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North’s unending battle with terror

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The increasing level of insecurity has reached a scary level, even as the government at all levels has shown signs that the challenge of unwarranted killings and kidnapping for ransom was becoming insurmountable. While thousands have been killed by marauding terrorists who have taken over some communities in the North, security agencies appear to be weighing options on how to eliminate the pestilence terrorists and bandits have become in the North.

In the midst of this, three knowledgeable and revered northerners, who are aware of the security crisis in the zone, threw light on the issue that has continued to plague the people. With fascinating relish, they swooped and pecked on what they saw as the causes of the insecurity devastating major sections of the region in the last 14 years.

Prof Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, Nigeria’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations, and one-time President of the UN General Assembly, identified mutual distrust among stakeholders, disconnect between disaffected communities and government; monumental corruption; persistent poverty and unemployment; lack of a professional civil service; lack of a coordinating body among government and its agencies; and lack of a media that understands northern aspirations and challenges in the context of Nigeria’s need for peace and development, as the broad causes of insecurity in the region.

Similarly, the Borno State Governor, Prof Babagana Zulum, and the Special Adviser to the Vice President on Political Affairs, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, both pointed at what they saw as all-encompassing corruption as the cause of the mindless killings and abduction of innocent people in the North. They all expressed their lamentations over the frightful security crisis clobbering northern Nigeria, with the region anguishing with, and languishing in, apparent hopelessness and haplessness, as terror and several other forms of violent conflict batter its major sections to virtual economic inconsequence.

Their meeting point was the 10th Annual Ahmadu Bello Memorial Lecture which was held in Maiduguri, Borno State, on Saturday, January 27, 2024.

It can be vividly recalled that 2009 to 2011 marked the beginning of a global scale of insecurity that has lingered for 14 years, and this ripped through major sections of the region with an appalling rage and the most frustrating intractability. Specifically, the Boko Haram insurgency was born in 2009 in the far northeastern flanks of the region. In 2011, the twin terrors of banditry and kidnapping were born in the far North-West.

Over the succeeding 14 years, Boko Haram insurgency, joined by a new entrant into the Lake Chad basin in 2017/2018, ISWAP terror; as well as banditry and kidnapping, both assimilated an already existing and fast-growing crime mix, farmer-herder conflicts and communal clashes that had rattled the three geo-political zones of the North over the years preceding terror.

Both forged a collaboration to unleash an unprecedentedly appalling torment across major sections of northern Nigeria, depressing a large section of the region with a global-class humanitarian crisis. Stakeholders in the security and its concomitant humanitarian crisis have resisted every attempt to navigate the hypothetical narratives claiming to emanate from domestic and global politics and economy as the initial igniters and clandestine stokers of northern Nigeria’s recalcitrant tragedy.

“In the past seven years (by 2014) we had about 3.2 million displacements, with about 50 per cent now resettled back to their ancestral communities and about 1.2 million still in the IDP camps. 432 healthcare facilities were destroyed, 900,000 houses were destroyed and over 5000 classrooms were destroyed,” he recalled further. We have identified a total of over 100,000 orphans resulting from the Boko Haram crisis. These figures are the official ones. The unofficial figures are even higher than these,” Governor Zulum recalled recently.

These figures are in respect of Borno State, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency. The insurgents unleashed various scales of monumental destruction in the contiguous North-East states of Yobe and Adamawa.

In 2021 in the North-West, the then Governor Mohammed Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State, the epicenter of banditry and kidnapping, disclosed that there were no fewer than 30,000 bandits operating in about 100 bush camps, tormenting the major sections of the seven-state geo-political zone.

No authority has yet mentioned any dependable figures of the bandits and kidnappers operating in the North-Central states of Niger, Nasarawa, Benue, and Plateau states and the country’s Federal Capital Territory, which now seem to suffer more of the torments of the gunmen than Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna, the acclaimed roots of banditry and kidnapping.

The North-Central state of Plateau is currently more scorched by terror than the North-West, which now seems savouring a little moment of respite considering what hitherto obtained on the scale and speed of the regularity of the operations of the gunmen over the years.

