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Nigeria: The war within

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In present day Nigeria, no day passes without  fresh news of carnages and senseless killing of innocent citizens. With the increasing spate of attack, Nigerians keep wondering how it will end.  Sulaimon Olanrewaju reports.

Living in Nigeria has become a hazardous enterprise as the country is in the throes of war. However, the war is not with another country; Nigerians are at war with one another, brazenly killing their fellow countrymen and women with bizarre anger. As though under a spell, blood thirsty Nigerians seem bent on wiping out every Nigerian in sight; they kill with an uncommon gusto and destroy with unfathomable exhilaration. They have no respect for status or stature, credo or credential, anyone who crosses their path is mowed. When they seize their victims, they are oftentimes dissatisfied with just seeing him dead, they go a step further, set the corpse ablaze and rejoice at the ‘feat’.

The war started way back in 2010 when the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad popularly known as Boko Haram, in retaliation of the killing of its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, and a number of its members as well as the destruction of its headquarters mosque in Maiduguri, launched a series of attacks on policemen, police stations, government institutions and drinking joints, among others. When the group started its onslaught, its foot soldiers operated on motor bikes. But with success in its endeavours, the group became more audacious and adroit as it upped its game, planting and detonating bombs in sacred places.

On Thursday, 16 June, 2011, former Inspector General of the Police (IGP), Hafiz Ringim, escaped death by the whiskers when a suicide bomber on a Boko Haram mission decided to hit the police headquarters in Abuja. But 15 others were not as lucky as the IGP as they were consumed by the explosion that erupted as a result of the attack.

Earlier, on Friday, 28, January, 2011, Mallam Modu Fannami Gubio, then gubernatorial candidate on the platform of All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), and six other persons, including the brother of the immediate past governor of Borno State, Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff, were killed by Boko Haram members. The deceased had just finished performing their Friday Juma’at prayer when the killers struck. The United Nations Building in Abuja was also attacked by the group in 2011. About 30 people died in the attack. On Christmas Day of that same year, the group planted and detonated a bomb at Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State, leaving 43 people dead.

On January 20, 2012, Boko Haram descended on the city of Kano and left in its trail a river of blood. The attack started after the Jumat prayer on Friday as some gunmen took over five police stations and freed all the cell inmates. They later took the battle to the police on the street, leaving many dead in their wake; policemen as well as pedestrians. They also stormed the Immigration office as well as the office of the State Security Service. The gunmen had a field day as there was nobody to stop them. At the end of the attack, the casualty figure was put at 185 people, 150 of whom were civilians and at least 32 police officers, including three members of the SSS.

On November 26, 2012, they attacked the Special Anti Robbery Squad headquarters in Abuja and released a number of detainees from the detention facility. They also humiliated the Nigerian Army when they bombed a military protestant church inside the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji in Kaduna State, leaving 11 persons dead.

Since the beginning of the current year, Boko Haram attacks have been ceaseless with many high profile individuals being involved. On January 19, while the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero was returning to his palace from a Quranic graduation ceremony, his convoy was attacked. At least six persons died in the process.

However, the attack that has elicited the most reactions this year was the April 16 attack on Baga, a border town in Borno State, where about 185 people were reported dead and over 2,000 houses destroyed. Members of Boko Haram and men of the Joint Task Force were said to have been engaged in an exchange of gunfire. Residents of the town were caught in the cross fire. Although both National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Military High Command insisted that only 36 people, 30 of whom were members of Boko Haram, were killed in the exchange, independent observers, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) maintained that no fewer than 183 corpses were counted after the attack. To buttress its point, HRW released satellite images, adding that, “Community leaders said that immediately after the attack they counted 2,000 burned homes and 183 bodies. Satellite images of the town analyzed by Human Rights Watch corroborate these accounts and identify 2,275 destroyed buildings, the vast majority likely residences, with another 125 severely damaged.”

While the din of accusations and counter accusations over the Baga attack was still loud, Bama, another Borno town, came under the attack of Boko Haram leaving 22 police officers, 14 prison officials, two soldiers and four civilians dead. According to the spokesman for the Military Joint Task Force (JTF), Sagir Musa, Boko Haram also lost 13 of their members.

