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There has been global outrage against the kidnapping of over 200 teenage schoolgirls at a government school in Chibok, Borno state, and the ineptitude of the government in freeing the prisoners. Apart from the media spotlight on this outrageous act, some of us have received desperate calls from Nigerians abroad seeking information on what the hell is going on here. Nigerians living abroad have become butts of ridicule and very cruel jokes. A friend in the UK told me on the phone how his nine-year old daughter, after watching news broadcast about the girls came over to him to find out why nobody could alert the police about the abductions; or are there no police in Nigeria? Born in the UK, she has no idea about what life is in Nigeria.
Still another friend from the US had a more humiliating story at a party he attended last week. After being introduced as a gentleman from Nigeria, his would be friend let out a loud hiss, refused to shake hands and just turned his back. That is the humiliation Nigerians abroad irrespective of tribe and religion are being subjected to – just because they are Nigerians.
I have written a couple of times on these pages about Boko Haram. One Nigerian, a complete stranger this time called me from France. He had faced embarrassing situations in that country too and was reading everything he could find online about Boko Haram. In the process he found a piece I published about a year ago captioned “B/H and Ahmad Salkida’s Hijra”. He wanted to know about the whereabouts of the young man and if it was possible for Ahmed to help our security agencies sort out the Boko Haram mess. I told him the man was in exile after the security agencies had threatened his life. I have lost all contact with him.
Boko Haram is a product of intelligence failure and monumental incompetence on the part of our security agencies. As a reporter who covered a similar uprising – the Maitasine in Kano (1980), Bulumkutu in Maiduguri (1982), Yola (1984), I can say this without any fear of contradiction or even threat of elimination. If as a young reporter I risked my life for the progress of my country, I do not know why I cannot do so as a grandfather looking at the world beyond.Maitasine could have grown into a more horrible monster if the security and political elite at the time had bungled the way we are doing today. Shagari for all the insults of incompetence heaped on him before and after the Kano uprisings acted the way a Commander-in-Chief should do. In fact, immediately after he was overthrown, the Maitastine people regrouped in Yola to foment bloodshed. The military government acted swiftly there and again in Gombe when the group drifted there.
You can say that it was easier to defeat Maitastine because they were a rag tag group whose armoury did not go beyond cutlasses, daggers, bows and poisoned arrows. But you get it wrong. When Boko Haram started, they were even worse off than Maitatsine; they went to battle with nothing but bare hands. I have little inside information about Boko Haram. The ultimate authority on the group in Nigerian journalism is Ahmad Salkida. Way back in 2005, he sent the first ever news dispatch to be published anywhere in the world. New Sentinel newspaper where I was the Managing Editor published it as an exclusive. That was the trick.
Boko Haram leaders saw him as a friend to get their message to the world and he saw them as the gateway to the big story he had always dreamed of when he cut his teeth as my pupil reporter at Crystal International Magazine where I was the founding Editor. In the years to come, Ahmad became a confidant of Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram and Shekau his successor. He got good exclusive stories for the Trust Newspapers and then the Blueprint for his efforts. No Nigerian outside that group has the kind of information on it like Ahmad. Comrade Shehu Sani and Dr. Datti Ahmad who have both tried unsuccessfully to broker peace with the group will come to the stand as my witnesses.
But here is the reality of Nigeria. Ahmad who has precise information about the group that could be used to end it has been bullied out of the country. Meanwhile Boko Haram has become the biggest industry in town. Lean looking generals and security spooks of yesterday have suddenly become potbellied and rosy cheeked. Ahmad has fled his fatherland. With this type of country, what stops us from hitting world headlines with blood cuddling stories where young girls are herded away, the government cannot differentiate between right and left and the Kidnapper – in – Chief – gleefully announces to a shocked world television audience that the girls are up for sale in the market?
These things are only possible in Nigeria because we are very dishonest with ourselves and even the God we pretend to worship. Boko Haram is committing all these crimes because they say they are a puritanical Islamic group. I am not a Muslim but I know that all good sources of Islam, beginning from Borno, the centre of Islamic worship in Nigeria; Egypt and Saudi Arabia where Muslims from all over the world derive inspiration from – have condemned their actions.
As a northern Christian, I have always been suspicious of CAN. It was founded by Jolly Tanko Yusuf who appointed the Sardauna of Sokoto the life Patron. There couldn’t have been a greater demonstration of political opportunism. The Sardauna was not only a Muslim; he was a very, very proud one who preferred to be the Sultan of Sokoto to being the Prime Minister or President of Nigeria. How did he become the life Patron of CAN?
Over the years, CAN has refused to put away this shabby betty coat of opportunism. I felt sad the other day when I read a report by the CAN in northern Nigeria in which they reduced the issue of the kidnapped girls to that of religious persecution. Are the people writing this type of thrash Nigerians? Do they live in Nigeria? Did they go to school? Are they different from Boko Haram? Are they Christians?When the unfortunate girls come out alive, they will come out as world citizens. Boko Haram has promoted them to that enviable status. The whole world has stood up for them. They are beyond what the Nigerian government and Nigerian Christians can handle. Those of them who come out alive will be Citizens of the World. Those who may lose their lives (I pray this will not happen) will become martyrs for the freedoms we cherish as human beings, irrespective of religious persuasion.
The leaders of Northern CAN should not demote these girls to the lowly position of ‘persecuted northern Christians’ so that they can ingratiate themselves to power – just for a bite of the crumbs.