We live in a clime where every act is deemed justifiable once it is hinged on either Mother-Religion or security. Perhaps that is why a senator could marry a toddler and be celebrated in some quarters because it is in consonance with his faith, that is why a flying-coffin will be allowed to fly and when the evitable happens and we make cacophonous sounds in condemnation, we will be calmed down, immediately we are told it is an “Act of God” and we will just go cold like hot coals in the winter. That is also why state governments can so lavish and purloin our common patrimony and the moment you dare ask, what you get is a resounding and seemingly convincing: “It was used for security purposes”. Little wonder, the phrase “Security Votes” is one cliché our ‘Excellency’ state chief executives have become so married to. But is that all? NO.
That is also why a president can send his police to disrupt the meeting of perceived foes and say it is in a bid to preserve the public peace, that is also why CP Mbu can block Amaechi’s Convoy to his official residence and everything will just be fine. Welcome to my country, where government is run by whims and caprices against the ideas and policies it is supposed to be anchored upon in order to better the lot of 100,000,000 poor Nigerians at least according to the World Bank report, not as if we have come up with our own statistics. So until we do that, I’ll believe their report as what I see out there every day on the streets prima facie corroborates their report. But is that all? That is also why residents of peace loving Borno state have been shut out of the outside world for some six months and still counting and everybody just seem to be moving fine. And when you are audacious enough to question why? Or you cough in retaliation, what you get is the fatigued phrase, “It’s for security reasons”. What rubbish!
And that is why a certain Major General Obidah Ethan, the GOC of the 7 division of the Nigerian Army in Maiduguri could go on air and interject in reaction to the persistent calls for the restoration of telecomm services in Maiduguri, that the blockade has helped their operations. In his words, “What I will say is that for now, the GSM blockage is helping our operations” not as if I was shocked when I heard this. That is Nigerian way of doing things. The poor masses are always not factored into the equation of the thoughts of the powers-that-be so-called.
As one quite familiar with happenstances in the legal scene, I understand what makes the military and the government so confident in their position. It is nothing more than the provision of section 14(2)b of the 1999 constitution to the effect that, “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government” that is why state governors could set up their quasi-police force and receive no reproach or admonition from the government at the Centre. How much clueless can governance be here?
Accepted, network services have been withdrawn from Maiduguri and our constitution has indirectly watered the ground for that, what then about the other horn of the section that boarder on the welfare of the citizenry? Yes, you want to secure these people but how have you spared a thought about their welfare? The latter has been forgotten. Who cares? Residents of Borno can suffer as much as they want to, the government don’t give any hoot. Some members of the JTF sometime come out clearer and tell you, raw as it is that “They deserve whatever they may be going through as by commission or omission they gave, or are responsible for what has become of their land”. It is against this backdrop, that I have called their bluff and have termed the withdrawal of GSM services in Borno, as government’s condoning and celebration of laxity by its military-in which case here the -JTF. It is quite a preposterous and counterintuitive submission I know, but you can hold me on that submission but I am unapologetic about it. We shall show how.
In the weeks preceding this article, I have been ensconced in research on this subject. What was I particularly looking for? I starved myself of pleasure looking for where such jejune method towards curbing terrorism has been adapted in the past which led to our being binded by the persuasive judicial notice of that here, but my research ended with my not having any good story to go to town with at least as far as the tentacles of my research is concerned. Nigeria from my findings is the first country that have experimented the dis-communication of an entire region because perceived terrorist cells habit the region in order to checkmate their activities. It is an unprecedented feat in the global map and before the Nigerian Army goes to town priding that they have set a good precedent which other nations may employ some time in the future to curb terrorism, how about I let them know that it is a poor precedent which any nation worth its salt will never take a leaf from. But because we are one hell of a country, we do the most disdainful act and massage our egos thinking we have left a global meal in the Menu of global Kitchen.
Isn’t information so vital in intelligence gathering? What has the military done with the trillion+ of our fiscal allocation to the security sector since the passé of the insurgency? What have they done other than making life so miserable and despondent for the residents of Maiduguri and its environs? Road blocks are mounted every nook and cranny of the metropolis in a bid to curtail attacks as though it is the professional way of doing things. Boko haram Insurgents attacks with motorcycles, and the next thing is to ban the use of motorcycles in the metropolis and people are kept out of business. Because we are fighting terrorists, the welfare of the people should be sacrificed on the altar of security. Motor cycle spare parts dealers, okada riders, motorcycle vulcanizers etc. have all been forced to down tools and if you dare ask why? What you get is that same belabored phrase: “Security Reasons”. How petty!
