By Gambo Dori
IT is not the most edifying sight to witness your elected leader shed tears. But as widely reported, that was what many saw the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima did, when he had audience with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja on Monday, along with a strong contingent of Borno indigenes.
They were at the Presidential Villa, purposely to lay complain at the doors of the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces on the unfortunate resurgence of the Boko Haram activities in parts of the state.
The Governor had earlier held an emergency security meeting in Maiduguri on the last Monday of last year with all stakeholders to rummage a range of ideas which would help chart a more decisive course in combating the resurging insurgency.
This is all coming hard on the heels of a bizarre turn of events that could obliterate one of the success stories of this administration. Readers may recall that the amalgamation of parties that gave rise to the APC were able to rout the ruling PDP, particularly in the far northern states, most significantly because they promised to secure the area and get rid of the Boko Haram terrorists.
From 2013 and going up to the days when the election took place in early 2015, the Boko Haram had a field day in a swath of land mostly in the North-East where they had taken control in many local government areas and replaced for all practical purposes the legitimate Nigerian Government officials.
Their heinous influence however went far beyond the North-East. The terrorists bombed schools, churches, mosques, markets and offices brazenly at will and unchallenged in many parts of the North. They bombed many targets in Abuja, the Federal Capital, including the headquarters of the Nigerian Police, and did not spare major cities such as Kano, Kaduna, and Jos.
The government, then, could only counter by putting up military and police checkpoints that only caused gridlocks and hindered free movements, inflicting even more hardship on the citizenry. In those days of those unhelpful checkpoints a journey from Abuja to Kaduna, a run of less than 200kms could double the time or more.
A journey to Maiduguri some 900kms away could take days. Trips within the cities were hamstrung by the same checkpoints. I recall movements within Maiduguri was virtually impossible. A journey from where I live in the GRA to our family home in Fezzan ward, some three or so kilometres away could take a couple of hours.
The worst part of course was the pervasive feeling of insecurity. You cannot be in any gathering, whether it is a wedding, or in a market or mosque or church without the worrisome and acute feeling that a bomb could go off and you might be grievously hurt or even killed. The Boko Haram terrorists have thrown bombs randomly and at specific targets.
They did not even spare our revered traditional rulers. The Shehu of Borno was once a target at a Friday congregation in the mosque near his palace. The late Emir of Kano was ambushed. He was lucky to survive but some of his entourage were killed. The Emir of Gwoza was killed when a motorcade he was in was ambushed on their way to attend a burial in Gombe.
Various political leaders were targeted, particularly when on the hustings. In July 2014, candidate Muhammadu Buhari was nearly killed in a Boko Haram attack within Kaduna city. Though he escaped unhurt, a number in his entourage died.
And true to his words during the campaigns, President Buhari on assuming office made the fight against Boko Haram the top priority of his government. In a few months the military was galvanised, provided with the necessary support and led by new Generals quickly flushed out the terrorists. All the lost grounds to the terrorists were taken back in a matter of months.
Most of the affected areas in Adamawa and Yobe States were virtually cleaned up. In Borno State, though all the Local Government Headquarters were reclaimed, the terrorists still held on to some pockets to continue to become a nuisance to our troops. They also retained the capacity to dispatch suicide bombers, mostly impressionable small girls, to cause mayhem in Maiduguri and its surroundings.
With the retreat of the terrorists into the vast Sambisa Forest and the upper recesses of Northern Borno, the war seemed practically over. A new confidence returned to the nation. The numerous checkpoints disappeared, easing movements across the affected areas easing normal human interaction and most importantly trading activities.
The Governors of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe embarked on massive reconstruction of schools, hospitals, offices, roads and even the dwelling of citizens. Helped by international organisations concerted efforts were made to relocate IDPs to their localities. In Borno State, the Governor celebrated the new found peace at every turn.
However, everyone knew that there were still challenges to overcome. One nagging problem was that Maiduguri could only be reached safely through the Damaturu road. All other highways leading away from the state capital to Damboa and on to Biu, Bama to Gwoza, Banki and Cameroun Republic, and Gamboru which is the gateway to Chad Republic, could not be traversed without a military escort.
Yet, the general calm was something to hold on to. Many IDPs had started returning to their locations which Borno State Government had rehabilitated with dwellings, schools, markets and offices. Suddenly in the early days of last year, things stated to unravel, beginning with the innocuous attack at an army post in Mainok on the Damaturu-Maiduguri highway in March to the audacious abduction of 100 girls from a secondary school in Dapchi in April.
Matters built up to the many sporadic attacks on army installations in the northern most part of Borno State, culminating in December with the human tragedy that the Boko Haram terrorists inflicted on Abadam, Cross Kauwa, Baga, Doro and all the settlements in the ring of Kukawa, all the way down to the outskirts of Monguno.
The human suffering could only be imagined as large scale displacement of the population took place and they streamed uncoordinated towards Maiduguri on any means of transportation they happen to find.
Really the majority trudged their way with practically nothing on them and hardly any sustenance. Many of us who were in Maiduguri in December helplessly witnessed this human tragedy as it unfolded. One can therefore understand why the Governor was short of words at the Abuja parley and had to resort to tears. It is only the stone-hearted that will do otherwise.
However, the visit must be counted as a success, because as I close this piece now I understand that our army is back in action in northern Borno in a bid to clear the terrorists. Already Baga has been retaken and I suppose all the areas around the Lake Chad will soon be safe. However, one needs not be a military strategist to know that this menace has continued to dog this region because they have not been cleared from the pockets hiding them.
In other words, our military must take the fight to them and permanently degrade them. And it will be helpful if the President considers on its merit the 10 points request made by the Borno State contingent.
Whatever should hasten the end of this war, whether it is equipment, more men and more funds should be provided to get rid of these terrorists in this region. After all, peace in the Lake Chad Basin is peace returning to all parts of Nigeria. It is also peace across the Republics of Chad, Niger, Cameroun, as well as Central Africa, Burkino Faso, and Mali.