North East: Peace Not War

North East: Peace Not War

By: Sam Ode

A tearful Rwandan female author, Ms. Immacuée Ilibagiza, pleaded to an adamant world with these touchy words in the aftermath of the Rwandan war/genocide, which severely ravaged the country. She said, “Rwanda can be a paradise again, but it will take the love of the entire world…and that’s as it should be, for what happened in Rwanda happened to us all – humanity was wounded by the genocide.”

Author Ilibagiza posted this plea for peace intervention and entreated all humanity not to just angle for peace, but initiate action for it to avert the recurrence of the bizarre human tragedy of such proportions. Her plea resonates in Nigeria today, particularly in the Northeast, with the same force, solemnity and impact of its virginity impinged on the world years back.

It is public knowledge that Nigeria’s northeast had suffered under the suffocating grip of Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) since 2009 when their atrocities peaked on Nigerian citizens. It is also known that BHTs launched a vicious war against the Nigerian state.

And that Boko Haram  have been defeated is a familiar song and its rampaging remnants still bestrode the land in disguised identities and intermittently, unleash their lethal weapons on Nigerians is also not strange or fresh news. No one is in doubt about the burden of this war on the country in human lives and resources. I have the benefit of first hand account of this horrendous war having been engaged in humanitarian work across the affected states of the region.

 The humanitarian crisis it created were equally very enormous and challenging. The bells ring from people of the Northeast who are savouring the respite spurred by the defeat of terrorists and that normalcy has returned to virtually all communities hitherto under the bondage of insurgents.

Patriotic Nigerians can attest that with a determined military under the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari , terrorism in Nigeria has not only been subdued, but defeated. Everyone knows how much the Nigerian Army under the commanding heights of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai has sacrificed in lives, energy and depravity to the success in the prosecution of the anti-terrorism campaigns.

But the most important aspect of the war on terror is the consummation of the peace by Nigerian people, especially those domiciled in the Northeast, with the unenviable epithet of hub of terrorism.

But some elements in Nigeria’s  North East region are failing to realize that peace is one of the most valuable assets of the spoils of war or its aftermath. The entrenchment of durable peace justifies the sacrifices of government and the military in the war. It inscribes positive imprints on the marble of history. But also at this stage of the conflict, it is more the duty of all stakeholders in the affected areas to proudly pick-up the gauntlet in evolving measures to sustain peace, while they build from the ruins.

On the contrary, a neglect of this vital aspect of an ended war throws back the same problems, sometimes, worse than when the conflagrations were first ignited. Any connivance by any stakeholder to sustain the status-quo of violence on the people by paying lip-service to peace and harmonious co-existence gravely endangers the future.

But it appears the morning has not dawned on some leaders of all shades in the affected region including  politicians, ordinary citizens in the Northeast, to be prodded to this self-realization of the necessity of assisting to sustain the peace. They are failing in the implementation of the agenda of peace as railroaded by Nigerian soldiers for total freedom from insurgency. All the stakeholders in the region have either restrained themselves by boldly stepping out to act the affirmative action for peace or have not done enough.

Recent bombing incidents betrayed people of the Northeastern states, who are the prime beneficiaries of the peace as uninterested in sustenance of the peace. The twin bomb explosions in a mosque near Gate 1 and the second explosion at the Gate 5 of the University of Maiduguri (Unimaid), illustrate this reluctance. The suicide bombing claimed the lives of at least four persons, including a Professor and injured scores of students.

The incident at Unimaid bleeds the heart and unfortunately, such incidents have been flashed at some other places in the Northeast. A careful examination of the incidents show clearly the residents of the Northeast have preferred to harbor and shield residues of fleeing insurgents to operate in their midst or strike when an opportunity renders itself.

What is happening in the Northeast now is no longer the organized, co-ordinated and massive movements of terrorists to raid and attack communities in the region as previously obtained. The Nigerian Army has been able to deflate such power of insurgents and we have celebrated their defeat. All scattered remnants of terrorists cannot be sighted by soldiers in their obscure hideouts, until the locals expose them to security agents.

Parts of Lagos state and even Abuja would have again gone up in the flames of terrorists bombs had fleeing insurgents been granted hospitality by residents. But they denounced, rejected and exposed them to security agents, leading to the arrests of some of them in these cities. But people of the Northeast have deliberately refused to align themselves with this positive action to sustain the peace. Their actions advertise them more as people ever willing to side with insurgents, than expose them.

Critical analyses of the twin bomb blasts at Unimaid reveal and confirm these perceptions. A varsity environment anywhere in Nigeria is secured, with security guards on 24-hour vigilance. In the case of Unimaid, the fact that Maiduguri suffered insurgency for years conferred additional responsibility of alertness on the varsity sentinels.

But whatever reasons, how suicide bombers, concealed their lethal weapons, passed through the gates to detonate in a mosque and even near the university gates is a mystery, if the security agents have not compromised their jobs. Why would students be so insensitive and indifferent to suspicious faces and movements in their midst until insurgents’ messengers of death strike? These possibilities are too fantastic to be true, if it is later on proved that there is no insider collaborators.

It must therefore be reminded that when the bombs explode in the Northeast, those more likely to be affected are the indigenous people of the area. It is not the masses of Lagos or Taraba or people from Abuja or Kogi state. So, compromising their duty to watch over themselves or shielding residues of terrorists to continue with the mindless killings is more of their headache than anyone else.

There is a limit any human being can be stretched. Troops have done their victorious best in the trenches, jungles, forests and battlefields against terrorists to entrench the prevailing peace. If the locals decide in their wisdom to gamble away the peace by these acts of connivance and complacence, there is little or nothing soldiers can do.

Therefore, the current twist in the anti-terrorism campaigns in the Northeast has imposed fresh and serious responsibility on all stakeholders from the region. It is both for those who live within and those residing outside of the region. They must come back home and engage their people in dialogue on the imperative to support peace and cease sympathy to terrorists. They must think of how to do the needful. They must elect upon themselves to dialogue or interact with their people back home with a view to healing the land and sustaining the peace.

The leaders from the Northeast must necessarily come to terms with the unalterable truth that there is a limit the Nigerian Army can stretch itself and that soldiers cannot win the peace in the region for them. It is their burden, it is their task.  The Army has done its best in the circumstances, as evident in the defeat of terrorists; reclamation of seized territories, resettlement of dislodged communities, closure of IDP camps, re-opening markets and closed roads.

So, the most auspicious time for these leaders to return home from their sojourns in Abuja and neighboring states to preach the need to bury the past, with the re-assurance of a fortified future is now. This initiative will assist immensely in reuniting the people as well as open up new vistas of friendship and fraternity, which will institute collective action against perceived enemies of people.

Time for action is now; not the indifference showcased by the leaders presently. It is to these leaders, the Rwandan author; Ms. Immacuée Ilibagiza challenged their  conscience over peace.

Ode, PhD is a former Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.