In the end, the return journey by road from Maiduguri to Abuja, took fifteen hours! It was certainly one of the scariest trips I have done in recent times. By Sunday night, I learnt that I would have to return by road not by air as we had arrived on Saturday. I feel happy in the long run, that I travelled by road, because I got a clearer picture of what Borno people in particular and the Northeast in general, have undergone in the past couple of years: towns and villages raided many times; economic activities and social life suffered severe restrictions and there is a mix of stoicism and fatalism underlining existence for majority of people in these communities. One of my friends, who I had not seen since 2007, told me that people still living in Borno are there because they have nowhere else to relocate to!
The poignancy of the situation was brought home by a combination of events. A new video was issued by Boko Haram, which showed the execution of people in a school dormitory in Bama. Months after it was captured, no effort to re-take it has come to the fore. And there were also the bombings in Gombe and Bauchi on Monday, with very gory pictures of death and injuries being posted on various websites.
And as we drove past the countless military and police checkpoints, towns that used to have those fascinating names, like Beni Sheikh, Damagum, Damaturu and Potiskum, have suffered the wrath of the killing machine that Boko Haram is: burnt police stations, residences and shops are everywhere. Yet, people maintain a troubling dignity as they try to earn a livelihood. It is very clear to see the disadvantages faced by young people without the education and skills to become relevant in the world of the 21Century.
They sell pure water and soft drinks; kolanuts; sugarcane; cigarettes, and other stuff, that taken together, cannot be worth more than one thousand naira. I wondered how livelihood can be constructed around these items. The Bama episode was brought into bold relief when I met dozens of the refugees, under shades of a mosque on Damboa Road, close to the residence of Senator Ahmed Zanna.
There is no hope of return to their homes soon. And do we expect these individuals to appreciate being Nigerians, when their country’s leadership obviously does not care about them?
We arrived on Saturday morning, and drove in a convoy to the Gamboru Primary School inside Maiduguri. The occasion was to distribute food items and some funds to six hundred indigent families in the area. The programme has been going on in the various wards of the Metropolitan LGA and the neighbouring Jere LG.
The truth is that many families have become poorer in Borno as a result of the insurgency. So the assistance was really well-received by the community. In all, Maiduguri now hosts one million refugees from the various places sacked or occupied by Boko Haram. Two hundred thousand others are in camps. The logistics of feeding and keeping them reasonably comfortable is back breaking for the Borno State Government.
Zanna Umar Mustapha, the Deputy Governor supervises the project, which is coordinated by the Borno SEMA. Over five hundred million naira is expended every month to keep the people going, with the hope that someday soon, the insurgents will be routed from the various communities, so they can return to pick up the pieces of their lives.
That scenario fills me with trepidation, because in real terms these are people that even in the best of times are severely disadvantaged! It was clearer to me that, that over abused word, synergy, is clearly not existent between the Federal Government and the Borno and Yobe states, who suffer most from the insurgency. And the truth is that the Federal Government has to do more; if what Obasanjo revealed in his new book about what President Jonathan told him about the insurgency in the North, then we are in much deeper trouble than we thought. Jonathan allegedly told Obasanjo that it was his enemies that are killing themselves in the North! It is a most scandalous statement from the president of our country if it is true he said so!
Seriousness of the situation
On Sunday evening, I accompanied Kashim Shettima, the Borno governor, to visit the famous Nursing Home Hospital. I did an interview there in 1994 for the BBC, with its then director, Dr. Hamakim. Today, it has been refurbished and named after thelate General Muhammed Shuwa. Kashim Shettima met EVERY single patient in all the wards.
There was a pattern of illnesses that we found, which again underlined the seriousness of the situation and how hard the battle is against underdevelopment. It is very appropriate that Borno has in Kashim Shettima, a governor who genuinely has a desire to work for the upliftment of his people. As we left the hospital late in the evening, and in the next two days, I couldn’t help but think of the revelry that will accompany Christmas in the houses of the filthy rich in our society.
This is the season of goodwill, but how much of it has been extended to the suffering people of Borno, Yobe and the Northeast as well as the poor who make up the majority of our citizenry? Nigeria has managed to create one of the most unjust and unequal societies on earth today; yet we have enough to banish underdevelopment in our country and to even extend brotherhood in Africa.
But the greed of our ruling elite is destroying this beautiful country. It is NOT sustainable! So when you tear the thigh of a chicken and wash down with champagne, please give a thought to the people under the yoke of the Boko Haram insurgency! Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace and goodwill to man! That is one of my favourite quotations from the Holy Bible. Merry Christmas!