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In defence of Shettima (II)

On February 18, 2014, Dr Doyin Okupe, senior special assistant to the president on public affairs, and the president’s voluble spin[al] doctor, had to effect…

On February 18, 2014, Dr Doyin Okupe, senior special assistant to the president on public affairs, and the president’s voluble spin[al] doctor, had to effect a contorted 360-degree spin; for, not only did he have to eat all his words, he had to vomit every syllable he had uttered and then lick it all up—all over again!
Reacting to Governor Shettima’s charge that fighters of the Boko Haram were better motivated and had better arms and that the nation was at war and disagreeing with him, he had also said, “We are certainly not involved in a conventional warfare but are rather engaged in guerrilla warfare with all its unpredictability.” Shettima had only warned that the nation might lose the war.
But on Friday, February 28, 2014, Okupe had this to say: “We are in a war and there is no gain saying that fact. I’m willing to admit that we are in a war situation. Definitely, in a war situation, all sorts of things do happen.” And later, in a television interview, he added, “We are dealing with a very, very serious enemy. We are engaged in a war that has been internationalized.”
So, you see, the matter, which they were denying yesterday, had even gone beyond the nation’s borders. Of course, we cite the president and his spokesman here, not because we think their testimony enjoys any credibility but because by bringing out such wilful self-contradiction, the fact of their inconsistency and indefensible bias against the Borno State governor become even more obvious. And at any event, the fact of army preparedness and better motivation are to be seen in effective control of environment and not in presidential denials or the baseless pronouncements of spokesmen.
And on the ground, there is nothing to see. As to motivation of armed forces, which better proof is there than the fact that a ragtag force had taken on and kept a regular army at bay in an interminable war of attrition? But as to the possession of better arms, sources within the army have confessed that the materiel being used by it is ageing; and, in any case, isn’t it better for the government to just accept the bitter fact if only so that it can have a reason why its army has failed. If the army had better arms than the insurgents, why was the insurgency not over? Of course, to accept that insurgents have superior grade weapons than its soldiers is to admit its own culpable carelessness; but to accept being defeated by them will have amounted to a national tragedy.
But defeat was exactly what the government might have been courting, perhaps unwittingly. Wasn’t it a measure of the government’s insensitivity and carelessness that even in the face of an emergency of such catastrophic proportions, the nation would go the whole of 22 months without a minister of defence?
While the nation dillydallied for an answer, the true heroines of the moment may be the women groups of Lagos who  came out and marched on the streets to mourn the tragic massacre and abduction of school children in the north-eastern parts of Nigeria. This mourning march, which is planned to hold simultaneously in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Ekiti, ended at Alausa, where the women submitted a letter calling on the Federal Government to wake up and act.
It is not for them to seek to escape concern or action by saying: ‘let the kids die since they are not our own children; and let the zone burn up since it is not in our own part of the country.’ At least they are way ahead of the other Southern elite who avoid action by pretending that Boko Haram is the handiwork of Northern politicians who seek to make Nigeria ungovernable for President Jonathan—a position, no doubt, shared and encouraged or at least not discouraged by the president and his men, who apparently had gone ahead now to factor the tragedy into their political calculations and strategies.
This might explain why Governor Shettima was initially targeted—though this was subsequently denied by the government—in order to justify his planned ouster and replacement by a rigging-friendly military facilitator who will ensure Borno State goes the way of the ruling party. But since it is not the governor who commands the troops on the field of battle, it is difficult to see how a change in Borno Government House will have brought a change in the tactics used to confront the insurgency.
Once upon a time, President Goodluck Jonathan complained that cadres of Boko Haram had infiltrated all levels of his government. Really? Or, have they? Or, in fact, is it the other way round? Is it perhaps that the government has infiltrated the insurgency? In which case, it would have been an uncharacteristically brilliant counterinsurgency move. But what is not very clear is what exactly the government is doing with them. Is it monitoring or mentoring it?
There is no doubt that the crisis is a national emergency for which the Federal Government ought to be fully responsible without anyone pleading on behalf of Borno or Yobe or Adamawa or anywhere. This is the least that the nation expects of the president. But besides the nation’s disappointment in the way and manner the campaign for its containment is being pursued, there is even greater disappointment is the way its aftermath is being handled.
Since the outbreak of the latest carnage, Governor Shettima has gone round dishing out money to affected communities; yet even this hasn’t put Federal authorities to shame. Does it mean these embattled governors are on their own? From where else will Governor Shettima get all the billions needed to pay for the rebuilding of destroyed, burnt-down towns and villages? From where will he get the money to pay compensation for innocent lives lost? From where will he get the funds and succour for restitution to those whose lives have been turned upside down? Who will inject the billions needed to stimulate the local economy? Yet, important as all these are, the real goal may lie elsewhere.
In the end, it might be the soul of Borno, what it symbolises and the potentials it holds, that is at stake. Previously, church-bombings had not brought about the anticipated civil conflict; but now, indiscriminate mass murder might achieve the same result. The North might not yet be a war front, but to all intents and purposes, it is already a front at war.
There might be greater scholars of tafsir, more numerous writers on the philosophy of the Holy Book, more profound students of its ulum, or more dedicated researchers into its comparative exegeses; but there is no spot on earth where the Holy Qur’an is studied, memorised and transmitted with the devotion and intensity with which this was being done in Borno before the crisis erupted.
And there is no place in the east of the world or in its west that has a larger number of certified huffaz—Borno being the seminary town for the production of the home-grown Goni, who cultivates the Qur’an not for money, not for fame and nor yet in order to attend international recital competitions: Goni studies the Qur’an because it is the Qur’an. For him, it is its own reason for being and for becoming—the beginning and the end; and over the centuries, Goni has made its advanced study synonymous with Borno. And perhaps there is no place in the world where more strenuous effort is put in the attempt to understand its transcendental hermeneutic secrets and exploit its spiritual graces.
And rightly or wrongly interpreted, the Qur’an had proved an uncompromising bulwark against imperialism, Zionism and related misfortunes. So, some people have good reason to oppose the Qur’an, impoverish its people and destroy its land; and if one has an agenda to destroy Islam in Nigeria, it matters little who that one is: Muslim, Christian, Zionist or imperialist, there is no better place within which to start—and finish—than Borno.
And Governor Shettima has hit the nail squarely on the head: the nation is at war and it appears to be losing it.

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