By Ochereome Nnanna
I AM returning to the sensitive issue of the 486 Northerners (mostly indigenes of Jigawa State) nabbed in Abia State on suspicion that they were members of the Boko Haram Islamic terrorist group. Both states are of particular interest to me.
I have my native roots in Abia State. On the other hand, Jigawa is almost like my baby. I have watched it grow from infancy from the very day it was created in 1991. I have very valuable friends there, and this made it possible for me to track its progress from the status of the poorest state in Northern Nigeria in 2007 till date when it has overcome the tag of backwardness and emerged as one of the most infrastructurally developed states in Nigeria due to excellent political leadership over the past seven years.
About a week ago, the Nigerian Army and security agencies nabbed a convoy of 33 buses ferrying 486 people of Northern origin in Abia State, on the suspicion that they could be members of the Boko Haram terrorist group. This is not the first time Northerners have travelled to the South and vice versa. The suspicion was based on several factors.
The insurgents in the North brag they want to Islamise Nigeria. Eastern Nigeria has less than five per cent of its indigenes who subscribe to the Islamic faith. “Abubakar Shekau”, the leader of Boko Haram, has been boasting that he would soon start targeting the South. Governor Kassim Shettima of Borno State, who is often seen as a hidden supporter of Boko Haram, recently warned that the terrorists would soon spread their activities to the South and other parts of the country. There have been reports that “Fulani herdsmen”, the murderous gangs attacking villages in North Central Nigeria and raping women, have infiltrated parts of Enugu State.
When, in the midst of it all a convoy of 33 buses carrying mostly young men with virtually no luggage, moves into Igbo land at 3am under the cover of darkness, there is bound to be suspicion that they are up to no good. No normal human being will see this kind of strange influx in his neighbourhood and fail to raise an eyebrow. On further investigation, we have already been informed that a high ranking, wanted Boko Haram kingpin has been discovered in their midst. The Coordinator of the National Information Centre, Mr Mike Omeri, also dropped an ominous hint that the findings about the 486 suspects would shock the nation, though he went no further than this.
All these establish a credible basis to justify the arrest of the suspects. I still believe that most of them might be innocent, law-abiding citizens fleeing to safer areas of the country where they believe there are economic opportunities. I am not sure, though, if economic migrants usually go in such large numbers and convoys, without personal effects. I am not even sure if terrorists move in convoys. What I suspect is that terrorists can hide among such innocuous groups of persons to move into new areas to plant their evil cells.
It is very crucial for us to see the arrest and ongoing interrogations as a purely security operation. The Abia State Government did not arrest the suspects. They have no power to do so. It was the army and security agencies that nabbed them. That the military cantonment from which the soldiers were drawn is in Abia State does not mean that the soldiers are Abia troops under the command of Governor Theodore Orji. The Abia State Government merely raised the alarm over possible threat to the citizens and residents of the state. It is their responsibility to do so.
I do not see where the Jigawa State House of Assembly found the justification to threaten to sue the Abia State Government for raising an alarm over perceived security threats in its area of jurisdiction. I can understand the usual rantings of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF. ACF is an enemy of the North and Nigeria as a whole masquerading as the defender of Northern interests. ACF never supports justice for all. As far as ACF is concerned, what is good for Nigeria is not good for the North, but what is good for the North is good for Nigeria. The North must impose its regional interests on the rest of the country. That is what makes ACF happy. It does not work like that.
The myopia and mischief in the ACF’s assertion that the suspects are mere “traders” are obvious. If they were traders, where were their goods? We have been seeing Northern traders in the South since we were born. They are in our markets on a daily basis. They always come in trailers and trucks with their (usually) agricultural commodities such as livestock, poultry, rice, beans, yams, onions, peppers, watermelons, and what have you. People are always waiting to patronise them. They have been part and parcel of the economic landscape of the South even before Nigeria was born. Even if Nigeria breaks up, Northerners will still be coming, and Southerners will be going to their sharia republic. There is an umbilical relationship that can never be cut even if we part ways politically.
It is in the national interest that the 486 suspects are thoroughly processed by our security agencies. Those who are terrorists among them should be taken to justice. The innocent ones should be freed to move on to their destination. But it must be established that they are not conspirators with the insurgents hiding among them.
It is very essential that the insurgency is not taken to any part of the South. Rather, we should all join hands to eliminate it from all corners of the North. Northerners fleeing from Boko Haram insurgency are welcome to the South and should feel at home, PROVIDED they are willing to be law abiding, peaceful and ready to contribute to the progress and wellbeing of their host communities. A single bomb explosion traced to Boko Haram in the South could devastate Nigeria as we know it. It could be the final trigger for the end of a century-long, costly experiment. We must stand against it.
Northern leaders and all well meaning Nigerians should be interested in ensuring no innocent Northerner is maltreated and unjustly profiled in the South as a Boko Haram member just because he is from the North. We must fight the insurgents without perpetrating injustice.
The Jigawa State Government, JGSG, must close ranks with the Abia State Government, ABSG, to ensure that the security processing of the 486 is conducted professionally and patriotically. It does not call for political or ethnic sabre-rattling. After all, both state governments are led by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The platform for dialogue and prevention of unpleasant social problems from this fragile episode is there. This does not call for government spokesmen being deployed to exchange hot words in the media. It could prove dangerous.
Let the Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, pick his phone and call his Abia State counterpart, Chief TA Orji, and talk it over.