A text message from the military gave me the green light as I embarked on a memorable journey to the once most dreaded forest in Africa, Sambisa. Had the journey been seven years back, many would have considered it as a free invitation to death or journalistic suicide. Family members would have thought that the fellow was deranged and possessed, but the story has completely changed, thanks to our gallant soldiers and their patriotic commanders that exhibited such a high level of discipline and uncommon courage and professionalism in complying with the presidential order to end the Boko Haram insurgency before the end of December 2016. As the driver drove me to the metropolitan roundabout in the heart of Maiduguri, Borno State, which was once a boisterous capital city and the North-East’s melting pot of commerce, my guide narrated how the insurgency started as the offshoot of a federal government policy issued by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) that required all motorcyclists in the country to acquire helmets. Although a safeguard and well-intentioned policy, it was not well articulated before being unleashed on the masses, no wonder it died as it came after it had claimed hundreds upon hundreds of lives. This is why government at all levels should sincerely put on their thinking caps before initiating any policy.
The metropolitan roundabout was a few metres away from Police Headquarters, Maiduguri. One day in 2009, a sect that had been breeding its membership and building up arms under the leadership of Yusuf Mohammed, unknown to the intelligence community in Maiduguri, soon found the opportunity to vent their displeasure and disdain for the authorities. The gradual war that ensued, like a little fire which could have been speedily put out by the security agencies and government, soon expanded and spread into a wild and uncontrollable inferno that almost consumed the state of Borno.
At the Maiduguri Airport, the real impart of the terror war was not noticeable, even inside the state capital, until one drives toward the lonely highway that leads into Konduga Local Government Area, which was one of the 22 local governments fully occupied by the terrorists out of the 27 local governments in the state. The carnage and destruction of properties that hit the eyes soon triggered strong emotions. Apart from the heinous attempt to depopulate these local governments through wanton, mass killings, outright massacre of rural dwellers, especially women and children, a witness described it thus “it was a deplorable and heart-breaking incident.”
As the military driver continued, you soon discovered some of the reasons why the terrorists succeeded: glaring poverty, no industry to engage the youths, who are the backbone of any community. It was a local government with vast land, the type God gave Abraham in the Bible, when he said, “as far as your eyes can see.” The vast stretch of land that government could have turned into a mechanised agriculture heaven was left fallow. Hardly could you find schools that would have helped to better mould the lives of youths; instead, they were left to roam about begging.
As we proceeded to Bama, one of the worst hit LGs, where a traditional ruler was ferried off to safety by soldiers while the terrorists burnt down his palace not sparing any living thing, although life was gradually returning, the aftermath remained. Accounts showed that no single thing was left untouched, except the few birds flying in the sky. The damage was like the wars in Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones of the world. Burnt vehicles, houses, shops and bullet holes all over the walls of buildings were evidence of the war. The few courageous residents that one saw around Bama trying to pick up the remains of what was left were doing so under the protection of soldiers. Everywhere you tured, you could see armed vigilantes and soldiers on guard. Throughout my two days in Bama, the only two dogs I found were under the protection of soldiers. Visitors and natives travelling to these war-torn local government are daily escorted by armed soldiers. The saving grace was the doggedness of the soldiers who sacrificed every comfort of life by living in the bush under the scotching heat of the sun to carry out their duties. They eat in the bush without changing their uniforms and booths, sleep in makeshift huts, all in their bid to fully ensure the safety of the few returnees. Bama is a sad story to narrate. Here was a once bubbling town of commercial activities linking Chad and Cameroon but today it is almost a ghost town. The Boko Haram terrorists removed its beauty. The few returnees pray that the experience never returns. The fear of the unknown still lingers each day in their mind. As the night draws near, darkness envelops the town and only he presence of the soldiers provides hope of security. People now sleep with both eyes closed despite surprise attacks by the remnants of the sect that have been striking through suicide bombings. It is important to appreciate the military. It is important that we, as a country, do not allow this unfortunate, sad experience to be easily forgotten without adequate plans in place to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. History would be unkind to us if we allow these past nine years to roll away without adequately correcting our flaws. Nine years of sadness, human losses, wasteful destruction, pain and agony. Thank God for the military. Thank God for a purposeful leader in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari. Thank God for a visionary leader like General Tukur Buratai, the wise soldier who led the Army to re-captured all the lost local governments from the terrorists. That is the new song of victory in the mouth of the people of the North-East. A song of victory that would be sung for a very long time to come. Indeed, Nigeria is blessed with patriotic and gallant soldiers.
(To be continued)