Borno political elite’s war of attrition

As it is often said, evil triumphs when good men keep quiet. The current crisis in Borno State festered because men of goodwill from that part f the country kept quiet as the current state actors engaged themselves in a war of attrition, not because they care for the governed but out of shared greed to hold on to power. As the world today embarks on efforts to rescue the abducted children of Chibok Government Secondary School, Governor Kashim Shettima who is one of those responsible for the 15 years baleful legacies of ANPP in Borno State has finally admitted that “the security challenges confronting the state and the nation as a whole can be traced to poverty, unemployment and lack of education among the youth population, which create tension and idleness among the youth making them susceptible to deviant behaviours.”

But as President Jonathan, one of the external forces fishing in the troubled waters of Borno State has rightly reminded him, it was not the federal government but the local politicians that are responsible for a situation where only 27% of children of school age attend school, a situation that makes them easy targets for recruitment by confused people who preach hate ideology and religious intolerance, killing helpless women and children and kidnapping teenage girls as sex slaves in the name of their strange god.

The major motivation for the 14 years war of attrition by the Maiduguri warriors is power. Their common ideology is greed. They are comfortable operating freely whether under the banners of APP, ANPP, AD or PDP and APC. They are all friends, business partners and quite often, children of those who have cornered disproportionate share of the state resources. First, was Mala Kachalla, financed by wealthy Ali Modu Sherif, to become an elected governor of Borno State in April 1999, on the platform of  All People’s Party (APP) . Not long after, the party became ‘All Nigeria People’s Party’ (ANPP) as a result of fractionalization.  To survive the dangerous mine field of Maiduguri politics, Kachalla  in February 2001 established a Sharia Implementation Committee, in a state with  about 60% Muslims and 40% Christians. And because there was no ‘clear cut demarcation between Borno, Chad,  Niger and northern Cameroon, a region plagued by armed rebels and trafficking in illicit arms and children’ as Kachalla himself once observed, his ‘political sharia’ was hijacked  When his financier and godfather, Ali Modu Sheriff in 2006, decided to become a king himself, Kachalla sought refuge in the  Alliance for Democracy (AD). Following his defeat by his godfather, he joined forces with PDP to wage war and make Borno State ungovernable. He died in the process in April 2007.

Ali Modu Sheriff himself like ‘the godfather who never sleeps’ schooled, lived and joined  his business tycoon father’s construction company as a director  in Maiduguri.  His PDP rival Hashim Ibrahim who  holds the traditional title of Mutawalli Borno, a senior councillor to the Shehu (traditional ruler) of Borno, whom he defeated in 2003 and 2007  was his childhood friend, business partner and  like  him was a privileged son of an illustrious father, Ibrahim Imam, ‘the motivating force of the progressive Borno Youth Movement.

Senator Khalifa Ahmed Zannah, another major actor in the Maiduguri elite war of attrition is also a Maiduguri-based successful businessman, and a member of the board of many federal establishments. General Ibrahim Babangida was his godfather. He,  along with others in 2007 organised the Democratic Women Forum, an organization that supported the political aspirations of the former military dictator.  Contesting as a PDP candidate in the 2011 Borno Central Senatorial election, he defeated Ali Modu Sheriff, the two term governor of Borno State by 189,232 to Sheriff’s 120,377 votes. Now, Senator Zannah, whose nephew  Shuaibu Bama was arrested in Modu Sherif’s house and accused of having links with Boko Haram has in turn accused Modu of being the sponsor of Boko Haram. The arrest of his brother according to him was “part of the campaign to declare him a Boko Haram member, financier, sympathiser, and harbourer and declare his seat vacant, all to pave way for Ali Modu Sheriff”.

Shettima the current governor who is a prominent member of the on-going war of attrition was also based in Maiduguri before he became Modu Sheriff’s Commissioner for Finance and Economic Development, later commissioner in the ministries of local governments and chieftaincy affairs, education, agriculture and  health.  The assassination of Engineer Modu Fannami Gubio, the ANPP governorship candidate, by yet-to-be identified gunmen paved the way for his emergence as ANPP candidate. He  later went ahead to defeat his PDP opponent, Muhammed Goni  in  the April 2011 elections,  with 531,147 votes to  Goni’s 450,140 votes.

Shettima in his inaugural speech as a governor described Sheriff, his godfather as “indefatigable, visionary and politically sagacious whose immense contribution to the development of our great party and his demonstrated managerial and administrative acumen in governing our dear state in the last eight years remains unassailable”. But the governor was silent on the fact that those eight years witnessed several religious riots in which many churches were destroyed, with massive killings and destruction of property by the Boko Haram fundamentalist Islamist sect.  If the policy direction of Shettima’s administration which he said was predicated on “Restoration of peace and tranquillity in the state” has failed, it was perhaps because it was based on falsehood.

Shettima and his group who have been in power for about 14 years are all grassroots politicians with cells of support in all the 27 local council areas of the state. They have spent all their lives in Maiduguri and served their communities in various capacities as party officials and commissioners. It is therefore inconceivable that they will not have an idea of those who have laid siege on Borno State in the past few years. APC should be asking the Borno State government hard questions. If Shettima gave an undertaking that the abducted girls would be protected, what measures he put in place to guarantee this or forestall possible sabotage by an unfriendly federal government that has demonstrated its hostility?  I am sure APC is aware that if an Ogbeni Aregbesola gave such an undertaking, he would probably be there physically with his army of happy volunteer’s workers to serve as human shield.

Although Lagos State is not at war, but Borno State governor could have borrowed one or two things from Governor Fashola’s creative approach to security in Lagos State. He did not just wait on federal government he once alleged sent two patrol vans to a police division where about 50 are needed, but creatively raised funds to equip the force. If the authorities in Borno State had gone beyond politicking and embarked on fund-raising in Abuja, Lagos and other major cities of the nation, ordinary Nigerians incensed by Boko Haram’s sheer madness would have made contributions. Taking out a million naira out of the state meagre resources to pay the family of each dead soldier is not money creatively spent. Such amount could have been more creatively deployed to keep the soldier alive.

It was recently disclosed that Obasanjo negotiated and obtained from Boko Haram a set of conditionality for a truce which the government ignored opting for outright use of force, while paying lip service to negotiation.  As this column, along with other well-meaning Nigerians, has canvassed in the last three years, self-inflicted crisis by Maiduguri’s self-serving politicians cannot be resolved by force of arms.  The way forward will be to allow the warring elites face their demons no matter how hard to swallow the demands of the insurgents are. We cannot continue to shy away from compromise which is said to be the highest badge of honour in a federal arrangement as in democracy even when other options are readily available.

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