Governors of the Boko Haram-clobbered North-East have, over the last two years, complained of the influx of the North-West-style banditry and kidnapping into their sub-region. Abductions were over the years carried out by Boko Haram, notably Chibok in Borno State, and Dapchi, in Yobe State, schoolgirls, apparently for reasons more political than economic. This contrasts sharply with the bandits-style abductions, which have virtually been for economic reasons.

In the bandits-tormented North-West, government of states, especially Zamfara, have had to initiate dialogues and negotiations with the ‘lords of the bushes’ to end their torment, a decision former Governor Nasir El-Rufai stiffly opposed and for which, to the end of his tenure, he clearly stood out against his fellow North-West governor’s, especially on the payment of ransom to the bandits which, he staunchly believed, was tantamount to financially empowering them to continue unleashing terror across the terrain.

Perhaps, the most notable of the series of such negotiations between an individual and the bandits was conducted between 2022 and 2023 by the renowned Kaduna Islamic cleric, Dr Ahmad Gumi, which, according to some of the troubled communities in the region, considerably appeased the bandits in many of the camps and reduced their attacks by some noticeable percentage for some time.

However, partly because the government, according to the bandits, is not sincere in the negotiations, and partly because the twin crimes of banditry and kidnapping, according to the current Minister of State for Defence and former governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, is a business enterprise the entrepreneurs of which will go to every extent to ensure its perpetuity, terror regularly resurges and wreaks more havoc across the region, making successful incursions into the North-Central region with a dare-devil fashion.

Prof Zulum concurred with his teacher at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Prof Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, on the seven root causes of the persistence of insecurity in Northern Nigeria. He, however, believed six of them were all offshoots of one of the seven – corruption.

“In my own observation, in order for us to address these challenges, I think we must address the root cause of the challenges, which is corruption,” he posited, adding, “Once we address the problem of corruption in the society, I believe all these challenges will be surmounted.”

He picked Prof Muhammad-Bande’s recommendations out of the persistence of the northern tragedy one after another and identified them as offshoots of corruption.

“Talking about quality education, where is the money for such? Squandered! If we squandered the money we could have spent to achieve quality education, we would not have meaningful educational development that could have dissuaded the youth from joining terror groups,” he argued.

Furious Zulum continued, “He (Bande) spoke about developing modern agriculture. Modern agriculture means commercial agriculture, investing in sprinkler irrigation systems, investing in drip irrigation, among others; with corruption in government, we can never get the funding; with corruption, we shall never get it right.

“He spoke about building infrastructure. Where is the funding? All the money goes into the tortuous bureaucratic process of state administration. We shall get it right. He spoke about rebuilding the civil service. It will never be feasible without taming corruption; without paying civil servants good salaries, how can we reform the civil service? A director in Abuja earning not more than N200,000 has eight children, but he needs nothing less than N2m to N3m to rent a house in Abuja; where will he get that money? Any slightest opportunity he comes across, he will indulge in corruption. So, the money that should have been spent in effectively combating such challenges as insecurity is eaten by corruption.”

Zulum added, “To effectively address the challenges of insecurity we have to deal effectively with corruption.”

Dr Baba-Ahmed, in concurrence with Zulum, firmly pointed at corruption as the root cause of insecurity and its persistence. “The central role of corruption as a foundational cause explains why the North is where it is today,” he posited, stressing, “Behind every act of insecurity and conflict, you will find corruption.”

He recalled when he served on the former President Obasanjo administration’s committee to dialogue with Boko Haram to buttress the point that with corruption, northern Nigeria’s security might persist ad infinitum.

“The leaders of the Boko Haram team told the six of us, who are all Muslims; ‘you are wasting your time; the government that gave you those papers (critical documents for the mediation) to mediate will never win this war against us.’ We asked, ‘Why are you so confident that the Nigerian government cannot defeat you? They said, ‘Because your leaders are corrupt’.

“The people who are fighting us are corrupt because we get most of our arms and weapons, and even our inspiration and our moral support from them. So long as your leaders are corrupt, you will never defeat us.”

Baba-Ahmed posited, “We have no business tolerating Boko Haram for as long as we live by higher values of honesty and integrity. Corrupt leaders leave a legacy that is difficult to extinguish. That is a lesson for us.”

