Today, intelligent folks pretend not to know who the Unknown Gunmen are. They will not cast a glance at the North-East rearview mirror. They are quibbling about military highhandedness. They are asking that their bandits be fed butter and treated with kids gloves. They would be happy if Satan himself came with heavy natural disasters.
In December 2003, 200 Boko Haram members attacked police stations in Geidam and Kanamma in Yobe State. That was in their infancy. They killed police officers, took their guns and freed detainees. Some cheered. In June 2004, Boko Haram tried to break into a jail in Damaturu.
We have been through this path before.
In October 2004, Boko Haram attacked a convoy of 60 policemen and took 12 of them hostage. As they dispensed evil, their followership, and perhaps popularity amongst some folks, soared. So by 2005, the governor of Borno State appointed a known Boko Haram devotee to his cabinet. Buju Foi was made Commissioner for Religious Affairs.
It’s a familiar path. The dalliance with groups flirting with insurgency. Cowardly state governments that place opportunism above all else. An altercation sparked by crash helmets would lead soldiers to shoot to quieten the tantrum of the budding insurgency. Boko Haram lost members and went feral. By 2010, they had developed teeth and an appetite for blood. They stormed Bauchi prisons, killed soldiers and policemen and freed 700 inmates. We lacked the pornographic propensities of information dissemination through WhatsApp and Twitter then. But the Owerri prison drama is familiar.
We have been through this path before.
By 2011, Jonathan had settled in, and the insurgency’s audacity seemed to grow. Opponents of Jonathan in the North mocked and sneered. They gave the insurgents thumbs up with their ambivalence. Boko Haram proselytised. They said the people were impoverished because the government was corrupt, run by infidels. Emirs, Northern elites, did ba komi. The insurgents killed muzzled local dissent. They killed Ibrahim Birkuti, a cleric who didn’t mince words like the others. They must have considered him an efulefu. They destroyed churches but didn’t spare traitorous mosques. They attacked the police headquarters in Abuja. A few times, they visited the market in Maiduguri and looted shops to the silent praise of a mob of cheerleaders. The insurgents later bombed the United Nations building.
I once watched the Sultan lecture a visiting President Jonathan. Jonathan didn’t have the aura of a lion king. The Sultan said the insurgency didn’t require military highhandedness. His recipe was palliatives, the sort of balm we applied on the Niger Delta.
Before the vermins ransacked the North-East, we could have leashed or suffocated them. Before they became a scourge, we could have untied our scorn and lashed at them with one voice. But we didn’t. We cuddled them into idiocy, lunacy. The owners of the land, befuddled by ignorance, politics and mawkish sentimentality, chased rats when the inferno sprouted. Today, President Jonathan eats Banga soup and fresh fish in Otuoke, but many ostriches are perched around Abuja, craning their necks like lost pigeons.
Sometime during that forgettable period, we paid N100 million because an angry policeman shot Yusuf, the Boko Haram leader, dead. We said it was extra-judicial murder; we appeased his family. Fear made us hide behind the rule of law. We have since learnt to bulldoze the houses of small scale kidnappers. While we cuddled Yusuf’s family, nobody appeased the families of the soldiers and policemen whom Boko Haram and Yusuf killed. That reminds me, despite all the murders and abominations committed by his group, we said Yusuf was not violent.
I once watched the Sultan lecture a visiting President Jonathan. Jonathan didn’t have the aura of a lion king. The Sultan said the insurgency didn’t require military highhandedness. His recipe was palliatives, the sort of balm we applied on the Niger Delta. Lamido Sanusi brought out data and said that the North-East was receiving peanuts from the federation. The Northern intelligentsia, hitherto known for outspokenness, spared their youths and lashed Jonathan and the country with their tongues. I’m not a fan of Jonathan. The buck stopped at his table. But if only the northern elites had looked down the road and taken moral responsibility.
Despite the advertised ideology of Boko Haram, which was incompatible with liberal constitutionalism, many intelligent people justified and others excused Boko Haram’s atrocities. At the earliest stages, some of these people said that the problem of Nigeria was its evil Constitution.
Those chickens have since come home to roost. General Ihejirika, who was accused of avenging Biafra with his firmness against the insurgents, has retired to his family. Those who vilified him are licking their wounds. The sore has metastasised. Our North-Eastern limb is gangrenous. They pampered the sore. We should have seen it coming. Boko Haram robbed banks and destroyed police stations. But rather than call a spade by its name, they called it poverty-induced youthful mischief, which money could contain. They didn’t call it cancerous extremism. Those who built their politics on the foundation of religious fundamentalism and sharia politics saw the rise of Boko Haram and smirked. They cuddled the insurgents with sympathy and affection. They fantasised a future where other politicians who preached moderation and tolerance would be excommunicated into oblivion as sin-drenched infidels.
Despite the advertised ideology of Boko Haram, which was incompatible with liberal constitutionalism, many intelligent people justified and others excused Boko Haram’s atrocities. At the earliest stages, some of these people said that the problem of Nigeria was its evil Constitution. They didn’t say it was not drafted by the people; they said it was not drafted by God. They didn’t call Nigeria a zoo; they called it the satanic construct of atheistic white men. So they justified Boko Haram as messiahs and allowed their excesses as the collateral damage of redemption. Those in it for the short term benefit of muddling the waters for Jonathan jubilated when the insurgents kidnapped the Chibok girls.
Today, intelligent folks pretend not to know who the Unknown Gunmen are. They will not cast a glance at the North-East rearview mirror. They are quibbling about military highhandedness. They are asking that their bandits be fed butter and treated with kids gloves. They would be happy if Satan himself came with heavy natural disasters. They want Buhari messed up. Others hope the unknown gunmen could bring down sufficient mayhem and break the country. While praying for Armageddon, they will blame Buhari for not providing security and ask him to resign.
The intelligentsia, once again chasing rats.
It’s a familiar path to an apocalypse.
Ugoji Egbujo is a member of the Board of Trustees of Centre for Fiscal Transparency and Integrity Watch.
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