However, it appears the success recorded by Boko Haram in its campaign is becoming a motivation for other groups to unleash terror on the nation.
On Wednesday, some policemen were on their way to arrest the leader of the outlawed Ombatse cult group when the cultists ambushed the policemen and opened fire on them, killing about 20 in all. Not satisfied with merely killing them, the cultists were said to have set the corpses ablaze.

Fulani herdsmen have also become a threat to the peace of the country. Last Wednesday, Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State was at the Aso Rock Villa to brief Vice-President Namadi Sambo on activities of Fulani herdsmen which have left many dead in his state. The governor, while speaking with State House correspondents after his meeting with the Vice-President, had said, “The casualty is high, I don’t want to be misquoted as per the numbers, but it is high casualties. The Fulani normally come when people are sleeping; so they killed men, women and everybody.”

For the better part of the last four years, the commonest news from Plateau State has been that of killing. In March this year, no fewer than 35 people were killed and 15 houses burnt in a clash   between the Fulani and Taroh in Wase Local Government area of Plateau State. The killings were said to be in retaliation of the killing of two men of Taroh extraction by people suspected to be Fulani herdsmen.

A few days later, unknown gunmen attacked residents of Karkashi Community in Langtang South Local Government Council of Plateau State killing seven persons while several others escaped with gunshot wounds.

Irrespective of political and religious differences, many Nigerians have usually been unanimous in their condemnation of the attacks even as they use the occasions to call on the government to beef up the nation’s security.

In its reaction to the ambush and killing of policemen in Nasarawa State, the Arewa Consultative Forum in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Anthony Sani, condemned the attack. The statement read in part, “The reported ambush of police and SSS by the Ombatse worshippers in Lafia Local Government Area of Nasarawa State which resulted in the loss of 23 police officers and eight vehicles is revolting.

Revolting because apart from the precious lives lost, those whose responsibility is to secure the lives and property of Nigerians are becoming the targets of religious sects, however defined.

“This is unacceptable and so should be condemned by, not only by all religions but also by all peace loving Nigerians. ACF, therefore, condemns the mindless attacks.”

Also reacting to the killings of women and children in Bama, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said, “Nothing in the world can justify the kind of killings we have witnessed in recent times, and it is high time those who are behind this orgy of violence stopped and retraced their steps.

“This unflattering portrayal can only have negative consequences for our country, which needs all the goodwill of its global partners, all the foreign investments it can muster, as well as an environment conducive for urgent growth and development,’’ the party wondered what the insurgents hoped to achieve by attacking women and children in police barracks and targeting health centres, courts and local council secretariat, all areas most likely to be populated by innocent civilians, while calling on the government to liaise with all stakeholders to put an end to the carnage.

President Goodluck Jonathan had initially refused to discuss amnesty for members of Boko Haram, hinging his position on the fact that the people were unknown. But when pressure was much, he decided to set up a committee to look into the workability of pardoning the insurgents. However, the move was spurned by members of the group who claimed that they had not committed any crime and therefore needed no pardon. They said that they were supposed to forgive the government because they were the ones that had been wronged by the state.

In a reaction to the Bama attack on behalf of the president, Dr. Reuben Abati, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, said, “President Goodluck Jonathan deplores Tuesday’s attack by armed terrorists on Bama, Borno State, which claimed scores of lives.

“The President warns that the Federal Government’s consideration of dialogue as an option for the elimination of some current threats to security should not be seen as a weakening of its resolve and determination to use all the forces at its disposal to crush all brazen affronts to the powers and sovereignty of the Nigerian nation.”

Although President Jonathan has never hidden his resolve to put a stop to the rising insecurity in the country which informed the lion share which was allocated to defence in the 2013 budget to ensure that the security operatives are well equipped, Nigerians are still agitated and they keep wondering how the insecurity bedevilling  the nation will end.

They wonder if the insurgents would voluntarily surrender and embrace the amnesty when offered or they would be cowed by the JTF. They wonder if the insecurity would be curtailed or it would spread to other parts of the country. They wonder if Nigeria would be able to manage the war within its borders and the people would once again live like one as it is happening in Sierra Leone or the hostilities would lead to the balkanisation of the country or worse still it would remain perpetually enmeshed in hostilities like Somalia. They wonder if they would ever be able to sleep without worrying about waking up to hear news of scores being killed somewhere in the country.

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