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Who Is Afraid of Peace in the North East

There is an ugly development that should give all truly patriotic Nigerians concerns. It has to do with the turn of events in the North East of the country, which has been the hotbed of the Boko Haram insurgency. What is at stake here is the seeming indifference – if not active undermining – to the efforts at ending the years of horror the terrorists had visited on the country.

The December 24, 2016 capture of Camp Zero in Sambisa Forest, globally recognized as Boko Haram’s last stronghold, should have provoked a zeal in stakeholders in the area to boldly step forward and deliver the non-combatant components of the anti-terror war to ensure the war is decisively won. Not much of such appears to be happening. If anything, the sense one has is of those in position of authority doing their best to return their sphere of influence back to the era of fear under Boko Haram’s sustained attacks.

This trend is worrisome. The stakeholders in the north east, particularly those in Borno state, cannot continue to expect the whole country to clean up their mess without actively contributing to managing the situation they are largely credited with precipitating. Not a few experts have identified crippling poverty as the booster fuel that accelerated the growth of Boko Haram and sustained it – the poor population of youth without education or employment provide a ready pool of recruits for radicalization and militarization. Even though the whole of Nigeria is a developing country with widespread poverty issue, the leaders in Borno reportedly created the kind of poverty that is virulent as they diverted the resources meant for that area’s population for personal investments in other states or imitate their counterparts to export their people’s patrimony abroad.

If poverty was the fuel that propelled Boko Haram’s growth, the sheer indifference of these stakeholders, coupled with their penchant for misleading the issue was the catalyst that allowed it mutate from a ragtag band of cudgel, machetes, bows and arrows wielding youths to the world most notorious terror group that shames even Daesh (ISIS). News clippings would easily show that instead of quickly nipping the problem in the bud at its sapling stage, Borno politicians were rather exploiting it for their own nefarious ends; some went as far as hiring the then emerging terrorists to eliminate their political opponents or at least assassinate their opponents and make the killings appear like Boko Haram attacks.

At a later stage, when the group was in mutation into the world’s horror story, these stakeholders rather allowed it to fester, they milked it for all it is worth by setting up phantom contact groups and phony negotiations that were used to defraud the former administration. They supposedly fled their domains simply to qualify for handouts. All these streams of funding would dry up if the killer group was defeated so it was desirable for them to keep the attacks in place so long as money and influence keep flowing and the killers know where not to strike.

But that was before Boko Haram became a desirable bride to foreign terrorists organizations and completely went rabid. Its fighters turned on even their handlers – religion, ethnic affiliation, financial ties and all other previous considerations lost meaning for the now crazed murderers.

It is for this reason that Nigerians must condemn recent reports that Borno Elders, particularly those of Kanuri origin are reluctant to back peaceful initiatives being put forward by other stakeholders to bring the entire Boko Haram episode to a desirable close. Evidence of this abound in the conflicting stance they take on the issue of moving forward after Nigerian troops decimated, decapitated and humiliated the insurgents from their strongholds. The escaping fighters continue to attempt staging attacks without Borno Elders deploying their clout to corral them into submission. If anything, the utterances from these elders appeared to be encouraging the fighters that a re-group is possible.

An immediate and justifiable suspicion is to conclude that these elders are loath to see the last of the terrorists because they are still hopeful of some sort of monetary gain or influence peddling by sustaining Boko Haram as a bargaining chip similar to how elders in the Niger-Delta have declared terrorists militants their “children” that are free to run amok. This suspicion raises several questions and the answers to these would define the future of human existence in the north east.

In whose interest is the restoration of peace in Borno and the northeast? Why have the stakeholders in the north east refused to commit themselves to bringing about lasting peace in the region? What is the endgame of these stakeholders? How do they want the scenario playing out to end?

Whatever the answers are do not in anyway detract from the strength and capabilities of the Nigerian military to bring the ugly scenario in Borno state and environs to a close at some point in time, after all the military is an enduring institution that would not go away. But support from the stakeholders would potentially shorten the time needed for restoring normalcy to the area while reducing further loss of life to lone wolf attacks being staged by escaping terrorists. There is no doubt about the military’s might but additional peaceful approaches are needed to bring about the needed peace for the people to heal their wounds and rebuild the region . Guns have never and will never bring people together just as elders are usually the ones with the institutional memory to make this happen.

As opposed to the current situation where the Borno Elders’ response to the military exploits against Boko Haram has been criticism instead of acknowledgement one would like to see and hear them step in to call their clansmen to order and ask them to lay down their arms. One does not presently hear them call on their children to lay down their arms and put an end to the soft target ambushes that sadly often catch their own ethnic nationals in the crossfire – their improvised explosive devices have no capacity to discriminate as to who gets killed when they target helpless and defenseless citizens in the state. The fleeing elements still have the capacity to inflict pains on the people and the responsibility now falls in part on Borno Elders and stakeholders in the northeast to come up with workable idea since the military and security cannot be present in every single home.

The state governor, Kashim Shettima, should show the needed political leadership, put more efforts in the peace project by coming up with strategies that the other neighboring states can tap into to revive the entire northern region. As the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Shettima has to do more to see that the fleeing elements are prevailed upon within the shortest period of time to surrender their arms. The governor should see how he can galvanize his colleagues to inspire the districts and emirate councils along the line of what the Zurmi Emirate did when it handed over three Boko Haram suspects to the army. Once the terrorists realize they have no hiding places even among their own folks they will be encouraged to turn themselves in for reintegration.

The delay on the part of elders and stakeholders in kicking off such initiative is not one that should prolong inaction through self recriminations. On the internet, for the first time in history of the insurgency, we saw videos on YouTube inviting Nigerians and the rest of the world to the first Mega Rally for Peace in the North East region of Nigeria, right in Governor Shettima’s backyard. It is an initiative he should take over if only to ensure that it can record more success in restoring normalcy to the state by pressuring the terrorists on the lose to give up.

For the Borno Elders, this laudable initiative for now is the best news to come out of Maiduguri in the year 2017. It could as well be the pathway for finding redemption for their previous failings. The peace efforts, while not initiated by them must not be jeopardized for political exigencies. Other Nigerians want peace all around and that would not be possible if peace does not reign in the northeast.

Kolawole PhD is a University lecturer and contributed this article from Keffi.

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