New Telegraph

Zulum attack and matters arising

For a long time many have been warning the Federal Government that all is not well when it comes to the protection of lives and property in the country (which incidentally is the primary responsibility of any government), pointing out that rising insecurity is making the lives of the people unbearable.

In fact, the clamour for a change in those saddled with the task of ensuring enhanced security has also increased with even the nation’s highest legislative organs – the Senate and House of Representatives – also weighing and calling for President Muhammadu Buhari to do away with his Service Chiefs. About two months after being sworn in for his first term in July of 2015, Buhari opted to do away with the Service Chiefs he inherited from his predecessor, President Goodluck Jonathan, and decided to appoint in their place General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin, as Chief of Defence Staff; Major-General T.Y. Buratai, as Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, as Chief of Naval Staff; and Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar as Chief of Air Staff.

He also appointed Air Vice Marshal Monday Riku Morgan as Chief of Defence Intelligence; Retired Major-General Babagana Monguno as National Security Adviser. In doing so, many had felt that President Buhari, himself a retired military officer, who had used his promise to finally end the wanton killings, banditry and the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the country as one of his unique selling points in ensuring Jonathan became the first sitting president to lose an election, was taking the first steps to achieving his promise with the new appointments.

But sadly, rather than the situation improving across the length and breadth of the nation, things have not only remained dire, but appear to have become worse. From Sokoto to Lagos, from Benin to Abuja and from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, Nigerians are at the mercy of kidnappers, bandits, armed robbers or Boko Haram insurgents. Of course, while many of these predate the present government, for instance in the case of the Boko Haram, its armed insurrection against the state began in 2009, when their leader, Mohammed Yusuf was killed in somewhat controversial circumstances in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, the current government vowed to end it.

Unfortunately, almost 10 years after the first Internally displaced Persons (IDP) camps sprung up in Maiduguri, hundreds of thousands of people still remain in them because they cannot go back home, since it’s still not safe for them to do so.

As things stand, there is going to be a generation of Nigerians who will grow up not enjoying what millions of other youngsters enjoy in their formative years because they would have spent their whole lives in IDP camps, which at the height of the insurgency had more than 130, 000 occupants spread across 32 camps. Although we no longer have as many as two million displaced persons in Borno, the fact that thousands of them still cannot return home speaks volumes after claims by the military that they have “degraded” the insurgents sufficient enough for the people to be able to return to their villages.

But not even this festering wound in the world’s most populous black nation where so many of their citizens are still unable to move around freely has been enough to jolt government into tinkering with the security architecture put in place five years ago. However, perhaps an event which took place last week Wednesday along the Maiduguri- Damaturu highway may finally change the narrative. On that day, the convoy of Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State came under attack, and although he survived unscathed five people were killed including three policemen.

Of course, being Boko Haram “territory”, it was only natural that they would be the primary suspects in the audacious attack on the state’s number one citizen. But the professor was to blow this theory to smithereens, when he dropped a bombshell while espousing his own take on the attack. According to the 50-year-year native of Mafa, instead of the usual suspects of Boko Haram being behind the attack, rather it was an “enemy within” – Nigerian soldiers! Addressing the army’s commanding officer in Mile 4 after the attack in Baga, a town in Kukawa Local Government Area of the state, while on a trip to Monguno and Baga towns to distribute food to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Zulum wondered why the army had not been able to secure Baga despite the number of troops deployed for over a year.

“You have been here for over one year now, there are 1,181 soldiers here; if you cannot take over Baga which is less than 5km from your base, then, we should forget about Baga. I will inform the Chief of Army Staff to redeploy the men to other places that they can be useful,” the governor said.

Then 24 hours later, Zulum even went further saying what happened to him was a complete sabotage from the military. “It is a complete sabotage… I cannot end my interview without clearly stating what happened yesterday. As far as I am concerned, there was no Boko Haram yesterday (Wednesday). It was a serious shooting by the Nigerian armed forces while ‘residing’ in Baga. The situation is very embarrassing.”

The governor’s statement underscores the disturbing security situation in Borno. His statement suggests either sabotage by some soldiers or poor communication between the soldiers in Zulum’s convoy and those on the ground in Baga who shot at the convoy. The army said it investigated the attack and concluded that it was carried out by the insurgents. Maj. General John Enenche, the coordinator of defence media operations, said: “From the analysis, it was purely that of the enemies in that area, the Boko Haram. From the tactics, and from the manoeuvres exhibited, it was theirs.

So, I can confidently tell the public that it was not sabotage.” Of course Zulum’s fellow state chief executives have also weighed in pointing out that the Baga attack meant that no one is now safe. The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) in a letter of solidarity to Zulum said: “This is one unwarranted attack too many. It epitomizes our collective vulnerability and the fragility of the country’s security architecture. “We are appalled by the worsening security situation in the country generally, in-spite of all the efforts of government to end it.”

The NGF added that its security subcommittee would meet after which they will dialogue with Buhari and heads of security agencies. Incidentally, the government’s first formal response to the Zulum attack and worrisome rate of insecurity across the land came six days later when after about six hours of National Security Council meeting in Abuja, the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (Rtd), said the president affirmed his position at the last June 18 meeting that the Security Chiefs were not doing enough and hence, should do more.

“What he said today was virtually a reaffirmation of what he said the first time. Yes, Mr. President said you are doing your best, as far as I’m concerned, but there’s still a lot more to be done. I’m more concerned about the promise we made to the larger Nigerian society and I am ordering an immediate reengineering of the entire security apparatus. This is something that I believe will be done in a very short time, but I just want us to keep hope alive.”

Unfortunately, we have consistently heard these assurances before without any improvement in the security situation in the country. And unless things change for the better, Zulum’s warning that people will be forced to take laws into their hands may become a reality in Nigeria.

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