I have read Facebook commentators drawing parallels between Nigerian security officers in Baga, Borno State, and American security in Boston, Massachusetts. This is silly .
All right-thinking people should deplore tragic loss of human life, especially when it results from willful acts of aggression or vendetta. Therefore, what was reported to have happened to the little town of Baga in Borno State, Nigeria, is condemnable. If the accounts turn out to be true, it should be a cause for sorrow, a reason to examine this union called Nigeria and another reason to examine the heads of those with responsibility to keep her united, peaceful and safe. According to the State governor, over 200 persons were allegedly killed and hundreds of houses razed by an enraged military force seeking to avenge the alleged killing of an officer by Boko Haram insurgents who are said to have been embedded with the civilian population in Baga.
Unlike those who are pillorying the military forces, permit me to offer a different perspective on the incident. Yes, the alleged carnage can be directly traced to military guns and arson and if true, the army stands condemned for use excessive force, and the world would be right to condemn. But, let us remember that the root cause is elsewhere other than the security forces. If we continue to bear down on the army, we shall lose our focus on where and how we are being beaten by the rain.
I shall illustrate with two recent incidents reported privately to me.
The first concerns my half-brother
who, for some strange reason, has insisted that he will stay on in Maiduguri, the
hotbed of Nigerian terrorism. Two months ago, his wife cried out to me from
Enugu (he took the precaution of sending his wife and children “home”) because
she was told that a group of business allies was setting out to kill him, using
their Boko Haram (BH) connections. When I finally reached the young man on
phone, I passionately pleaded with him to either get out of town or run to the
Joint Tax Force (JTF) officers for protection. He immediately ruled out the JTF
option because, according to him, anyone who is seen to be fraternizing with
the military outfit is instantly hunted down and killed by the insurgents in
Maiduguri. Apparently, the fear of BH, not JTF, is the beginning of life.
I have read a few media commentaries
suggesting that northeast people shun the JTF because of what its officers mete
out to civilians. This is certainly not the case; the reason why civilians shun
JTF is because BH is acknowledged as the greater evil. It would explain why
Baga residents “refused” to identify and hand over those who allegedly killed
an army officer, thus inviting the alleged destruction of their town.
The second incident occurred two
weeks ago. I phoned a good friend of mine who is a very senior police officer
in one of the northeastern states. He apologized for not returning an earlier
call and lamented that he was losing dozens of police officers from cowardly BH
attacks. According to him, the terrorists would sneak into isolated police
quarters at night and murder whoever they found there. On the day we spoke, he
said he lost five officers the night before. His greatest regret was that policemen
in the state do not sleep anymore and are therefore prone to mistakes – they finish
their day job and return home to continue to guard their families all night
long, or conversely. He mentioned something I had known:  ever since the leader of BH was killed in a Maiduguri
police station, the insurgents have deliberately and relentlessly targeted police
and military officers, in an open show of vendetta.
I have also read many Facebook
commentators drawing parallels between Nigerian security officers in Baga,
Borno State, and American security in Boston, Massachusetts. This is a silly contrast.
The recent fight against terrorism in Boston, and by extension America, is a
clear case of “we and them.” The enemy is known and the people are united in the
effort to unmask and bring them to justice. Can we say the same about the
situation in the northernmost parts of Nigeria? While America security forces
are fighting terrorism with the support of her people, Nigerian security
officials are enmeshed in a dirty political, socioeconomic and terrorist gamesmanship – without
the support of the people.
We all know that there is an undeclared war raging
in our country. The dramatis personae are the political leadership, the insurgents,
the security forces and “we, the people.” There are no innocents among them. How
many states in America have we seen sane people ambush 13 security men, kill and
butcher their bodies, merely to serve a warning to those who are seeking to
wrest political power from a section of their country? When we discuss Odi and
Zaki Biam, we sometimes end up making what happened look like acts of military
aggression, rather than the disproportionate reprisals that they were. Neither
the imprudent civilians who join the fray in “combat zones” nor overzealous officers
who use them for target practice are innocent. They have both deliberately chosen
to operate outside the law. The tragedy is that they are both victims of the
same forces that are holding the country down.
To return to Baga, both civilians
and the security forces are victims of the tragedy unfolding in our country, cannon
fodder impoverished by maladministration, killed by religious extremists and masticated
and swallowed up by avaricious political leadership. Let’s face the fact: our security
forces are not the root cause of poverty and high mortality in Nigeria. They do
not train, arm and unleash thugs, Boko Haram or Egbesu Boys on our country. They
do not kidnap innocent people and political opponents for political or economic
gain. They are not those who scavenge for loot at federal, state and local
government treasuries while snarling at other (opposition) animals sidling to their
arenas of greed. The ogres are the unconcerned ogas in leadership, wearing agbada of religious and party colours
in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, unconcerned leadership begins from the wrongs of politicians and ends with the guns of religious insurgents. Let us not lose sight of the proper focus, after we have condemned the army.