Hon. Abdulrahman Abba Terab is the member representing Bama, Ngala Kala/Balge federal constituency of Borno state, the hotbed of Boko Haram insurgency. In this interview with Umar Muhammad Puma, the lawmaker explains the political horse-trading which culminated into the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan’s six months state of emergency extension proposal by the House of Representatives. Excerpts:
Can you tell us the situation on ground in your constituency considered to be one of the hotbeds of Boko Haram attacks in Borno state?
The situation in Gamboru- Ngala is a very devastating one. I think it is the worst attack we have recorded so far in the whole of the state and particularly in my constituency, which has been hotbed of this insurgency attack. But what is most worrisome is the fact that there is a pattern that this insurgency has developed and these patterns are in situation whereby the Nigerian Army, while on their duty posts, are asked to vacate their posts for one reason or the other.
Particularly worrisome was the case of Gomboru Ngala, where not a single one of them was allowed to stay at his duty posts with the notion that they have gone in search of the Chibok abducted girls on the shores of Lake Chad. And even more pertinent was the fact that the soldiers did not go there alone, they even went with the Civilian JTF, who have taken up the responsibility of defending their communities, especially the Gamboru Ngala community.
Not only that, I was also confronted by some Nigerian Army personnel and I specifically asked on the floor of the House when I presented my motion of urgent national importance, the reason why the military were asked to vacate their posts. This must be investigated by the military authorities because this is becoming one pattern too many.
That was the same thing that happened in Bama; that was the same thing that happened in Maidugri on the attack on Giwa Barracks. So, I believe that either someone knows the movement of these troops very well; and I even know the military tactics very well, but you vacate your entire post all at once, and leave your backyard all open for someone to come and attack. What is also clear is that until and unless they vacate their posts, attacks don’t happen. That I think is a serious cause of concern.
The insurgents came in 40 Hilux vehicles with an APC leading the way, which I believe, with an average of ten persons per vehicle, you are having over 400 insurgents attacking the village without a single military presence. We have all seen the bravery of DPO, who survived, but lost 16 of his men, and also some few members of Civilian JTF who stood their ground, but could not sustain it, because the power is overwhelming.
As I ‘m talking to you, billions of naira were lost, because Gamboru market is an international market. They came at 1:30 pm and reached the entire town, especially the market area. All trucks that were there to evacuate their goods to the other part of Nigeria were burnt and several persons killed.
We have lost, at the last count, over 370 people in Gambo Ngala, with over 400 cars burnt and over forty trucks burnt with all their contents. Shops and houses are still innumerable, and the most worrisome part is that rightfully, the people of Gamboru are very angry with the Nigerian state over this. They feel that is a clear case of neglect and they feel they are being used as a collateral damage and I believe all the authorities concerned, all of us saddled with the responsibilities of leadership must rise to the occasion and ensure that this does not happen again.
Are you suspecting a foul play from the military with this accusation that the soldiers always vacate their posts before insurgents attacks?
That is why if the authorities are responsible we have asked them to investigate. Their action will justify whether there is complicity or not. But it is how proactive they come out and investigate this situation that will tell all of us the truth off the situation.
Just last week, the House extended the emergency rule. Can you give us a brief insight into what led to that decision because elders of the region went to the President that he should not extend the emergency rule. What is the position of your constituents?
First of all, the case of emergency extension has been on the front-burner of our recent activities and in the light of that, a lot of consultations were done both within the House and outside. This, of course, reached climax with the presentation of the service chiefs to both the chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives, where they mentioned, in clear terms, the limitation they are going to encounter when the state of emergency is not invoked in these three states.
And beyond that, the international community is coming in and they are insisting that they must be given some legal backing for them to come and operate so as to bring this insurgency to an end. But what is important here is that this international community can be a bridge that will separate what we have just asked about the complicity, if it exists, between the Nigeria military authority and the soldiers on ground.
