Category: Cover stories Written by Hamza Idris & Yahaya Ibrahim, Maiduguri Hits: 2874
Borno State elders yesterday faulted President Goodluck Jonathan’s rejection of requests by some prominent elders in the North including the Sultan of Sokoto urging him to declare amnesty to members of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (also known as Boko Haram) in order to end years of deadly insurgency in parts of the North.
The stakeholders spoke yesterday at a stormy town hall meeting with Jonathan at the conference hall of the Borno State Government House during his first official visit to the restive states of Borno and Yobe. The visit ended yesterday and the president has since returned to Abuja.
The first person who reiterated the call was Professor Muhammad Nur Alkali, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, who was also at a one time the Director General of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) Kuru.
Professor Alkali described the manner in which the Joint Task Force (JTF) operatives were harassing residents of Maiduguri as unacceptable, pointing out that the damages done by security operatives far outweighed the positive services they rendered. He said virtually all the people in Borno State had lost someone in the crisis.
He said: “To be frank, the sectarian conflict since the time your government ordered the first fire shot in order to nip in the bud, a potentially dangerous situation has brought great deal of hardship to the peoples in their homes, in the streets, in the markets and on the farmlands.
“Everyone do his or her best to absolve the shock, bear the pains and tolerate the excessive crossfire. There is hardly anyone in this meeting who has not lost a close relation, family member or very close friend.
“This town is full of orphans, fathers and mothers who lost their children. Many youths are in detention while some had been incapacitated.
“In this crossfire, more innocent people had died; the nature of the operation is frightening. When the militants kill one security officer, a whole ward is put on fire and dead bodies have to litter the streets. We lack information on statistics of innocent people who had died or kept in detention or how many of the militants were actually killed, arrested and detained. Markets are closed, shops destroyed; roadblocks in all major and minor roads.
“Mr. President Sir, we urge you to personally investigate this issue, because the extent of damage done is enormous. The Governor of Borno State Alhaji Kashim Shettima has continued to appeal for calm and tolerance, because as he says, ‘hard times never last for forever’. Borno has seen so many disasters in the last 1,000 years, both natural and man-made, but we have always come out of these situations stronger, confident and resilient. We shall come out of this too and bounce back to peace, harmony and stability.
Professor Alkali said there is no better time to grant amnesty to the Boko Haram than now. “Mr. President, even if it is one person who came forward to call for peace, he should be received with open arms and reintegrated into the wider society. The journey of a thousand mile begins with the first step.
“There is no doubt that there is general suspicion and fear and these fears are genuine especially even in a situation where people go to claim for dead bodies of their relatives are considered suspects and detained without any hope of trial.
“There is nationwide call for amnesty or better still pardon to be granted to the militants in such a way it was granted to the militants of the Niger Delta. If I may recall, Mr. President, you have called for the militants (in the Niger Delta) into the open as a condition for the amnesty to be offered to them which is appropriate.
“But the situation of this sectarian conflict is different from what obtains in the Niger Delta, because many of them were operating in the open there and well known to the security forces and the government. The nature of the two conflicts is different.
“Here, you are dealing with people who believe they are fighting on the basis of some ideology not just religious or political, but fundamentally social and the desire to bring about social changes in their ways of life and the society. Even then, if one may recollect, in the Niger Delta, late President Umaru Yar’adua granted them pardon before they thought about ceasefire.
After his contribution, members of the Borno Elders Forum (BELT), who were expected to present a position paper to the president, declined to do so, saying Alkali has spoken their minds.
Alhaji Baba Basharu, Chairman, Borno State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) equally agreed with Alkali and called for the reduction of bunkers on the streets of Maiduguri and environs. So also Barrister M.T. Monguno, a member of the House of Representatives who spoke at the event on behalf of the Borno Caucus. He also said the group has adopted the position of Alkali.
Reacting to the barrage of requests for amnesty and concerns over the alleged abuse by the JTF personnel, Jonathan, who was visibly angry with the position of the elders, said the elders were just playing to the gallery and warned that if the people of Borno State would not condemn the acts, the country would continue to suffer under the terror of Boko Haram
He said there was no way he could grant amnesty to faceless people who are not ready to lay down their arms.
He said calls for the withdrawal of the JTF would give room to militants to take over parts of the country. He, however, said if the Borno Elders will sign an indemnity in that respect, he would do their bidding, but will hold them responsible if any civilian is killed by the Boko Haram.
President Jonathan said his vision for Nigeria was to focus on activities that will impact on the lives of the people around. “And when I have the opportunity to serve at the centre, that has remain my vision,” he said.
According to him, “on security, I will sincerely plead with my people in Borno State that this is not the time to play to the gallery, whether you are a politician or not. This is not the time to play to the gallery.
“The state chairman of the PDP spoke, the House of Representatives member spoke and the Professor from the University of Maiduguri spoke. But to be frank, I am not comfortable with the way he (Professor Alkali spoke).
