Residents in major towns badly affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in the northern part of the country are worried over what they described as the uneasy silence over the breakdown of talks between the Islamic sect and the Federal Government last week.
The residents, especially in Kano, Maiduguri, Jos and Damaturu, which are theatres of Boko Haram operations, said the deadlock of mediation talks has heightened fears that the dreaded group could resume its killings and become even deadlier.
Malam Mohammed Yakubu Lailai of Yobe State told The Moment on phone that while the people leave in constant fear of the Boko Haram, they are also no less threatened by the operation of the security forces.
He said following the breakdown of the peace process, the Joint Task Force has renewed its operation with maximum high-handedness, inflicting corporal punishment on people irrespective of sex or age in addition to indiscriminate arrests and indefinite detention of persons so held.
Another respondent, Malam Abdullahi Gwange in Maiduguri, Borno State, the home base of the sect, lamented that the conduct of the security these few days has been characterised by cordoning off of neighbourhoods at the dead of the night, arrests and killings.
‘In addition to mounting of needless roadblocks worse than those in Gaza strip all over the city of Maiduguri and causing hardship to motorists and the people generally, the JTF appears now to have turned its assignment into an open declaration of war on innocent and defenseless people of Borno State, killing people on a daily basis.
‘This currently is the life of Borno, to say the least,’ said Hajiya Zarah Musa, who said she is contemplating relocating from the state with her three children whose father was lost to the gun battle between Boko Haram and military operatives a month ago.
A retired police officer in Kano also expressed worries that the violence could take a different shape than in the past when the attackers’ main targets were security personnel. ‘Now both sides have again drawn the battle lines; in addition, hidden disruptive elements could be aiming to make the entire north virtually uninhabitable,’ the retired Army officer who pleaded anonymity said.
He said signs of escalating turmoil have bubbled up in Kano since the announcement of the truce breakdown, with the security forces responding most disproportionately at the slightest provocation by opening fire, shooting and killing any one on sight.
Ibrahim Sani Mandawari, who escaped death by the whiskers during the latest cross-fire at Rijiyar Lemo, Kano, summed up the sense of confusion the botched dialogue is creating. ‘There are some strange things happening. Every time the issue of dialogue comes up, something somewhere stalls it. Maybe they don’t want us to feel safe to live in our homes. But then where else is there to run to? No place is safe in the North today,’ he said.
Malam Umar Aliyu Baban Kaduna, a respected community leader in Tukur-Tukur, Zaria, warned that while press reports and word-of-mouth as regards casualty heighten concerns over insecurity, reliable statistics from the authorities have been in short supply.
‘And loose rumour of violence and chaos might be a destabilizing force in itself,’ he added.
With the pervasive fear and uncertainty in the northern part of the country, a resident, Ibrahim Alhassan, said the option of arming individual families to defend themselves may not be out of the way.
Alhassan, who spoke to The Moment he and his wife, Nafisa, were shopping at the Shagalinku, one of the few malls along the Kaduna road outside the Zaria city walls, admitted that they were thinking of buying a gun for self defence.
However, cultural organizations and a vast network of civil society organizations that have sprung up recently, believe the situation cannot be insurmountable with genuine, collective and concerted efforts.
Most prominent is the effort initiated by the Arewa Citizens Action for Change, a proactive youth coalition based in Abuja.
In a surprising move, the ACAC brought together respectable northern leaders, including traditional strange bedfellows such as Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Abdussalam Abubakar, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Chief Paul Unongo, Yusuf Maitama Sule, John Wash Pam, General Onoja, Adamu Ciroma, Justice Mamman Nasir, Ango Abdullahi and Sani Zangon Daura, to discuss the way out.
The group said, ‘our hope now rests on these northern leaders to get us out of this mess. We are optimistic because, unlike all other efforts, this movement sidetracks the region’s socio-cultural and ethno-religious fault lines.
If they cannot come up with a workable solution, then, we are all doomed,’ said Samuel Chung, a Plateau indigene resident in Kaduna.
On its part, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) is intervening between the sect members and government regarding the option of dialogue.
But former Finance Minister Adamu Ciroma has expressed his displeasure with the approach of government to dialogue with the sect.
He said the Federal Government was unrealistic to expect the sect members who are in an armed conflict with it to come out and dialogue openly.
Ciroma accused government of knowing far more than it was willing to admit, saying it must quickly come up with a serious approach before things deteriorated further.
‘Government, whether it says so or not, knows a lot about every issue. It should take the right approach and talk to the Boko Haram people before the situation (further) degenerates and spreads,’ Ciroma said.
Indeed, since the announcement of the deadlock of talks with the Islamic sect by Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmed, who was negotiating the process last week, fears have been pervasive in many cities in northern part of the country.
Dr. Ahmed of the Supreme Council for Shari’a in Nigeria, who was unveiled two weeks ago by a section of the media as the chosen negotiator for the sect, suddenly backed out, accusing government of insincerity. According to him, what should have taken place under wraps was prematurely leaked to the press.
He said he was shocked when he read in some national dailies that the Boko Haram sect had appointed him its mediator.
–Via The Moment