Before I start, I wish to clarify certain mists concerning the subject of this write up, which I believe failure to do so, might lead to some misconceptions in the minds of Nigerians. One; I am a Nigerian, but not even a northerner. But I do know terrorism or issues of insecurity generally, affects every sane and responsible citizen of Nigeria and anywhere in the world. So, I feel obliged to write my brethren in the Northeast on this sensitive matter. Two, it is my desire that we all join hands to end terrorism and other such acts of violence because peace and harmonious co-existence are the recipes for development and I believe Nigeria needs it now more than any other period in our beleaguered history.
Thirdly, I lost three childhood friends, very dear to my heart to Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) in Abuja, when the sect went berserk. Till date, I still deeply feel the deep pain of losing these dear friends and I place myself in the position of people of the Northeast, directly at the furnace of insurgency. I certainly know they have passed through far greater degrees of pains, sorrows, distorted and haunting memories than me. I share with them these dilemmas and it informs the motivation of this open letter to all stakeholders in the Northeast. It is a personal plea, which I believe would reach a wider audience than the individual interactions I have had with a few of them and some other prominent Nigerians.
I have already acknowledged the Nigerian Military, but most especially the Nigerian Army under a respected soldier, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai for their relentless efforts and sacrifices to end the reign of terror on Nigerians. But permit me to repeat again that the 2017 New Year gift of defeating Boko Haram Terrorists which they offered to all Nigerians is priceless. It is what money cannot buy. I know it is what nationals of foreign countries cannot do for us. Only our sons and daughters in the military can sacrifice their lives for us and their country. And all Nigerians must look at the sacrifices of the Nigerian military and console them by maximally, burying our differences or personal interests to explore to the fullest the windows of respite and peace offered to us on a platter of gold. This can only be achieved when Nigerians as beneficiaries of this peace, also support it with personal sacrifices, whether they stand at the detriment of our personal political, economic or whatever interest at all. We should not only be seen as doing this, but demonstrate an uncommon eagerness to this commitment.
But I also know whatever effort, any Nigerian or any foreign philanthropic organization, NGOs or the government of Nigeria or even nations of the world are making towards durable peace in the Northeast, will amount to nothingness if indigenes of the areas do not feel compelled to first kick the proverbial ball rolling. It is on this score that I find Northeast stakeholders slacking and wish to converse with them by pointing out a few lapses, which I feel militates against permanent peace in the region and the stakeholder’s posture of “there is nothing again, we can do” staring them and us in the face.
I feel the sense of withheld consent for durable peace by some North easterners, considering the recent incidents of Boko Haram attacks, which were successfully repelled by the army. It emphasizes the dire need to reassess the strategy of countering the non-combatant aspect of the anti-terror war, which is the present stage of the anti-terrorism war. The only message these incidents have conveyed is that it appears the intention of the terrorists and their sponsors/ backers has expanded beyond instilling fear in the population or imposing Sharia rule as initially stated to now overt criminal desires and outings on Nigerians. It contains deep evil motives, fuelled by personal interests. And this is inappropriate.
Nigerians play politics with everything, but are devoid of decent principles. I feel the reluctance of North easterners to work for durable peace has political connotations. It is manifestly perceived from the standpoint of the desire of the political elite in the areas to maintain a questionable hegemonic hold on the pauperized people. Their silence and inactions against durable peace suggest that the ruling class enjoys the distortion of constituencies, muffled voices of the displaced populations, temporarily distorted voting blocs/strength of the people in the troubled areas, which have seen the retention of some elected politicians in previous elections unchallenged. This political manoeuvring for retention of political seats through the exploitation of the IDPs camps or the scheming to manipulate the 2019 elections is now the vested interests of some politicians in the areas, who sabotage efforts at full restoration of normalcy. These elements prefer the electorates to perpetually remain in the IDPs camps or disorganized and so, are doing everything humanely possible to ensure the populations remain terrorized to a level IDPs will find the camps more safer than returning to their ancestral homesteads. This is the worrisome interpretation of the sporadic terrorists’ attacks in the Northeast. And some IDPs are truly scared to return back to their villages and communities. This is not patriotic enough.
Again, a close observation of events from the Northeast on terrorism also discloses that some inhuman persons are lured by personal economic gains to prefer the continuation of terrorism in the area. No doubt, some persons (even indigenes of the areas) handsomely reap monetary and material gains from the years of terrorism. Thus, they work against the total end of insurgency. They prefer that IDPs remain in camps to keep harvesting the economic gains. These set of people therefore extend covert support for Boko Haram terrorists because of the accruable gains, which would terminate should terrorism end. These are manifest in the diversions and racketeering of IDPs relief materials and misappropriation of local governments’ funds under the cover of expending it on insurgency and insecurity on the distressed population. Such dubious claims sometimes even cover locations where normalcy has been fully restored.
The development has created emergency millionaires who are not prepared to let go Boko Haram terrorism in the Northeast. And then, the more overt criminals who engage in cattle rustling and other sundry crimes, which Boko Haram insurgency for years provided fertile ground for the festering of such crimes. Terminating Boko Haram insurgency is like terminating their personal lives and it accounts for the secret nest of support for terrorists.
I want to believe there are persons in the Northeast who are exploiting the unfortunate situation in the region by deploying the instrument of religion to subjugate the gullible and traumatized population of the region. When they flaunt the religious card and the seed of discord is sown, it creates an atmosphere for the elites of the region whether religious, political or traditional rulers to continue to maintain the dominant, oppressive stranglehold on the poor. So, allowing the displaced persons return to their former cherished and dignified lives by rebuilding and kick-starting their independent economic initiatives would solidly empower them to obstinately resist the influence of these elites. It is a stranglehold they hate to lose on the poor and terrorism must not be made to pave way for a robust life.
When these factors are cumulatively put into perspective and analysed in whole, the fear of the unknown has gripped many of the stakeholders in the Northeast .None of them is sure of what would become their fate should full normalcy be restored in the region because of their serial misdeeds and corrupt antecedents against their people. Questions which constantly assail their minds are whether the people will forgive them or embark on revenge. Therefore, these elites prefer the sustenance of the current situation in order not to raise a platform to be summoned to answer for their crimes or pay the price of such misdeeds, if normalcy returns. These have remained pungent issues, but not insurmountable, only if all the stakeholders come together, speak and act like a single group and show sympathy to their people.
It is my innermost conviction, that these new dimensions should form the nexus of a reviewed strategy for taking on the intellectual component of the insurgency by the authorities and if possible, expose those behind the residues of insurgents and how they are using terror attacks to keep encouraging remnants of terrorists on their own people.
But there are two options. One, it is either the Northeast stakeholders spare themselves the headache, cast off their fears, by taking the bull by the horns or be visited with punitive measures by concerned authorities . And it is simple. The stakeholders should collectively approach their people for reconciliation, show overt interest and actions for durable peace and also desist from all covert plots that tend to encourage terrorism or frustrate the return of IDPs to their homesteads. And I believe they will be forgiven in the spirit of fraternity and durable peace would return to the Northeast. And the time to axe the wood is now! This suffering of an innocent humanity should end.
Otherwise, I fear that failure to take these measures means no matter how consistent and hard the Nigerian troops devote time and energy; the Northeast would still lurk in the shadows of terrorism irrespective of any military intervention or goodwill that the Federal and the state governments might continue to extend to the region.
Okanga wrote from Agila, Benue State.