Before President Jonathan touches down in Borno

March 7, 2013
4 mins read

THE story broke last week that President Goodluck Jonathan will soon visit Borno state.

It is almost two years late really and was coming after the APC governors stole the thunder with their visit to the state and the walk about which surprised and thrilled the people, whose only contact with Federal officialdom in recent years has been the JTF.

When we did the media chat with President Jonathan last June, I asked him specifically why he had not visited Borno and Yobe states since the beginning of the Boko Haram insurgency. He told me that the airport in Maiduguri was closed and so he couldn’t land there.

I knew that the president had been misinformed, because I had flown into and out of Maiduguri, three weeks earlier. I was also aware that there were regular flights into the city and they were always full!

One of the most controversial aspects of the counter-insurgency war against Boko Haram, especially when the late Andrew Azazi was NSA, was the fact that a “them-versus-us” attitude had crept frightfully into security thinking.

Those in power at the centre nursed a basic assumption that the Boko Haram insurgency had been sponsored as a political act against President Jonathan; this mindset came out of the bitter political struggle which took Jonathan to power, and the fact that the Niger Delta political elite had sponsored the Niger Delta insurgency with money and arms and so assumed that what they did to Nigeria, under other administrations, was now being done to their man, Jonathan.

This line of thought was consistently pushed by the president himself, even during our interview, with his refrain of “Boko Haram and their sponsors”; sponsors that the administration has consistently been unable or unwilling to unmask; while exploiting the growing suspicion amongst various groups in the country and deepening division between North and South; Muslim and Christian, as part of an overall political agenda.

This is inspite of President Jonathan’s regular admonition that the Boko Haram insurgency should not be politicised, a line he repeated during his recent interview with Christiane Amanpour.

In pursuit of the phantom of chasing “Boko Haram and their sponsors”,billions of naira went down the drain and a few elements of the security apparatus of the Jonathan administration, especially when Andrew Azazi ruled the roost, in cahoots with international security contractors, as AFRICA CONFIDENTIAL reported, have continued to record stupendous riches!

Borno state has been left to its own devices in the effort to contain the insurgency, including the financing of the JTF troops, but especially in finding succour for the people. Despite the ferocity of the insurgency, it was always instructive for me that Borno elders and the state governor, Kashim Shettima, always argued for a peaceful end of the insurgency.

I took my inspiration from that position and consistently argued for a peaceful means to end it. The position was very unpopular with gung-ho elite groups in the south, far removed from the insurgency, but believing they knew better and were egging on the Nigerian state to use the bare knuckle to crush the insurgency.

These groups seemed to have influenced official Jonathan administration attitude for a long time, until more level-headed individuals and groups around the country, began to come round to asking that the state found a more peaceful, less bellicose approach, to ending an insurgency which has ground socio-economic life in a huge swathe of Northern Nigeria.

President Jonathan ought to have visited Borno before now and in truth, he is at least two years late! In the period that his security apparatus was busy expending billions of naira and enriching a few individuals, all that the people of Borno and Yobe knew of the Nigerian state was the scorched earth tactics of the military in the brutal effort to contain the insurgency.

Hundreds of innocent people have been killed and the military invariably became recruiting sergeants for the insurgency. The Jonathan administration did not cover itself in glory, with its neglect of that region of Nigeria. But it is still good that, against the backdrop of the preparations for the 2015 election, Jonathan has now found the liver to announce a visit to Borno state.

He ran out of excuses, after his APC political opponents not only visit the state, but also did that politically loaded walk around. Jonathan and his handlers must have calculated that there are enough votes to harvest in 2015, and some grand gestures will be needed, through an equally politically savvy visit to Borno.

A few weeks ago, Vice President Namadi Sambo, emerged from behind the sandbags of fear to do a first Federal government visit to Borno. He told an ‘over-secured’ audience, that there was oil in Borno, including, even in metropolitan Maiduguri, and the Federal Government was committed to exploration.

That visit was akin to a RECCE for the recently announced presidential visit announced. We can guess that even more promises will be made to the Borno people, with an eye to the 2015 election.

One of the scenarios being toyed with not-too-long ago, was that Borno, Yobe and most of the North might be so security-challenged, as to become almost an electoral no-go region in 2015. But that has obviously dissolved against the backdrop of the fast-paced political re-alignments taking place in the country.

Borno will become one of the main battlegrounds of 2015 politics, because since 1999, it has been in the grips of the opposition ANPP that is now a part of the new APC grouping. The PDP elite there has desperately fought to wrest power and that political duel between the ANPP and PDP, has been one of the reasons in fact, which gave political visibility to Boko Haram in the first place!

President Jonathan will have to double up on lost time and opportunity in Borno and the best he can do is to work with the Borno people and especially governor Kashim Shettima, who has done a lot to keep on the top burner the argument for a peaceful resolution of the insurgency; and despite the difficulties, has made a remarkable effort to make a mark in poverty alleviation; education; youth development; empowerment projects and agriculture.

In my view, it is these increasingly effective governance successes that have brought Borno back to the centre of political development and the decision by President Jonathan to finally break from the cordon of lies thrown around him, which had stopped him from visiting Borno before now.

Jonathan will be given the traditionally hospitable welcome of the Borno people even if deep down, they are disappointed that he has not visited earlier. I hope the visit will help President Jonathan to understand the complexities of Nigeria better and help explode the simplistic assumption, for too long a central motif of his administration’s security thinking, that the Boko Haram insurgency was stoked by those opposed to his ascendancy of the presidency, in the first place. He might then be more committed to the peaceful resolution of the insurgency. It is never too late to do the right thing in life or in politics!

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