A few weeks ago, I sent a text to General SarkinYaki Bello, the Coordinator of Counter-Terrorism in the office of the National Security Adviser. I received a response that he was away on an official assignment. I have been unable to speak with him. I made the effort to get clarifications on some of the issues arising from the insurgency/counter-insurgency in the North and the general patterns of insecurity nationwide. I acknowledge that security forces operate in a very difficult setting, trying to contain the insurgency in the North. Significantly, there was generalized support when President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency.
The media took a very patriotic attitude in support of the heavy deployment of troops despite the inconveniences facing people in the theaters operations. A cursory content analysis of reportage of military activities from Borno and Yobe, saw an underlining jingoism by the Nigerian media. Newspapers report almost word-for-word, from the JTF’s standpoint;this is “embedded journalism”, without critical pause being given to fighting at theSambisa forest reserve. Propaganda was uncritically lapped up by the media and we completely forgot that a few weeks before the state of emergency, there was worldwide revulsion at the sacking of the fishing town of Baga on the Lake Chad! In the euphoric atmosphere of reportage and analysis, we set aside our constitutional obligations as set forth in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution.
Again, let me state that I understand governmentcould never allow insurgents to overthrow symbols of national sovereignty, including the lowering of the national flag; the killing of local officials of state and substitution of same with alien symbols as reported to have happened in a huge swathe of Borno. It was also clear that truth became the first casualty ofthe Nigerian war against terror;the truth is being accompanied by a bodyguard of lies, as Churchill famously advocated during the Second World War.
This came to fore, when a cache of arms was discovered in Kano on May 30th. The military commander Brig-Gen Ilyasu Abba and the Kano State Director of SSS, BasseyEtteng, promptly told the media, that the arms“were brought in by a Hezbollah cell for use to target Western and Israeli interests”. Within just 24hours, their “investigation had confirmed the existence of the group’s cell in Nigeria”. This might very well be true; and it was actually the MAIN ISSUE I wanted to clarify with General SarkinYaki Bello. It however appeared suspiciously like an uncritical acceptance of the US/Israeli standpoint about Hezbollah. They describe Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization; while for the Lebanese, it is a legitimate resistance movement which fought Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon; furthermore, it is a political party in the Lebanese parliament and is part of the government of Lebanon. As Africans, it is important to remember that the USA had labeled the ANC a terrorist organization while Nelson Mandela’s name was only removed from Washington’s terrorist list just a few years ago. The USA and Israel opposed Africa’s struggle against apartheid; the US supported the racist regime, while Israel was developing nuclear weapons with the apartheid regime! These historical facts should have made security tarry from hastyproclamations.
An equally disturbing phenomenon is the emergence of the “Civilian JTF” in Borno. Groups of young men in various neighbourhoods of Maiduguri use local knowledge to point out and arrest alleged members of Boko Haram. Their action seemed to have pleased a couple of people from Borno and Yobethat I spoke with on the issue; they laud the Civilian JTF’s contributions to the anti-terror war. And they have the endorsement of the JTF, who allow them man checkpoints tohelp smoke out alleged Boko Haram members. But WEEKLY TRUST also carried a recent report on acts of harassment and extortion that these ‘gallant’ bands perpetrate. Anyone familiar with the history of insurgency/counterinsurgency, especially in Latin America, will recall that death squads often had these “heroic” origins at the behest of military authorities and before long, they develop a life of their own, leading to atrocities that society regrets into the future. In Nigeria, we have seen how the arming of “militants”; “Bakassi boys”, etc. led to uncontrollable acts of violence and brigandage in Southern Nigeria where they took root.Borno faces the danger of an officially sanctioned regime of violence and reprisals with an unregulated “civilian JTF” into the future, if we do not think through the issues. Counter-insurgency comes with a traumatic aftermath that we must begin to deal with from now. Nigeria will still come to terms with the social origins of the insurgency. The nationwide outpouring of jingoism might befit the occasion and task at hand, but when the guns fall silence, we must address the issues of social injustice which led to the religious/ideologically-induced insurgency in the first place.
I write these lines against the background of three very poignant developments. Firstly, early this week, nearly every newspaper led with the story that JTF killed 40/50 Boko Haram members in Borno. THE NATION newspaper of Monday, July 1, 2013, quoted an anonymous source that said: “we received intelligence report that Boko Haram terrorists regrouped and were residing/hiding in Zabarmari ward. We mobilized to the area. On getting there, the suspected terrorists noticed our presence and started shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (…)as they fired sporadic gunshots at the JTF troops. We had no options than to repel the attacks as we succeeded in killing about 10 suspects. We did not take their bodies away, leaving them in the area. The following day when we mobilized our men to the area, we found that HUNDREDS (emphasis mine!) of the terrorists were at the graveyard burying their dead and as we approached, they started shooting at our troops which led to the exchange of gunfire, where we succeeded in killing over 40 of them”! The same alleged terrorists that security propaganda said had fled or had been killed, especially in the embedded reportage of a few weeks ago, were suddenly converging in HUNDREDS INSIDE a ward of Maiduguri! This is beginning to resemble a tragic, blood-soaked, fairy tale!
Secondly, this week, a statutory body, the National Human Rights Commission, released an interim report on the Baga killing. It hadreceived “several credibly attested allegations of gross violations by officials of the JTF, including allegations of summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention amounting to internment and outrages against the dignity of civilians as well as rape” in their fight against the insurgency. Five wards of Maiduguri: Bulabulin; Bayan Tasha; PanpanGajagaja; Adam Kolo and Bagadaza have been “completely razed down”. And as if to show some progress, Tuesday newspapers reported that 18 soldiers were court-martialed for offences arising from the counter-insurgency operations. Social phenomena are often more complicated than they appear. We must therefore be worried about the security situation, yes; but we must not abandon the basic responsibilities of Nigerian journalism as stated in the Constitution’s Section 22: hold government accountable to the Nigerian people; at peace or at war!