“The conclusion is that there are too many bunkers in Maiduguri and in Borno State, but why should the bunkers come? Who wants to send bunkers to Borno State? That there are too many APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers) in Borno State, who wants to send APCs to Borno State? Some people are saying the JTF should go! For God’s sake, who wants to be spending money on the allowances of soldiers? If the circumstances that brought the soldiers are no longer there, all of them would leave on that very day.
“They (JTF) were not in Borno State in 2001, 2002, 2003 up to 2009. That was when this man (was killed, what is his name? (Sheriff’s friend). When he Mohammed Yusuf) was killed, that was the beginning of the crisis. Let me be frank, because the analogy is that when one soldier is killed, we always come and kill scores of people.
“This is why the Chief of Defence Staff is here. We have always been admonishing that the soldiers should be careful in their duties. We always caution them to be careful in doing their jobs, because they are doing an internal security job that ordinarily, soldiers should not be involved.
“But because of the calibre of weapons the militants are using, the police alone cannot stand. And government will never allow insurgents to take arms and take part of this country. We will never allow that to happen - whether in the Niger Delta and I have been giving instructions to the service chiefs that I don’t want to hear that a soldier is killed in the Niger Delta. I don’t want to hear that a soldier is killed in the southeast as a result of kidnapping and I don’t want to hear that a soldier is killed in Borno State or in any part of this country.
“I cannot preside over this country as a president and officers are being killed. These people (security operatives) leave their families and stay on the roads and the bush so that we would sleep and I don’t want to hear that one of them is killed.
“We would not celebrate the death of one security officer anywhere in this country. Whether in Bayelsa State, Niger Delta, Anambra State, Southeast, northwest, North Central or anywhere. We will not and I repeat, we will not accommodate it.
Apparently hitting back at Professor Alkali, the President said, “and I will plead with us, especially those of us who are well informed like professors to be cautious with our utterances. This is because, there is one professor that is busy telling people not to avail their children for polio immunization; that the vaccine will cause infertility in children…if there is a way of withdrawing professorship, I think it will not be wrong if his is withdrawn..
“Let us not play to the gallery, because we have security issues. Yesterday I visited Yobe State and from what the governor said, Boko Haram issue is coming down especially in Damaturu. In Adamawa State, is coming down; Gombe State is coming down, even Bauchi State is coming down, Niger State is coming down, but in Borno State, we are still having a lot of challenges.
“So, if people of Borno State will not condemn the act, we would continue to suffer under the terror of Boko Haram. If we cannot stop Boko Haram, we cannot develop Borno State. Who will come and invest in Borno State? Even if we award contract who will come and work? No body. So, let us not play to the gallery. We need the money we are paying allowances to the soldiers to do important things that will change this country. We want to create wealth across this country including Borno State. We are not happy spending money in the Niger Delta paying allowances of the JTF, so also in Borno State and other places. Definitely we are not, so the earlier we withdraw them, the better.
“So, if the elders agree to come and sign an agreement with me that I should withdraw the JTF, but anybody that is killed in Borno State, I will hold them responsible. Come and sign a document and guarantee the life and safety of life and property of individuals. When you do that, as I am going today, the JTF will start going back to their barracks, but you must guarantee that if anything happens to anybody, you will be held responsible.
“I wonder what kind of government will allow that degree of insurgency to continue. It may cause us as politicians to say the truth, but as politicians, we have to say the truth. I am not elected to be playing to the gallery. I am committed to work with you and wealth in Borno State. I love Borno, I first came to Borno when I was an undergraduate and I know the potentials we have in the Lake Chad that will revolutionize not only Borno, but other parts of the country. We cannot achieve that in the midst of insurgency.
“Please, instead of condemning the JTF, let us work together, we would remove them at the appropriate time. Somebody wanted to give us an idea of what amnesty is (referring to Professor Alkali) but I am from the Niger Delta and even the amnesty there is not as successful as one would have thought, because I am involved. We are just trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
“Recently, somebody came and told us that the Boko Haram was ready for dialogue and that was the very day they (Boko Haram) shot (the convoy) of the Emir of Kano. So, assuming we declared amnesty on that day and then they killed a very important figure in this country, what do you think the world will say? It means we don’t even know what we are doing, and that is why we said we must be careful about the amnesty,” the president said.
The president also wondered why some states are always crying about marginalization and challenged their leaders to check themselves and showcase what they do for their people in terms of development in education, agriculture and others.
He said the Federal Government will work with the state governments and succeed, adding that the Federal Government will assist in reconstructing burnt schools, markets and worship centres vandalized, not only in Borno State, but in all the states that got the ravaging attack of the Boko Haram.
Our correspondents report that contrary to wide expectation, Jonathan on Thursday in Damaturu at another town hall meeting, said there would be no amnesty for members of the Boko Haram, because they are faceless and such a gesture cannot be extended to a ghost.