Governor Baba Gana Zulum of Borno State has again been on the warpath lately.
Not literally because he is not entitled to carry arms and he hasn’t got troops neither. But he has been at it with relentless energy since he became governor of the embattled state last year. He took over the mantle of leadership at the end of May last year at a very unhappy time. The Boko Haram insurgents that were practically routed from much of the territories that they had occupied had returned with vengeance. Though seeming not to be occupying any territory, they nevertheless made it impossible for the citizens to return to their villages and towns. They made ghost towns and villages of most of the settlements in Borno.
Take a sweeping look at the state starting from Damboa to Bama and Gwoza, and then go over all of the central and northern Borno, you would only find living there the infirm and those for other reasons could not get away. Maiduguri was one of the few remaining settlements in central Borno to have a semblance of peace within. That may be because it is effectively garrisoned by troops of all shades. But try moving out Maiduguri in any direction and you would come face to face with the reality of the insurgents controlling the roads and the countryside. By the time Zulum took over the reins of government, all the roads leading out of Maiduguri could only be traversed in a convoy of vehicles under the surveillance of the military.
The only safe corridor then was the highway leading to Damaturu, and the only remaining link to the rest of Nigeria. Now, even that corridor is unsafe as it had come under relentless attacks last year, rendering it to be dangerous for commuters. In February when the insurgents killed over 30 persons in an audacious attack at Auno, one of the settlements on that corridor, Governor Zulum came there immediately. To the dismay and annoyance of the governor, the attack happened at a check point operated and supervised by the military. This led to an exchange of confrontational words between the governor and one of the officers – one of Zulum’s first confrontations with the military that went viral in the social media for many days.
Since that Auno incident, Governor Zulum had been in the media seen running from one hotspot to the other. In the last hotspot near Baga, he almost lost his life when his convoy came under a barrage of serious shootings. The video shots of the incident had circulated widely in the media. We watched the convoy movement and saw the moment the shots rang out and the confusion that followed with the governor being surrounded by his security and taken to a place of safety. It was a moment that anything could have occurred. It’s no wonder that the governor alleged that the intention of the gunmen was to stop him from reaching Baga. In a press conference, he gave a day after the incident he laid the blame at the feet of the Nigerian army whom he alleged were trying to stop him from reaching Baga. He said: “It is a complete sabotage – – – As far as I am concerned, there was no Boko Haram yesterday. It was a serious shooting by the Nigerian armed forces in Baga. The situation is really embarrassing.”
But why stop the governor from reaching Baga? Readers might know that Baga on the shores of Lake Chad is the site of the flourishing dried fish trade that the Boko Haram insurgents had occupied last year. The military had always claimed that it had reclaimed it but this had been disputed by the large number of displaced Baga citizens languishing away in IDP camps in Monguno and Maiduguri. I have once reported here some months ago that a former Governor of Borno State whose roots are in Baga had told me that he could not travel to his family house. He even added that he had been told that the Amir of Boko Haram used his house as his headquarters.
The story has been bandied around for some time. That there is an unholy alliance to keep prying eyes to see what is going on in Baga. The trade in dried fish, cattle and beans has been going on unfettered, yet Baga citizens cannot get access to their homes. The military has denied this many times. But this is now neither here nor there as Governor Zulum has given the soldiers what amounts to an ultimatum. He said: “You have been here for over one year now, there are 1,181 soldiers here; if you cannot take over Baga which is less than 5km from your base, then we should forget about Baga. I will inform the Chief of Army Staff to redeploy the men to other places that they can be useful.”
There are also talks of getting the hunters or the police to be re-equipped to clear the bandits. No. It’s the military that have the training and the wherewithal for this kind of assignment. It is just the will that had been lacking. Borno State government and all people of goodwill should put pressure on the President and Commander-in-Chief to do the needful.