OPINION: IS BORNO STATE GOVERNOR TELLING AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH ABOUT THE FIGHT AGAINST TERROR?

August 2, 2020
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Have you seen the video clip on the recent attack on the convoy of Governor Zulum of Borno State by alleged Boko Haram insurgents?

I would advise that you take a moment and watch the video clip of the attack in order for you to make sense of this article, please.

News reports said that the Governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum was en route to Monguno when his convoy came under attack by armed elements suspected to be Boko Haram terrorists. The Governor was reportedly on his way to Monguno, hometown of the current National Security Adviser, retired Major General Babagana Monguno, where he had gone to distribute food to about 80,000 internally displaced persons. Thankfully the Governor and his entourage escaped unhurt.

The video clip went viral online in the last 24 hours after news of the attack was first reported by local and international media, one day ago.

Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in the Northeast of Nigeria have been the epicenters of the Boko Haram insurgency which has reportedly claimed tens of thousands of lives, including soldiers, civilians and humanitarian aid workers, over the last ten years.

Large populations, estimated at 2.3 million have been displaced within the most affected states where internally displaced persons camps had been established to accommodate them, several thousands of children have been orphaned, just as women and men alike have lost their spouses and other loved ones. Women and children are routinely abducted and used as sex slaves, child soldiers and suicide bombers.

The scale of the tragedy and humanitarian crisis precipitated by the Boko Haram insurgency has assumed global dimensions with the group rated as the deadliest terrorist group in the world according to an April 2020 publication by the Brookings institution.

Given the grim statistics of Boko Haram’s reign of terror, and the series of prior high profile attacks on military bases, military and humanitarian convoys, you must wonder why the attack on Governor Zulum is different.

This particular attack is different for a number of reasons, chief amongst which is the fact that as Governor, Prof Zulum is the chief security officer of Borno State and has since his inauguration as Governor in May 2019 shown an uncommon dedication to duty. The attack on his convoy can therefore be described as audacious and daring.

Governor Zulum has shown rare courage as he determinedly toured every local government in Borno State, taking a message of peace and hope and development to his constituents. It is remarkable for instance that in spite of the attack, he still continued with the journey to Monguno.

Through his hands-on approach to governance Governor Zulum has sent a strong message to public servants and citizens alike that under his watch, he is determined to justify the mandate freely given by the people of Borno State by investing in the human capital development and infrastructural reconstruction of the state ravaged by the insurgency.

The Governor has similarly and routinely challenged the military authorities about the true state of security in Borno State. On many occasions, he had questioned the veracity of their claims and their commitment to ending the insurgency, in spite of the avowed commitment by the Buhari administration and the military high command.

Earlier in June, Governor Zulum had *publicly and categorically stated*, contrary to claims by the military, that reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement could not be carried out in five – Guzamala, Kukawa, Abadam, Marte and Kaka – out of the twenty seven local government areas of Borno State due to the presence and continuing terrorist activities of Boko Haram insurgents.

Governor Zulum had also visited President Buhari a few months ago, and fearlessly expressed his concerns about the management of the insurgency in the state, especially following the offensive against the insurgents by Chadian military forces over the killing of about ninety one members of their military, few months earlier, and the massive influx of the retreating terrorists into Nigeria, around the Lake Chad region.

In a way, Governor Zulum has emerged as an activist of sorts over the last one year of his governorship, and has elicited my personal admiration. Maiduguri holds a special place in my heart because of the time I spent there in Shehu Garbai Primary School, Federal Government College, Maiduguri and the University of Maiduguri, cumulatively, between 1976-1999.

It is for this reason that I believe that all people of goodwill should pay attention to what Governor Zulum said in the video clip under reference.

Governor Zulum repeatedly and forcefully appeared to suggest that the attack on his convoy was not carried out by the insurgents, even as a military officer strenuously *and blithely* tried to convince him otherwise.

Again, he questioned the commitment of Nigeria’s security forces in the fight against the insurgents given their superior numbers compared to that of the insurgents.

A common narrative that has filtered out from the front lines of the battle against the insurgents is that they appear to have superior weaponry for which reason they had often intimidated our soldiers and sacked military bases with apparent ease.

This of course raises additional concerns about the resourcing of the war against terror, given the staggering financial costs to the nation and the mounting human casualties.

As Chief Security Officer of Borno State, Governor Zulum ought to have statutory access to intelligence and security briefings from the service arms in the state including the Joint Task Force, which provides him information available to a select few.

For a man who has demonstrated such great respect for his people through the seriousness with which he has pursued his duties, it is difficult not to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The force of conviction with which he has interrogated past claims by the security forces and his vehement challenge of the claims by the military officer in the video clip should worry us all because it raises the question as to whether some people want Governor Zulum dead.

The entire episode raises fundamental questions which I have carefully attempted to interrogate and navigate, given that they border on the sensitive matter of ‘national security.

Is Governor Zulum telling the country something we would rather not hear? Is it possible that he has stepped on forbidden grounds? Is he attempting to forcibly wean some people of their addiction to the national honey pot, which is diverted, albeit to sustain this unending war on terror? Has the war against Terrorism and Insurgency created a cash cow for some unscrupulous and unpatriotic politicians and military officers?

This is certainly another of the many urgent matters of national security, which ought to elicit a swift response, thorough investigation and subsequent action from the relevant authorities. It would be interesting to observe what would happen in the days and weeks ahead.

*** Frank Nweke II is a Public Policy Expert and Member, Nigeria’s Federal Cabinet, 2003-2007.

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