The latest in the manual, lame and unconventional method of fighting the insurgents is the withdrawal of GSM services in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States on the 16th of May, 2013 two days after Mr. President declared the State of Emergency in the troubled states in accordance with section 305 of the 1999 constitution even though the proclamation begs what should have been obtainable in a true declaration of Emergency Rule keeping faith with the spirit and letters of the provisions of that section of the constitution.
I can remember lucidly what it was like. It was at about 10:30 AM on the 16th of May, that those of us who were in Maiduguri last saw the network signals in our mobile phones and from days to weeks, from weeks into a month it became something usual and routinely. Save for the ASUU strike that has refused to abate, I would have been also shut out from the world by now. For those 5-6 weeks that I was caught up in the maze, I can only but imagine how it felt, as no narrative whatsoever can capture living in a society without access to information in this information savvy 21st century. This latest development I submit, without any equivocation, is the latest in the series of misfortune that Indigenes of the three states have been forced to tolerate so much that I want to conclude it has done more impairment than good.
But respite would later come the way of Adamawa and Yobe residents after GSM services were restored two months later after what the military termed, “As a result of improved security in the states relatively”. This is even when it is clear that Yobe’s reconnection came on the heels of the outcry that followed the avoidable July 30th massacre at a secondary school in ‘Mamudo’. But if the same military restored mobile services in these states, is it not rife to ask, why the same hasn’t been simulated in the Borno state capital- Maiduguri who I am told on good authority, has enjoyed relative peace for a very long time which led the military to extend the curfew hours from 6-9 PM up to 6-11PM and sometime even late into the midnight. Or is what is sauce for the goose no longer sauce for the gander? Are we expected to wait for a major massacre in Maiduguri before the military order the re-connection of Maiduguri?
If Damaturu could enjoy telecomm services, I am at a loss as to why Maiduguri wouldn’t. Residents of Borno are not calling for the restoration of GSM services across the local governments but at least in the metropolis to ease the labor and trauma of the people who must travel as far as neighboring Yola or Damaturu on roads that are better called, “death traps” just to make phone call. Isn’t it so paradoxical?
The military are always quick to sing their song of relative peace enjoyed, is as a result of the withdrawal of telecomm services, but I want to interject and correct that wrong notion which they sell so cheaply as though we are in a bazaar or in a trade-fair overt market. It is an unadulterated fallacy, even more is the fact that the military has not been able to explain how the relative peace enjoyed is a direct extrapolation of GSM services blockade in the state.
I have lived in Maiduguri for some time now to say authoritatively a thing or two about the insurgency in that region. The much touted peace Maiduguri now enjoys started a long time ago even before the withdrawal of telecomm services. Those of us in Maiduguri before this period can relate to this datum. The calm was already building up and attacks by the sect, moved to the villages as a result of the huge presence of military formations in the metropolis. Members of the sect had no other option than to take their sojourning into the woods and local governments abandoning areas like ‘Gwange’, ‘London Ciki’ and other towns within the metropolis that use to be their nests.
If the military vaunt the success of the withdrawal of mobile telecommunication services, why have the attacks not stopped? On the average, at least 700 persons on the average have died since the withdrawal of GSM services and still counting as Boko Haram with an enlarged arsenal comprising of stolen weaponry, overrun towns, villages and even military formations. Some concerned residents have come out to say that the once lauded effectiveness of the grounded telecom networks have now turned back to work in favour of the Boko Haram sect against the military stratagem. I agree not just on account of their report, but as one who has walked the streets of Maiduguri.
After the Beinisheikh attack of September 17th, majority of those killed in that gruesome manner were people who had travelled to make phone calls in neighboring town of Damaturu, Yobe stste capital. Were there GSM services in the region, one way or another the other vehicles and their occupants who later became victims would have been alerted and the death toll wouldn’t have risen to that staggering height we saw. All those young men and potential Agro-economists, doctors, senators etc., at gujba wouldn’t have died if the security personnel in the school had alerted the military agents and so many other cases of attacks that would have been checkmated but for the availability of GSM services.
It wasn’t astonishing then, when a member of the JTF in Beinesheikh who spoke to Premium Times after the massacre there, on condition of anonymity said early warning signals could not be made due to lack of telecom services. In his words, “we had to run out on foot into the village to alert the people that they are in danger and should run for their lives because they have been overpowered by the sect”. He went further to say, “it is even becoming impossible for us to get alerts from our civilian scouts once they spot any unusual movement in the bushes. In most cases, before our scouts could make it to our base, the Boko Haram terrorists may have reached their targets and carried out attacks”. These are factual revelations we must not gloss over or give a blind eye.
