Ali Sheriff and Boko Haram: Birds of the same feather

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by: Hussaini Monguno
The 5-day carnage and the needless loss of precious lives that became the lot of Maiduguri as the “Boko Haram” sect held the city by the jugular, has come and gone, leaving on its trial anguish, trepidation and sorrow.

Even the Maitatsine uprising in Bulumkutu in 1982, which left scores of people dead and property worth millions of Naira destroyed, did not come near this one in terms of its intensity, fatality and fear. And although the whole carnage was reported to have been ignited in Bauchi when the “Boko Haram” sect members flagged it up with premeditated attacks on police stations and spread like harmattan fire to Potiskum in Yobe and Wudil in Kano, the one in Maiduguri was the most deadly. At the last count, 700 of the 800 deaths nationwide occurred in Maiduguri.

Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, was the birthplace of the “Boko Haram” sect and because the authorities in Borno State dithered and foot dragged for too long, the conflagration snowballed into a monumental human tragedy. The sect did not come down from the moon. The violent tendencies of the group and the threat they posed to the security of the nation were never hidden. In any case, countless number of security reports alluding to the possibility of an attack by the sect by the various security outfits, particularly the SSS, have been filed which were surprisingly ignored by the Borno State Government.

Information from the SSS headquarters in Maiduguri confirmed than in less than one year, a total of 22 classified reports were filed about the activities of Mohammed Yusuf and his group. In one of such reports, the SSS detailed the procurement of arms and explosives procured by the group as well as the secret military training members of the group were being subjected to, all in readiness for an all out war to be waged simultaneously nationwide.

When 17 members of the sect, in a funeral procession were shot and injured by operatives of the Operation Flush in Maiduguri in June this year, Muhammed Yusuf gave a lengthy interview to the Daily Trust in which he openly promised dare consequences for the attack on his members. He vowed revenge “at the time of our choice and at our own pace.” The SSS was equally known to have classified and interpreted this threat to mean that the group had reached an advanced stage in its plan to engage in an armed struggle but nobody took heed as the political leadership in Borno State continued to look the other way.

Ali Sheriff refused to live up to his responsibilities, not because there were no enough grounds to act, but because he feared that in the event that the fight with the sect gets out of hand, the federal authorities would declare a state of emergency, which will technically edge him out. And Ali Sheriff hates with a passion anything that will usurp his power. In his estimation, people like Senator Abba Aji, Ambassador Saidu Pindar, Senator Sanusi Daggash, Architect Ibrahim Bunu and other powerful PDP elements in Borno, would cash in on the crisis to assail the Presidency with the request for a declaration of state of emergency. So, he will rather tolerate the apparent danger of a looming war than run the risk of losing grip on power.

When the fight erupted between the Police and the Boko Haram sect broke out in Bauchi, Governor Yuguda got across to the Presidency immediately and secured permission to coordinate an all out assault to deal decisively with the sect. He attempted coordinating the attack simultaneously with the Borno State government in order to deal a blow to the headquarters of the sect and thus disorganize it and render it incapable of posing danger to the country. The Borno State Governor refused to return the calls, preferring to keep mum and incommunicado. At the time the fight in Bauchi was effectively contained and nipped in the bud, the one in Maiduguri dragged on, leading to loss of more than 700 lives.

Isa Yuguda and Ali Sheriff are not the best of friends alright, arising from their disagreements in the ANPP, but the Bauchi governor put the disagreement aside. Ali Sheriff, on his part decided to carry the personal animosity between them into the issue, and thereby compromised the lives of hundreds of people in the process.

The “Boko Haram” sect found a fertile ground and capitalized on the vulnerability of the pauperized citizenry simply because the Borno State government did not use the N160 billion it collected from the federation account in 6 years judiciously. The poverty eradication programme of the Ali Sheriff administration is a farce, its job creation propaganda is nonsense, its infrastructural development is a sham and its youth empowerment strategy is non-existent. The resources of the state are mismanaged and misappropriated in the name of sub-standard road construction, candle-like solar powered street lights, the ill-advised resources filtering in housing estates, needless purchase of thousands of motorcycles, irresponsible expenditure running into billions of Naira on the annual ritual of bringing in Sudanese and Ethiopian dancers to celebrate democracy days and the 1st lady's birthdays.

With nothing at stake, with no hope and no expectation, Muhammed Yusuf easily co-opted the army of frustrated and pauperized young men, indoctrinated and programmed them to loathe the authority and charged them to take up arms against their people. The manner in which they gleefully slaughtered people and reaped open their bellies while the war lasted is a summation of the anger that boiled in them.

The resort to arms by the Muhammed Yusuf group stand condemned in the strongest of terms. Their aversion to western education was uncalled for, misleading and irresponsible. Nothing in this world can explain or justify any of their actions. In the same vein, the role played by the Borno State government, its foot-dragging, lack of vision and tact, inaction and slumbering are in fact more condemnable. This has exposed Ali Sheriff as incompetent, rudderless, tactless, ill-prepared for leadership and simply lacking in leadership qualities.

More questionable is the extra judicial killings of people that took place with the active connivance of the Borno State government and the Police. Why the haste to terminate the lives of Muhammed Yusuf, his deputy Abubakar Shakkau and Borno ex-Commissioner Buji Fai? The army, which captured Muhammed Yusuf, confirmed that Yusuf was alive and well when he was captured, and that he was handed over to the Police in good health. The Police told us later that Yusuf had been gunned down in an exchange of gun fire. The rush to kill both Fai and the Sect leaders looks like a suspicious attempt aimed at blocking them from spilling the beans.

Now the nation has been robbed of the opportunity to getting valuable information on the mindset of the group, their philosophy, how they procured their arms, how they perfected the science of making bombs, who their financiers were and many more that will have aided the government deal with such problem in future.

More impervious and unacceptable was the murder of the 75-year old father-in-law to Muhammed Yusuf, Baba Fugu who on his own volition reported himself to the police authorities for protective custody. His 40-year-old son alleged that his father was summarily executed by the police who took the body to the University Teaching Hospital from where the body was given mass burial along with hundreds of others. His killing too was suspected to be a cover up. With the death of the three most important personalities in the matter, the country has effectively been denied the opportunity to get the culprits dealt with.

Now this Boko Haram mess has claimed hundreds of innocent lives. How many more lives are we likely to lose in the build up to the ''do or die'' 2011 meltdown? But it is avoidable only if the will is there to stop this madness..

Hussaini Monguno
University of Maiduguri
Borno State.
Tel: 0705 767 9999

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