14 January 2013

Nigeria: The Role of Synergy in the Return of Peace to Yobe


A Qur'anic verse instructs us that for every hardship there is relief. All people of faith in Yobe and Borno states had taken solace in this eternal, divine assurance during the bitterest and most sanguinary moments of Boko Haram violence that saw the entire northeast region drenched with the blood of innocents.

Their faith in Allah's instructive promise is bearing fruits. In more ways than one, the last few weeks have given a comforting materiality to this promise of relief after every adversity. For the fourth straight month now, not a single gunshot has been heard in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, which for many months had been the theatre of Boko Haram's butcherly fury.

The gradual return of peace and tranquility in the capital has inspired renewed optimism among Damaturu residents that normalcy has been restored. Markets are now open, businesses are flourishing, schools are back up, and government is pushing ahead with developmental projects.

For instance, full-scale construction of the Damaturu Regional Water Supply project is now in full swing. Schools that were burnt down by insurgents are now being rebuilt. Reports, for instance, say that of the 209 classrooms burnt down, 89 have been rebuilt so far and reconstruction work is continuing. The old, bubbly, peaceful, serene Damaturu that indigenes and residents alike had come to love is back - God willing for good.

Other major metropolitan areas in the state that had been devilled by violence and bloodshed are picking up life and bouncing back to normality.

There is cautious cheerfulness all over Yobe that the worst of the Boko Haram insurgency is over. Of course, as Thomas Jefferson, America's third president, is often quoted to have said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." The peace we are currently enjoying in Yobe shouldn't lull us into being insensitive to the imperative of eternal vigilance and of the need to double the efforts that got us the peace.

We can sustain the newly restored peace in our state only if we know what efforts produced it in the first place. The restoration of peace and harmony in Yobe is a consequence of the synergistic effects of many efforts. First, the battle against Boko Haram insurgents was "democratized."

After many months of panic and uncertainty, citizens of Yobe State finally made a conscious decision not to leave the fight to the security agents alone. Now, the general public has joined the struggle to reclaim the peace and security that had been the hallmark of Yobe State for many years.

In Damaturu, Potiskum, Gashu'a and Gaidam people now promptly report to the security agents when they catch sight of a Boko Haram militant. They use telephone numbers provided by the JTF to communicate to security agents the movement or whereabouts of criminals. As a result, the insurgents remain increasingly isolated and have been compelled to run to the bush where they sometimes die of thirst and hunger.

The rise of citizen participation in bringing about peace in the state is informed by people's realization that Boko Haram's senseless and bloodstained campaign is an ill wind that blows nobody good. It isn't just a war on government; it's a declaration of hostilities against all.

Most importantly, the Gaidam administration took care to build bridges of confidence and to inspire optimism among a large swath of Yobe citizens and, in the process, helped to mobilize popular sentiments in support of peace and security. The united, concerted, citizen vigilance against Boko Haram is one of the fruits of this effort.

The government also invested - and continues to invest - enormous resources to equip security forces operating in the state in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents. Governor Gaidam continues to give sundry financial, logistical, and infrastructural assistance to the JTF.

As a perceptive and knowledgeable commentator noted in an October 2012 article, Governor Gaidam has "donated more than 150 Hilux four-wheel drive vehicles to various security agencies operating in the state.

In another remarkable show of support for the efforts of federal security agencies to reign in Boko Haram, the governor has made available his campaign headquarters to serve as the operational base of the Joint Task Force (JTF).

"Similarly, the governor made available a newly built boarding school at Kuka-Reta Village in Damaturu Local Government, to serve as the temporary headquarters for the newly established 233 Tank Battalion of the Nigerian Army until the federal government is able to build a befitting permanent barracks for the battalion.

And, realizing that the police are chronically underfunded and, as a result, unmotivated to put their lives on the line in the protection of lives and property, the governor pays monthly cash-ration-allowance to policemen serving in the state in addition to whatever the federal government pays them."

In addition, the Gaidam administration tackled - and continues to tackle - the violent insurgency that had enveloped the state from its very roots. The government's youth employment and empowerment programmes, which saw thousands of previously unemployed youth gainfully employed in the state's civil service and thousands more empowered with monthly social safety allowances, has helped greatly in providing a sense of belonging to many hitherto distraught youth who are potential recruits into Boko Haram.

The youngsters have now been given hope and saved from the dangerous and murderous lives of violent insurgents. Thankfully, Yobe's 2013 budget shows that government will sustain this tempo and employ even more youth this year.

It is also remarkable that the Yobe government has concluded plans to set up a skill acquisition center in Damaturu this year to provide skill training to youth who have been in school or lack training for formal employment. The skills center will train them in carpentry, knitting, hair plaiting, welding, etc.

In addition, according to government documents, the youth will be given free, no-strings-attached funds to set up their own businesses after training. This will sure promote self-reliance, sense of purpose, and a will to live among otherwise despondent youth. The government has promised that it will continue to focus on education to track, attract and retain the attention of youth on useful, purposeful, meaningful activities.

The emirate councils have also been playing significant and praiseworthy roles in reclaiming the peace and health of Yobe State from Boko Haram insurgency. Emirate councils in Damaturu, Fika, Bade, Potiskum and other places have cooperated with government and security forces to not only expose the hideouts of Boko Haram members but to also ensure that young, impressionable people don't fall prey to their ideology of hate and bloodthirstiness.

For instance, the Damaturu emirate has introduced a system whereby youngsters who fled the city at the height of the crisis several months ago are made to register with the emirate when they return. This is to ensure that their presence is known, that they remain of good behavior, and are well-integrated into mainstream society.

Being a deeply religious person, Governor Gaidam complemented his - and the people's individual and collective - efforts with prayers for divine intervention. He sent several learned and pious Sheikhs to Mecca to pray for the restoration of peace in the state and its environs.

In sum, the Gaidam administration's decision to remain with the people and within the people coordinating the efforts to ensure peace and security has not only given members of the public a lot of confidence but has also inspired confidence that the peace the state currently enjoys will endure.

If there is anything we have learned in this fight to dislodge the agents of evil and mass murder in Yobe State, it is that it is a collective fight. It isn't a fight just for the government. Nor is it a fight only for the JTF. It is a fight for all the good and peace-loving people of Yobe. So in order to sustain the defeat of the Boko Haram insurgents, we all need to heed the governor's exhortation that we not relent in our community surveillance and never fail to cooperate with security agencies and report any suspicious movements in our localities.

In this way, Yobe will not only bounce back from the debilitating effects of recent violence, it will bounce back stronger. Its people will go forward jealously guarding their collective interests and fully conscious of the responsibilities of citizenship. This is what the robust return of business and commercial activities in the state capital points to.

Babagana Bukar, a security analyst, writes from Ajari Ward, Damaturu Metropolis

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