Newspapers in its edition of Friday, 24th of June, 2014, claimed to have obtained a copy of the report and said the panel’s report absolved the Borno State Government of any complicity and in fact sympathized with us over some findings the panel made.
Ladies and gentlemen, while you may assume these experiences should be enough to make our dear country focus less on conspiracy theories, recent developments do not quite show that we are learning from the dangers of national paralysis and state inaction inherent in conspiracy theories. For instance, months after the 2015 elections and the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, another conspiracy theory was cooked up following resumed attacks by militants in the Niger Delta. There were some northerners who began to create a conspiracy theory that the militants were regrouped and being funded by those who lost out in the 2015 elections, in order to destabilize President Buhari’s administration.
There were those who even believed and supported the theory in the south and they went as far as posting through the online and social media, that it was the turn of the Niger Delta to exact revenge on how Boko Haram was used to destabilize President Jonathan’s administration. Again, the main issue, namely the inability of the state to guarantee production of oil and secure vital strategic investments in the Niger Delta, being the only variable outside the price of oil in the international markets within the ability of the Nigerian state to influence for good, was side-tracked. Interestingly, even though it is crystal clear that conspiracy theories do no one any good, they seem to be stubbornly attractive in Nigeria because even as we speak, there have been series of social media messages in recent weeks, alleging that Fulani’s were being deployed to churches to cause mayhem.
The whole thing seems to be a sort of effort to link a Presidency led by a Fulani man with the activities of murderous criminals, some or most of whom may be Fulani’s by ethnicity. Conspiracy theories sometimes begin by a simple message and they grow wild. I have met someone who told me that President Buhari didn’t visit Kaduna because those killed were mostly Christians and I had to remind the person that the same Buhari hasn’t been to Borno State, the epicentre of the Boko Haram. I am not saying it was right or wrong that the President visited neither Kaduna nor Borno State; my concern is our quick judgment to weep up ethnic and religious sentiments. The oxygen and carbon dioxide which most conspiracy theories require to breathe in and out are religious and ethnic sentiments.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, we must as Nigerians try to suppress our bias by working hard to get facts on all issues, otherwise, we will continue to fall victims of conspiracy theories. We must recognize that for every conspiracy theory, there is group that stands to gain politically. As Nigerians, we should regularly free our minds and ask ourselves, who stands to gain on any conspiracy theory we come across. We must also not, anymore, allow figments of crazy imaginations as excuses for the state to fail to protect life and property. We must stop condoning our collective callous attitude that predispose us to blaming victims for their losses in lives and property, the protection of which is a main reason for the existence of our national government. For as you can now see, there is no issue that has gained notoriety for conspiracy theory as much as the Boko Haram insurgency.
What makes the insurgency particularly worrisome is that anyone can easily move from being a victim to becoming a suspect. Boko Haram insurgents do not have particular looks unless those of them who openly professed their evil ideology and are known by locals. No matter how highly or lowly placed one might be, it is possible to innocently associate with someone secretly working or supporting the insurgents. The military have had instances where some soldiers were suspected of working for insurgents, there were also instances where some volunteers were identified and picked up, just as we had had cases were some officials of government at various levels were suspected of having some links with the insurgents.
The important take is that in all extenuating cases, whether among the military, volunteers or inside Governments and their agencies, the total number of those found to have questions to answer for collaborating with the enemy is neither significant enough to draw systematic conclusions, nor widespread enough to cast any doubt that the collaborative efforts of our military, volunteers, whole communities and governments at the three tiers, will give our country and her heroic armed forces a decisive military victory over the mortal enemy of our national well-being and sovereign aspirations.
Though the victory of our armed forces and intelligence services over the Boko Haram is a foregone eventuality, I have deliberately delayed talking about what we are doing to proffer enduring solutions, so that the organizers would not give me a bill for self-adulation. I would not do justice to this gathering if I do not state our proven capacity and commitment to make our state much better than we have met it.
Ladies and gentlemen, quality and affordable education is for me, the number one road map to addressing the Boko Haram insurgency. One of Nelson Mandela’s most memorable quotes says “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use for to change the world”. I am by no means trying to pass the buck, but it is obvious that the abject neglect which education suffered and the levity with which it was treated especially by the immediate past administration in our State did a great deal to fuel the embers of the Boko Haram insurgency. There are fighters who joined the Boko Haram out of hopelessness.
