Chal­lenges of win­ning the peace

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

The trip to Da­maturu, cap­i­tal of Yobe State, the pre­vi­ous week, af­forded me the op­por­tu­nity to have a first-hand un­der­stand­ing of the sheer scale of de­struc­tion oc­ca­sioned by the evil visi­ta­tion of the Boko Haram brig­ands on the peo­ple and their prop­er­ties. The af­flic­tion that di­rectly af­fected at least twelve out of its seven­teen lo­cal gov­ern­ments caused a colos­sal loss of thou­sands of lives, pil­lag­ing of gov­ern­ment and pri­vate prop­er­ties worth bil­lions of naira as well as loss of liveli­hood and im­mense psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma to the en­tire cit­i­zenry.

Af­ter I had gone round Da­maturu to see the scale of work that had been ac­com­plished to oblit­er­ate the dam­age vis­ited on both pri­vate and pub­lic struc­tures, and what was in progress, I set­tled for a can­did one-to one dis­cus­sion with Baba Wali, the Sec­re­tary of the State Gov­ern­ment, whose of­fice was cen­tral and from all in­di­ca­tions had a com­pre­hen­sive knowl­edge of all gov­ern­ment ac­tiv­i­ties. We dis­cussed at length the heavy bur­den of fight­ing the war against the in­sur­gents, and now that the war has been won, the ef­forts to bring suc­cour to their be­lea­guered cit­i­zens. It was a heavy bur­den and as he reeled off the statis­tics I could only marvel at the enor­mity of the task.

It was tough work get­ting to where they were at present, with the level of achieve­ments in trans­form­ing Da­maturu, in the re­turn of nor­mal­ity in all the lo­cal gov­ern­ment ar­eas, in the open­ing of roads to all nooks and cor­ners of the state and in the mas­sive re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of all de­stroyed struc­tures. They were for­tu­nate, he said, that the Gov­er­nor was able to mo­bi­lize and fo­cus the at­ten­tion of all the key ac­tors in this ex­er­cise; the se­cu­rity agen­cies en­gaged in the ac­tual war, the civil ser­vice that were to do the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­con­struc­tion and all other agen­cies that ren­dered sup­port to the vic­tims of the in­sur­gency.

Be­sides that, he added, there was ob­vi­ous ev­i­dence of pru­dence in the use of gov­ern­ment funds be­cause de­spite the in­volve­ment of the State Gov­ern­ment in all these heavy out­lays, it never stopped it from pay­ing salaries and pen­sion of work­ers, as and when due. But, as he ad­mit­ted, there was still a lot to be done and he reeled off more statis­tics. The state needed at least N30 bil­lion for fur­ther re­con­struc­tion ac­tiv­i­ties in the ed­u­ca­tional and health sec­tors as well as other gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­ties such as de­stroyed court build­ings, po­lice sta­tions, and vandalized wa­ter works and elec­tric­ity sup­plies lines. It would be a great chal­lenge at­tract­ing such enor­mous funds to the state but he as­sured me that they have com­mit­ments from not only those out­fits put up by the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment, but also from De­vel­op­ment Part­ners, In­terGovern­ment Or­ga­ni­za­tions and phil­an­thropic bod­ies and in­di­vid­u­als.

I headed to the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to chat with the Com­mis­sioner, Mo­hammed Lamin. He must have been one the most stressed and hard­est-hit among the com­mis­sion­ers be­cause the Boko Haram in­sur­gents re­garded his min­istry, which im­parted west­ern ed­u­ca­tion, as their num­ber one en­emy. For an arch-en­emy of the in­sur­gents he ap­peared un­per­turbed and was bustling about among many visi­tors to his of­fice in the state sec­re­tariat. When we met he ad­mit­ted to me that his main prob­lem was not only that the struc­tural dam­age had vi­ti­ated the ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties but the fact that Boko Haram teach­ings, that west­ern ed­u­ca­tion is evil, had neg­a­tively im­pacted on the minds of pupils and par­ents alike.

He said that the gov­ern­ment had in­vested so much to re­ha­bil­i­tate and re­con­struct dam­aged school build­ings, and the pro­vi­sion of fur­ni­ture. Three gov­ern­ment sec­ondary schools in each se­na­to­rial dis­trict have been se­lected for com­pre­hen­sive ren­o­va­tion and over­haul to be com­pleted be­fore the end of the year at the cost of over N1­bil­lion. How­ever, what the com­mis­sioner finds as the more in­sid­i­ous task fac­ing the state would be that of the huge chal­lenge of re­vers­ing the think­ing of some par­ents who had con­sumed the pro­pa­ganda by Boko Haram. This would be a com­plex ex­er­cise for the gov­ern­ment in its bid to en­gage both the po­lit­i­cal and tra­di­tional lead­er­ship in the state to con­tinue to re-ed­u­cate those af­fected cit­i­zens on the fu­til­ity of keep­ing their wards from school.

