Opinion

Mike Awoyinfa: Governor Shettima ‘Hope Is Coming’

Next week is the elections but my mind is not there today. Instead I am gazing up north, thinking of our brothers and sisters in Bor­no, Yobe and Adamawa who would not vote because they have been “Shugabaed” (exiled) and forced out of Nigeria by forces beyond their control.

To really understand what the hell is going on up there, I am digesting and writing on this interesting interview with the young, erudite Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, the man in the eye of the Boko Haram storm. A menacing, killer storm that has taken lives, ravaged vil­lages, shrunk the size of Nigeria and given us a black eye. Thank God for the six-week “Operation Desert Storm” resurgence by our military boys whose morale have sud­denly been boosted. Supported in battle by the combined efforts of armies from Niger, Chad and Cameroon, the in­surgents are fast losing grounds and we are regaining our lost paradise and our lost pride as the giant of Africa held hostage by a rampaging, ragtag, fanatic army of suicide bombers.

As to be expected, it hasn’t been easy for Shettima, the governor of the beleaguered and the bedeviled north-western chunk of Nigeria. Here is the man who sleeps with one eye open. The leader at the frontline. The man wearing the shoes and feeling the pinch. The man with the uneasy head scarred by the trauma and the emotion of helplessly watching his people die and bleed to cruel deaths in the hands of the most dastardly terrorists ever seen in this part of the world. Those who are not yet dead, for fear of their lives, are leaving the land of their birth in mass exodus of biblical proportions to seek refuge in strange lands.

Shettima has just returned from Niger Republic where he visited the flood of refugees from his state. Men, wom­en and children alienated, uprooted and displaced from their native land by the Boko Haram insurgents. For the governor, trauma is the word. Trauma with a capital T.

“All of us are traumatized by what is happening to our people,” he declares. “People who are uprooted from their ancestral homes and made refugees in foreign land. I am personally touched, I am traumatized.”

The destruction caused by Boko Haram is beyond any estimation. “I think it is preposterous for one to start put­ting figures together,” Shettima says. “The destruction they have caused is beyond physical infrastructure. Our people are psychologically damaged. What we can do now is how to rehabilitate our people psychologically, in terms of physical infrastructure, in terms of means of live­lihood. Because a lot of our people are artisans, farmers. They are among the poorest of the earth. The activities of the insurgents have further pauperized them. So we will have to take stock on how to fix the system and assist our people.”

What is of utmost priority is driving away the vandals and allowing peace to reign where there was war. “Let us just get our land back,” the governor prays. And like a prophet of hope, Shettima believes hope is coming. “The good side to all these,” he says “is a silver lining in the ho­rizon. The current effort by the Nigerian, Nigerien, Chad­ian and Cameroonian troops have indicated that respite is on the way and very soon the insurgents would be over­come and our people would be coming back home soon.”

From Niger, the governor says he intends to visit Cam­eroon where “we have refugees from Kala-Balge, Ngala, Gwoza, Marte and Dikwa local governments. We are go­ing to go and sympathize with them and assure them of our unflinching empathy and support. Believe me, once our communities are totally liberated and clear of land­mines, once infrastructural facilities are repaired, once insurgents in the countryside are cleared up, a lot of the refugees are willing to go back home.

“But for now, there is apprehension because there are still some insurgents in some of the villages. There are over a thousand insurgents in some villages between the Abadam/Mobbar axis and this is making our people not to go back home and the insurgents are still extorting money from the people and wreaking havoc. But very soon we believe our military authorities will extend their reach beyond the local government headquarters to the nooks and crannies of the local governments to clear out the in­surgents once and for all. For now, the job is half done. If they are allowed to roam the countryside they can still wreak havoc. To be fair to the military, there have been major developments especially in the context of the recap­ture of the major towns.”

Jaw-jaw better than war-war

Boko Haram may have been driven back, but the gov­ernor still believes that the panacea to ending insurgency is “jaw-jaw which is always better than to war-war,” to quote from Britain’s wartime leader Sir Winston Church­ill.

“Unless we want to engage in an endless war of attri­tion, dialogue is an inescapable option,” he declares. “I have always been an advocate of dialogue and I will al­ways remain one. As John Kennedy has rightly said, ‘Let us never negotiate out fear but let us never fear to negoti­ate.’ So, along that line, I believe dialogue is the only way out. The most intractable of global problems are solved on the negotiation table. The Irish question, the Israeli/ Palestinian quagmire, most of the problems of the world; in Colombia, the rebels are talking to the government of Colombia. And in Boko Haram, there are the ‘moder­ate elements.’ Underline the word ‘moderate elements.’ These are the ones that were forcefully conscripted into the sect, those that are willing to lay down their arms; are we averse to embracing them?

“We just have to embrace them and give them reorien­tation and reintroduce them into the society. But the nihil­ists among them, we will never dialogue with. That is the truth of the matter. But along this line, I believe the ‘mod­erate elements’ among the Boko Haram far supersede the ‘extreme elements.’ As a result of fear, the newly con­scripted Boko Haram insurgents were being forced along; they are not operating out of their own volition. They are not ideologically Boko Haram, but they are forcefully conscripted young boys and girls. And they are the ones they push to the battlefront to die very horrible deaths.”

In the estimation of the governor, the tragedy of Boko Haram in Nigeria is far more serious than what is happen­ing in places like Syria and Iraq. Even the figures of Boko Haram-induced deaths are underestimated, he claims.

“A chunk of the generation between the age bracket of 15 and 25 years has been wiped away. If anybody tells you that 15,000 people lost their lives since Boko Haram insurgency started, that is a cock and bull story. Between Maiduguri and Maisandra ward, in a month, up to a thou­sand lives might have been lost. When they are talking about Syrian tragedy, believe me, ours supersedes it. Be­tween 300,000 and 500,000 might have been killed in this tragedy. Every single day, we are witnessing a countless loss of human lives. In terms of infrastructure, in terms of building, we can get over that soon.”

Marshal Plan

But then what should be done to rebuild? Gov. Shet­tima wants a Marshal Plan approach involving the global community. “I believe there should be a global effort, a kind of Marshal Plan towards rehabilitating the infrastruc­ture, towards rehabilitating our people, making our educa­tion system work, towards enhancing and strengthening our healthcare delivery.

“It is beyond the resources of the state and, to a large extent, beyond the resources of the Federal Government because there are other competing demands for the mea­gre resources, worsened by the plummeting price of crude oil to less than $60 per barrel.”

It is against this backdrop that the Bornu State governor is appealing to the whole world to “come over to Macedo­nia and help us.” Come and save Bornu State and the other states from the aftermath of the Boko Haram scourge, he cries out loud:

“There has to be a global effort towards rehabilitation and reconstruction in the manner millions of dollars was mobilized for the rebuilding of Syria, Libya and other communities. We neither have much oil nor are we im­portant in the context of our territorial location but we still need the support of the international community. We have oil in Lake Chad but I do not think we are of strategic location to the global powers. It is in the enlightened self-interest of the rest of humanity to come to our aid.”

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Article written by Mike Awoyinfa

Former publisher of The Sun newspapers and the dubbed King of Tabloid Journalism in Nigeria.

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