As President Goodluck Jonathan begins his two-day working visit to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and Yobe State today, indigenes of the crisis-ridden states have expressed high hopes that the visit will help reduce abysmally, or end completely, the Boko Haram insurgence.
Jonathan is today visiting Borno and Yobe states for the first time in over four years since violent bomb and gun attacks hit the states, leading to the killing of several hundreds of innocent souls living in the two Boko Haram-endemic states.
The development came just as LEADERSHIP was reliably informed that Jonathan may seize the opportunity of the visit to announce amnesty for Boko Haram members that lay down their arms tomorrow during his official visit to the states.
Jonathan is scheduled to hold a town-hall meeting with a cross-section of indigenes of the states, embark on a walking tour of areas ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgence and pay a visit to the Shehu of Borno and other royal fathers.
LEADERSHIP gathered that, in the event where the Boko Haram plans to attack the way the group did last week when the All Progressive Congress (APC) governors visited the place, the sect may be in for a shocker as heavily armed security personnel, comprising soldiers from Abuja and operatives of the State Security Service (SSS), had been deployed to join their Joint Task Force (JTF) counterparts already positioned in the states.
Besides, the president's convoy sent in advance to the states ahead of the two-day working visit, it was learnt, was not the usual run-of-the-mill presidential convoy. Security forces are said to be doubled on the trip to make safety of the presidential entourage doubly sure and to pre-empt attempts by the sect to launch an offensive on the president.
This, LEADERSHIP investigation reveals, is even apart from the heavy security already mounted around Government House in Maiduguri and other strategic areas in the state.
A presidency source disclosed to LEADERSHIP yesterday that plans for the president's visit to these two northern states had been concluded over a month ago - before the APC governors visited the states last week.
The source, who refused to be named in print, said: "The APC governors only pre-empted the president's visit -- perhaps, coincidentally. But what you must take note here is that the insinuation that President Jonathan is in competition with the APC governors and decided to visit Borno and Yobe just because the governors did so is not true.
"I can show you a list of the president's work schedule since over four weeks ago for you to understand that the president cannot just wake up and plan a sensitive tour of this nature within a couple of days. Remember that he had invited the governors of Yobe and Borno states respectively to Aso villa last year to a meeting where his visit to the states was arranged and agreed upon. This is even why the vice president had visited the states sequel to the president's own visit."
But most of the indigenes of Borno who spoke to LEADERSHIP were more concerned about the president's safety, just as they prayed that he should have a safe and successful visit to the state.
"Our wish and prayer is that President Jonathan would come here and go back safely, but, above all, that his visit would end the protracted crisis that this state has been facing all these years", one of the respondents, Alhaji Dahiru Adamu from Gwoza in Borno State, stated.
Dahiru, a member of staff of the presidency, said the president whom he described as a good and God-fearing man that listens to the cry of common people must be more concerned about ending the crisis than any other Nigerian.
Meanwhile, the Emir of Potiskum, Alhaji Umaru Bubaram, has described the state visit of Jonathan to Yobe State as desirable and a demonstration of love and faith in the people of the state and the entire north-east geopolitical zone.
Speaking through his special assistant on media and communications, Malam Gidado Ibrahim, the royal father called on the people of his domain to come out en masse and welcome the president.
The statement reads in part: "His Royal Highness Alhaji Umaru Bubaram sees the visit of President Goodluck Jonathan to Yobe State as a welcome decision and a demonstration of love and faith in the people of the state and the North-east geopolitical zone.
The President, who is the Dokajin Potiskum, is a son of the Potiskum emirate and his Royal Highness is pleased that President Jonathan is visiting the state to see things for himself at the appropriate time."
Calling on Yobe indigenes to maintain the peace and ensure a successful visit by Jonathan, the Yobe monarch expressed the hope that Jonathan's visit could be seen from the perspective of a loving father who has come to see things for himself in order to advance his transformation agenda for the Nigerian people.
