Borno State: In Search of a Paradigm Shift, By Abdulrafiu Lawal
The founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, and thousands of his followers were killed in July 2009, but instead the sect grew in strength and savagery under Abubakar Shekau. The group not only surpassed the vision of its founder, but also dazzled the world beyond the imagination of counter-terrorism experts. Hence, the need for a new paradigm to supplement the military approach.
Many have advanced reasons for the emergence and growth of Boko Haram, like the failure of leadership and poverty, and while these factors are on point, we seem to have missed a salient causative factor in the rise of the sect. This is no other than the existence of a caste system in Borno. A critical look at the list of those who have held key and juicy political and civil service jobs at the state and federal levels from Borno State from 1979 to date shows they are from twenty five different families. Till date, the families are now recycling these offices and privileges among their children. These families cut across the three senatorial districts in the state. From Borno North, four families have dominated the landscape; Borno South, ten families and Borno Central, eleven families. I would not mention the names of these families as this may defeat the aim of this piece. It may also undermine those concerned and their individual achievements. Some may argue that this trend is mere coincidence, the reason being that some families in Borno had early contact with western education when others were taking a nap under the neem tree.
Unconsciously, over the last thirty five years it became an unwritten law in Borno State that you have to be from one of these families to get anything in business, politics or the civil service. This is partly why Senator Ali Modu Sheriff became governor in 2003 without a first degree, in a state where you have many with two or more masters degrees, especially from the central and southern parts of the state. His father, Modu Sheriff, like Mala Kachallah, is part of the Borno establishment. Owing to the barrage of insult from political opponents, Sheriff was forced to get a first degree from the University of Maiduguri in his second term, under circumstances that may be a subject of investigation in the near future.
Governor Kashim Shettima was the first to break the jinx in 2011 by attaining the number one position in the state, coming from a humble background with no ties to the establishment. The wealth of Borno State is concentrated in the hands of these families, who are less than one percent of the entire population. This inequality was responsible for some masses jubilating when Boko haram started killing the rich and famous in 2012, forcing them to flee the state and are yet to return.
In addition, the Northern part of Borno State with ten local governments namely, Kaga, Marte, Mobbar, Abadam, Gubio, Guzamala, Kukawa, Naganzai, Monguno and Magumeri has been left behind in terms of development. This senatorial district is today cut away from civilisation and Boko Haram made more inroads there than in the central and Southern part of the state. Surprisingly, the zone has produced three governors: Mohammed Goni, Asheik Jarma and Maina Maaji Lawan. It is totally out of place to blame these governors for the plight of Northern Borno. The three governors did not have enough time and as much resources as accrued to Mala Kachallah and Ali Modu Sheriff. Rather, all the local government chairmen that served in Northern Borno from 1999 to date are guilty of wasting the resources of the areas on “stomach infrastructure.” This inequality became the genesis of the “bad blood” that has been brewing for three decades, and which finally exploded in 2009 with Boko Haram confronting the state.
It would be recalled that the Yobe Taliban which later metamorphosed into “Yusuffiyya” and now Boko Haram got their first set of recruits from disgruntled elements in well-to-do families in Borno and Yobe states, before moving to the families of the masses. The group found an ally in some of these elements from wealthy homes who could not reconcile their parent’s ostentatious life-styles with the crass poverty around them. It is also interesting to note that those arrested for being part of the Yobe Taliban from both states were neither prosecuted nor their names made public till this moment. This is because the names of the families needed to be protected from disgrace.
For the majority of the youths from poor families, Boko Haram became their answer to what the few families had been enjoying for three decades. This is why the rich cannot sleep when the poor are hungry and angry. After all, Karl Max says religion is the opium of the masses. The two ideological state apparatuses (Louis Althusser) that are the mosque and church are the most influential institutions in Borno State. This is due to cult following the clerics have among their followers. These injustices in the society formed the central theme of Mohammed Yusuf’s preaching in 2002 and won him followers.
