Chief Bata Madaki Auta, is the Wakili Shehu of Borno, the Ambassador of the Borno Emirate Council outside Borno State. A former banker who served in various capacities at Barclays Bank, Union Bank, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, BCCI and Owena Bank where he retired into private business, BM Auta as he is fondly called made an initial attempt into politics within the fold of the United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP under the Abacha regime. He joined the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo began his campaign for the nation’s presidency. He worked with Governors Ahmed Makarfi, Namadi Sambo and Late Ibrahim Yakowa of Kaduna State. He stopped politicking when his house was burnt by political thugs in 2011. He was Chairman, Kaduna North Stakeholders of the PDP when he quit politics. He is the Zanna Sotoma of Borno and currently the grand patron of the Northern Youths Consultative Forum.
In this interview, he spoke on the situation in his home state of Borno, the regional security networks springing up across Nigeria and other issues of national interests.
What is the picture that you can paint now of your state with regards to the fight against Boko Haram?
I cannot sit here and say Borno is safe, generally. If I tell you it is safe, I will be lying to you; after all, Nigerians have been hearing of the trouble there. You have also been seeing on television and internet what has been happening in Borno. Last December when I was on my way to Maiduguri and we were late to the checkpoint, the gate was locked. I had to speak to some people before I and my two Police escorts alone were allowed to enter Maiduguri. That night, the Boko Haram insurgents came and fought the soldiers at the checkpoint. A lot of the stranded passengers had to run into the bush. This incident happened before that of Auno village. This was at Jumtulum, the last gate before entering Maiduguri. So, we were just damn lucky otherwise what happened in Auno would have happened to us. I do not think one would be honest to say that Borno is properly secured. If you are inside Maiduguri, it’s very safe but nobody can guarantee your safety ten to fifteen kilometers outside the main town of Maiduguri unless if you have something special. For instance, you cannot dare drive through the Maiduguri-Damboa-Biu road now. It is the same with the Maiduguri-Damaturu-Biu road. It is another den. If you are able to pass through there and nothing happens, you should thank your star. These are roads you ordinarily would not spend more than two hours driving through, but now people are forced to abandon those roads to take to Maiduguri-Damaturu-Potiskum-Gombe-Biu road, a distance that would take you nine hours. For those going to Gwoza-Margwi towns, it takes them two good days. But here is a journey that is not supposed to take more than one and a half hours drive from Maiduguri. So, I do not think we are that safe. And there are still some local governments we cannot say they are properly secured. However, most of the local governments that were under the control of the insurgents before have been taken over.
Why would you make a journey that is supposed to take two hours in nine hours while others would take you two days when Boko Haram as we are being told is not holding on to any territory?
The problem of our people in Borno…you know the Boko Haram do not have uniforms. So, you can be sitting with a Boko Haram insurgent without knowing it. And some of them, their children are in and they are part of it and they move around with you and know what is happening. So, we have traitors within. We cannot say our children are not there. They are there. So, it is difficult to pick them out. Some will even come and discuss with you and get a lot from you and they will go and inform them. I have a relation in Biu and while they were discussing about Boko Haram, he was so smart that he noticed that the group there was not safe for him; so he said he doesn’t blame those joining the group because there is no work and that if he has the opportunity he would join them. He just said it because he knew there might be members of Boko Haram among them. Do you know that Boko Haram members wrote a letter which they put in his gate where they said even if he sleeps with his gate open, nothing will happen to him? They said they have heard his comments. You can imagine what would have happened if he had spoken negatively. So, how can we say we are safe and living in a safe environment? The governor is a wonderful man. He is trying. He is fighting them physically, financially and whatever he thinks can help him win the war. I do not think we can get a better person who can fight Boko Haram more than the governor we have now. I have been praying that God should give him the presidency of this country so that other parts of the country will test what he is doing to us. Somebody that says he can give his blood…if I ask you, can you give your blood for the fight, I am sure it would be a different language.
From what you are seeing, can we win the war against Boko Haram through military approach alone?
If we are honest…I am not a soldier but most wars are finally won on the negotiating table. It can be won through discussion. Let me tell you, if we fight physically and you are able to kill me and my people and you take over my house or my community, it is not over because the day my community will recover from the damage you have brought on my people, they will revenge and you too will suffer the same thing. But when you sit down and discuss amicably and forgive each other, I believe that is the best way to have peace. The last time we fought a war, General Gowon didn’t say we won. He said there is no victor and no vanguished. That statement went a long way in creating avenue for peace. If he had said we have defeated you and you are now our slaves, the story would not have been what it is today. And I am saying what my boss, the Shehu of Borno has been insisting on; we have to make peace. Whether we like it or not, we must dialogue with Boko Haram. Some of the achievements we have made have been through dialogue. We have to employ a more intelligent way to dialogue with them. If we get those who are really in charge, there is nothing wrong in dialoguing with them. Right now, are we not spending money fighting the war? So, if we spend money through negotiation and achieve peace, it is a win-win situation. The soldiers can tell you they have driven the insurgents away from our territory but the truth is that they are still holding on to some of our areas. But, of course, there is what we call psychology of war. You do not expect the soldiers to tell you they have killed our people and therefore we are not winning the war. You have to say something to encourage your men. When they are giving you those positive stories, at least, it would boost the confidence of the troops and Nigerians. And that is how it should be. We cannot say they have not claimed some parts. Before, they were over nine local governments under their command but now it has reduced.