When people have little or nothing positive to expect in their tomorrow, they mostly don’t see reasons to preserve themselves for tomorrow. A hopeless person in a state of lack doesn’t mind everyone dying with him. We are therefore investing heavily in education. Our plan is to pass a legislation that will make education free and compulsory but we have to first put the infrastructures and teachers in place and this is precisely what we are doing. Virtually all our schools are being rebuilt in Borno.
We are investing 20 billion Naira in building brand new mega schools designed to provide quality boarding education for over 20,000 orphans created by the Boko Haram insurgency and other vices in Borno. If we don’t take care of these orphans and other vulnerable children and give them hope, they may grow up and take care of us in a manner in which Boko Haram has dealt with their deceased parents and guardians. In the social realm, we plan to pair the orphans with widows of the insurgency through an arrangement which will involve evaluating both the kids and the widows, giving the widows means of livelihood that creates accommodation for them and the orphans they are encouraged to adopt.
We want a suitable widow with say one child, to be a foster mother for two orphans, while we bring experts and humanitarian partners to supervise the envisaged foster parenting and education. Of course, as you are all aware, we have refused to submit to the dictates of the Boko Haram terrorists as regards their resolve to eliminate education in the Borno and elsewhere, and we will never submit to them by the grace of God. We have even moved to kick off our own Borno State University. There is no better way of consigning the Boko Haram ideology to the dustbin of history, than to ramp up the value system that they have set about to stamp out of existence. We have invested heavily in agriculture and we intend to use our agricultural war chess to reposition the economy of Borno and create massive job opportunities for our people. We are currently building ten agriculture-based factories opposite the newly established Borno State University, and they will serve as drivers to add value to farm produce, processing, and packaging in order to create jobs.
We are also continually rebuilding, restructuring our destroyed and devastated communities, and resettling and rehabilitating our long suffering and beleaguered but highly resilient people. A deep sense of collective frustration, deprivation and disillusionment produced by poor and irresponsive governance triggered the radicalization of otherwise innocent, responsible and law-abiding citizens that are the monstrous Boko Haram insurgents.
Our firm resolve therefore, is to break this deadly link between violent extremism and extreme poverty and illiteracy through an aggressive policy of job creation especially through agriculture, reduction of inequalities, promoting education and building a just and inclusive society.
Perhaps this is not the forum to bore you with our modest efforts. Telling you everything may take too much of your day. We are gathered in the Murtala Muhammed spirit and once you are in that spirit, you would want to ask yourself how much committed you have been to the selfless discharge of your duties. It is my wish and prayers that we get leaders who would surpass the positive effects Gen. Murtala Muhammed made in our country in less than seven months. Until such a time when another of his kind leads our country, the late General Murtala Ramat Muhammed remains Nigeria’s most treasured iconic leader of all times. And Like the Scottish essayist Carlyle Thomas said,
“No great man lives in vain, for the history of the world is all about the history of great men.” May Africa’s martyr, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed’s soul, rest in peace and continue to fire us up until the remnants of man’s inhumanity to man, is brought to a terminal end in our country and continent. Amen.
Finally, I would like to make it unequivocally clear that as a Muslim, Boko Haram does not represent me.As Federica Mogherini rightly posited ” Boko Haram are not a voice of Islam – they are an enemy of Islam. Just like the Lord’s Resistance Army has nothing to do with the Lord. Only with warlords, child slavery, and black magic”.
The Quran is very clear on the requirements for being a Muslim and Boko Haram has negated every single criteria. The Boko Haram approach is based on killing, kidnapping, raping, forceful conversion of their captives into their believes that totally negates the teaching and practice of Islam that is anchored on respect and protection of sanctity of human lives and property.
The Quran is clear that there is no compulsion or coercion in conversion for religion. Added to that, the Quran categorically states that ‘if any Muslim kills any innocent soul, it is synonymous to killing the whole of humanity and that such killers will recompense in hell fire on the day of reckoning”.
Hell fire is certainly the end of unrepentant Boko Haram fighters and those who support them.