Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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On the 25th December 2011, something happened which completely shook my faith in the continued existence of this country. Worshippers at a Christmas service in Madalla Catholic Church on the outskirts of Abuja were bombed by a fringe Muslim group – Boko Haram. There was a carnage.
The response of the leader of all Muslims in Nigeria Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar to the provocative attack after a meeting with then President Gooodluck Jonathan was: “What is going on is a conflict between evil people and good people,” “The good people are more than the evil ones. So the good people must come together to defeat the evil ones and that is the message.”
It was the second time in my adult life when my faith in Nigeria was so rudely shaken. The first time was also a Sunday, on 22th April 1990 when my primary school mate at Apir Primary School, the young lad we simply called Gwaza staged an ill-fated coup. Even before the coup succeeded, my school mate then a military officer called Major Gideon Orkar whimsically and gleefully announced the rustication of some northern states from Nigeria. I was then in Yola, capital of Gongola State and given my knowledge of Nigeria, I knew that somebody wanted to bring war and eventual dissolution of Nigeria. I took my young family who were not aware of the dangers of the war ahead to church and straight from there drove to the Military Governor’s residence where I consulted with Abubakar Salisu, our Governor.
I had planned a trip to see my aged mother in my village some days before Christmas of 2011. Somehow I ended up leaving Abuja that Sunday. As I drove between Akwanga and Lafia, news came to me on my car radio about the bombing in Madalla and the mass murder that followed. I immediately concluded that Nigeria was heading towards a religious war. Boko Haram had earlier issued an advisory to all Christians living in the North to relocate to the south and all Muslims living in the south to move to the north. If a group with such warped form of reasoning could start bombing a church on Christmas day – of all days – then Nigeria had reached the brink. I needed a rest to regain my mental balance to drive further. In Lafia, capital of Nassarawa state I slept that day.
Mercifully Nigeria has survived up to today, much to the disappointment of Boko Haram and all those who hate our country passionately. Attacks on Christians continued regardless, followed by mass kidnapping of female school children, selling them as slaves, raping and giving them out in forced marriages. Frustrated that they did not succeed in provoking a religious war along the Muslim/Christian crack-lines, Boko Haram turned against their fellow Muslims, attacking and killing scores of them even in the Mosques. Many Nigerians were obviously frustrated with President Goodluck Jonathan and his ineffective ways of tackling the slide to anarchy.
When the opportunity offered itself in 2015, some of us turned to Muhhamadu Buhari, the former military Head of State who had been trying to emerge as a democratically elected President. We felt he had the capacity – military experience and statecraft – to stop the slippery road to anarchy and war.
Within the first few months of his presidency, Muhammadu Buhari moved fast against the Boko Haram group. So elated was he at his achievements that he declared he had “technically won the war” against Islamist Boko Haram militants.
He told the BBC in a report aired on December 25 2015, four years after the Madala bombing that the militant group could no longer mount “conventional attacks” against security forces or population centres. It had been reduced to fighting with improvised explosives devices (IED) and remained a force only in its heartland of Borno state,” he said.
By the time he took office, Boko Haram had become so notorious that it was described as the world’s deadliest terror group. Even as he celebrated his successes in his offensive against the group, critics of the government argued that he had exaggerated the scale of his success against the militants, and that each time the army claims to have wiped out Boko Haram, the militants have quietly rebuilt.
The government of President Buhari cannot blame such critics for their damning criticism of his handling of security matters. In the north for instance, what could be isolated in the North East has spread to the North West, a vast country side where incidentally Buhari calls home. Even the deaths of the two factional leaders of Boko Haram – Abubakar Shekau and Khalid El-barnawi has shown that there is nothing to rejoice. Worse acts of terror continue to be committed on a daily basis by terrorist who have actually done worse things in the North West than the dreaded Boko Haram did in the North East.
Northern leaders – traditional rurels, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Northern Elders Forum NEF, have made endless and passionate pleas to President Muhammadu Buhari to end the spate of insecurity ravaging the country.
Leading the charge, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, lamented that terrorists kill people on a daily basis in the northern part of the country, especially in the Northwest, and the killings are mostly not reported.
This is just as the Sultan called on Christians to disregard the recent threat by some persons who warned that those found attending churches in Zamfara State would be killed.
Speaking at the fourth quarter meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) with the theme, ‘NIREC, Security Agencies and Peace in Nigeria’, the Sultan, who is also the Co-Chair of NIREC, said there is no single day that passes without people being killed in the North.
“If I continue talking about the insecurity in the North, we will not leave this room. A few days ago, we were witnesses to the media reports on how people were killed in a bus in Sokoto. There is no single day that passes without people being killed in the North, but we don’t hear it.”
It has become that bad. The situation is almost hopeless. When he spoke after the bombing of Madalla Church in 2011, I could see some hope in his pronouncements. Now ten years later, the same Sultan is sounding defeated and despondent. We the ordinary Christians and Muslims must however continue to ask him when his majority good people are going to win this war against the good people as promised in 2011.