Last week, I lost a brother, friend and a mentor. Emma Okocha! Journalist, scholar, historian, encyclopaedia, and a humanist rooted in traditional mores of the Anioma nation of Delta State. He was a footballer, ex-international. He combined skill with scholarship. He was never one lost in identity crisis. He tells you he’s Igbo; a free-born of the great Asaba Kingdom. He was one of those who would call me to agree or disagree with my opinion. A proud Asaba man, I will miss his avuncular touches, his scholarly arguments, and then his charm and charisma. I will miss the man who was never afraid to dare the newsroom denizens. He, it was, who chronicled in clear perspicacity, with empirical evidence, the pogrom in Asaba by Federal troops during the civil war in his evergreen book: Blood on the Niger. I lost an uncle in that war. But I digress.
We have not fully mourned Emma Okocha. The whole nation had been swamped in a thick pall of grief. The massacre of rice farmers at Zabarmari community in Jere Local Government Area of Borno State. Nigeria has witnessed pogrom at different times. But the Zabarmari massacre draws the chill like never before. Till date, we are yet to come to terms with the casualty figure.
The Nigerian Senate said 67 of the farmers were killed. Ibrahim Shekau, factional leader of the Boko Haram fundamentalists claimed 78. At the other end of the number game, Governor Babagana Zulum and the military are stuck with 43 dead. The international media had already gone to town with the original figure released by the United Nations; a staggering 110 persons killed. Let’s even stay with the government ‘approved’ number of 43. Death is death. It’s sombre and sobering.
But I’m worried at the savage manner they were killed. In a state on high security alert with military and other security agencies on duty, how was it possible for the Boko Haram men to overrun these farmers in their farms, took their time to behead them and decapitated their bodies? This operation must have taken hours to execute. Jere local government is not inside the surreal Sambisa forest. It is in the middle of the state, about 20km from Maiduguri. How did the multitude of Boko Haram beasts on motor cycles or whatever access Jere without being on the radar of the security agencies?
Obviously, these killers did not escape to Chad or Niger Republic after carrying out their satanic rites of mindless killings. Where were the security agents before, during and after the operation? Borno State is heavily policed since the jihadists ‘annexed’ the state. My experience from a recent trip to the theatre of war via Maiduguri showed that you cannot move a distance of at least two kilometres without encountering security presence. How, then, did these killers navigate their way to Jere without trace? It is hard to believe that they live within Jere. Otherwise, why have not the local people reported them to the military? Whatever happened to aerial surveillance? What with the intelligence-gathering mechanism of the military? Too many questions.
The Zabarmari incident, bloody and gory, deserves serious inquisition. It holds the key to unlocking the mystery of the Boko Haram seeming invincibility. There had been allegations of sabotage within the security agencies especially the military. Some have alleged that there are a few moles within the military fold acting as informants for the jihadists. Some even claim that the so-called ‘repentant’ Boko Haram members reintegrated into the society, some recruited to fight the insurgents, are the ones selling intelligence to the insurgents. Senator Ali Ndume was emotional recently when he warned the Nigerian government on the clear dangers of admitting ‘repentant Boko Haram’ members into the society and into the forces. Almost in tears, Senator Ndume cited a recent incident where the so-called repentant Boko Haram members were the ones giving intelligence about military movement to the insurgents which they effectively used to kill Nigerian fighters. It is hard to understand how a community in Jere, very close to Maiduguri, lcould be so brutally invaded, scores decapitated in their farm, and their attackers disappeared merrily, unhindered. This is far beyond the ken of logic. The military authorities have questions to answer on this.
President Buhari, a retired Major-General, was thought to have the military intelligence and capacity to rout the Boko Haram extremists who grew teeth under the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, considered as too weak to tame the bogey of Boko Haram. But Buhari has fared even worse. Strangely, he has kept a stone, straight face. Unmoved, unbothered by the plaintive cries of hurting families of the slain and the maimed. Buhari has kept the same service chiefs he appointed in July 2015. Despite their colossal inefficiency and manifest inability to deliver on their mandate, the president has kept faith with them; meaning he’s happy with their performance. Many Nigerians have pleaded for a change of guard; a rejigging of the security architecture and personnel. But the president has other ideas; probably he uses a different yardstick for measuring performance. But whatever may be his benchmark for measuring the performance of his service chiefs, the truth is that both Buhari and the service chiefs have failed to protect the people. They have further emboldened the extremists. The argument that the situation has improved under Buhari compared with the Jonathan era is an indexation of how primitive-minded some public officers have become. The Boko Haram-inflicted sore is still open and bleeding. Buhari only covered it with cotton wool and expected it to heal. It cannot heal and it has not healed. On the contrary, it has become gangrenous.
What other evidence does Buhari need to accept the failure of his service chiefs? In his first term, no fewer than 25,794 people were killed in various attacks across the country. It was a carry-over from the vicious attacks unleashed on the nation from May 29, 2011 when Jonathan was inaugurated as President.
This is according to data from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa programme. It documents violence in Nigeria as it does on other African countries. The data was sourced from weekly reports of Nigerian and international media. This number has jumped in the first one and a half years of his second tenure. Yet, he still maintains a stoic silence, a blood-chilling aloofness as though untouched by pains and cries from the people.
Bottomline: The president needs to change his service chiefs. The maxim you don’t change a winning team does not apply here. Truth is, this team has not been winning and does not look good enough to win. Nigeria security management needs fresh hand, new ideas and a gush of momentum in commitment. Let’s try fresh hands. That’s what a caring leader should do. Buhari should this once show Nigerians that he truly cares.
But in the midst of it all, I still mourning a grand soul, Emma Okocha. Fare thee well, my brother.