In Search of Boko Haram’s Sponsor By Mahmud Jega
I was earnestly hoping that by the time I resume writing after a month’s annual leave, Boko Haram as a column subject will be as appetising to readers as my boarding secondary school’s lunch menu on Tuesday was to students.
Its official name was “rice, beans and oil” but the beans were so infested with weevils that one student sneaked up to the Food Menu on the notice board and added, “and insects.”
On the day I resumed work late last week, it seemed to me that everyone was looking for Boko Haram’s financial sponsor. A brilliant illustration in yesterday’s Sunday Trust summarised all the accused persons and groups in the alleged sponsorship of Boko Haram, by far the deadliest quasi-religious phenomenon that ever afflicted Nigeria. The latest men to be short-listed are former Army Chief Lt General Ihejirika and former Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sheriff. Both men were sensationally accused of being Boko Haram financiers by the Australian-born hostage negotiator Steven Davis. Even though Davis did not provide evidence to the high standard expected of a Whiteman, many Nigerians believed the charge as soon as they heard it. One man told me that he believed Davis’ charge because “he said he heard it from Boko Haram commanders.” Here, I can only paraphrase the recently deceased comedian Golobo; “whatever Boko Haram commanders tell you, will you believe it?”
The Jonathan Presidency was unhappy with its friend Davis’ charge because it struck close to home. It was upset that Ihejirika was accused of being a terror group financier for at least three reasons. He was Jonathan’s Army Chief for three years and such a charge at least made the president to look inept. Secondly, Igbo political leaders were outraged by the naming of Ihejirika at a time when some Igbo states seek to keep Northern travellers out of their states. Since Jonathan is counting so much on block Igbo votes in 2015 he does not want anything to upset them, reason why DSS’s spokeswoman Marlyn Ogar went way beyond her call of duty to declare that Ihejirika was cleared of the charge. Thirdly, Ihejirika’s naming by Davis disrupts official thinking that Boko Haram is a covert Northern political operation.
While Mrs Ogar cleared Ihejirika without any investigation, she said the Department of State Service [DSS] would haul in Ali Modu Sheriff for questioning. That was surprising because Sheriff, too, is a 2015 Presidency storm trooper who recently defected from APC to PDP. Yet in his own case, DSS probably thought they could not dismiss the charge outright because it was not the first time he was being accused of financing Boko Haram. Many people who heard his name thought of the old African saying that “monkey resembles human being.”
From the early days of Boko Haram’s war, I remember seeing articles in several newspapers written by some Borno academics and journalists who made the same charge. Their main contention was that as governor, Sheriff had political thugs known in Borno as ECOMOG, elements of which probably ended up in Boko Haram. Even more directly, he was accused of having a political deal with the late Boko Haram leader Mohamed Yusuf to obtain the sect members’ support in return for a promise to implement shari’a in the state. Sheriff’s Commissioner for Religious Affairs Alhaji Buji Foi, who was executed by the police in 2009, was a sect top notcher. Sheriff himself described, in a 2009 interview, how Foi went to his office and told him that he was resigning from the cabinet because it was not pursuing true Islamic rule. He said he outmanoeuvred Foi by announcing a minor cabinet shake up and dropping him. Borno State PDP leaders repeated this allegation against Sheriff when they visited Daily Trust in 2011.
That so many people are accusing him of having ties to Boko Haram is partly a product of Sheriff’s do-or-die political style in the last 15 years, an adroit mix of running with the hare and hunting with the hound. While he exercised very firm control of Borno State through an opposition party, he reached out to Abuja, established a powerful rub-me-I-rub-you deal with President Obasanjo and orphaned his PDP opponents at home. He did a similar thing to a sitting governor in 2003 when he got APP’s national chairman Attahiru Bafarawa to snatch away APP party structures from Governor Mala Kachallah and hand them over to him. He recently tried to do a similar thing and snatch APC structures from Governor Kashim Shettima. When the bid failed, he defected to PDP.
If the Jonathan Presidency is feeling uncomfortable because the searchlight is beaming too close to home, it has only itself to blame since Jonathan himself started the search for Boko Haram sponsors and abetters. He said back in 2011 that the insurgents had supporters in his government though he never named them. It was a poorly thought out statement that has haunted the president ever since. It was second in tragic import only to Jonathan’s October 1, 2010 statement when he said he knew MEND did not carry out the Eagle Square bombing even though it issued a statement claiming responsibility for the deed.
Since Jonathan began the sponsoring game, many other persons and groups have been fingered by various other persons as Boko Haram sponsors. The most oft-accused group has been APC; PDP spokesman Olisah Metuh several times accused the opposition party of being behind Boko Haram in order to undermine the Jonathan regime. The fact that Boko Haram has mostly ravaged APC-ruled states was overlooked by Metuh.
DSS’ increasingly irrational spokeswoman Marlyn Ogar also supported Metuh when she said that a bomb blast occurs whenever APC loses an election. One problem with her stance was that it contradicted what the late General Andrew Azazi once said, that it is power struggle within PDP that created Boko Haram. Still, National Orientation Agency [NOA] director general Mike Omeri supported Ogar by saying membership cards of a “frontline political party” were found in a Boko Haram camp overrun by the army. Of this country’s 25 registered political parties, only PDP and APC could be considered frontline. Since Omeri is a PDP chieftain, he clearly meant they were APC cards.
At the other end of the line, former Adamawa State Governor Murtala Nyako sensationally alleged, first at a lecture in Washington and then through a letter to other Northern governors that President Jonathan and the Federal Government sponsored Boko Haram in order to ruin the North. APC’s national chairman Chief John Odigie-Oyegun said Boko Haram sponsors are “friends of the Presidency.” Sure this charge rankles the presidency, but it was abit too general. General Muhammadu Buhari too once said that there are three types of Boko Haram; one is the sect, the second is a criminal group while the third and biggest one is the Federal Government. Yet another suspect was added to the list last week, this time by General Ihejirika. Soon after former FCT Minister Nasiru el-Rufa’i retweeted Davis’ charge, Ihejirika said El-Rufa’i is “the Executive Commander of Boko Haram.”
I was amazed at the weekend that while all the blame game was going on, a man who is in a very good position to know took a totally different tack. Reading the text of a state-wide broadcast that Governor Kashim Shettima did on Saturday, I noticed that he blamed no one of sponsoring Boko Haram. He recognised the sect for what it is, a murderous criminal group that turned Islamic teaching on its head. He acknowledged all the atrocities the sect committed against Borno people but he did not say it is a foreign agency. While many people are blaming the military, Shettima praised them for their efforts and he called on citizens to extend to them full support. While many people express pessimism at Federal Government’s plans to end the insurgency, Shettima expressed optimism that it would soon do so. Alhaji Kashim Shettima was the only person in Nigeria last week who was not chasing shadows. How I wish there are a few other high officials like him.
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