It’s wrong to reintegrate ex-terrorists when Boko Haram fighters are still killing people – Dean, Borno Elders’ Forum
The Dean, Borno Elders’ Forum, Prof. Khalifa Dikwa, in this interview with KAYODE IDOWU proffers solutions to the many problems affecting the nation, especially the Boko Haram insurgency
When did Borno State start feeling the destructive impact of Boko Haram?
It was far back in the 1990s and early 2000s from Yobe State at that time, but the warning came much earlier because I was a student in Europe when I stumbled on a classified document about the plan of Somalising the Lake Chad region as a whole in order to check the role of Nigeria as a country sending troops to Lebanon, Congo and Liberia, and being the major lead in ECOMOG, sending troops to Sierra Leone to restore a democratically-elected President. When I stumbled on the classified document, I took interest in it. I returned in 1984 and started talking about it in order not to allow it to happen. I suggested that they should take care of the borders; they should take care of rural areas to give them a sense of belonging and build the spirit of patriotism in them by giving them the best education and scholarships; I advocated that Nigerians should be made to have the feeling of belonging and be cared for, but that was not done.
Have all parts of Borno State been liberated now? Can farmers carry out their activities in every part of the state?
I join the Shehu of Borno to say that we are not safe five kilometres from Maiduguri. It is a game. People are staying in Abuja and saying Borno is safe. Agree that no insurgency occupies any part of the state, it was already liberated, but they still have influence they can strike at any time. You should be able to ask what is happening to our satellite that we launched in the past; what about satellite images? Who is giving the insurgents the position of our military that is making them always ambush them? Who is communicating with them? Why is it that our military cannot see the insurgents in different places? Why is it that the insurgents will take motorcycles with two or three of them armed and travel over 100 kilometres to destroy and kill, and go back without being challenged and so on?
Look at when from many kilometres away they went to Dapchi and took the girls away and eventually when they got the money they wanted, they released them and held one, Leah Sharibu, in order to get the media, which have been made to always believe that the war is religious. They wanted to reinforce this by keeping her as a Christian so that they can seek their name and be more impactful. If you go to non-Muslim areas like Central Africa Republic or the Congo, where the majority are non-Muslims, they will just take a Muslim woman to show that it is Islam that is being persecuted. That is the kind of game they play.
Leah Sharibu ought to have been released along with the others, but they kept her because they wanted media mileage. Where is Leah Sharibu? It is a big thing when thousands of children and women are forced and taken away and they are not talking about them. They are only talk about Leah Sharibu and they are talking about the few girls taken from Chibok and not the others equally kidnapped. This is part of the divisive game they are playing and we are playing into their hands. It is not about religion. It is about interest and they are being paid.
Imagine now, we are talking about reintegrating them, fine. The best option in any war is that you have to come to the table for true reconciliation. You say sorry and the war ends. Colombia was for over 50 years fighting but they could not reintegrate them immediately because of the pain; the wounds are still fresh. So, the government in Nigeria can adopt the system that was used for the Niger Delta boys, who were destroying the oil pipelines and kidnapping. They should take the responsibility of taking them to another country or educating them in different domains for a year or two when reconciliation is already done. You cannot reintegrate them when the war has not ended.
They are still killing people; as I am talking to you, the government is thinking of reintegrating over 600, but two days ago, the insurgents killed many in Magumeri and in Gubio. Why do we say all the places are liberated and they are still attacking? The attack on the governor in Baga is a practical example. We need to know what happened and who was responsible for the attack in order to pre-empt them.
Since independence, the Nigerian military has a reputation and has always been applauded in all peace operations. Why is it difficult for them to end this war if not for the fact there are people being compromised within the rank and file and the politicians?
They are getting money sent by organisations and donor agencies. They do not want this thing to end and therefore it is up to the military themselves to purge themselves and kick the moles out. Why is it that commanders in the past, like Major General Leo Irabor, who was doing a very good professional job and the other one, Major General Rogers Nicholas, who was sent here were making progress, but in a very short time, they were taken away? Irabor literally knew each of the towns and all the places, and even his soldiers were sharing the little money they had with the people in the rural areas and within a short time, Irabor was taken away and saw what is happening now.
Go to Ngala and Dikwa, there are trucks that will spend two or three days to do the ‘needful’ before they are allowed to go to Gamboru Ngala. What is happening there? Are the soldiers becoming Customs? There is something more than professionalism that we knew the army to be about. What is happening when we have the air force and these guys will travel in northern Borno for many kilometres to come to Magumeri to ransack the military base and military commands and even free some militants? Why is it that you cannot dislodge the insurgents from Sambisa? Why is it that there is no real synergy between the army and the air force? Why are they not working together and loyal to the country rather than grandstanding, showing that each of them is more important than the other?
I think there is a problem and the Commander- in- Chief as a President should be able to put his feet down and say I give you these things, go and but if you cannot end it, submit your resignation letter or I will pick service chiefs from the low level.
What have been the effects of Boko Haram attacks on widows and orphans and other internally displaced persons?
Just close your eyes and imagine 50,000 widows. Close your eyes and imagine 80,000 orphans or perhaps 100,000 orphans, who do not know where their parents are. Their parents were killed; there are women whose husbands have been killed. Boko Haram came to a family, killed the husband and the grown-up among the children and took away their daughters and married them off. Look at the mindset they created, the nightmare they created in the psyche of the people. And people are still thinking of reintegrating them. We should not be thinking of reintegrating them now. We should put them away and think about bringing peace. All the insurgent groups are there.
You must have witnessed many of these attacks. Can you recall the experience of some of the victims you know?
My elder brother was killed and the village was completely wiped out and burnt. My nephews, nieces and many other relatives were killed. Some were killed by Boko Haram, some others by the military. We witnessed so many people being killed and this happened to so many families. In fact, every family is affected one way or the other. As a leader myself, I am a father to many, including those who are coming from other sects. The mindset of Borno as a state, inherited from Kanem Borno, is that all ethnic groups are represented in Borno; everybody was called Borno. All the tribes in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon up to Sudan, Libya and Morocco were represented in Borno.
Many displaced persons have been living in camps for at least six years. How well have they been treated?
No for short. Care is not given to the victims in the IDP camps. They have stayed for over six years in the IDP camps. People who used to have over 50 dependents, today they cannot afford two or three sets of clothing. Even the food they give them hardly maintain them for two or three days. They just keep the IDPs and give the pictures to the outer world so that they will help them. Imagine what the NGOs have gained, imagine some of these internal agencies renting accommodation for 10 years instead of a year or two; what do you think this is saying? All the beautiful houses in Maiduguri were taken over by them and they paid up to 10 years. It means in their mind this problem should not end. It should be a continuous exercise; this is what the governor feels must stop and instead of giving him the support to restore peace and for everyone to go to their homes and when they are comfortable at home you can think of those insurgents to be reintegrated back into society. Until the victims are taken care of over and above those who did the wrong things, we are only promoting people to take up arms against the state and the people.
What are the specific things that the government should do for the IDPs to erase the memories of the attacks by the insurgents?
First, they should enforce a ceasefire and there should be no more attacks in the name of Boko Haram. Not all attacks that are made in the name of Boko Haram are from them; some of them are doing it in the name of ISWAP; some are in the name of ISIL that is now being dislodged from the Middle East and have been used and dumped; the same thing with Boko Haram. It is better for them now to say enough of this thing that we are doing against humanity and our people. The Federal Government should allocate funds to the frontline states like Borno, Yobe and for northern Adamawa. It is up to the Federal Government to provide the basics, take care of projects like trunk ‘A’ roads, building colleges, stadia and cottage industries to engage the youth.