By Sunny Awhefeada
When, last Thursday, the Sultan of Sokoto spoke publicly on the crisis of insecurity in the North, he must have done so out of a deep concern and fear for the region that is about to be consumed by its own.
The Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa’ ad Abubakar, does not usually comment on national issues in public. Like other preeminent traditional rulers, he enjoys an exclusive and privileged channel of communication which carries his message to the inner recesses of power.
Not for the Sultan the scathing comments on national issues. Not for him making his weighty opinion public. Not for him the lamentation on the misrule assailing Nigeria. The Sultan’s concerns, his fears and envisioned predicaments are usually carried to Aso Rock in whispers for the ears of only those who should hear it.
The Sultan is the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s more than one hundred million Moslems, so his views are very weighty. His opinions are not trifled with. The throne he occupies has a history of power and influence. It was in fact the throne of a conquering empire before British colonialism halted the march.
The Sultan is an embodiment of an old imperialism with a present that still commands respect and awe. So when he speaks, those who should listen, especially those in the Aso Rock listen.
The Sultan spoke in the public domain last week to give vent to his feelings about the security crisis in Northern Nigeria. And I dare say that he spoke too late. The insurgency in the North-East, the banditry in the North-West and the systematic ethnic cleansing (as T. Y. Danjuma puts it) in the North-Central has been ongoing, cumulatively, for more than a decade. What did Northern leaders do to curb the menace? They played the ostrich until the crisis got out of hand.
Many leading Northerners including President Muhammadu Buhari, before he became President in 2015, spoke in defence of the then budding terrorists. Northern leaders castigated President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration for attempting to exterminate the terrorists. They reckoned and concluded that Boko Haram would be used to embarrass President Jonathan and make him loose re-election. Then the whole thing got out of hand.
The murder of over fifty boys at a boarding school in Buni Yadi, the abduction of over two hundred school girls in Chibok and then Dapchi, with regular almost daily attacks and killings of innocent people made the Northern elite to realize that the pet of yore had grown into a monster that has started consuming them.
The Sultan’s lament is couched in the following painfully telling words, “Few weeks ago over 76 persons were killed in a community in Sokoto in a day. I was there alongside the governor to commiserate with the affected community. Unfortunately, you don’t hear these stories in the media…….People think the North is safe, but that assumption is not true. In fact, it’s the worst place to be in this country. Bandits go around villages, households and markets with AK47 rifles and nobody is challenging them.”
The tone of hopelessness in the lament is unmistakable. Anarchy is on the prowl and lawlessness reigns. Commentators are of the opinion that much of the North is fast becoming an endless ungoverned swath. Terrorists, bandits and kidnappers now strut across the landscape like lords. Had this alarm not come from the Sultan of all persons, Aso Rock Squealers, Garba Shehu, Femi Adesina and Lai Mohammed, would have come up a string of abuses and then provocative and unconvincing rebuttals.
In spite of the dreary situation in the North, the Federal Government and the military continue to give the impression that our republic was comfy. This is evidenced in the Chief of Army Staff, General Buratai’s claim that “no part of Nigeria will be occupied by terrorists”. Which other Nigeria is the Army chief talking about? Could it be another Nigeria different from the one the revered Sultan is talking about? Could it be another Nigeria different from the one the recent Global Terrorism Index classified as among the three most dangerous places in the world? Official responses to issues by the current administration remain a big embarrassment to the nation.
On several occasions, the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed told Nigerians that Boko Haram had been “technically degraded” whatever that meant. The nation was also treated to reports of victories recorded by the Air Force in the war against terrorism. Yet, everyday that dawns, brings us to the reality that insurgency is still here with all its attendant tragic consequences.
The security crisis predates the present administration. The factors that precipitated it can be traced to our long history of failed governance due to grossly incompetent leadership. The collapse of the education sector, the mismanagement of the economy and corruption created deep rooted resentment that has exploded into the present conflagration.
Official responses to the malaise was often halfhearted and kneejerk actions. So the fire spread and spread and now it is almost becoming uncontrollable. In many cases, governments at all levels did give fillip to acts of insecurity. Many gang leaders were funded by governments for one reason or the other. Soon, the gang grew to become untouchable warlords and go beyond their briefs. That is when the same governments would turn against them. Many of the governors in the North patronize and pay terrorist herdsmen.
One Governor publicly admitted to doing so. Not too long ago, a public intellectual told the world that Boko Haram has a leader in one of the Northern Governors. There was also an interview by Terwase Akwaza popularly known as Gana where he claimed he was offered money to make the Middle Belt ungovernable. The guy was killed by soldiers, on his way to accepting amnesty, without a thorough investigation of his claim.
The killing, last week, of over forty rice farmers in Borno State reinforces the fact that all is not well with Nigeria. Before the slaughtering of the rice farmers, the nation was daily inundated with stories of kidnappings across the North. Staff and students of the region’s premier university, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, were among those kidnapped.
The kidnappers demanded for ransom and the families of the victims packaged same and sent to them. The ransom bearers ran into soldiers of the Nigerian Army who asked them about their movement at that time of the night. The ransom bearers told the soldiers about their mission. The soldiers wished the “good luck” and waved goodbye! This act is symbolic of the helplessness of the Nigerian predicament.
In the wake of the Borno killing Garba Shehu told Nigerians that the farmers didn’t get military clearance before going to the farm. Femi Adesina, three years ago, told the survivors of the Agatu massacre in Benue State to give up their ancestral land to their Fulani attackers and consider themselves lucky to be alive.
President Buhari then nailed it when he told the weeping victims to learn to live with their tormentors. Yes, “live with their tormentors” that is what the people of Southern Kaduna have been suffering for many years now. It must be said that the insecurity crisis in not just a Northern Nigeria menace. Every corner of Nigeria is under siege. It is a national leviathan that must be combated before it consumes Nigeria. Time is ticking.