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Pakistanisation of the North

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Musings by Garba Shehu

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Borno state and to some extent Bauchi state are quickly turning to be more dangerous conflict zones than the Niger Delta. With the spectre of Boko Haram looming large, the people in Borno and Bauchi states are literally living on their nerves; they have become captives of fear, sleeping with one eye closed, the other one opened and looking over their shoulders as they step out of their homes, business places or walk the streets. In the former conflict zone of defunct Yugoslavia, a fleeing refugee tearfully declared that future was not in their dictionary as there was no certainty of surviving the next minute, hour, day, night or the next day. The people of the North-East are in a similar state of paralysis created by fear. The Government of the Federation looks the other way because, possibly, the economic lifetime of the country is not at  stake. If Borno will produce oil, it will take many years to come.
It is time for the Northern leadership to ask Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to do for the North, what his predecessor in office, late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua did for the President’s South-South. Yar’adua sent a reinvigorated Joint Task Force, JTF to quell violence in the Delta region. The late President gave carrots in equal measure. He formulated an amnesty programme which many now liken to the post WWII Marshall Plan.
Borno, and if care is not taken, the larger Northern region is well on the way to becoming our own version of Pakistan. Only last weekend, President Obama announced in London that America had killed more militants in Pakistan than anywhere, including Afghanistan.
The crisis in Borno is spreading and spiraling gradually into unstable Bauchi. This is shown by the daily incidents of gun attacks and bombs. There is almost a bomb a day in Maiduguri. On Wednesday the 18th, gun-men ambushed a military patrol and as to be expected, a gun-duel spanning over an hour ensued. Eye-witnesses reported multiple sounds of highly sophisticated weapons including revolvers and machine guns. One man said he counted 20 bodies on the ground. The Police and the Army no longer disclose casualties. In a further sign of lawlessness, on May 19th, three bombs were detonated as reported by the Weekly Trust. A bomb detonated in the morning in the popular Lagos Street, later in the day, another one went off at Kwanar Yobe in London Ciki in which a Policeman was killed. Around 2:00pm, the third bomb exploded at Pompomari area of the metropolis.
Residents of the city are constantly thinking of negative things; that the worst can happen at any time. This negativity and adversity are settling in and becoming a part of daily life. Men, women and children go about with fear and constantly expecting attacks by the feared Boko Haram or of falling victim to the scantily reported excesses of the security services.
Three years ago when the Boko Haram resurged, that is a year after the arbitrary killing of their Spiritual Leader, Mohammed Yusuf by the Police, many had thought it was a mere reprisal aimed at the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP Government in the state. True, as confirmed by the Secretary to the Government at a press conference two weeks ago, the attacks seem mainly to be targeting high-profile ANPP leaders. This has led to suspicion that the political opposition may have been involved. With the spreading strength of the Boko Haram, its Taliban-like pronouncements invoking Shari’a and the attacks on police, military and other high-profile political and religious leaders, there is increasing concern that Borno is on the verge of its Talibanisation. As shown in Afghanistan, the Taliban are a faithless and anti-Islamic bands that have given the Islamic religion a wrong name.
The Boko Haram may or may not have official linkages to the Taliban and the Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda networks. But by seeking to emulate the actions of the former Taliban government in Afghanistan; the mindless execution of whoever disagrees with them; denouncing secular constitutions and demanding the imposition of Shari’a law, among other things, Boko Haram leaves no one in doubt about their inspiration being Bin Laden and Taliban.
Given the Federal Governments’ absent-mindedness; the unavailability of American dollars, weaponry and technology, it is difficult to anticipate an end to the growing crisis here. In the state itself, there are several internal factors that don’t allow hope or optimism. In addition to massive corruption which is the characteristic of the local administrations all over Nigeria, Borno’s ANPP government is weak and beset by internal divisions. The National Population Commission assessment of school enrolment nationwide showed that 72 percent of children aged between six to sixteen were not in school in Borno. This state has harboured millions of refugees from the ageless conflicts in Chad. With growing illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and guns, the conflict zone provides a perfect condition under which terrorism will thrive.
Against all of these, the standard federal response is to increase the numbers of security men and weapons. Reports say there are now more service vehicles for the JTF on the streets than civilian cars on the streets in Maiduguri. But as shown in the Niger Delta, the strategy of an eye for an eye does not lead to a resolution of such major conflicts. Claims made by the administration show that nearly 20,000 militants have so far undergone successful rehabilitation in the Niger Delta. There are hundreds of others in scattered locations abroad being trained in skills, trades and the professions including airline piloting. Since the solution is working fairly well for Delta, it makes perfect sense to suggest it is a model for remedying the conflict situation in the North-East.
The President’s repeated claim that he will run an open, fair and just new administration faces a real test arising from the unwanted situation in the North-East. The Government is already in the dock for its indifference towards Borno. The reinvigorated JTF may be dealing a blow to one another with the Boko Haram. But guns against guns will only help to deepen the malaise. The Boko Haram conflict can no longer be regarded as a localised security challenge; its potential to get out of hand presents a bigger problem to the government and  should not be taken for granted. Boko Haram challenge should be a priority item on the agenda of the Federal Government just as it treats the Niger Delta issue.

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