The Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, on Friday met with President Muhammadu Buhari.
After the meeting, Mr Zulum granted an interview to journalists at the State House, Abuja.
He spoke about the recent Boko Haram attacks on two local governments in the state, and his meeting the president.
Q: Why are you in the Villa?
Zulum: I came to see the president with respect to the recent happenings in my state, especially the attacks in Gubio and Magumeri local government areas in northern Borno and other localities in the state.
Q: What are you doing to ensure normalcy is restored and what is the takeaway from your meeting with the President?
Zulum: Well, the president has assured the government and people of Borno State that he will do everything possible to ensure that properties, lives and citizens of the state are protected.
On my own part as the governor, first of all, I wish to call on the people of Borno State to be patient while we try to strengthen the civilian JTF as well as supplement the efforts of the Nigerian military as well as the Nigerian police.
By and large, we must also address the root causes of the Boko Haram insurgency which is not limited to endemic poverty, pervasive illiteracy, financial and economic hardship, unemployment, environmental degradation, drug abuse among others. We must ensure our youths are employed. We shall support the Nigerian police and the Nigerian military, most importantly the gallant civilian JTF and the hunters to ensure that the remnants of Boko Haram are eliminated.
Q: Help us understand how it was easy for the militants to operate. We were told they came in at 6 a.m. and there was no resistance.
Zulum: Well, the most important thing is that there is ongoing military strategy, according to the military authorities, what they called “Establishment of super camps.” That entails that all other smaller units in various villages and towns, shall be collapsed to form part of the super camps in some critical major local government areas.
In our thinking as laymen not as military personnel, we thought this decision is not wise. We must ensure there is military presence in all the locations. We are very much aware of their numerical strength but nonetheless, their absence can create serious vacuum and that has informed the recent attacks. However, I heard that the military is now trying to re-establish the military formations in those areas and that they should not form part of the super camps.
Honestly speaking, the civilian JTF are working but the most important thing is that they don’t have the heavy weapons that they can use to conveniently face (the Boko Haram). So the absence of the Nigerian military in a particular place will create a vacuum in such a way that the civilian JTF and hunters cannot perform effectively. I have told Mr President and he has listened to our complaints, he has done a lot for the people of Borno State and it is our sincere hope that this time around, he will take necessary steps to forestall future occurrence. But most importantly, the presence of the Nigerian military in almost all the locations especially in local government headquarters, need not be overemphasized.
Q: You spoke about creating jobs for the youth as one of the ways of addressing the root cause of Boko Haram. How do you intend to do that?
Zulum: Well, there are various ways of creating jobs. First and foremost, our administration in the last two months has embarked upon construction of technical and vocational centres geared towards providing skill acquisition, on the job training for the teeming youth in the state. Secondly, the state government has applied to the Central Bank of Nigeria to enjoy the facility under its accelerated agricultural development scheme. So far so good, we have cultivated about 10,000 hectares of land, we are willing to invest in poultry farming, aquaculture among others to create jobs. Last month, we recruited about 4,000 youths within Maiduguri and enrolled them under the Borno State environmental protection agency for them to be engaged in the environmental sanitation exercise for a period of six months. We are now profiling them so that before the six months will elapse, government will look into the possibility of giving them starter kits so that they can start on their own. Definitely, we are not sleepy, the large population in Borno State is not easy to manage because of increasing procreation, lack of education among others. But, definitely, gradually we are going forward in terms of agriculture, skill acquisition especially vocational training centres shall be established while the existing ones will be reinvigorated. Most importantly, we have created the ministry of science, technology and innovation. It is saddled with the responsibility of creating enabling jobs so that our young ones can stand on their own.
Q: What strategies do you think can be put in place to ensure the repentant insurgents accept government programmes in order to prevent this kind of attacks in future?
