Zabarmari Mass Murder
The killing of 43 rice farmers in Zabarmari, Borno State is perhaps the first time in recent times the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents would visit such savagery on innocent citizens. Reports had it that rice farmers harvesting their crop were rounded up and had their throats slit in very callous and despicable manner by the blood-thirsty insurgents. Though official figures put the number of those killed at 43, some other independent sources spoke of figures much higher than this with many women feared abducted.
Expectedly, the mass murder generated public anger and outrage especially with the public display of the corpses of the victims prior to their burial. Not unexpectedly also, the killings have again brought to the fore, the propriety of the measures put in place to fight the war against Boko Haram insurgency in that part of the country.
Officials of the government have in their characteristic manner put up some defence apparently to absolve the government of any blame in the killings. While some of them had tended to play down the killings on the ground that terrorism is global phenomenon, others offered excuses raging from the mundane to the most puerile.
In the latter category is the claim that the rice farmers did not get the permission of the military before venturing to their farms. Ironically, they had been farming there and were already harvesting when the insurgents struck. If they did not get any permission from the military before cultivating their crops, how come such a non- existing rule became an issue at the point of harvest? Even then, the farmers’ settlement is not far from their farms. The implication of this is that the farmers have been living and doing their business there before the insurgents decided to attack them.
This presupposes that the military ought to have been aware of their presence unless they do not maintain some presence in that farming community. So the issue of getting permission before the farmers ventured into harvesting their rice does not add up. It is therefore improper to insinuate even remotely that the farmers put themselves in harm’s way by going to the farms to harvest. It takes a long time between the cultivation of rice and its harvest. What seems obvious is a case of the inability of the military to secure the area against the menace of the insurgents.
This reality can neither be covered up through buck-passing nor the invention of spurious reasons to absolve the government of ineffectiveness in the conduct of the war against terrorism. That accounts for calls by the Senate and notable Nigerians on President Buhari to sack the service chiefs for their inability to get a permanent handle to security challenges buffeting the county on all fronts. Serial attempts to play down or rationalize the mortal challenge which Boko Haram is, has been the greatest undoing of efforts to degrade that terror group.
Ironically, we have treaded this path before. It is the same mind-set that led President Buhari to declare barely five months after he mounted the saddle of leadership that he had technically won the war against Boko Haram insurgency. At another time, the claim was that the insurgents had been so degraded that they can no longer muster enough fighting power to engage our military in armed confrontation.
But events have since proved to the contrary. The reality on the ground is that Boko Haram is still much alive and strong. We have seen that in the number of attacks they mounted against the military with serious casualties. It is very palpable in recurring abduction of women, the burning down of village settlements, looting of foodstuffs and domestic animals.
It is also very evident from complaints by our soldiers on the handicap they face confronting the insurgents. The recent demotion of a Major General for statements credited to him on the progress of the war bears out this point very succinctly. Even with all the campaigns to play down the war, it is increasingly getting clearer that all is not well with its progress.
Perhaps, what appeared to have changed is the paucity of information emanating from the theatre of the war. Apart from the little information we get from the foreign media, we have had to depend on press releases from the military for information on the progress of the war. Even at that, it is clear from the little information that filters from time to time that all is not well with the overall progress of that war.
Thus, when the governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum called for the hiring of mercenaries to assist the country fight the war against terror, he was only voicing out his frustrations with the progress of the war. But implicit in that call is the suggestion that our military as presently constituted, is largely constrained in fighting the asymmetrical warfare.
Some may not agree with Zulum’s suggestion on the invitation of mercenaries given the way the issue was handled by the current government at its inception. But the fact that suggestion has resonated, speaks volumes on the overall state of the war. Zulum’s frustrations spoke volumes. He wears the shoes and knows where they pinch most.
Before now, well-meaning Nigerians had voiced frustrations with the lingering terror war with suggestions on how to give a new face to the way it is being fought. Despite these well-intentioned views, the government at the centre prefers to go about it in its own way. But the strategy has not been able to neutralize the insurgents substantially.
It is not clear why the government appears impervious to fresh ideas on the prosecution of the war. But one thing that stands out distinctly is that it has difficulty coming to terms with the lingering war five years after it claimed to have technically won it. So, reasons have to be invented to sustain that claim even when facts on the ground speak in opposite direction.
The war against terrorism has been a victim of undue politicization right from the administration of ex-President Jonathan. We cannot forget some of the views from key personages from the north which added up to complicate the prosecution of the war at that time. Of note was the letter written by former Adamawa State governor, Muritala Nyako imputing ethnic agenda and a subterfuge to depopulate the north as the prime objective of that war. Then also, there was a conspiracy of silence from the northern elite because all was right if they culminated in regime change.
Today, we know better. We know that the Boko Haram insurgents nurse an agenda to institute a theocratic state in this country. We now know that all the tendentious and divisive allegations by Nyako were intended to score cheap political points and get power revert to the north. That objective is now a fait accompli. But we have succeeded in creating monsters that turned round to hound us.
Had there been elite consensus on what the Boko Haram insurgency represented at inception, that war would have by now, become history. So we are all victims of the bad politics at play in this country. Now, the reality of the insecurity pervading the country has dawned on us all. People are now talking.
Perhaps, nothing bears out the gravity of this insecurity than the statement by the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar-led Jama’atu Nasril Isam that “Nigerians have become so much terrified as nowhere is safe; the homes, the farms and the roads. Bandits now rule in many communities, they set rules that must be obeyed”.
That is how bad the situation has become. Is it surprising that Global Terrorism Index classified Nigeria as the third most terrorized nation in the world? When this is paired with Nigeria’s rating as the poverty capital of the world, the correlation between terrorism and poverty becomes clearer.