I have always tried to draw a clear line between the willingness of ordinary Nigerian military to do his best on the battlefield. I have seen them, I have met them and I have discussed with them. I have seen them and met them on the battlefront, both in Bama and in Gamboru Ngala.
The fact of the matter is that the Nigerian soldier on the ground are still willing, but we have not seen the results. So if that exists, if there is disconnect between them, we believe that the international communities will be unbiased umpire between the two and reveal if there is any way how others should be carried along or even if it is lack of experience, we believe that some of them who are coming, are coming with experience.
The House of Representatives northeast caucus met with the Speaker led by Honourable M.T. Monguno came up and said so long as the political structure and the democratic structure in the state is not tempered with, the emergency extension should be supported as long as it will be effective.
In fact, in one of thes meetings, I even raised the implication when the state of emergency is raised. I specifically asked the chairman House committee on Army, who is also from Borno state incidentally, and he said that once there is no state of emergency, the military will first of all have to go back to their barracks and for every operation, we have to get express approval from the President to do that.
But that argument has been punctured that similar operation had been carried out in some states, like Nassarawa, Plateau?
I am now giving the authoritative view of the chairman of the committee on Army in presence of the Speaker, who also concurred. So, it is my concern that I raised that if we would be guaranteed security, specifically for my people in the Bama, Ngala and Kala Bulge in the absence of state of emergency. Because we don’t have barracks in some of these areas, they should be allowed to roam about, if that is guaranteed, we don’t have any problem, with their presence or not. Specifically, that is what the chairman of the Army said he couldn’t guarantee.
As such, I was surprised last week to see on the pages of Newspaper that I said if you withdraw emergency in Maidugri, the people will be killed in Bama. That was not my statement. My statement was categorical about what happened in Gamboru Ngala about withdrawal of military and the subsequent attacks on our people; which means that every withdrawal of the military is an attack on our people.
Let us be categorical on this matter, I want you to be straight in your answer. Are you and your constituents in support of emergency or not?
Me and my constituency are in support of security, clearly. What is going to give us security, because as far as we are concerned, we are indifferent about the politicization of the state of emergency. Of course, I am a lawmaker here who represent his people. I have to ask what that means and the implication, because to me, if the security is to be guaranteed, it is a political statement to declare emergency or not. If your political statement is going to warrant a situation that my people are not going to be secured, then I am not in support of that.
In any case, it was not my personal decision. It is the decision of the entire Borno caucus. I am sure you have seen on the floor that not a single member of Borno opposed, it is a decision of the northeast caucus. I am sure one or two members from Yobe came out to openly oppose that. All were in agreement, because of the way it was presented.
They said security of lives and property can only be guaranteed with that;and then of course the allowance of the international community can only be guaranteed with that ; and that some of our caucus leaders have consulted with some of our governors. So, it is not a decision that is for me, it was a decision that is collective, and we had to look at the implication before we went that far.
The House also voted for it unanimously, based on the briefing they received from the service chiefs. There is an implication here. The implication is that most people do not like to be seen to be responsible for destruction of more lives and properties, when in fact the law stipulates certain things. You know it personally that neither the governors, nor myself, nor any political leader, it is provided by law to provide arms and amunitions to any group of people to go and fight a war, even when there is emergency or not, it is only the federal government.
Civilian JTF have recently foiled an attack. There has been calls for the federal government to arm the group. Do you subscribe to that?
This brings us back to a lot of constitutional issues. From the issue of state police to the issue of national security. But from my own understanding, if you go to the United States or Israel, you find out what they called The Reserves, the military reserves. People can be called, give them training and they still live their normal lives, but they are part of the military. It was also the case on the part of Nigeria during Biafran war.
The first line of the constitution stipulates that the security of the lives and property of Nigeria should be the primary responsibility of the government. We have to be able to at least deliver that. This alls to question our state of affairs in the country; our ability to govern our country. This very generation of the leaders of Nigeria, including myself, will be culpable if we do not open up and look at this thing objectively. Take away sentiments and politicisation of issues, religious issues and be very objective.