Exclusive Interview: Why Borno State is Adopting New Approach to Dialogue with Boko Haram
Inuwa Bwala , Borno State Commissioner for Information speaks about how his state is coping with the challenge of development in the face of Boko Haram Security challenge. In this interview conducted by Danlami Nmodu,publisher/editor in chief,Newsdiaryonline.com in Abuja ,Bwala also revealed that a new approach is being adopted to facilitate dialogue with the sect.The commissioner as we reported earlier also debunked reports that Maiduguri airport was in such a bad state that President Jonathan cannot visit the state. Excerpts:
Q:It is like your government is battling with what I will call the twin challenge of development and managing crisis in Borno state.How has it been..?
A:Well ,you see, peace is a sin qua non to development and we are managing the twin problem :One developmental and one retrogressive.I agree with you that we have been managing crisis since we came in occasioned by security challenges..That is not peculiar to Borno state.And the situation in Borno state is not worse than the case in other states either.But we thank God that the situation seems to be abating,such that in the last few days since Ramadan, there have been fewer cases of incidents of either bombings or killings.These are indications that we may be approaching the end of the problems; that will give us an opportunity to concentrate more on the issue of development
Q:You are saying there are indication that we are getting to the end of What I will call the Boko Haram crisis.Is that the perspective you are looking at ?
A:The whole issue is not just about Boko Haram.When we talk about Boko Haram ,we tend to distort peoples’s attention from the real things happening.We have said it times without number that the issue, the security threat is not just about Boko Haram.
Q:Can you please explain?
A:We have said it before that politicians have found a perfect alibi in the operations of Boko Haram to perpetrate political crimes,political assassinations.We have said it before that armed robbers have found an alibi in the security situation to perpetrate armed robbery.But we are also not unaware of the fact that Boko Haram is there.So when ou tune your attention to just one issue forgetting about the fact that there are certain underground issues or b the side issues, you will tend to distort the attention of security agencies and the government from pursuing the real issues at stake.So when I said that we may be getting to the end of these things ,it means that of course, I said there are fewer cases of bombings and killings compared to what we went through in the past.Now it is only logical for one to conclude that when these things start getting less sporadic there are indications that perhaps we may embrace the option we have always said is the best which is dialogue as a way out of this whole imbroglio.
Q:There have been reports actually that government is talking with Boko Haram.The presidency has insisted that yes, they are talking through the back door.But we have also read in the media that Boko Haram says it is not talking with government.Your regime is the one managing the crisis at the source;exactly what is the situation?Is dialogue going on?
A:You see when we say dialogue ,it is going on at different levels.The federal government had said ab initio that they were adopting a carrot and stick approach in resolving this crisis.What that means is left for them to explain to Nigerians.But as a government in Borno state, we have always insisted on the fact that the only option out of this issue is dialogue. We have maintained that stand and we are not ready to renege on it. And our offer for dialogue is very honest and sincere. We just hope that our brothers will find in their hearts, the need for us to sit down and discuss what are the points of divergence. Like I have always maintained, these are our own brothers,the victims of the insurgency have also been our own brothers.And so the persons that are most affected in this whole crisis are the people of Borno state much more than any other person else,since people have tended to see Borno state as the theatre of this crisis. But as a government we do not have the wherewithal to adopt any approach other than dialogue .And you don’t set a time frame ,neither do you define the terms of dialogue in such a situation. The truth about the matter is you are dealing with human beings,you are dealing with the human mind.. So first you have to convince them that the dialogue you plan to engage in is honest. And then secondly, you have to convince them that you will not resort to those issues that caused the failure of earlier initiatives at dialogue. Because what has tended to scare them from the roundtable was the fact that there were times when in the past, they were invited for dialogue and I think along the line, some things went wrong, whether they were handed over to security operatives in the process and or whether they were arrested or harassed, I cannot say specifically. But certainly something must have scared them away from the initial initiatives for dialogue. So in our case, we want to be honest and sincere about it and it is not for us to come and start talking on the pages of newspaper on how we are going about it. Iam sure part of the things that derailed earlier talks has been the issue of taking the matter to the public gallery every time you start talking. When you are discussing with your own brother about an issue that affects a family ,you don’t have to take it to the public gallery and start telling people you are doing this, you are doing that. So I will not sit down here and start confirming to you that we are doing this,we have reached this stage, this is the modality we are adopting.That one will remain a secret perhaps we may have to observe,because when you start a thing and it fails, you have to adopt an alternative approach.And this is what we are doing.
Q:And you remain hopeful?
A:Very hopeful to the extent that somehow, we will find a way round it.Somehow, we will sit down and talk.Somehow, we will find a way of resolving our differences.Some how as a government we will find the means of redressing the grievances of our brothers who felt insulted or aggrieved b certain government policies.
Q:Let me take this issue beyond the general perspective.Talking specifically as the manager of information in a state like (yours).As the commissioner for information, how has it been coping under this kind of situation?What are the perspectives you bring to play in terms of how you handle information dissemination to avoid further escalation?
A:You see, like I told you, the approach has to always be persuasive.Persuasive to the effect that it will not hurt other people’s feelings or their sensibilities in the course of managing information about this …….But again we also bear it at the back of our minds that in crisis situations, it is ordinary citizens who tend to forfeit certain privileges and rights because they will be encroached upon and that is the experience in Borno state. And so to all sides we, try to be persuasive., trying to make everybody show understanding to the effect that there is no need to take up arms against each other.We always try to explain especially to the agents of the federal government that there is no need in trying to be excessively overzealous in implementing certain federal government laws.As a federating unit of the federal government and as a government that is responsive to the yearnings of its people,of course we always try to give our people hope in the face of the seemingly hopeless situation.But like I told you, the situation seems to be abating and we thank God for that.But nobody should come out to claim credit to the effect that they are the people that have made these things to abate.Rather ,we should thank God that He has somehow touched the heart everybody to change our manners of approach ..
