I watched ex-Governor Ali Modu Sheriff rambling and rumbling during the week as he sought to extricate himself from the allegation that he created the Boko Haram sect, the group that has held the nation by the balls for a better part of the year. Poor Sherriff. You can’t blame the man.
Who would want to lay claim to the paternity of a monstrous kid, a kid that has continued to sow anarchy and blood in the land, fighting its cause in a manner that strikes the fear of the devil in all Nigerians, forcing governors in other states of the country to quickly despatch chattered aircraft and luxury buses to ferry their indigenes home. For many Nigerians, Boko Haram has become a metaphor for terror ; a nation unable to tackle its security challenges, a nation sitting on the cliff or a time bomb.
If you watched the exodus of Nigerians from the Maiduguri theatre of war or read the pathetic story told by those who managed to flee, you would be forgiven for believing we are at war. Families wiped out; parents unable to locate their kids, vice versa; students fleeing their campuses because no one can study when bombs are flying over the lecture theatres; corps members on national assignment fleeing the war zone because it has become a forbidden land.
If this is not war, I wonder what else we should call it. Many wonder if we are not gradually descending the road to Mogadishu, Afghanistan or South Sudan. That’s why well-meaning Nigerians have continued to make the strident call for a Sovereign National Conference to examine the grievances of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities ,the restive youth population and other interest groups that are obviously enraged and disenchanted at the way things are going in the country; the level of poverty and frustration and amidst these, the flaunting of obscene wealth by government officials at all tiers.
Yes, we are at war, no doubt about it. Except that this is a senseless war, a war that defies all logic; brothers cutting the head of brothers in a misdirected rage. The poor fighting the poor. The cheated cheating their own brother of their lives and property; the oppressed and dispossessed oppressing their co-oppressed. Back to Sheriff. For those who may have forgotten(given that memories are painfully short in this part of the world) Sheriff, a former Senator, who loves to go by the kinky acronym SAS(short for Senator Ali Modu Sheriff), was governor of Borno State for eight, long years. He handed over to a successor May 29, 2011.
Apparently responding to the accusation by Gen. Jeremiah Useni, a former minister of transport and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, now leader of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, that Sherriff actually founded the Boko Haram as a political tool deployed in the harassment of his opponents during the electioneering, the former governor launched a broadside against those who have been spreading the ‘wild tale’ that he was the major sponsor and benefactor of the dreaded sect. For the avoidance of doubt, he declared, ‘Boko Haram had been in existence even before I became governor.’
The alleged leader of the group, he further claimed, had been arrested, tried and jailed even before he was governor. Meaning: how could he be the founder or creator of a group whose activities had been ‘booming’ even before he mounted the saddle of political leadership? Even though Sheriff’s disclaimer of the militant Islamic group came a bit late after the mayhem and blood-letting it had unleashed on the nation, it was still better than keeping mute. Even though the former governor was careful in using harsh words in denouncing the sect’s activities, it was still okay to hear him claim he didn’t know about the group’s origin. But even at that, Sherriff, in my opinion, left many doubting if he was telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Sherriff, in trying to extricate himself, left many unanswered questions. He left many thinking if he had not actually encouraged the flourishing of the sect, by omission or commission, during his tenure. Let’s examine what Sheriff said and juxtapose it with what he didn’t say and draw a parallel. He claimed he didn’t create Boko Haram as the sect had been in existence before he became governor. Let’s agree he was telling the truth. What he didn’t say was what he did to either curtail the activities of the group or address their grievances.
The fact that you didn’t create a group does not translate to not being a sympathiser to the group’s cause. I expected Sherriff to let the public into what he did to stem the group’s spread, how he tried to caution them on the need to thread the peaceful path in pursuit of its grievances. He left the public to draw their own conclusions. Sheriff also claimed that Boko Haram had also once killed an official of his government. True and quite unfortunate. But, does that still address the question of what he did while in office whilst the group virtually overran the state? The lesson of Boko Haram for people like Sheriff is that we should be mindful of what we say or do or the body language we display while in office, because sooner than later our actions return to haunt us. If he didn’t create Boko Haram, he must admit he also didn’t do much to call them to order.
He didn’t do enough to address the poverty and illiteracy which still ravage his state, which gave birth to groups like Boko Haram. Even though he was called GAS, another favourite acronym of his meaning Governor Ali Sherriff, he neither gassed out poverty nor illiteracy from his domain. The position of Sherriff’s successor, Gov. Kashim Shettima, is even more salutary and sensible than the infantile mumblings of Sheriff. In a broadcast to the people of Borno, Shettima blamed the restiveness in his state on poverty and illiteracy, rather than religion.
His words: “The World Bank has described the central region of the Savannah-Sudan comprising of the areas covered by the North-East Political zone of Nigeria, the Republic of Tchad , eastern portion of Niger Republic, Northern Cameroons and the Darfur Region of the Republic of Sudan as being one of the poorest regions on earth. The region has very little and mainly dilapidated infrastructure, a population with poor or ill-education and highest level of unemployment especially among the youths, little or poor authorisation for mobilisation of people for self-help, a large number of hungry and angry population, inept and bankrupt leadership, little or complete absence of government control network and other factors for economic progress and social harmony of the area.” These factors Shettima said, “provide a fertile ground for the emergence of radical organisations like Boko Haram.” However, the unanswered question for many would remain why the incessant attack on churches?
Are those who bomb places of worship saying their oppressors or causes of the so-called poverty are to be found where they strike? Shettima’s position clearly calls to question the successive leadership of the region and other parts of the country. I hope all those who impoverish their people while pretending to be offering leadership would bury their heads in shame seeing clearly they offered nothing close to dividends of democracy. When this insanity will, hopefully, be over, the Boko Haramists and their sponsors would realise how too far they have gone in venting their grievances. And for the victims of the carnage, the dead and the injured, the broken-hearted, things can never be the same again.
That is the tragedy of war even after it has ended. LAST LINE: This piece, first published July 2011, is republished because of its relevance to the prevailing situation in the country and the allegation by security agents that two former senators and ex-Gov. Sheriff have explanations to make regarding the Boko Haram insurgency. Nothing, it must be emphasised, justifies the wanton killing of innocent citizens by any group no matter its grievances.
When people go to places of worship, they must do so in the calmness of body, soul and spirit. When worshippers are now too scared to close their eyes for prayers when commanded to do so by the officiating priests, it has become a truly frightening affair. Lord, have mercy!