President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent visit to Chad over Boko Haram is a welcome development. Hitherto, Nigeria had behaved as if we could go it alone in the fight against the deadly insurgency. Now the reality has dawned on us. We unilaterally closed our borders to our north-east neighbours without proper consultations and with a little care of how it hurt their economies. The President’s gesture even if it has come a little too late must be accepted as better late than never.
Pictures from the meeting by our President and Idris Derby of Chad showed that the only Nigerian who accompanied our President to the talks was the former Governor of Borno state, Alhaji Modu Sheriff, popularly known as SAS. Sadly, our President’s decision to portray this man as his confidant, even if it makes the Chadians happy, did not go down well with many Nigerians.
Since the Boko Haram insurgency exploded in Nigeria, most analysts of its origins have pointed fingers at the former governor. General Jeremiah Useni, a former national leader of the ANPP, the party that sponsored Sheriff’s election as governor, revealed that he had used thugs, named ECOMOG, to prosecute his election battles into office way back in 2003. On a visit to Borno, he noticed the romance between his party’s candidate and the dangerously armed killer squad and went ahead to warn him about the security implications of a man of his status associating with such criminal bands. Sheriff, he said, responded that the criminals were good for securing votes. The thugs codenamed ECOMOG later melted into Boko Haram.
It is also alleged that prior to his election as governor in 2003, Sheriff had reached an agreement with the founding leader of Boko Haram, Mohammad Yusuf, that he would implement “full Sharia” once he took office. This agreement led to Yusuf’s nomination of one of his trusted lieutenants, BujiFoi, to be made commissioner in charge of religious affairs. Sheriff’s failure to implement “full Sharia” in Borno led to a parting of ways between him and the group, the subsequent resignation of Buji from his cabinet and his summary execution by security forces. Furthermore, In October 2012, Sheriff was allegedly arrested by Cameroonian security forces over his connections with Boko Haram. He was subsequently released on the intervention of the Nigerian government.
Currently, there is a raging controversy in Nigeria over his links with Boko Haram. Dr. Stephen Davies, an Australian who claims he is negotiator with the Boko Haram on behalf of the federal government, says leaders of the group confessed to him that Sheriff was their sponsor. Sheriff has vehemently denied the allegation, though, threatening to sue the Australian. Under the prevailing circumstances, we find it odd that Sheriff was the best person our President should showcase in any efforts to find a solution to the Boko Haram scourge. To be sure, He is a friend of the President and a fellow party man. He is also believed to have invested his stupendous wealth in Chad, thus giving him leverage with the leaders of that country. It is believed that if he pulls out his investment in that country, its economy may collapse.
Still, we believe that the President made a grievous mistake in associating with his friend Sheriff on such a serious national duty. Rightly or wrongly, the man has been smeared by the Boko Haram scourge and except the President wants to share in the oozing stench that follows him everywhere he goes, he should just let Sheriff go.