Q:But we still get reports once in a while of skirmishes here and there.
A:Naturall y when things like this happen, there are residuals.And what you hear ow and then are residuals of the crisis.We hope that with time ,we will overcome them.We pray to God that He will take control of the situation
Q:We have heard in the recent past about complaints from Borno Elders Forum about the handling of the crisis to the point that at some point recently some elders said what is happening in the state was some kind of genocide.You and a few others disagreed with that.But some others don’t seem to agree with you.
A:We have said, of course everybody perceives the situation from his own understanding of what the situation is.But the meaning of genocide as we know is killing targeted at a particular ethnic or cultural group.No other meaning you can give to genocide in any way anywhere.So what happened was not targeted at any particular cultural or tribal group per se.They were the fall out of the crisis itself like I said.And I think to a very large extent the situation was over exaggerated.We feel like as a socially responsible citizens we should try to not cause unnecessary scare in the minds of our people..(Pause)So the situation should not be interpreted to mean genocide. And then the use of the word genocide would tend to cause scare in the hearts of the people.So we felt that we could have used words that would not cause scare in the hearts of the citizens.Of course ,we cannot deny the fact that there were excesses in controlling the situation.But we have to find other means of resolving some of these excesses without necessarily causing further scare in the hearts of the citizens.Already, it is a bad situation.We cannot further cause panic or cause further psychological turture to our citizens by alleging that there is a genocide.Once you say there is a genocide, to which group was it targeted? The tendency is that any person with the proto type that you say a genocide is targeted at will naturally take flight from Maiduguri, and that is causing scare in their minds.And that is the situation we don’t want to accept.
Q:Let’s go back to this first issue I raised about trying to provide dividend so f democracy in this kind of crisis-ridden situation.I mean..putting it bluntly,hasn’t Boko Haram stopped the governor from performing really?
A:Honestly, there may have been some setbacks in some other areas but government has not stopped working for a day in Borno state.If anything, we have tried to prove a point to the effect that in spite of the challenges, government was determined to do its best in the circumstances especially meeting the yearnings of the people of Borno state.And you will see the text of our one-year anniversary write ups,you may have noticed some of the thing we have done in the past one year.We have surpassed that level now, being in the 15th or 16th month since we came into government. And I can assure you that to the state in general, the challenges have caused serious setbacks to businesses and to other activities but government in the face of these challenges have been working.And the people have been very appreciative of these facts.But of course naturally,it has taken its toll on our finances. Managing crisis of this enormity takes its toll on the finances of especially Borno state.Thank God, we have been able to cope so far.And we are goig to do much much better.We are going to surpass what people think government should do in the next one or two years.
Q:Aside from the distraction from Boko Haram, now there are reports of some kind of disagreement …Your governor (Shettima) is believed to be at loggerheads with his predecessor(Senator Alli Modu Sheriff), the man we all believe anointed him.So what exactly is the story?
A:Let me confess to you that there is absolutely no disagreement of any sort between the governor and his predecessor.
Q:Iam talking about SAS and Shettima
A:That is what Iam saying.There is absolutely no disagreement.I have said it before that their disagreement people talk about is more imaginary …Because I know that they talk on the phone everyday and anytime he is in town, the governor visits him.I know that those of us in government are seen to be be his own godchildren in government,we regard him as our leader and statesman.He is today, the BOT Chairman of our party and that was why I have issued a statement to the effect that there was no rift between His Excellency the Governor and his predecessor,Senator Alli Modu Sheriff.Because there is no basis for an disagreement whatsoever.The governor gives him his due regard and respect and he gives his governor due courtesy of his office too.So there wouldn’t be any basis for any disagreement whatsoever. Those who create the impression that there is something are people we call conflict profiteers ,who make profit out of friction between people or between leaders.They are the ones trying to spread rumours,speaking out their expectations that there would be crisis.I assure you ,there would be no crisis.There is non as at now,there is no likelihood of any crisis in the future….
Q:Finally,President Goodluck Jonathan mentioned something during his last Presidential Media Chat, that he couldn’t visit Borno state because of the Maiduguri Airport and stuff like that?Aren’t you the people of Borno really worried that the president has not visited in spite of the crisis?
A:Of course we are worried, we are the ones that have been speaking out that our president couldn’t visit us even in the face of these challenges.Every Nigerian is interested in painting Borno State as a war zone.But our president, neither the vice president nor the senate president nor any leader of substance has deemed it fit to visit us.The airport in Maiduguri is today one of the best airports.The runway was just renovated about six (or) seven months ago.So I don’t know which airport they are talking about because it is the same airport we are landing on.It is the same airport Hajj operation is taking place there, international flights .So I don’t think it is enough reason to say the airport stopped him(Jonathan ) from going. Maybe they have not found time, their schedules have been too tight. But if they have visited other places, I don’t think anything stops him from visiting Borno state, honestly, so that we can be seen to be part of the country, part of the citizens that he is governing; so that it can restore our confidence in the federal government ….so that we can see the federal government as having shown concern for the plight (of)our people …So if he said it was the airport, I want to say it was not the airport.It may be something else,because the airport in Maiduguri is all right.