Insecurity: North Under Siege, by Hassan Gimba

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Hassan Gimba.
Hassan Gimba.

The Arbiter

The Boko Haram insurgents, once touted as ‘technically defeated’ by no other than President Muhammadu Buhari, are now technically resurging and giving a bloody nose to our soldiers, killing them and civilians in droves, sacking military bases and villages in the North East and packing away weapons and prisoners of war comprising of soldiers and civilians, especially women to assuage their lust.

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The war against the Boko Haramites in the North East seems to be losing steam and one is concerned as to question why? Is it due to exhaustion, war weariness or lack of ideas on how to confront them? Is it the lack of morale among our fighting force? Or lack of weapons coupled with inadequate training? Or is it a bit of all of these?
When looked at properly, the Boko Haramites do not have the formal military training our army has, even though some abducted soldiers may be teaching them some military tactics under duress – which may account for their confidence in confronting the Nigerian Army. Because when you look at the videos they release, you do not see them with weapons that are more sophisticated than those of our soldiers.
In the North West, armed bandits, perhaps Boko Haram with a different face, are threatening to take over Zamfara State. The state is almost under their control, they move freely heavily armed, collect tax from villagers for protection, ransack communities at will, kill, maim and take as many as they can with them for ransom. The bandits can come to a marriage gathering and just demand for the bride and she would be handed over to them. They as well abduct women and girls, converting them into sex slaves.

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The North Central has become a traveler’s nightmare from Rijau to Birnin Gwari and Gwanin Gora to Rijana through Kaduna and down to the suburbs of the Plateau. One travels at one’s own risk as even four-star generals are being killed at will. Herdsmen kill every moving object and sack villages, burning everything down to ashes. Kidnappers are also having a field day. Are some of them, especially the herdsmen and kidnappers, another face of Boko Haram getting the much needed cash?
hardly can one confidently travel from one town or village to the next once it is 7 pm. travelling by road even in broad daylight is embarked upon with trepidation. Journeying by plane is no longer for luxury for safety.
Our security apparatus possibly need a total overhaul and assistance from elsewhere. There has to be synergy between the different actors, modern policing methods and the revival of community policing.
Borno, Yobe Checkpoints as ATMs
A checkpoint is a barrier or manned entrance. Prior to the advent of the Boko Haram sect, they were mainly scene at our borders where security checks are carried out on travelers.
However, due to criminality, especially the activities of the Boko Haramites which lack of effective policing has allowed to get out of hand, checkpoints have become common milestones in Nigeria, especially in the North East –  the natural home of the so-called “jihadists”.
One had thought that checkpoints were meant to identify and pick out the undesirable elements so as to forestall their grouping or regrouping in towns to cause mayhem, and that the primary mission of the ‘checkpointers’ should be to demonstrate presence and to exhibit the army’s constant surveillance and its overwhelming force.

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But the way checkpoints in that troubled region works do not tend towards the above goals. They behave like an army of occupation, forcing long queues of cars, calling them one by one. Passengers have to disembark and walk some 100 metres past the checkpoint while the driver drives through the checkpoint, at instances “dropping” something out of the view of passengers.
Failure to abide by this operational code can attract draconian retribution like doing frog jump or filling sandbags with sand. Like what the legal philosopher, H. L. A. Hart called “orders backed by threats,” the source and limit of their authority depends on the source and limit of particular threats.
A friend gave me a sad account of what transpires with regards to the checkpoints between Yobe and Borno states. He was highly concerned about the growing disregard for the rights of individual’s at Kukareta checkpoint, few kilometres away from Damaturu, and two other checkpoints immediately before and after Damaturu, the  Yobe State capital and another in Maiduguri.
He narrated his experience to me: “I boarded a commuter bus, BORNO EXPRESS, from Maiduguri to Abuja. We left the Terminus at exactly 7 am. On reaching the area of Borno State University, we were asked to alight from the bus and went to some Immigration Personnel sitting under a shed. They asked each to present his/her ID card. I presented an ID card but they insisted on National ID card; they only entertained ID cards of government places of work and National ID card. I observed with keen interest that those who did not have were made to pay for transition. An old man paid and demanded for an ID card. When they couldn’t give him one, he demanded for receipt which was also not forthcoming. The old man got ready for action, which forced them to quickly give him back his money.
“Some buses were just asked to go without doing anything. We boarded our bus and continued our journey till we reached Yobe State but before then there were stations of policemen by the road sides who stopped and observed motorists then asked them to go. At Kukareta Army roadblock, we met a long queue of more than 50 cars being called one after the other as if the passengers were going nowhere. They didn’t mind how far some passengers might be going; innocent taxpayers/passengers were asked to disembark from their vehicles irrespective of sex, age or health status, including pregnant and nursing mothers but three Borno Express buses which had one military passenger in the front seat each were allowed passage.
“What really touched my heart was one woman who had four children ranging from the ages of 10 down to a baby wrapped in a towel all of them trying to shield themselves because of the dry harmattan wind blowing and one woman who was heavily pregnant. I heard people cursing them ‘Allah Ya isa’ and ‘Allah Ya tsine musu al barka’ and other unprintable words.”
He further told me that what worried him the most was that “innocent passengers were never approached by the soldiers aiming to observe suspicious ones among them, but were instead ordered to cross over to the other side far from the soldiers and trek more than a hundred meters while the vehicles and their drivers were never searched. The vehicles went and waited for the punished and degraded passengers to enter again. It’s the same exercise at the Damaturu NNPC roadblock.
“Would this bring victory in the fight against the terror group? Would this give respect to the soldiers? Would this make the victims pray for these soldiers? Would these victims wish these soldiers well? If these travelers were Boko Haram, would the soldiers treat them casually like this and get away with it.  So where is intelligence, maturity and professionalism in all this? Who is the Nigerian Army serving?” he queried.
He concluded by saying that these exercises have been happening since the beginning of the Boko Haram crisis, and over time no culprit has been arrested but the checkpoints continued because of the monetary gains the soldiers enjoy, particularly from commercial drivers, trailers and tanker drivers who could pass with weapons once they have ‘dropped’ as their vehicles are hardly ever searched.
This is typically what is happening at all checkpoints the moment you enter Yobe State either from Gombe or Darazo and Azare in Bauchi State till you reach Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.

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