Recently, Borno Elders Forum, under the chairmanship of our venerable Dr Shettima Ali Monguno, a statesman, philanthropist and a seasoned First Republic administrator of international repute, issued a statement with regards the non-stop killing of innocent civilians by both the Security forces and members of the JASLIWAJ (Boko Haram) going on in Bornu and her daughter state, Yobe. They expressed their concern over the plight of the innocent civilians who are caught up in-between, in a way neither the state government nor anyone has, which deserves to be dignified with big applause. In their statement, they likened the killings of the hundreds of the people of the states to GENOCIDE, which they are right in many senses.
They also expressed their disappointment over the indefensible lack of concern the government has shown towards the plight of the innocent people of the two states. “Nobody seems to care even as the Fasting Muslims were killed, maimed, robbed or displaced… The blood of the innocent floors and they are on their own.” the statement says, and of course, they are right on point, as well.
While the statement was very much applauded by the generality of the people of the states, coming from a respected elder statesman, Alhaji Ali Monguno, it seemed to have ruffled some feathers somewhere inside the Bornu State government house and also in the Joint Task Force’s headquarter. Immediately after they made that statement, both the Bornu state government and the JTF issued a counter statement. The JTF said it was not genocide as claimed by the BEF. The Bornu state government, while also refuting it out-rightly, in addition said that the BEF do not have idea what the word GENOCIDE, which they used, means; for, had they known what it meant, they wouldn’t have used it.
Anyone who has grown up in Bornu or Maiduguri in particular, must have been aware of the assorted culture and social morality of respect for elders — both poor and rich, by the younger ones. For an outsider or a visitor, the moment he steps in, it will not take him more than an hour to notice the dignified and respectful treatment the older people are enjoying from the younger ones.
For all of us who have grown up here in Maiduguri and have the benefit of that moral orientation, we do not even raise our voices to our elders. We feel very timid and shy before them, such that when they talk to us sometimes, we cannot even respond back, we only smile because we feel dignified they spoke to us. We can’t walk before them swaggering, or carelessly, in fact our women have to take off their shoes whenever they are passing before men out of respect. We can’t dip our mouths in when they are talking, no matter how good we master the topic they are talking on, talk less of engaging them in arguments. It is considered a crude taboo.
Even for an outsider who has the faintest of ideas about who Ali Monguno, the grateful orphan is, it will appear absolutely clear that he is a deserving recipient of such respect—and yes, he has always received, but this time. That is why we received the indecorous and rude response to the statement which he signed, by the state government, with utter grief and pain. But it is not surprising because it came from the office of a certain hyper sycophant-in-chief or another “attack dog”—Inuwa Bwala, the Borno state commissioner of information, who could do everything possible, if not even the impossible, to defend his paymasters, for pittance. Very recently, he was mixing serious public service that he is entrusted with, with individual party interest. We did not forget his defense of Ali Sherriff—the former governor and the boss-in-chief—from top to bottom—of the current government.
Inuwa Bwala felt bad for the Bornu elders for using the wrong word. And now how well would it have been if he had corrected them! Mr Inuwa was so forgetful that while he faulted the use of genocide to liken what is going on in Bornu, he didn’t remember to give the right word. But was he even right himself?
The word genocide has various definitions, and in many ways, the Bornu elders, who only “likened” the killings to it, are right to use. The Wikipedia gave many definitions and acknowledged that the most universally accepted, is that given by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (CPPG). In its definition, the CPPG, defined it as: …any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions
of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part…” — Wikipedia, 2012.
What we should be clear about is that the Bornu elders are not particular about which of the two sides is carrying out genocide against the people of the two states. If anything, they likened the killings of innocent people both by the JASLIWAJ and the JTF and the silence it is greeted with by the state government, to it. Hence, we should be certain that they have never said it is GENOCIDE, rather, “it is”, they said, “looking more like genocide”. Whichever way, they are not out of point.
In Maiduguri, there have been different allegations that security forces are arresting innocent people, more especially Kanuris and in some particular areas, for having similar attributes or connection to some members of JASLIWAJ, and detain them in secret cells and bully them to death, to the extent that Today, hospitals Maiduguri-wide could no more accommodate dead bodies (as acknowledged by Daily Trust also). If this is anything to go by, ain’t the elders right on point to “just” liken it to genocide against Kanuris and people of that particular areas?
If, also, as many people agreed, such as in our Churches, which by any means Mr Bwala must have been quite privy of, we believe that JASLIWAJ (Boko Haram), is aimed at wiping out Christians in Nigeria, going by the above definition, are they not right?
While they are right to have used the word wholly, still, because they are very conscious that the activities of the JASLIWAJ are absolutely indefinable and inexplicable, they did not do that—what they did was to liken it. What Mr. Bwala should have done in his rude response instead, is to prove to us whether the claims they made were really false as he claimed. We are not in a literature class and Bornu elders were not writing an English thesis and therefore there is no reason why anyone should lay emphasis on the use of weight of words or sentence structures as correct or wrong. We are into a serious business.
He should tell us whether innocent people were not “killed, maimed, robbed or displaced”. He should also tell us whether they have done anything about it or not—in the government house—thereafter, if he so wishes, his problems with use of words. For any reason his response is rude, disrespectful, incommensurate, wrong and therefore stands condemned. And make no mistake about it, it was for a very reason—a very very obvious reason—fear of another state of emergency.
To be continued next week.
Abdulhamid Al-Gazali, writes from Bornu Left-Wing Writers Forum. ([email protected])