Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno state, is peeved. General Azubuike Ihejirika (rtd), former Chief of Army Staff, is also provoked. Both men are irritable. A certain Dr Stephen David is the source of their misery. Until last week, his name didn’t ring any bells. Today it’s a household appellation. It resonates in all circles of our nation’s fractured space.
Before his weighty revelations linking political and military heavyweights to the mayhem in the Northeast, I imagined a reaction to the name.”Stephen Who?” Yes he was that obscure.
Not anymore. Today, his name is on the lips of informed Nigerians traumatized by the war in Borno and some parts of the Northeast. Australian by birth, hostage negotiator by profession, David has murdered sleep in the homes of Sheriff and Ihejirika.
According to David, the narrative of bad boys Boko Haram is inconclusive without the material support of these gentlemen. This is grave. Sheriff and Ihejirika are not ordinary mortals. By our standards, they are ‘accomplished’. They are also ‘connected’. Both men have the solid ‘support’ of their kinsmen. They are very successful in their respective careers. Politician and soldier. They both conquered the totem pole by ‘dint’ of hard work. Both men have ‘kicked’. Against David.
In ‘kicking’, Sheriff chose the legal option first and agreed to an inquisition. Addressing a press conference yesterday, he put forward his defense. He reiterated his innocence. He insisted that he is also a victim. Currently, he said he too is on the ‘hit’ list of the marauders. He assured that he will sue David. Sheriff is not known for cheap talk.
Since 1992, Sheriff has bestridden the political space of Borno state like a colossus. He has never lost an election except one. In 2003, he dislodged a sitting governor, Mala Kachalla, in a style unique to him.
First he dispossessed the governor of the control of the party apparatchiks. Both were stalwarts of the defunct ANPP. Note that Sheriff was a Senator at the time operating from Abuja. Yet the governor, resident in Maiduguri with the power of state treasury at his beckon, couldn’t contain the political fury of SAS, hundreds of kilometers away.
Kachalla realizing he has been ‘boxed’ to a corner and desirous of being re-elected defected to the defunct AD (Alliance for Democracy). It was a huge gamble. The sort only the desperate could consider. It didn’t save him. He suffered a crushing defeat in the hands of Sheriff at the polls. His re-election in 2007 was fait accompli. If the ’03 election conferred on SAS the status of master tactician, the ‘07 established him as the numero uno of the politics of Borno state.
Working in a Lagos based paper at the time, I recall an interaction I had with him. The ‘off the record’ chat centered on his monstrous popularity among the youth. He told me it was because they saw him as one of their own. Truly SAS is charming and youthful. As a Senator, his sartorial elegance spoke loudly of his taste. It is matchless by any politician from that troubled zone.
It so happened at the time that the politics of Borno was neatly compartmentalized. The elderly and traditional institution threw their weight behind ‘old man’ Kachalla. The youthful Sheriff, expectedly, excited the youth. Like a moth to a naked light, so were the youth drawn to SAS.
Since 2009, Borno state has been on the boil. An army of youth has been fanning the ‘boil’.
There are different narratives as to the origins of the daredevil chaps that populate Boko Haram. But one remains constant-that they have links to powerful politicians.
All Nigerians old enough to know the difference between men and mice know that the war being waged against the state of Nigeria by insurgents lingers because vested interests fuel it. There exist moguls powering the carnage enjoying the same anonymity as drug barons.
And David, the Australian negotiator, is unmasking them. Were he a Nigerian, apologists will certainly label him ‘sponsored’ protégée doing someone else’s bidding. Thankfully he isn’t. Still what is the angle the man is working? Certainly he can’t make such weighty allegations without evidence. He is standing his ground.
In the preceding week, David has been the ‘name’.
If name contest were to be held this minute, I am pretty certain David’s would only be eclipsed by all time greats Ebele, Ebola, Shekau and possibly ISIS.
At once David has put Sheriff, an enduring politician with an inexhaustible bag of tricks and Ihejirika, a General with a history of merchandizing, on ‘high jump’. As Army chief the counter insurgency effort became a white elephant project gulping millions of dollars without result. It began to manifest that the once almighty Nigerian Army has been reduced to a whimpering limping ‘unfighting’ machine.
Am not surprised that David has fingered the former soldier as a sponsor. In December last year, Boko Haram struck Maiduguri with deadly precision. Ihejirika was the Army Chief. On this page on December 5, I argued for the sack of Ihejirika. Let me quote copiously from that treatise.
“Counter-terrorism in Borno and indeed all the states under emergency rule as presently being conducted by, especially, the Army under Ihejirika, is an evil white elephant project that will yield no positive result except for the drivers. Either by acts of commission or omission, they have turned it into a business venture needlessly wasting lives of heroic and patriotic soldiers in the rank and file category, to profit. Troops deployed to fight these insurrectionists are clearly ill equipped to fight the enemy. Their firepower is inferior. They are mere sitting ducks at the mercy of a deranged adversary. The near casual manner Boko Haram strikes in emergency rule states calls for the president to re-think the strategy of ending it. The Army chief, Ihejirika can’t do it.”
Ihejirika, unlike Sheriff, chose to ignore both the message and messenger. Instead he picked on the medium that circulated the allegation of David in social media- Nasir El Rufai. He accused the former FCT minister of being a Commander of the terror group; a charge David says is false.
The chickens may be coming home to roost. Most Nigerians have long concluded that Boko Haram in Northeast and elsewhere endures because of complicity by vested interests. If conspiracy theories were believable, the solution to our collective plight is located in our political leadership. The government should take up the gauntlet thrown by Sheriff. Probe the man. Ihejirika should explain how the billions budgeted for counter insurgency was expended. Nomore, no less.