Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Borno and Nigeria’s growing distance from the President, by Jibrin Ibrahim

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On Wednesday, President Buhari visited Maiduguri to commiserate with the people over the Auno massacre that occurred Sunday night. Two things happened during the visit. The people showed their anger at the president by shouting and booing at him; screaming that they no longer support him. Their anger reflected the conclusion they have reached that the president and his security team have not been doing enough to address the security crisis facing them. For his part, the president blamed the people and leaders of Borno communities for not doing enough to support the government’s efforts to improve the security situation. He asserted that: “This Boko Haram or whoever they are, cannot come up to Maiduguri or its environs to attack without the local leadership knowing.” He told the people that if they had been making reports on the movements of the insurgents to security agencies, the security situation would have improved much more. The state of play therefore is that the people of Borno, and indeed the people of Nigeria, are convinced that the government and its security agencies are not doing enough to tackle growing insecurity in the country, while the president believes it’s the fault of the people.

However, the Constitution is clear that it is the responsibility of the State and its agencies to provide for the security of the people, and as such it is abdication of responsibility to turn around and blame the people. The anger of the people of Borno was not just based on the fact that over 30 people were killed on Sunday, people have been killed by the insurgents regularly over the past decade. The anger was based on the strong suspicion that people were deliberately lined up and left for slaughter. Auno village is the main gateway to Maiduguri, which is just over 24 kilometres away. The military had set up a curfew at the village to stop travellers from entering the city after 6 p.m., the time they normally close the barrier for the day. On Sunday, however, they closed the barrier at 4.30 p.m., thus blocking travellers who had calculated that they would arrive in good time to beat the curfew.

The closure of the barrier over an hour before the normal time meant there was a bigger crowd, than was normally the case, trying to enter the capital city. Having created this large crowd, the military then left them there and went to Maiduguri. Later in the evening, the insurgents came and the killings began. According to reports, the attackers crept out in large numbers around 10 p.m. and opened fire on people, while they were sleeping inside vehicles. They also burnt numerous buses and cars with people inside them and those who tried to run were chased and killed. Many other people were kidnapped and taken away.

The military blamed the killings of the travellers on the victims, saying that they had defied the curfew placed on the route linking the Borno and Yobe states but did not add that they had blockaded the route before the normal curfew time. Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State was clear in his comments that the military should take the blame for its inability to protect the highway and citizens. He added that: “Since my inauguration as the governor of Borno State from May 29th to date, Auno town has been attacked about six times now. And the reason is that the military has withdrawn from Auno town. We have made repeated plea to the military to re-establish a base in Auno, since it is one of the flashpoints of the Boko Haram, but nothing has been done to that effect.” The lesson here is that it was clear preventive measures that should have been taken but that did not occur.

The case of Auno is symptomatic of the general situation in Borno and Yobe States, in which the military have withdrawn from most rural locations and concentrated their personnel and materials in super garrison towns. The problem with this approach is that the hinterland is left free for the insurgents to roam around without hindrance and strike communities at will. As Nigerians have been clamouring for some time, there is urgent need to rejig the entire security architecture of the country. Over the past few weeks, the National Assembly, political and civil societies have made clear demands that the service chiefs whose terms have expired should make way for a new set of leaders that might be able to bring renewed zeal and tactics into security revisioning. The president has however rejected the demands, further deepening the divide between him and Nigerians. It is instructive that shortly after the president left Maiduguri, the people noted that he did not visit Auno to condole with the survivors, and the insurgents attacked Maiduguri again.

The major question on the minds of Nigerians is whether our security agencies are playing their constitutional roles of security provision for the people or joining the bandits and terrorists in doing the opposite. There are numerous unconfirmed reports of close collaborations between some rogue elements in the security agencies and insurgents, bandits and kidnappers. I know that many members of our security agencies are loyal and are indeed risking their lives to improve our security. The danger is that the people might conclude that all security agents have gone rogue and that would simply worsen the situation. It is for this reason that security agencies must clean their internal affairs as a confidence-building measure with Nigerians. Even more important is the urgent concern that the president himself is not listening to Nigerians, accounting for the widening gulf between him and the people.
One of the key challenges is that self-help in security provision is growing as people give up on the State and its agencies. The communicative space is full of narratives depicting the security agencies as the real enemies of the people. I will end by presenting the latest I have seen on WhatsApp in this regard. As is the case with most of such messages, we do not know whether they are true or false. The important thing however is that many Nigerians believe such stories and the gulf between the government and the people is certainly deepening.

Shema is a multi-millionaire oil mogul. His mother was recently kidnapped. The kidnappers demanded for 100 million naira as ransom. After tough negotiations, 20 million naira was agreed upon as ransom. The kidnappers also gave condition that the ransom should be in mint; new notes. The millionaire approached CBN. He got new money to the tune of 20 million. Serially arranged. He delivered the money to the kidnappers. But before doing that he approached all neighbouring banks and requested them to report anyone who came to deposit money, in large sums, bearing the numbers associated with the money. Behold! The first person to be arrested was a police inspector. Another lieutenant in the military was arrested. Upon investigation, the arrested officers confessed that an assistant commissioner of police was also involved. Pressed further, a top brass in the security was fingered. Shema threatened to go to press. But he was prevailed upon not to. His money was returned. Intact. A colleague of mine narrated this story to me this morning. As pathetic as it sounds, the ones given weapons to protect us are the ones oppressing us.

Such stories are frightening and for people to stop believing them, they must see evidence that security is indeed improving.

Jibrin Ibrahim, a professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development.

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