I do not know what your position is about the establishment of regional security outfit by some Governors in the country. However, some Nigerians have said that the creation of these outfits is a signpost of the loss of confidence on the government to secure Nigerians. What do you think?
What do we want? Is it not peace? If we want peace and I secure my house and my family is in peace, have I done something wrong? So, left to me, we will have to accept the realities of life sometimes because since Amotekun started, we have started seeing some results. We have not been hearing of the banditry and all that in the South West again unlike what is happening in the North almost on daily basis. So, may be if we even have Amotekun and put them on Birnin Gwari road or Sambisa Forest or Zamfara-Kaduna Forest, maybe we will have peace. As for the Northern model which some groups came out to say it is Shege Ka Fasa Northerners criticized it because it was not well thought out. Even if we are to have that kind of a group, we ought to have sat down properly to organise it just like the people of the South West did. In the North, we have a lot of them. We have our own in Maiduguri, the Civilian JTF. There are some in Kaduna, Kano, Zamfara differently. So, if we are serious, we have to harmonise them, give them one objective just like the one in the South West. The Police may not like that but what we need is peace. If you cannot give peace, there is no way something like Amotekun will not come up. There is nothing wrong with an outfit owned by the North as far as I am concerned. But we will have to plan for it so that we can get peace. In the North we have bandits, Kidnappers, Boko Haram and the case of young men taking drugs. But at the same time, we have to be very careful in having these different groups. Now, let us look at the other side of the coin. There are grave implications having these regional outfits. If already in Nigeria we have today undue attachments to relations along regional lines and an Amotekun on the streets of the South West shows favouritism to the Yoruba and deals with the Hausa man who does not understand the language and could not provide answers to questions posed, there will be a problem. Don’t forget that some people in the North had expressed similar fears on account of which the Fulani have said they should also be members of the outfit. By the time you have an Amotekun that is more powerful than the Police such that there are always clashes between the Amotekun members and non natives, say Hausa and Fulani, for instance, that result in deaths, the remedy may be a retaliatory action against those they see as enemies of people from their region. That very act of retorting on those who dealt with their brother by inflicting suffering or death on their own in retaliation for what they consider an act of inhumanity may be a time bomb that may unltimately lead to division if it gets too frequent. With more regions jumping into the fray, I see it keeping us apart as a nation. There are manifestations of this already. To have this kind of outfits on regional basis is to provoke the already tense situation. So, we have to be careful because by the time a Northerner who went to the South returns to say I was there and this is what they did to me, don’t be surprised when your people go to the North they will do the same thing to him.
Do you believe in state Police?
I still believe in the Nigeria Police. State Police will be manoeuvred. If each governor has his own Police, what he says should be done would be done. What I said about regional security outfit also applies to State Police. It is an invitation to chaos and anarchy. If I am a governor and I have Police under my control, you must do what I ask you to do. I pay your salary, so you must comply with my directive. If that happens, we will have 36 directives from governors of the 36 states of the federation. Assuming Benue State had their Police at the time the killings were going on, what do you think will happen? Let us maintain the present Police structure that we have now to avoid chaos and disunity. What we can do is to recruit equal number of people from all the state of the federation in order to have a sense of balance and addition to the present inadequate number of Policemen. Let me also tell you that the war against insurgency, banditry and kidnapping is not for the Army but the Police. If the Police are well equipped, they will take care of our security problems. If we train them very well, equip them and get more hands for the Police, they will spring a surprise. We need about a minimum of 10 million Policemen for the kind of complex society we have today and to secure the 200 million Nigerians. What can 300,000 Policemen do to secure the 200 million population? The military should go back to the barracks only to be used when there is an external aggression against our country. But what we have seen in Nigeria of today is that even where a husband and wife are fighting, you bring in the military. We all know what Mobile Police Force, MOPOL used to be. Since we do not have the required number of fighting forces and we want the insurgency to end, let us recall all retired soldiers, Police, Immigration, Customs personnel that are still fit who are indigenes of the six states of the North East geo-political zone, give them some training because they know and understand the terrain and add some soldiers who are now involved in the fight against insurgency and put them in the Sambisa Forest for six months, the story will be different. And, of course add the Civilian JTF. Give them good money to settle their homes and place them on good salary. That will be the end of Boko Haram.