A fortnight ago, this column focused its binoculars on Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State, who recently surprised Nigerians when he appeared in ‘bullet-proof’ vest in public. The piece dwelt more on the obscene nature of his public appearance. As usual, the reactions of the public to the story were prompt, instantaneous and overwhelming. Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, the preponderance of opinion was that it was needless for the governor to have gone to that extreme. At any rate, what the piece set out to achieve was that such a thing was the most discreet thing, the governor could have done.
Having said that, it is imperative, once more, to carefully look at the precarious and appalling security situation in the country vis a vis Kogi State. Since the massacre at the Deeper Life Bible Church at Otite, in Okene, a lot of revelations have come up. The police appear to be on top of the situation. Several arrests, including that of serving political aides to the governor, have been made. Not only this. Some of the perpetrators of the heinous crime are now believed to be ‘singing’ like canary in police detention.
Just last week, Muhammed Katsina, the Kogi State Commissioner of Police, told newsmen that two bomb factories had been uncovered at Okene and Okehi local government areas of the state. The discoveries included lethal wares as rocket launchers, bomb making accessories, AK47 rifles, police bullet-proof jackets among others. In addition, the police reined in two suspected suicide bombers. The two suspects, the police said, were among those who carried out the massacre at the Deeper Life Church. The suspects were said to have sneaked out of the state to somewhere further north to plan for another attack before the long arms of the law caught up with them. The command had reportedly earlier arrested the suspected leader of the gang somewhere in Ondo State.
“What the founding leaders of Boko Haram simply did was to capitalise on the ignorance and wanton poverty among the populace by giving them both money and material succour in time of needs”
The police breakthrough in Kogi State coincided with the resolve of the North to decisively tackle the Boko Haram menace that has almost crippled both social and economic life of some northern states. With the inauguration of a peace committee last Wednesday, Northern leaders seem to have woken up from their perceived slumber to end the wanton destruction of lives and property in their midst.
Judging from the main term of reference of the committee which is “to engender the restoration of the most desired peaceful co-existence, unity and development in the entire region”, it is obvious that the northern leaders mean business. But why did it take them such a long time to get to this point? Some would say it is better late than never. However, considering the enormity of the destruction that has been wrought on the region in the last two years or more, the committee has a herculean task before it.
In the first instance, the enabling environment for peace to thrive is not there at all. So many families and able-bodied individuals are daily slipping into the trajectory of unemployment, poverty and disease. There is too much poverty and pauperisation both in the region and the entire country. In fact, it is more pronounced in the North where religion and cultural schisms have almost combined to retard its progress.
In the nearly 52 years of Nigeria’s independence, the country has been ruled in a greater proportion by ‘rulers’ from the North, yet the region is the worst in poverty indices in the country. Illiteracy is very high. This is accentuated by a mix of socio-cultural and religious practices, which have deliberately constituted a cog in the wheel of progress in the region.
The emergence of the terrorist group simply known as Boko Haram, meaning ‘Western Education is bad’, is a testimony to the disdain with which educational opportunities have been treated in the region. Today, a group of rudderless and misguided youths who started as mere pawns in the hands of ambitious politicians have matured into a full-blown terrorists group with both external and internal support from those who are inclined to wreak havoc on the corporate existence of Nigeria. Their mode of recruiting followers, mainly through free meals, and some semblance of “social security safety nets” have buoyed their membership over the years.
What the founding leaders of Boko Haram simply did was to capitalise on the ignorance and wanton poverty among the populace by giving them both money and material succour in time of needs. This way, those who started as political thugs, killing and maiming innocent people as directed by their ‘godfathers’, later metamorphosed into full-blown serpents hunting the hunters of yesteryear. Of course, all they needed was arms and more arms with which they had been endowed by those who recruited them to foster their individual ambitions on their people.
Some few weeks back, this column dwelt on “Fighting Terrorism in Nigeria”. In it, I made mention of the double standard, lack of the required political will and the mutual conspiracy that have, so far, truncated the successful prosecution of the war on terrorism in the country. Then there are sacred cows who have remained untouched or who are been treated with kid gloves.
As I write, a senator who was accused of funding terrorism in the country is enjoying the luxury of a court bail for such a heinous crime against the state. At the moment, he may still be outside the country on umrah (lesser hajj). Similarly, a former governor of a state in the North-East where the insurgency took its root, who was largely implicated in the rise of the group, was once invited to Aso Rock Villa, the seat of government, for ‘discussion’ with the President. He honoured the invitation. One particular security chief, who was in the know of the visit, put his men on standby waiting for “orders from above”. At the end, the security chief stood down his guards when it became apparent that his prospective ‘guest’ (suspect) had been granted ‘immunity from arrest’. This became clear when a presidential aide just emerged from the bowels of the Castle only to be looking for a special limousine to take the former senator and later, governor, back to his house in Abuja. Talk of sacred cows.
As it is, concerted efforts should be made to tackle this malfeasance by cutting off the ‘oxygen’ supply to these terrorists. By this, I mean their sponsors, both within and outside the country, should be unmasked and possibly dealt with, while the flow of funds and deadly weapons into their hands should be plugged.
Above all, if the north and the country must get out of the present quagmire, the newly inaugurated committee, which consists of people with impeccable records of public service and advocacy, must proffer solutions to the endemic poverty in the region. It is symptomatic of the failure of leadership and good governance. In addition, the educational advancement of the region and the country must be given priority over any other form of platitudes. This advice is against the backdrop of the billions of naira spent by the region’s governments “to feed the populace” in the just concluded Ramadan. Doing so is a good gesture in that many people had something to eat and fulfill their religious-cum-spiritual obligations. But then, what follows in the rest of the year? That is probably why it is said that it is better to teach people how to fish than to give them a few miserable fish to eat.
When there are employment opportunities, abundant food to eat and a population of educated youths, the lure of criminality and terrorism will be reduced to a tolerable proportion, if not completely exterminated. This way, no governor or public official will have any recourse to acquire bullet-proof vest.