From TIMOTHY OLA, Maiduguri
The news of possible ceasefire by the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad popularly known as Boko Haram on Thursday was greeted with skepticism.
One Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz who claimed to be the sect’s commander in-charge of southern and northern Borno and mandated by the sect’s leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, told reporters in a teleconference in Maiduguri that the group was favourably disposed to holding dialogue with the Federal Government in Saudi Arabia.
Abdulaziz who requested to be allowed to secure the permission of Imam Shekau whom he repeatedly addressed as “our great brother and leader,” before he started the briefing said the sect members were highly offended.
“We are highly offended due to what happened three years ago (referring to the killing of the sect’s leader, Malam Mohammed Yusuf). If this former governor (Sen Ali Sheriff) is arrested, this thing (attacks) will end”, he stated.
Abdulaziz’s teleconference has elicited a deluge of questions from within and outside the state. Was his disclosure a general representation of the sect’s position on ceasefire and the venue of the proposed dialogue? Did he actually consult the feared leader of the sect, Imam Shekau or was he speaking for a group within the sect (if any)? Why more killings even after resolving to go for dialogue and ceasefire especially with the killing of retired Gen Mamman Shuwa on Friday by unknown gunmen?
Though Sheik Abdulaziz had disclosed in his brief that most of the killings in the area were perpetrated by people other than the sect members, the killing of Gen Shuwa by gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram raised a lot of concern among residents of Maiduguri that the much-expected ceasefire and dialogue may after all, have been shelved again like the previous attempts.
According to a statement by the spokesman of the Joint Task Force (JTF), Lt Col Sagir Musa, Gen Shuwa was shot dead in his house located at Gwange ward opposite the Customs House in Maiduguri on Friday by four gunmen who he thought, were guests for Juma’at prayer. Family sources said Shuwa usually receive visitors daily in front of his house especially by midday, adding that many guests often joined him on Friday before proceeding to the mosque for Juma’at prayer. However, Lt Col Musa said the gunmen “opened fire on the General and his guests. One of the guests died on the spot while the General died on the way to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.”
Shuwa who was a commander of the Nigerian Army during the civil war (1967-1970) with his contemporary and associate, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was known to be a party elder in the ruling All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) I the state. He was said to be instrumental to the success of the party in his Kanla-Balge Local Government and his Gwange ward 1 Maiduguri during elections. Some stalwarts of the ANPP hinted that Shuwa’s killing might have been politically motivated especially with Abdulaziz’s insistence that most of the killings in the state were not actually done by the sect. “We don’t have hands in some of the things that are happening in town. Some people have been committing a lot of things using our name. We are not part of it, we are only fighting the course of Allah”, he insisted.
President abandoned us
Most people in Borno state have repeatedly expressed anger about what they saw as “deliberate abandonment” by the Federal Government.
“Does it mean he is unaware of the level of pains people are going through here? He has visited Mandalla in Niger, he was in Jos and Lagos, yet we have been witnessing worse situation here and the Federal Government isn’t bordered about it. Was he scared of coming here or have his aides advised him not to come to Borno despite his large number of security men”, Salmatu, a resident of Maiduguri once queried.
The same anguish was expressed by the secretary of the Borno Elders Forum, a body of elders in the Borno Emirate council; Bulama Mali Gubio. He declared recently that Borno people have decided to take their destiny into their hands since the Federal Government has abandoned them.
“We feel it is time for us as a people to take our destiny into our hands since it appears the president is not interested in our plight”, Mali Gubio said. President Jonathan’s visit to some flood-ravaged states appeared the major basis for the frustration of the Borno people as many residents argued that had President Jonathan showed concern in the plight of the Borno people by visiting the state being the biggest victims of the Boko Haram insurgence, the battle to end the crisis would have been won.
Borno Elders connection
Arising from that alleged abandonment by the Federal Government, the Borno Elders Forum led by the first Nigerian Petroleum minister, octogenarian Shettima Ali Monguno, in a meeting summoned at the instance of the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Ibn Garbai Elkanemi, took some far-reaching decisions to end the lingering crisis.
Briefing journalists after the one-hour meeting at the Shehu’s palace, the secretary of the Forum and former Borno Head of Civil Service, Bulama Mali Gubio hinted that people would begin to “see the result of the far-reaching decisions taken by the meeting in the next two weeks.” Though, Mali Gubio did not give an insight into the decisions, the confidence he exhibited during the briefing showed a suggested an imminent solution to the problem.
Reliable sources told Sunday Sun that some key members of the forum were “actually behind the current move of the sect to embrace dialogue and call for ceasefire.”
It was gathered that some the elders reached out to the sect members with a view to addressing the security challenges.
Curiously, Abdulaziz had named some of the elders including Shettima Ali Monguno, Amb Gaji Gatimari, chairman presidential committee on insecurity in the North-east, and Mali Gubio among others as preferred mediators. He also mentioned Aishat Waziri “and her husband” who had also been reaching out to the sect to lay down their arms.
Mid this year, Bar Aishat had facilitated similar teleconference between the sect and journalists where one Abdulrahaman said the group was considering dialogue, a position that drew the ire of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad. It advised people to desist from listening to anybody who claim to be representing it other than its official spokesperson, Abu Qaqa. The Thursday briefing was believed to have also been facilitated by Bar Aisha Waziri who was also at the venue of the conference. Many journalists feared a repeat of similar anger and threat by the Islamic sect, a development that prompted questions about the existence of factions and possibility of Sheik Abdulaziz speaking for a group within the sect.
But then, Abdulaziz who later introduced another “great brother and leader,” identified as Abbas Abubakar insisted he was speaking with the permission of Imam Shekau, the known leader of the sect.
Facilitators and mediators
Among those who the sect preferred to facilitate the proposed dialogue with the Federal Government, according to Abdulaziz, is the former military Head of State, Gen Muhammadu Buhari known by his admirers as Mai Gaskiya (the truthful or honest man) and for a group that has always alleged government insincerity about dialogue. The choice of Gen Buhari was expected.
Others include Shettima Ali Monguno, Gaji Gatimari and Sen Bukar Abba Ibrahim. But then, it was unclear why Bukar Abba’s name featured prominently among the facilitators.
Sources said Bukar Abba might have attracted the love of the sect for approving a serene settlement for a militant group (also believed to be Boko Haram) first in Bursari Local Government Area and later, at Kanama in Yobe State, in 2002 while he was governor of Yobe State. On the sect’s mediating list, according to Abdulaziz, are himself, Sheik Ibrahim Yusuf, Sheik Sani Kontagora, Abu Abbass and Mamman Nur, “appointed by our great brother and leader to handle the dialogue with the Federal Government.”
Given that the insurgence has claimed over 2, 000 lives since July 2009, Nigerians look forward to seeing more commitment from the sect and Federal Government to peace that has eluded the country for too long.