Boko Haram continues to recruit on daily basis through brain-washing and a small percentage by conscription. The truth remains that the inequality in the system operated in the state created the fertile ground for groups like Boko Haram. After all, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
Boko Haram is an unconscious creation of the Borno society. It is a product of class immobility and economic inequality. Borrowing the words of Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, it is “like an optical illusion – one in which the embedded image is impossible to see until its outline is defined.”
To some, Boko Haram is a creation of non-indigenes from neighbouring states who have abused the hospitality of their Kanuri hosts. The top echelon of the Boko Haram, from Late Mohammed Yusuf to Abubakar Shekau are from Yobe state, but the majority of their foot soldiers are from Borno. They speak flawless Kanuri. Their strongholds within the metropolis, like Bulabulin Ngarnam, Shehuri North, Gwange, Jajeri, Bayan Quarters and Dala, until they were chased out in 2013, are inhabited by mostly Borno people. No doubt, following their inroads into Chad, Cameroon and Niger they have been recruiting mercenaries, but this is not enough to advance this argument.
The difference between Yobe and Borno is a mere geographical incidence caused by the military creation of “the Young Shall Grow” state in 1991. Trying to draw a distinction between the two states is like attempting to separate the gum from the teeth. The gum being Borno and the teeth, Yobe. This is why Late William Golding, author of the book Lord of the Flies says man has refused to accept the fact that he has evil within himself, but continues to blame his environment for all evil acts.
Back to the Shettima story, as far back as August 2010 when the governor’s name was being rumoured as one of the likely successors to Ali Sheriff, many questioned the fact that he was not a politician and that his parents were not ‘known’, like those of the other contenders. This perhaps could be another reason why at some point the choice was between the Late Fannami Gubio and Mala Sheriff, both relations of the former governor. If Sheriff had thrown the contest open within the establishment, Kashim Shettima would not have emerged. To date, there are some within the establishment who are still finding it difficult to come terms with the reality that Shettima is the governor, and not to talk of respecting him.
Shettima’s emergence as governor in 2011 despite being an underdog is not an accident of history. It is a divine design to bring light after years of darkness to the people of Yerwa. The governor must realise that the true test of his being a leader actually begins now. His re-election has placed a huge burden on his shoulders; to lay a solid foundation for the rebuilding of a new Borno where every son and daughter will realise their potentials through equal opportunities.
Despite the assurances given by President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, when Governor Shettima led a high powered delegation to Daura last week, promising to support the state in rebuilding effort and recharging the lake Chad, it is unrealistic to rely solely on the federal government. The task ahead is capital intensive. The Buhari-led administration is coming at a time when the oil revenue has dwindled, there is a huge debt profile and decayed infrastructure. The state government must seek additional sources in the task of rebuilding Borno, except the federal government will dedicate half of its budget to Borno for the next five years, which is almost impossible.
The Borno governor needs to mobilise his wide network of friends across the length and breadth of Nigeria to come and help rebuild Borno through investments. It must be pointed out that Borno sons and daughters must lead the way first in terms of this. It is sad that there is no single industry, private or government-owned that is working in Borno today. Even the few functional private companies are today on life support due to the religious insurgency. What Borno needs now are jobs to supplement the rebuilding process and moral rebirth.
Shettima must realise that he now has an opportunity to either write his name in gold or go the way of his predecessor. He has come of age politically, going by his ability to survive all the political machinations of the presidency and a ‘wounded’ godfather in the past four years. He needs to prove that despite coming from a humble background which is a deviation, he has what it takes to make an enduring difference in the lives of Borno people.
Machiavelli says the first method for estimating the intelligence of a leader is to look at the men he has around him. In other words, Nigerians and Borno people have trailer loads of expectations in this second term. They will start assessing Governor Shettima by the caliber of people he will nominate as commissioners, as he has no godfather imposing any candidate on him now. Another factor will be who he grooms as a successor in 2019. Borno State is in dire need of young vibrant men and women who can take the state to greater heights and not the mediocre or opportunists as witnessed in the past. Can Shettima deliver? This is a question only time will answer.
Lawal, a public commentator writes from Boston, United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org