Zulum: This is a very important question. You will recall that the federal government under the leadership of President Buhari has established what we call operation safe corridor. This establishment is purposely to ensure that the repentant Boko Haram insurgents are being reintegrated into the system. But somehow, I think we have to look into the efficacy of this system. In the last one month, I have been advocating at various local government areas that, let those insurgents who are willing to repent, return so that we shall open up windows for them under the operation safe corridor. This is very important because dialogue is also very important because those that were forced into insurgency should be given opportunity to come back home. Most importantly, we need to ensure that there is a robust mechanism on ground to take care of them, to rehabilitate them and to reintegrate them.
During our first economic council meeting, the president did mention that the governors should go back to their home and discuss with their traditional rulers and look into the possibility of resolving issues at their own levels. That entails empowering the traditional rulers, the civilian JTF and hunters and ensuring that dialogues are being held between the traditional rulers and repentant Boko Haram. I hope by doing so we can succeed. There is a renewed effort in this direction and very soon I will be having a meeting with the operation safe corridor team to ensure that this is put in place.
Q: What is the present situation in Gubio and Magumeri local governments because we have heard from their military that they have repelled attacks in those communities?
Zulum: Well, I don’t want to go into much detail but as far as I am concerned, there was an attack in Gubio and Magumeri, local government area secretariats were burnt down, health centres were burnt down, vehicles were burnt down, communication gadgets were burnt down. And it is disheartening to note that since the advent of this administration, burning of secretariats and other public buildings ceased for the last four and a half years. What must have informed this decision for them to resume these attacks? These questions remain unanswered. Most importantly, I am sure this government has done a lot and the discussions I had with Mr President shows that we are getting to an end very soon and I am optimistic that we shall get enough support. Right now we are receiving support from Mr President but we are only appealing that the system be strengthened, for him to look into the porosity of the system, evaluate the system with a view to enhancing it.
Q: You did say earlier that the Civilian JTF, though trying, lack equipment, so what efforts are on the ground to get them properly equipped?
Zulum: When you look at the Nigerian Constitution, it has clearly spelt out the powers of the state government, the powers of the federal government as well as the Nigerian military. The civilian JTF are institutional bodies that have been created by the government of Borno State, we can go to an extent of supporting them but there are certain limitations. Even the Nigerian police have some limitations of carrying some of the heavy guns like AA. So, therefore, for them to function effectively and face these insurgents, they must have certain buffer and that buffering capacity is the Nigerian military. We are also advocating that the federal government should also look into the possibility of providing temporary permit to the Nigerian police to carry some of the weapons considering the lean numerical strength of the military. That will strengthen their numbers and then ensure that while there are limitations in terms of numerical strength, police can supplement.
Q: You mentioned earlier that the root cause of this problem is poverty and unemployment but this is not limited to Borno State. Why is it peculiar to Borno State? Secondly, do you think the insurgents are indigenes of Borno or they are outsiders trying to destabilize the state?
Zulum: Thank you very much. One peculiar problem we have in Borno is that it shares borders with three countries – Republic of Niger, Republic of Chad as well as the Republic of Cameroon. You can understand these borders, this proximity to Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Libya. It is a sub-Saharan region, it is very difficult to man such areas.
Going back to the poverty index, you can recall that climatic situation in the region. We have three major climatic regions in Nigeria – the humid region, semi-arid region as well as the arid region. Borno State is semi-arid region, it is an extreme region in northern Borno. Rainfall is usually less than 200 millimetre, crops can hardly do well without irrigation, you can understand what we mean. No rainfall means there is no employment. But by and large, the situation has been compounded for a long time because of lack of education. Education is also a veritable tool for fighting these insurgents.
My predecessor has done well in terms of building more schools, recruiting more teachers but I think you are right that the entire problem about employment covers the entire country but because of the porosity of our borders among others, we have major problems in Borno State. Yes, Boko Haram started in our own place, yes I admit that most of them are from my tribe but I believe their composition now cuts across almost every ethnic group in Nigeria, most importantly including the expatriates. We have people from other countries that have joined them. I think that they are rebellious now and I think it is now a war economy, you can see them looting properties, carrying food items and what have you.
I want to disabuse the minds of those saying it is religious, when they attacked Gubio they burnt down an Islamic school, they burnt down the house of an Islamic teacher, so that is all I have to tell you in a nutshell.