He concluded, “If the North wants to fix itself, the North has to fix corruption; because it is corruption that is eating the soul of the North and the soul of Nigeria.”

An anonymous Lake Chad Basin security expert queried the sincerity of the repentance of the Boko Haram fighters and blamed them for the resurgence of terror and kidnappings in the North-East.

“How sincere is their repentance? What is the process of monitoring them after repentance to ensure they are sincere and not up to any prank? There are palpable fears of the so-called repentant terrorists among the locals in their communities, especially those locals terrorised and severely injured by the terrorists in the past.

“There are numerous instances where a lot of the ex-Boko Haram fighters relapsed on their repentance. A traditional title holder recently complained to me that in his local government area alone, more than 300 of these repentant terrorists have reneged on their repentance and trooped back to the bush to continue fighting the military and the Nigerian state.

“Here in Maiduguri, more than 200 of them, according to my findings, have trooped back to the bush to carry arms against the Nigerian state. Most of these repentant Boko Haram combatants surrendered to the troops because their leaders in the bush ordered them to do so, not because they were disenchanted with terror and that they were, therefore, genuinely convinced of repenting.

“They surrendered because their leaders sent them to come to town to spy on the movement and operations of troops to enable them to coordinate their operations under the cover of repentance and surrender. It will surprise you to know that the so-called repentant Boko Haram insurgents are the ones carrying out attacks and kidnapping people in the parapets around Maiduguri and Konduga and the Bama axis,” he revealed.

Former governor of Zamfara State and now Minister of State for Defence, Bello Matawalle, blamed the growing number of conflict entrepreneurs across the country for the unending banditry in the North-West.

Speaking in an interview with the in Abuja, Matawalle said, “Banditry has its economy, which is fuelling the crime in the country. Conflict entrepreneurs don’t want insecurity to finish in this country. Many people in the North are part of the business. I call it business now because those selling drugs are part of it, those selling food, fuel, and other essentials are all part of it. The informants get a lot from doing that. They are paid handsomely for that crime. So, they don’t want the evil to end. Many people have keyed into the business.”

Similarly, the Director of Publicity and Advocacy of the Northern Elders Forum, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said, “Socio-economic factors, weak governance, corruption, interagency rivalry, and the absence of public involvement and participation have all played a significant role in exacerbating the insecurity in northern Nigeria.”

He listed some of the main factors responsible for the tragic northern situation as “insufficient funding for security agencies, resulting in limited capacity to combat insecurity effectively; neglect of critical sectors such as education and healthcare, leading to increased vulnerability and recruitment of individuals by extremist groups; rampant corruption within security agencies, compromising their ability to tackle insecurity; Diversion of funds meant for security purposes, exacerbating the already dire situation; and politicizing security Issues.”

Other factors, according to him, include, “exploitation of ethnic and religious divisions for political gain, leading to the neglect of security concerns; and failure to hold accountable those responsible for inciting violence, perpetuating a culture of impunity.”

Sani Abdullahi, lecturer at the College of Administrative and Social Sciences, Kaduna Polytechnic, concurred on most of the factors, saying, “The persistence of insecurity in northern Nigeria can be attributed to a complex interplay of factors, including historical, socio-economic, and political elements. Ethnic and religious tensions, economic disparities, and weak governance structures contribute to the challenges. Additionally, the infiltration of extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, and the struggle for resources further exacerbate the situation.”

He further added, “Furthermore, the historical context of ethnic and religious divisions in northern Nigeria has fueled long-standing grievances, contributing to a fertile ground for unrest. Issues related to land use, cultural differences, and historical disputes have not been adequately addressed, perpetuating a cycle of tension. The lack of comprehensive social and economic development programmes in the region has left many communities vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups, who exploit these grievances for their purposes.

“Political challenges also play a role, with corruption and weak governance structures undermining the effectiveness of security measures. In some cases, political interests and power struggles at both federal and state levels have hindered a unified and decisive response to security issues. Additionally, the vast and porous borders in the region allow for the movement of armed groups across borders, complicating efforts to contain the threat.”

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