“These are times of telling each other the home truth, which is that the Nigerian leadership has failed”.
The Bama Town in Borno has witnessed several attacks by Boko Haram insurgents in the past one year leading to the death of hundreds of people. The latest of the attacks happened on February 18.
The Boko Haram terrorists invaded the town, killed nearly 100 persons, burnt over a thousand houses, torched as much as 400 vehicles, and burnt the palace of the town’s traditional ruler, in an attack that left virtually all business outfits in the commercial town in complete ruins.
The traditional ruler of Bama, Kyari Ibrahim Ibn Elkanemi, often described as a humble and patient man, has become unhappy at the repeated attacks.
In this interview held at his burnt palace, the monarch blames the Federal Government of Nigeria for the spate of terrorism in Borno State.
PT: How was the February attack carried out?
Shehu: At about 4 a.m. , one of my village heads called and informed me that somebody from a far village called Gonikurmi sent a message to him that he saw a long convoy of vehicles and motorcycles moving through the bush and passing by their village towards Bama.
Immediately, I called one captain at the college side in Bama and informed him about what I was told. He equally confirmed to me that two members of the Youth-vigilante, called civilian-JTF, had already informed him about it too. I did not stop at that, I called a major at the army barracks here and also informed him.
I also tried getting across to the Brigade commander and the GOC but all their lines were not reachable. Just some 30 minutes later, somebody called me to alert me that they have set fire on the low-cost housing estate that is at the outskirts of Bama Town; and that the gunmen were heading towards the central town.
People were running helter-skelter, we heard sounds of gun shots, grenades and all. I was later called by some of my subjects to alert me that the four sides of the palace were surrounded by women and children wanting to come into the palace for safety. As we were considering how to safely let them in, the gunmen came to the palace area and when they saw that there were hundreds of women and children all over the palace premises and the main gate, they ordered them to vacate the place at once. They were busy shooting to scare them away, and it was after that they tried to break down the palace gate; which they did using heavy sounding explosives.
When they gained entrance into the palace, they sorted out some of the vehicles like the Hilux Pilot car used in my motorcade before they began to set the entire place on fire. They practically set ablaze virtually everything from the main gate building of the palace, the office and main palace hall. They burnt virtually over 30 cars both official and private parked within the palace. We were in the inner part of the palace, then we saw the upstairs office of the palace on fire, so we had to evacuate everyone including the women and children, the palace workers went into the innermost part of the palace where it was safer so that we won’t get suffocated by smoke or blistered by the heat of the fire. All the while there were shootings outside. They remained in the town up to around 12 noon, that was about eight hours, until when we started hearing the sound of the air force helicopter hovering; we also overheard them giving instruction and trying to shoot down the helicopter.
PT: What was the number of casualties?
Shehu: We tried as much as possible to gather all the dead bodies in front of the palace where they were to be given funeral prayers before taken to the cemetery for burial. But before the message could go round the town, many people in other parts of the town have since buried their dead relations. But in the central mosque here near the palace, I partook in the burial of 34 corpses. And after that many others were still buried.
Many people who did not see me before the burial and many who saw how the palace was destroyed were agitated and confused as they don’t know my where about. There was serious tension and concern about my whereabout, until I came out for the burial of the 34 persons, before tension simmered down.
PT: How did you survive the attack?
Shehu: Well that is by the grace of Allah and also part of my personal security arrangement. I don’t think I should discuss that for obvious reasons.
PT: How would you describe the attack and destruction on business areas?
Shehu: It was really an unfortunate development, to say the least. It was so sad that some two or three years ago, when fire gutted our main market, business activity was low until very recently when the state government came to the rescue of the people after a committee set up by the state government came to distribute N100 million to the affected traders, that business life picked up.
Bama, as you may know, has one of the largest markets in Borno State, and the entire town is strictly a business haven given the border areas we share with Cameroon. But with the attack by the Boko Haram insurgents, everything went to zero again; everything that is known as a business outfit here in Bama has been burnt to ash; when I say everything, I mean totally everything.
PT: What is the level of destruction?
