Death In The Neighbourhood: A Gruesome Boko Haram And A Cruel Army By Abubakar Bukar Kagu
The simple fact that you have an old squabble with a Boko Haram member or an army officer does not like the colour of your face is enough to send you to an early grave.
Up until the end of 2012, I was a senior magistrate in Damaturu the Yobe state capital. But long before then, I was a student at the University of Maiduguri in Borno State. For most of us, the rise of Jamatul Ahlil Sunnah lit daawati wal jihad (The Yusufiyya movement) later nick named Boko Haram by locals, to it growing into the monster it is today remains a first hand experience. But it is time to acknowledge that the Yusuffiyya movement, as we know it, is dead. There is no longer a fraternity of young men sprawling the streets on motorcycles, spending the whole day at Markas and the whole evenings attending Mohammed Yusuf’s preaching fields in Gwange, Fezzan, Bulunkutu, Kawar Maila and other familiar parts of the city of Maiduguri. That era is long gone. What we have today are different cells and connotations of marauders and terrorists to whom everything and everyone are a legitimate target for destruction. It therefore becomes baffling when some ill informed ‘pundits’ keep claiming expertise on what they clearly lack knowledge of. Often, they come out giving overarching claims that only a furtherance of their ignorance. One such example is Max Gbanite, who was presented on Aljazeera as a security and defence analyst. In that awful discussion, Gbanite claimed knowledge of up to ten million Muslims of Salafi extraction in Nigeria that have loyalty to ISIS. This imprudent and outrageous proclamation depicts a huge population of Nigerians as Boko Haram affiliates. Not only is Gbanite’s submission deeply insulting to the sensibility and the sacrifice that is being made by Nigerians to fight extremism and disassociate themselves from groups like Boko Haram, it also shows how, sadly, some pundits concoct and relate information that lack any empirical veracity.
Even as underreported as it has been, most people with an interest in this unrest are aware of the young men who formed themselves into local vigilante to help apprehend or repel attacks by Boko Haram. Most importantly is the fact that Nigerians, especially in Northern region where the group is most active, have, through their traditional institutions, political and spiritual leaders; condemned Boko Haram, its ideology and allies. Let’s be clear and specific, these are not fringe voices or a minority of people. The leading voices are also not junior figures. They include Emirs, Senators, Governors, Sheikhs and even the Sultan. The likes of Sheikh Ja’afar and Sheikh Albany paid with their lives. The people of Kano saw one of the most dreadful attack in Boko Haram’s campaign of terror. The Shehu of Borno, the Emir of Potiskum etc., narrowly escaped death too. Hence, the likes of Gbanite should either do their research thoroughly and tell the world how they came up with a figure of ten million or keep quite. The specificity with which Gbanite made his claim cannot be characterised as an opinion. He voiced it as a fact.
Let’s come back to the matter in question, regarding the argument that Yusufiyya movement is long gone and our approach to the dynamics of this conflict is anything but been anything but. As far back as 2013, Bank robbery, indiscriminate killings and burning of communities, kidnapping, extortion etc., became the pattern of Boko Haram operations. This is way too distinct from the fraternity Muhammed Yusuf built from 2004 until his death in 2009. But also, let’s look at how and by whom these transformed activities and crimes were carried out. First, we have the group led by Shekau, who in several of his videos claimed that everyone that does not join the sect or agree with their ideology is a legitimate target for elimination. He had kept mentioning both leaders of the West and the Muslim world. His speeches often include Hollande, Obama and emphasis on the infidelity of former President Jonathan, the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano etc. Second are the various people reported to have been apprehended for robbery, killings and extortion, using Boko Haram as a guise. The third are people who claimed they were converts and were either paid or assigned to make bombs or detonate them in specified targets areas. Among this group was Augustine Effiong who confessed to have converted to Islam and participated in a series of attacks, including the 2012 attack and killings in Bayero University Kano.
Yet, six years down this gory lane, we do not seem to be scrutinising the old ways that failed to deliver. We are still embroiled in the old familiar scene and strategy. Cities like Maiduguri and Damaturu are remained proliferated with checkpoints manned by dangerous looking soldiers in full gear and fingers on the trigger. Police checkpoints are everywhere, choking the community by spending the day collecting toll/bribe from commuters. This is while the terrorists regroup and continue to attack at will. The recent attack on Maiduguri is a clear testimony that we are still on the defensive. Moreover, we just saw a video in which one of the commanders, flagged by his comrades issued a defying statement saying they are well and in full control of Sambisa and its environs. Although this claim may not be true, for how long should we continue this way?
Going forward, the recent report by Amnesty International ‘Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands’ is a denting but true account of how ordinary citizens continued to endure ‘double terror’. First by the notorious Boko Haram and other affiliated criminals, and secondly by the army that were sent to protect and restore peace. A common knowledge is how Boko Haram slaughter people and post the videos online, but to our knowledge was also the graphic video of soldiers slaughtering people in cold blood. For those of us that lived through this ordeal, we find the report by amnesty as just one part out of a volume. Gen Olukolade should, instead of trying to defend the indefensible, bury his head in the mud of shame for overseeing one of the most corrupt and punitive military adventures in recent history.
