Someone constitutionally empowered must come between Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State and the Military. Both of them need to wage war together against the Boko Haram insurgents at the nation’s jugular these past 10 years and from all that we can see, there is no agreement over methods and evidence of commitment. This has taken the Buhari Administration leaps backwards from giant strides made in the counter insurgency effort. Victory that seemed in sight is now looking like a mirage.
I understand Governor Zulum very well and I think he is a phenomenon that I can call the new El Kanemi. He is a populist, rose into a position of power as a typical self made traditional Kanuri. That aspect of the story is for another day. Zulum believes that if he can show diligence, sense of responsibility, accountability and a human face to his Governance of what is left of a once proud empire, he could win confidence that appeals not only to Borno folks but as well to the fundamentalist insurgents and allow opportunity for alternative conflict resolution. Zulum wants to woe by social justice, and in practice, he plays to the gallery by directly relating with the governed, and winning acclaim that the Military is not able to win by might of its wielded weapons. We may recall the incident a fortnight ago, when Governor Zulum appeared incognito at a stop and search post mounted by the Military on Damaturu Maiduguri Road. He saw first hand how local communities were being fleeced of monies if they could not show their identity cards. Livid with anger, the Governor reprimanded the soldiers as commuters clapped and cheered. Included in the reprimand was the Commander even as he defended himself and his men profusely. The Commander was on the flat foot because indeed commuters were being fleeced, and were therefore openly in support of Governor Zulum as he charged. On the video, the Commander drew attention to sacrifices his men were making, and even recounted some previous nights’ encounters with terrorists, in hope to calm the angry Governor, and save face. Without succeeding, the Commander said ruefully that being scolded in that way “would affect the fight against the insurgents”. Next, Boko Haram blocked the Damaturu – Maiduguri highway, killed commuters, burnt vehicles, and abducted passengers which then included students of the University of Maiduguri. It would be noticed that Boko Haram turned a new page of terror with the ISIS type execution of the student Ropvil Daciya Dalep, in effort to link the insurgency with the disharmony in Plateau State, between Christian’s and Muslims. They were to add in quick succession the beheading of Michika CAN Chairman Rev. Andimi and the abduction of 4 seminarians for which ransom was paid though one was killed, all to further worsen disharmony along religious lines. By this, a lot of the ground effectively covered by President Buhari in the counter insurgency since winning in 2015 on the promise to do so was eroded. Service Chiefs that deserve being celebrated began to be vilified with calls for their removal, a call that has intensified this week with their refusal to appear before House Speaker Gbajabiamila.
But someone must be held responsible for the failure to secure and hold the entire Damaturu – Maiduguri Road, the only access to Borno State. When the Governor scolded the Commander having reportedly caught uniformed men collecting bribes, the Military should have dealt professionally with the culprits. There could not have been many soldiers that mounted that road block? The Commander instead responded to the Governor that the way he was humiliated would affect the counter insurgency. That was presumably an order for his men to (“Ajeware”) relax their effective guard of the highway. Boko Haram naturally responded with blockages, abductions, and executions. Now this sordid Auno tragedy – piling up commuters at a road block and leaving them as sitting ducks to the insurgents. The Military High Command needs to take strategic steps that do not compromise the mission goal. The defensive posture that the military makes supreme sacrifice on our behalf is the reason we should ensure the insurgents pay the supreme price first and fast. General Paton told his men, “Don’t you die for your country. Let the other bastard die for his.” It is taking us too long. Civilians are weary and more weary are the fighting military men and women.
After that Zulum/Military encounter whose video went viral, it was obvious the “institutional framework for conflict management and resolution among stakeholders was not activated. This was for Governor Zulum, the Chief Security Officer of the State to have called an emergency meeting of the State Security Council for proper deliberation and appreciation of the Damaturu Road bribe collection scandal. At the meeting, the Governor could then have expressed his disenchantment and the “exchange of hot words” also, would then have been away from the glare of the dual galleries of armed men behind their Commander, and wearied civilians behind their Governor. On the altercation between Zulum and the Military, this column did point this. It was at the time, that Governor Zulum had however made overtures to the Military which suggested that a rapprochement had been achieved, especially as he was seen handing over several tactical vehicles acquired at high cost to assist the Military in their patrol, and more.
And then Auno! The carnage is horrendous. I watched the video and was moved to tears when someone in the visuals shoved off a small bunch of green neem leaves, only to reveal the brittle charcoal remains of an infant. Vehicles said to be over 18 were still smoldering, some of them with human remains within. You could hear the survivors narrating their ordeal, and blaming the soldiers for blocking the road as early as 5pm without providing protection for the easy target. They were all sitting ducks. The terrorists struck at a little past 9pm, and as reported, up to 18 vehicles were burnt and a reported 30 people lost their lives with several abducted. Governor Zulum wrote:-
“We have to be brutal in telling the truth. I am pushed to the wall to say the truth. Since I was inaugurated as governor of Borno state, Boko Haram has attacked Auno six times. Another thing is that the military has withdrawn from Auno town. I am not undermining the capacity of the military but we have made repeated appeal for the military to establish their unit in Auno. They are here but as soon as it is 5 pm, they close the gate and lock the people and go back to Maiduguri. This is not right.”
It would seem from the foregoing, that there is no synergy between Zulum and the Military in Borno. Zulum and his public’s blame the Military, whereas the military blames the public. Winning the war would be so much harder without a resolution of this conflict within the conflict.