Shehu: We are still compiling the official figure of the destruction; you know it was very massive, and Bama is such a large community. But the chairman of the Motor Parks here in Bama said in the four parks that were attacked, they have recorded a total of 116 vehicles of different kinds burnt completely. That is just the commercial vehicles. Then on the privately owned vehicles; virtually every house where the insurgents went and met vehicle, they set them ablaze. They did not spare any one they come across, including Keke-Napep that the poor struggling young men use to sustain their family. It was so sad.
PT: What was the response of the security agencies?
Shehu: Well, I will say the security agencies have tried their best. But if one is to rate their performance in this attack, I will say it was poor, not because they have failed as soldiers but because they
were ill-equipped to confront the Boko Haram gunmen. The soldiers were merely carrying AK-47, while the Boko Haram were armed with RPGs, Grenades, anti-Aircraft rifles and even Improvised Explosive Devices.
PT: What is your call to the Federal government?
SHEHU: My prayers are that all Nigerian leaders rise up and show responsibility. As it is presently, it seems everyone one is losing confidence in the leaders, and looking up to Almighty Allah who is the ultimate leader to take control. But these are times of telling each other the home truth, which is that the Nigerian leadership has failed. Every leader who is struggling to maintain his or her status quo at the neglect of the overall interest of the general populace should realise that one day the people will be forced to challenge.
For now the morale of the people is down on the trust they have for the president, the governors, the local government chairmen, and even us, the traditional rulers, because a system that was designed to protect them failed them. I repeat, the confidence our people are having on the President down to the local council officers is nil!
This is a call to the President, to the governors and the local government chairmen; we should fear nobody but Allah. The media should help to say the truth, which is bitter. The journalists should see this issue beyond saving his job or life, because the trouble in Nigeria today is beyond individual interest. We should desist from the politics of selfishness and money-grabbing at the expense of our collective security. With the trend of happenings in this country today, nobody is safe.
The government has failed; it is not protecting anything, and I have no reservation in saying this. It is constitutional responsibility of government to protect lives, but here lives are not protected at all. And the irony of the whole thing is that what is happening and being condoned by the government of Nigeria, can bring down the entire country within six months if it were in the other part of the country, because of the way and manner the people will react. And I know if it were to happen in the other part of Nigeria the government will react better than the way it is doing now. We now know it is because of our culture of patience, that we are being taken for granted. The Federal government is not really serious about tackling the Boko Haram insurgency. I realise this given some of the interactions I had with the soldiers who told me honestly that they have limitation in combating the insurgents; they said they are ill-equipped.
PT: What do you feel needs to be done urgently?
Shehu: The federal government and all relevant security chiefs should link with us at the grassroots for the real situation reports and analysis and desist from relying on the so-called concocted and arm-chair security reports that don’t reflect the true situation up here. They should reach out to us on ground, because we always have the real time security alert. But very unfortunately, it is as if the authorities have connived with the insurgents, all networks are not functioning during the attack and up to this present moment, as if we are not in Nigeria. We want to appeal to the government to immediately restore all networks in all crannies of Nigeria so that the people that are willing to reach out with relevant information can do so without difficulties.
It is an undisputable fact that these insurgents have established known camps around the forests within Borno state but the security agencies are always afraid to go there. And more unfortunately, our youth Civilian-JTF who are willing to lead in going there are even being discouraged by the soldiers. I have other suggestions that I need to oblige the federal government which I cannot make public, but if the government is very serious and open the door of advise I will be ready to talk to them one on one. But above all, I wish to state it clearly here without any fear of being challenged that I support the stand of the Governor of Borno state on what he said in Abuja last week Monday concerning the state of insecurity in Borno state and Nigeria as a whole.
To me, the governor is even being too diplomatic in his declaration, because he merely said half of what is happening.
So some persons down there in Abuja should not annoy us by defending his so-called political interest. It is amazing that somebody who has probably not visited Kano before, should sit in Abuja and be saying things he has no knowledge. If he wants to comment on Borno or the insecurity facing the North-East, he should come up here and appreciate what the people are facing before making rash comments.