At one point, Giwa Barracks technically became a den for extortionists. Young men in and around Maiduguri were randomly arrested, often on the most bizarre of allegations. The reason for arrest could be as petty as finding one with a mobile phone containing any video of Boko Haram attack. But we all know these videos are everywhere! Detained under insane and cruel human conditions, families were forced to raise and pay hundreds of thousands to secure the release of their innocent wards. This outrageous trend not only continued, it grew in proportion. Those with no means to secure the release of their wards helplessly retreat and await Gods. Left in uncertainty, mothers wait until they either see their children or learn of their death. Often, nobody sees the corpses. The situation in Damaturu is no different. The notorious army detention centre located at the Presidential lodge became like Vietnam to an American captain. Only a few survived. For obvious reasons, this detention centre was code named Guantanamo. All through these past years, not a day passes by that people were not arrested. Their record is in the thousands. It is your guess how many were arraigned for trial. The fate of most detainees is simple, and we all know it. Pay and be released or die an agonising death.
To outline some of the patterns through which the Northeast became a killing field for the army, I will mention three horrible incidents out of the many that I know of. First is the case of mass graves that still echoes on my mind. In 2012, the residents of Malmatari village (an outskirts of Damaturu the Yobe state capital) were forced to exhume and rebury bodies due to the stench of human flesh coming out of a mass of corpses haphazardly buried. It is easy to brush this as another case of Boko Haram members killed and buried, but the families, whose kids were arrested and never returned, knew better. Second is the case of Musa Kallah, who was arrested in a shop along Gashua Road Damaturu while working as an apprentice, selling household commodities. Musa was taken to custody and few days later, his family received the shocking news that he had been killed and buried along with others in another mass grave. He left two widows and five children. The army checkpoints were also not a good story to tell. The simplest argument or even the fact that the officer does not like the look in your face is enough to send one to an early grave. The case of late Abdulrahman Mustafa a 26 year old graduate of economics from the University of Maiduguri, who was stopped by the army at custom area of Maiduguri city and brought out of his vehicle along with his friend only to be shot at point blank. To further indicate how the killing of this young man was instigated only by ill will and malice, even the rams he bought that fateful day, meant for Sallah festivity, were brought out of the vehicle and killed. Abdulrahman died instantly, his friend survived.
The question is, why did political and community leaders refused to speak while all of these atrocities were committed right under their nose? The answer is simple, not one person speaks out without risking the possibility of being arrested and labelled a member of Boko Haram. Sen. Khalifa Zanna, Sen. Ndume, (both of whom were legislators from Borno state) dared to make their voices heard. What followed is anybody’s guess. They were threatened and oppressed by the state. The Governor of Borno has to parade to the state house for complaining publicly of lack of sufficient weapon for the army. Left with little options, they all threw in the towel and waited for Gods will.
Now God has done his will and the days of silence are over. What is left for the new administration is to get their heads out of the proverbial sand that the old guard who failed to curtail this monster for four years will suddenly become proactive. The time for reconfiguring and changing the command and control structure of our security apparatus is now. Only this will demonstrate to the people that there is now a renewed and genuine commitment to fight the terrorist, the criminals in disguise and to contain official impunity emanating from those in arms and uniform. Buhari in his inaugural speech proudly reiterated his resolve for a comprehensive cross-boarder peace, which is possible. But to achieve this, the right steps must be taken. I once expressed a cautious optimism while speaking at a symposium in the United Kingdom. My argument is that Boko Haram, unlike groups like Al-Shabab do not have legitimacy even in the region they operate. Moreover, all the hype about Boko Haram’s capability is more of a myth than reality. Don’t take my words here, find time to research on how the people in Northeast are using sticks and den guns to suppress Boko Haram’s attack. Also find time to view and asses every video made by the group, which are essentially their own version of open PR on about their might.
Boko Haram’s strength is derived from the corruption in the Nigerian army and the weakness of the past administration. Nothing demonstrates this even more than the liberation of many Nigerian towns by Chadian soldiers, a country whose entire budget is less than the recurrent expenditure of Nigeria’s Federal Government. It is still convenient to say that the Nigerian army performed well in the last 8 weeks. But it is also important to acknowledge that Nigeria has to hire mercenaries from South Africa to join the Chadian and Nigerien soldiers who became forerunners in some of the successful battle along the borders areas of Bama, Dikwa, Gamboru et al.
Many gallant and patriotic soldiers and civilians have died in this war. Some of these patriots spent years requesting better equipment and artillery. They were simply ignored while the budget kept surging. Until today, no inquiry was made into WHY many of in the frontline rebelled. We know they were court-martialled and sentence to death. As it stands today, the country has put more soldiers on trial than Boko Haram.
This is the time to be practical. It is the time to be transparent. What many voted for, is what they should have. God help Nigeria.
Abubakar Bukar Kagu is a Research Scholar at the Law School, University
of Sussex. United Kingdom.
Email: abbakagu@gmail. com