BORNO: IN SEARCH OF A PARADIGM SHIFT
Borno state carved out of the North Eastern state in 1976 is one place that means different things to different people. For some, it is one of the farthest points in the north east famous for its harsh weather. To others, it is that state that produces the delicious fish from the shores of lake Chad which many Nigerians love. For those who do not share any of these connections, their only connection to Borno may be through history books where the famous El-Kanemi dynasty held sway in the old Kanem Borno empire after the fall of Seyfawa and Mai dynasty. And of recent, the Boko Haram story that has placed the state on world map for the wrong reasons.
A popular African proverb says that once a finger is soiled in oil, it stains the others. It is sad that many have missed the opportunity of knowing about the rich history and culture of Borno people. As a result, many people around the world who may not have bothered to know where Borno is on the Nigerian map now know. No thanks to the mental and psychological anguish the sect has unleashed on the people of the North east and Nigerians in general in the last four years.
However, this is not the focus of this piece. Rather, it is an attempt to make a contribution on how we can kill the Boko Haram ideology, to complement the military approach. Reason, the founder of what is today known as Jama'atu Ahlus Sunnah Liddawati wal Jihad Mohammed Yusuf and thousands of his followers were killed in July 2009, but instead the sect grew in strength and savagery under Abubakar Shekau. The group not only surpassed the vision of its founder, but also dazzled the world beyond the imagination of counter terrorism experts.
Many have advanced reasons for the emergence and growth of Boko Haram like failure of leadership and poverty, while these factors are on point, we seem to have missed a salient causative factor in the rise of the sect. This is no other than lack of equal opportunities for youths in Borno. A critical look at the list of those who have held key and juicy political and civil service jobs in at the state and federal level from Borno from 1979 to date shows they are from twenty five different families. Till date, the families are now recycling it among their children. These families cut across the three senatorial districts in the state. From Borno North, four families have dominated the landscape, Borno south ten families and central eleven families. I would not mention the names of these families as this may defeat the aim of this piece. It may also undermine those concerned and their individual achievements. I also expect some people to attack the views expressed here, but am prepared because the web is a market place of ideas. Some may argue that this trend is a mere coincidence or deliberate. Reason, some families in Borno had early contact with western education when others were taking a nap under the neem tree.
Unconsciously, over the last thirty five years it became an unwritten law in Borno that you have to be from one of these families to get anything in business,politics or civil service. This is partly why Senator Ali Modu Sheriff became governor in 2003 without a first degree, in a state where you have many with two or more masters degree especially from the central and southern part of the state. His father, Modu Sheriff is part of the Borno establishment. Owing to barrage of insult from political opponents from Borno, Sheriff was forced to get his first degree from the University of Maiduguri in his second term under circumstances that may be a subject of investigation by Borno people in the near future.
Governor Kashim Shettima is the first person to break the jinx in 2011 by attaining the number one position in the state coming from a humble background with no ties to the establishment. This story will be revisited later. As a result, wealth of Borno is concentrated in the hands of these families who are less than one percent of the entire population. This inequality was responsible for some masses jubilating when Boko haram started killing the rich and famous in 2012, forcing many to flee the state and are yet to return.
In addition, the Northern part of Borno with ten local governments namely Kaga,Marte,Mobbar,Abadam,Gubio,Guzamala,Kukawa,Naganzai,Monguno and Magumeri were left behind in terms of the development. This accounts for why that senatorial district is today cut away from civilization and Boko haram made more inroads there than the central and Southern part of the state. This is in spite of the fact that the zone has produced three governors Mohammed Goni, Asheik Jarma and Maina Maaji Lawan. It is totally out of place to blame these governors for the plight of Northern Borno. The three governors did not have enough time and resources like Mala Kachallah and Ali Modu Sheriff. Rather, all the local government chairmen that served in Northern Borno from 1999 to date are guilty of wasting the resources of the areas on ''stomach infrastructure''. This inequality became the genesis of the ''bad blood'' that has been brewing for three decades and finally exploded in 2009 with Boko Haram confronting the state.
It would be recalled that the Yobe Taliban (2004)which later metamorphosed into ''Yusuffiyya'' and now Boko Haram got their first set of recruits from disgruntled elements in well to do families in Borno and Yobe states, before moving to the families of the masses. The group found an easy ally in some of these disgruntled elements from well to do families because many could not reconcile their parent's ostentatious life style with the crass poverty around them. It is also interesting to note that those arrested for being part of the Yobe Taliban from both states were neither prosecuted nor their names made public till this moment. This is because the names of the families needed to be protected from shame and disgrace. Establishment conspiracy if there is no better way to say it.
For the majority of these youths from poor families, the Boko Haram is their answer to what the few families have been enjoying for three decades. This is because the rich cannot sleep when the poor are hungry and angry. After all, Karl Max says religion is the opium of the masses. Over the years, the ideological state apparatuses (Louis Althusser) in the form of schools,church and mosque did not see anything wrong with this time bomb waiting to explode until now.The mosque and church are the two most influential institutions in Borno due to cult following the clerics have among their followers. Unfortunately, they turned a bind to the injustice in the society which formed the central theme of Mohammed Yusuf's preaching in 2002 and won him followers.