Beyond the security implication is the commercial and social repercussions. This government likes to bury everything on security but sacrifice welfare on the altar of protection. What about all those whose lives depend on mobile telecommunication services? Does the government/military even have them in their thoughts? I do not think so. The popular GSM- Market at the post-office area directly facing the NITEL building and renowned for its bustling demeanor have suddenly gone taciturn with little or no life lately and the thousands who put food on their table from there have been forced to down tools by a government who likes to posture that they are protecting the citizenry while we know Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest” is at play here and there. What about the recharge –card sellers, residents who specialize in charging handsets of artisans along the streets of Maiduguri to make ends meet and so many other businesses whose life depend on the running of telecom services? Does the government even think about that? They barely do and if people out of frustration become sympathetic to the sect and join ranks with them, would the courts of Equity find them culpable?
So I wasn’t surprise when the deputy governor Alhaji Zanna Mustapha came out to ask for the elongation as though we do not know that he has wireless Thuraya mobile phones and internet services wired even into his commode. As though we do not know that he and people of his ilk barely stay in Maiduguri for a week without junketing from one part of the country to the other or even outside the country. As though we do not know that their wards aren’t in the state. So much for leadership by example! Same too was the rhetoric of the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Garbai ibn el-Kanemi while asking for the elongation of the withdrawal of GSM services as though (with all due respect to the crown) he will be a variable if a poll is to be conducted to ascertain the number of ‘ayes’ and ‘Nays’ the situation will garner from the entire populace. What does it even matter to him? His salaries and estacodes have not suffered any fleabag since the eon of the blockade. But how about we walk the streets of ‘Konduga’, ‘Jere’, the popular Monday- Market, ‘Kiri Kasama’, ‘Bulumkutu’ and so on and so forth and ask that sorrow-ridden man you see on the street, how life has been since May 16th, 2013 the response you get will give a better picture of what is/has been happening in that theatre of sorrow and nightmares and not those of a few elite-individuals who are not dramatis personae in this tragic drama.
I think it is high time, telecom services is restored back in Maiduguri and should not be allowed to drag into the second half of the Emergency Rule that has just gotten legislative patronage from the National Assembly. It has been experimented in the first half and while we cannot objectively deny it any credit, the attendant adversity and consequence on the general population is one not sufferable and shouldn’t be experimented any further as it would only traumatize the peace-loving people of Maiduguri further. They have already seen too much than we know, we shouldn’t in a bid to protecting them, exacerbate their woes and troubles.
Permit me to use this auspicious platform to welcome each and every one of you to join the debate considering the destitution indigenes of Borno have been forced to condone with, by clicking on this link: bit.ly/networkforborno and signing the petition for the restoration of GSM services in Borno state capital-Maiduguri. Your voice might just be the decisive outcry to reverse the situation and thereby ameliorate the privation the situation has led to.
It doesn’t really make sense, keeping the telephone lines shut down for almost 6months and yet the killings continue to linger on. After the attack in a secondary school in Yobe where 30 Students were killed sometime in July, the public hullabaloo from residents led to the re-connection of Yobe State, and since then no other serious attack have been recorded in the state. If it could be done in Yobe state, then the same should be replicated in Borno at least in the state capital so that people from the villages can come into the town to make calls instead of travelling to neighboring states, wasting scarce resources and putting their lives on the line.
What is more? Residents have come out to say that the relative peace enjoyed in Maiduguri recently, is as a result of the heroism and pains of the Civilian JTF. Therefore, with the restoration of telecom services, their efforts will further be deepened and upped as they would be able to report the least apprehensive movement in their milieu to the next-door military base by just a short message service. Also, members of the civilian JTF can also communicate among themselves more often through group chats on social media and by so doing, keep the outside world in the loop of goings-on in the state and not this unprofessional, unethical and unprincipled information blockade from the entire world. It is too lame and hobbling.
Finally, any success in the fight against terrorism cannot have been without painstaking and well-tailored intelligence gathering. Much of the success of America in combating terrorism has been credited to a well-manicured intelligence gathering and report. All these couldn’t have been, but for a robust information communication technology. Isn’t it then an irony, that in a bid to quell terrorism here, we are shutting out information mechanisms? Nigeria ronu!
Librarians have argued that Information is more important than water. Their argument leaves one with no option but to be in consensus ad idem with them. Therefore, I agree. Their argument: if in a village that has been struck by famine/drought, there happen to be a bucket of water somewhere in the woods not far off from the village, the villagers will continue to die of thirst even when a bucket of water or an oasis mysteriously is not far away from them but with no body to blow the whistle. Extract the structure of that scenario and affix in the Borno story, and you will agree that by cutting telecom lines, the military have killed the people both physically and psychologically. The military always like to say that they fight a faceless group, but with the disconnection of telecom lines, it is a drift from bad to worse towards steps in curbing the reprehensible activities of the blood-thirsty sect.
The writer is a student in the University of Maiduguri and a public affairs commentator. He is on twitter as @RayNkah. [email protected]