Mal. Kasim Baba Al-Kasim, a public communication consultant is the North East Regional Rapporteur of the Concerned Professional Congress (CPC), a civil advocacy group promoting civic duty, good governance and democracy in Nigeria. In this interview EMEKA ODUM, he speaks on the state of the North East, maintaining that it is in the overall interest of Nigerians to rally full support to the Nigerian military against Boko Haram to fast-track the peace process in the region.
What is your quick take on the state of the North East right now; where are we; are we where we need to be?
It is important that we bear in mind that the North East had been a major axis in the entire Trans-Saharan trade route that stretches from the South-eastern part of Nigeria through Bauchi, Gombe up to Maiduguri towards Sudan and other cities and countries on that route. It is sad that because of Boko Haram insurgency in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, our share of the multi-million dollar trade has been severely affected. Before now, most of the people in these areas cared less about government presence in their lives because they were doing large scale trading and business across the border. So the North East zone had witnessed much instability and human displacement that is unprecedented in recent memory arising from the insurgency and terrorism by the criminal Boko Haram.
… (Cuts in) But we hear that the situation has turned to be better, courtesy of the courageous gallantry of the Nigerian troops who many claim have effectively degraded the capacity of the terrorists. Or is this just the usual rhetoric?
No, it is not rhetoric. The situation today is different. Quote me, but for our military, we would have since lost the entire North East. What you said you heard is true about the courageous and gallant efforts of our troops under the current military high command which came on board a little over a year ago. Nigerians and the entire global community have applauded the military for the successful battle against terror that has resulted in the steady decimation of the Boko Haram terrorists to the point that they now lack the capacity to either directly confront our troops or hold territories at will or carry out suicide bombing on soft targets such as markets, mosques, churches, sports entertainment centres, motor parks, public buildings, etc. Today, they are degraded, decimated and fleeing in different directions.
Can you be more specific sir? What, in specific terms, would you say we have achieved as a result of the intervention by our military and other security forces?
The key indicators are there for all to see. The military has reclaimed much ground in the tree states of the theatre of war so Boko Haram has been effectively contained. Over 30.000 men, women and the aged captives have so far been freed from Boko Haram’s evil grip while over 10,000 territories were liberated with over 10,000 battle-tired ex-members have surrendered while 800 of them have been slated for rehabilitation, reintegration and de-radicalization under the new Operation Safe Corridor of the military.
Which one is Operation Safe Corridor again?
Well, we gathered that this is a humanitarian window put in place by the military in line with global conventions to de-radicalize and reintegrate repentant ex-members of the sect back into the society. In a way, it is the human face of the military’s ongoing mop-up exercise in the North East. We learnt it is the idea of the Chief of Defence put together to suit international conventions. It is a global practice whereby repentant or surrendered combatants are giving an opportunity to be re-absorbed into the society after their de-radicalization and rehabilitation. We commend Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State for leading his people in Gombe (where the repentant ex-Boko Haram members are being accommodated for the programme) in embracing the ideals of the initiative. We praise the efforts of all the governmental and non-governmental agencies that have shown interest in the success of this laudable programme. In saluting the courage of these repentant ex-Boko Haram members for surrendering, we wish to appeal to those Boko Haram who are still wasting their time and energies fighting from their hideouts to quickly embrace this unique opportunity to join the rest of the sane community of people and contribute to fast-tracking the peace process in the North East.
How do you rate your confidence in the ability of this programme to quicken the peace process in the region?
Without any hesitation, the CPC, as a responsible civil advocacy platform rooting for good governance in the country, has absolute confidence in the ability of this programme to bring about lasting peace to the North East. Don’t forget that Boko Haram is a fall-out of lack of good governance. The programme is therefore a product of rigorous thinking on the part of the current military leadership in the country. A keen observer will see that deep research and introspection went into the programme. We commend the Chief of Defence Staff and his team of patriotic and dedicated officers. Particularly note-worthy is the excellent focus and direction of no other great personality than President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, who has left no one in doubt about his resolve and commitment to completely decimate the Boko Haram and restore peace, stability and normalcy in the North East region. We have visited some of the liberated territories and can confirm to you that this is the beginning of the end of the Boko Haram. Thanks to our military for making it safe for people to return and live their normal lives again. We are indeed proud of our military and other security forces. We pay glowing tribute to the souls of all our gallant fighters, servicemen and troop commanders who lost their lives to pay the supreme price to bring the battle to this enviable state. We pray that may their gentle souls rest in perfect peace. Amen.
Again, what is the assurance that we are almost there because that is what Nigerians are interested to know now?
The assurance is there for all to see. I have just told you that we have just visited some of the liberated areas to see things for ourselves. Thereafter, we had a comprehensive review of the situation at our regional extra-ordinary meeting in Bauchi last week after which we briefed the press last weekend. For the avoidance of doubt, the military and other security agencies have succeeded in completely breaking the wings of the terrorists. They are incapacitated and have been reduced to nothing. The pressure will continue to be on them. So as citizens of this great country, we will remain steadfast and continue to encourage our military to put in their best to rescue this country from the hands of these terrorists and any other menace in other parts of the country. We will like to encourage people to give useful, vital and timely information to assist the military in their task. We call on citizens not to drop their guard but maintain vigilance at all times because as the saying goes, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. The Nigerian military that we know will continue to be responsive to general expectations of a quick end to the Boko Haram menace.
What is the place of the good teachings in the Holy Books as far as the de-radicalization component of this Operation Safe Corridor is concerned?
Thank you for this good question. Our findings on this programme revealed that they have carefully put together a team of experienced, seasoned and reputable clerics to give sound and solid doctrines and teachings from the Holy Bible and Holy Koran. Don’t forget that many of the ex-Boko Haram members were drugged, deceived, manipulated and indoctrinated to join the sect and carry out their nefarious activities. We also learnt that many of them are tired and want to get out. The Operation Safe Corridor is therefore a means of rescuing them from the sect leaders. There is no nation where non-state actors had ever succeeded on state actors. We advise the organizers of this programme to ensure that the empowerment of the repentant members is faithfully carried out to prepare them to play their roles in society. The de-radicalization component of this programme is particularly germane to promoting the teachings on peace and harmonious co-existence as contained in the Holy Bible and Holy Koran. It is therefore our direct and solemn appeal to these members to come out and embrace noble ideals of this programme.
The need to maintain peace in our communities and the nation at large cannot be over-emphasized. Peace drives growth and development. No nation can grow in an atmosphere of chaos and instability.
In the same vein, we welcome the dialogue offer by the Niger Delta Avengers. We applaud President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent declaration in Nairobi, Kenya that his government is ready to consider Boko Haram’s offer of swapping our Chibok girls with some of the sect’s arrested members. We welcome this development and believe it will heal wounds, calm frayed nerves and ultimately fast-track the return of peace in the region so that the people can live their normal lives again. We use this medium to extend the message to all rebel and militant groups in the country. This country is our country, we have nowhere to go. Foreigners will not build our nation for us, it is our responsibility to build it for ourselves and generations yet unborn to live and prosper in it. If we destroy it, God forbid, the in-coming generations will not forgive us.