Many have wondered why despite the killing of the Boko Haram members in their hundreds, they are able to recruit thousands on daily basis through brain washing and a small percentage by conscription . Let take a simple analogy . How can one explain a graduate from Borno with a good job in the oil,banking or telecoms industry tearing his certificate to join Boko Haram. This is like asking a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Surprisingly, many tore their certificates to join the sect because they had no jobs. The truth remains that the inequality in the system operated in the state created a fertile ground for groups like Boko Haram. After all, an idle mind is a devil's workshop.
Boko Haram is an unconscious creation of Borno society. It is a product of class immobility and economic inequality. Borrowing the words of Michelle Alexander, author of ''The New Jim Crow,Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness'', it is '' like an optical illusion –one in which the embedded image is impossible to see until its outline is defined''.
There have been various attempts by some to describe Boko Haram as a creation of non-indigenes from neighboring states who abused the hospitality of their Kanuri hosts. This position may hold some water. The top echelon of the Boko Haram from Late Mohammed Yusuf to Abubakar Shekau are from Yobe state, but the majority of their foot soldiers are from Borno. They speak flawless Kanuri. Their strongholds from where they operated from within the metropolis like Bulabulin Ngarnam,Shehuri North,Gwange,Jajeri,Bayan Quarters and Dala until they were chased out in 2013 are inhabited by mostly Borno people. No doubt, following their inroads into Chad,Cameroun and Niger they have been recruiting mercenaries, but this is not enough to push this argument.
As far as am concerned, the difference between Yobe and Borno is a mere geographical boundary caused by the military creation of ''the Young Shall Grow'' state in 1991. Trying to draw a distinction between the two states is like attempting to separate the gum from the teeth. The gum being Borno and the teeth is Yobe.
In other words, the earlier the people face reality, the easier it is to begin to work out a solution. This is why Late William Golding, author of the book ''Lord of the Flies'' says man has refused to accept the fact that he has evil within himself, but continue to blame his environment for all evil acts.
Back to the Shettima story,as far back as August 2010 when governor's name was being rumored as one of the likely successors to Ali Sheriff, many questioned the fact he was not a politician and that his parents were not ''known'' like that of other contenders. I have promised not to mention names so the readers can draw their conclusions. This perhaps could be another reason why at some point the choice was between Late Fannami Gubio and Mala Sheriff both relations of the former governor. If Sheriff had thrown the contest open within the establishment, Kashim Shettima will not have emerged. To date, there are some within the establishment who are still finding it difficult to come terms with the reality that Shettima is the governor and not to talk of respecting him.
Shettima's emergence as governor in 2011 despite being an underdog is not an accident of history. It is a design by Allah to bring light after years of darkness to the people of Yerwa. The governor must realize that the true test of his being a leader actually begins now. His re-election has placed a huge burden on his shoulders;to lay a solid foundation for the rebuilding of a new Borno where every son and daughter will realize their potential through equal opportunity.
Looking at the faces of the Internally Displaced People(IDP) in the different camps, one will see traumatized people that will need not just rebuilding of their houses, but counseling to heal the wound and a little capital to pick up the bits and pieces of their lives together again. Despite the assurances given by President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari when Governor Shettima led a high powered delegation to him last week promising to support the state in rebuilding effort and recharging the lake Chad, it is unrealistic to rely solely on the federal government. The task ahead is capital intensive .The Buhari led administration is coming at a time that oil revenue has dwindled, huge debt profile and decayed infrastructure. The state government must sought additional sources in the task of rebuilding Borno except the federal government will dedicate half of its budget to Borno for the next five years, which is almost impossible
He needs to mobilize his wide network of friends across the length and breadth of Nigeria to come and help rebuild Borno through investment. It must be pointed out that Borno sons and daughters must lead the way first in terms of investment. There is no one to develop Borno for them other than the real stakeholders. It is sad that there is no single industry private or government owned that is working in Borno today. I stand to be corrected if there is. Even the few private companies like KDC construction managed by Architect waziri Bulama and a few other ones are today on life support due to insurgency. What Borno needs now are jobs to supplement the rebuilding process.
Shettima must realize that he now has an opportunity to either write his name in gold or go the way of his predecessor. He has come of age politically going by his ability to survive all the political machinations of the presidency and a ''wounded'' godfather in the last four years. He needs to prove that despite coming from a humble background which is a deviation, he has what it takes to make a difference in the life of Borno people.
Machiavelli says the first method for estimating the intelligence of leader is to look at the men he has around him. In other words, Nigerians and Borno people have trailer loads of expectations in this second term. They will start assessing him by the caliber of people he will nominate as commissioners as he has no godfather imposing any candidate on him now. Another factor will be who he grooms as a successor in 2019 . Borno is in dire need of young vibrant men and women who can take the state to greater heights and not mediocre or opportunists as witnessed in the past. Can Shettima deliver? This is a question only time can answer.
*** Abdulrafiu Lawal, a public commentator writes from Boston.