columnBy Bala Muhammad
Late in the evening of Sunday January 27 in Bauchi, at the end of a marathon three-day retreat titled 'Security Challenges in Northern Nigeria,' attended by Who's-Who in Northern Nigeria's Muslim clergy, Shaikh Mukhtar Abdullahi Birnin Kebbi (Imam of Birnin Kebbi and Walin Gwandu) was invited to offer the closing prayer. Each participant at the retreat, organized by the Coalition of Ulama and Civil Organisations of Kano State (Zauren Hadin Kan Malamai da Kungiyoyi na Jihar Kano), and which also attracted dozens of Muslim civil society activists, had their AMIN ready. The Imam prayed long and hard, and all chorused AMIN! AMIN! AMIN!
Before the closing prayer, the retreat of the Zauren Hadin Kai (which was set up to primarily bring together Muslim scholars and activists to address the North's current situation), had considered and issued a communique signed by Zaure Chairman Dr. Musa Borodo of Bayero University, Kano and secretary of its communique committee Dr. Ahmad Bello Dogarawa of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, wherein they reflected on the state of insecurity in Nigeria, the immediate and remote causes, and went further to proffer solutions, short and long term.
The Retreat observed that Islam always encouraged peaceful coexistence, evidenced by the significant presence, over many generations, of non-Muslims from various parts of the country pursuing their livelihood and owning businesses and properties in all major cities of the North, but that the terrible consequences of the escalating level of violence in parts of the region have been eroding that peaceful atmosphere which hitherto defined the region. The violence, according to the Bauchi participants, paralysed social, educational and economic activities, reaching its zenith with the brazen and condemnable attempt on the life of the revered Emir of Kano on Saturday January 19, 2013.
The participants further noted that the deployment of troops on the streets of the North neither contained nor curtailed the problem, but rather compounded it and introduced other unfortunate dimensions including unlawful and indiscriminate killings and destruction of properties and places of worship. They also noted that though the initial antagonists in the crisis were security personnel and so-called militants, the establishment of checkpoints in the midst of residential areas exposed the general public to heightened threat, rampant arrests of the innocent and molestations especially of women. What further exacerbated the situation was Government's poor handling of repeated senseless killings and ethnic cleansings resulting from ethno-religious crises and incessant attacks of innocent civilians, travellers and passersby in the name of 'reprisal attacks'. This jeopardised the rule of law and fed the youths with hatred, intolerance and bigotry.
It was further noted at the Bauchi retreat that the prevalence of unauthorised importation into, and unlawful ownership of weapons in, the country has reached unprecedented proportions, as widely reported in the mass media, a situation that regrettably Government has not taken tangible steps to check, nor publicly prosecuted those arrested with glaring evidence. Further, the monumental level of corruption, moral decadence, rising level of poverty and abundance of intoxicants and illicit drugs have become the fuel for igniting criminality, violent conflicts and armed attacks.
After all these observations, the first recommendation of the Bauchi Zaure Retreat was a call on Government and all insurgents to take the path of dialogue in order to bring normalcy back to the region. And that part of the communique was strongly put into that prayer by Shaikh Mukhtar Birnin Kebbi. And AMIN had resounded from all participants that Sunday night. And Allahu Akbar! Two days after the Bauchi Retreat, that AMIN seemed to have met with divine acceptance.
A certain Shaikh Muhammad AbdulAzeez ibn Idris, reportedly the second-in-command to Imam Abubakar Shekau in the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal Jihad, generally known as Boko Haram, personally appeared before journalists at a location in Maiduguri, Borno State, on Tuesday and declared a ceasefire. Shaikh ibn Idris, who was accompanied to the press briefing by some of his lieutenants, said the declaration of the ceasefire followed extensive deliberations between the sect and officials of the Borno State government.
Shaikh ibn Idris said, interlia, that: "We, on our own, in the top hierarchy of our movement under the leadership of Imam Abubakar Shekau, as well as some of our notable followers agreed that our brethren in Islam, both women and children, are suffering unnecessarily, hence we resolved that we should bring this crisis to an end. We therefore call on all those that identify themselves with us and our cause to from today lay down their arms. Let every member who hears this announcement relay it to the next member who hasn't heard...We hope the government will not betray us this time around, because we all know that it was because of the continued detention of our members that this crisis continued for this long. And if government fails to do as it promised, then this conflict will never have an end."
Of course, long before the Bauchi Zaure Retreat, Nigerians have been tearfully prayerful since insecurity became the order of the day in the North. And we have said on these pages in the past that we are always hopeful that something will give, eventually, and Allah will look at us with His mercy and compassion. So it was with a genuine hope in Allah that the Bauchi participants had said that AMIN.
Commenting on the ceasefire declaration, the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar described it as a welcome development and pointed out the need to build on it towards bringing a peaceful society. The Sultan said this in the presence of the country's Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika who was in Sokoto. To further reiterate the Sultan's stand, the Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI) of which he is President, called on the Government to immediately begin talks. This was further strengthened by calls from the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Borno Elders Forum (BEF), all of them influential organisations in the North.
The military, expectedly, has been cautious. While Gen. Ihejirika was harping on the nation's unity in Sokoto, describing it as non-negotiable, the spokesman of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno State, further to the east, Lt. Col Sagir Musa, was saying that though the declaration of ceasefire was a welcome development, the JTF would still remain in a staging position to continue maintaining law and order as well as protecting lives and properties of citizens in its area of operational responsibility.
And that, exactly, seems to be the problem, according the Bauchi Zaure Retreat participants, for they had called for an immediate end to the high-handedness of security operatives under the guise of security checks, the extra-judicial killings, the unnecessary harassment and torture of innocent citizens and all other excesses by JTF and other special security forces. They also demanded that Government immediately dismantle and remove all checkpoints if the security operatives cannot follow clear, well established rules of engagement in consonance with human rights principles and practices.
The Zaure participants further strongly demanded that all perpetrators of security excesses be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted according to the laws of the land, and that all suspects in detention be treated according to recognised conventions and be not kept beyond the lawful stipulated time. They urged that prompt and adequate compensation be paid to the relatives of all identified victims of the crises for loss of life, injuries, lost property or other damages.
The Bauchi Zaure participants, finally, in keeping with the teachings and practice of Islam, reaffirmed their commitment to the peaceful co-existence of all religious and ethnic groups of Nigeria and strongly condemned the current attempts to divide the country along sectarian and sectional lines.
As for the ceasefire, ALLAH AMIN! ALLAH AMIN! ALLAH AMIN!