It is on this note that I left Da­maturu, re­traced my steps to my base in Abuja to ru­mi­nate over my find­ings and plan my tour in the com­ing days to those parts of Borno State that could be reached. It was also an op­por­tu­nity for me to dis­cuss my im­pres­sions with some of my col­leagues who have long been ac­tive in the Borno arena. One such per­son was Fa­tima Ak­ilu, whose out­fit the Neem Foun­da­tion has been do­ing a tremen­dously coura­geous work in parts of Borno State on de-rad­i­cal­iza­tion of Boko Haram el­e­ments. Fa­tima, a trained psy­chol­o­gist with a PhD in that field of study from Brad­ford Uni­ver­sity in the United King­dom, is an ad­vo­cate of the soft ap­proach to counter the ide­ol­ogy of vi­o­lence such as what the Boko Haram in­sur­gents es­pouses. She has not just been ad­vo­cat­ing but had been ac­tive in the field.

She had gar­nered in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with youth of­fend­ers in the United King­dom, and also in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal in the USA, be­fore re­turn­ing home to set­tle. She is re­puted to have started the de­rad­i­cal­iza­tion pro­gram in the of­fice of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser (NSA) that was pur­posely aimed at Boko Haram cap­tives - a pro­gram that has now gained broad na­tional ac­cep­tance. Since leav­ing the NSA’s of­fice, her NEEM Foun­da­tion has been very ac­tive in the fur­thest ends of the war front in Borno State where they op­er­ate camps which I have promised to visit. She has not only been to Maiduguri but had vis­ited many of the in­sur­gency af­fected ar­eas.

I had very use­ful in­ter­ac­tion with her in the NEEM foun­da­tion head­quar­ters tucked away in a quiet part of Maitama Dis­trict, Abuja. I shared with her my ap­pre­hen­sion on the chances of win­ning an en­dur­ing peace in Borno State which had been the epi­cen­tre of the Boko Haram crises ab ini­tio. Some months ago we had all cel­e­brated the rout­ing of the Boko Haram ban­dits. But it seemed we had cel­e­brated too early. The brig­ands left the lo­cal gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters and melted into our vast Borno ter­rain to at­tack both the mil­i­tary and the hap­less cit­i­zens at will, as well as in­fil­trate Maiduguri with sui­cide bombers.

Even though the in­sur­gents did not con­trol ter­ri­tory they now ter­ror­ize ev­ery­one from all di­rec­tions away from Maiduguri with the ex­cep­tion of the safe cor­ri­dor that is the MaiduguriKano/Jos high­way. The worst part is that the in­sur­gents could al­ways move freely through our long, por­ous bor­ders with our three neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. She agreed and pointed out that this is ev­i­dence that the in­sur­gents have de­vel­oped the ca­pac­ity to adapt and rein­vent them­selves and the state must be prod­ded to in­no­vate to meet these new chal­lenges.

The mil­i­tary would win the war in the fields but the civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion would then have to grap­ple with per­ma­nently win­ning the peace. A de-rad­i­cal­iza­tion pro­gramme would be one item in the pack­age but the other which could even as­sume more im­por­tance would be how to rec­on­cile com­mu­ni­ties to for­give atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by known in­di­vid­u­als within their set­tle­ments.

There is ev­i­dence that the Borno State is think­ing ahead in this di­rec­tion if one con­sid­ers its re­cent fo­cus on its 95.3 FM ra­dio sta­tion. We un­der­stand that the state gov­ern­ment had in­vested heav­ily to in­crease its broad­cast cov­er­age from 15% of Borno com­mu­nity to 100% of all the 27 lo­cal gov­ern­ment ar­eas as well as parts of Adamawa, Yobe, Gombe States and bor­der com­mu­ni­ties in the neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. As the ra­dio is a widely used item of many house­holds this would give the gov­ern­ment an av­enue to counter vi­o­lent re­li­gious teach­ings and ide­olo­gies through cor­rect in­ter­pre­ta­tions by ac­cept­able re­li­gious schol­ars.

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