The monarch also called on the people to cooperate with relevant security agencies to ensure a peaceful and memorable visit by the president.
"The Mai Potiskum calls on Yobe residents, especially sons and daughters of the emirate, to turn out en masse and welcome the President whose love for the state and the area is not in doubt at all times," the statement added.
In a related development, the Borno State police command has debunked media reports that the divisional police officer of Gwoza police station and his deputy were killed in the suspected Boko Haram attack on Monday night in Gwoza town.
Some national newspapers had reported that some terrorists laid ambush in Gwoza local government area of Borno State barely 17 hours after the killing of a police mobile training camp commandant, Gwoza, ACP Umar, in Maiduguri.
But reacting yesterday, the spokesman of the Borno state police command, DSP Gideon Jibrin, faulted the story. In a press statement signed by Jibrin, he said "the story is not only false but misleading", pointing out that "at about 2100 hours on Monday evening, some suspected terrorists laid ambush to Gwoza council area of Borno State; only one policeman was killed and not the divisional police officer nor his deputy, while another one sustained injuries, in addition to the killing of seven civilians during the attack".
Jibrin also said, "The security agencies in repelling the attack succeeded in killing two of the suspected terrorists."
The PPRO urged media practitioners in the state to endeavour to verify their stories on any incident before going to press in order to avoid misleading the public.
Absentee Yobe governor returns for Jonathan
Many inhabitants of Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, have confirmed that the president's visit was not the usual rumour associated with beleaguered people: the governor of the state, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam, was sighted entering the town from Maiduguri under heavily armed escort yesterday after being absent from the state for over a month.
The people of Yobe, long terrorised by insurgents, hounded by security agents and abandoned by their government, are used to deliberately concocting and circulating rumours that could give them hope. Therefore, when the "rumour" that the president would visit Yobe was "circulating", the "knowledgeable" heard it but had their reservations. Even the heavy presence of combat-ready armed personnel and riot policemen was not enough to convince them that the president was coming because they had been under a military siege for over three years.
In all these years, the governor hardly stayed in the state for three consecutive days in a week. He preferred to operate from Abuja; his immediate family and his mother stay there. This has left the deputy governor and the commissioners with no option except to relocate with their families to the Federal Capital Territory where most of them own houses.
Since the members of the State House of Assembly too have all relocated from the state with their families, as they fear to hold their sittings in Damaturu, the inhabitants of the unfortunate town have watched sadly as governance has taken the back seat; they console themselves that "tomorrow shall be better".
So it was that the rumours gave way to conviction that, surely, the president was coming when, all of a sudden, siren-blaring, battle-ready, armed escort came into town with the governor yesterday.
People were seen discussing in groups the appearance of the governor because of the president's visit. "Will he go back after the president has left?" asked a contractor who craved for anonymity. "I have been waiting for his return; perhaps my money for a job I executed eight months ago may be paid."
The president is scheduled to commission some projects and also inspect ongoing ones during the one-day official visit.
Projects that the President will commission include the State University, established by Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim in 2006 when he was the governor. Others are the "Red Bricks" Housing Estate built by the late Governor Mamman Ali and the Ultra-Modern Damaturu Hospital which was almost completed by the governor before his death. Another project for commissioning is the Damaturu Dual Carriageway and Inner Ring Road also started and almost completed by the late governor.
A three-star hotel started by the late governor up to furnishing stage, which should have been furnished by now, was not, however, listed among the projects for commissioning or inspection. Some roads as well as a 300-unit housing estate along the Gujba-Maiduguri bypass started by the Gaidam administration in 2009, whose access roads and other infrastructure are yet to be completed, are also slated for inspection.
Jonathan, PDP leaders, NASS leadership, governors in crucial meeting
Ahead of his two-day working visit to Borno and Yobe states respectively, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday night held a meeting with leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), including some governors and the leadership of the National Assembly at the presidential villa, Abuja.
Although details of the meeting were sketchy at press time as the meeting was just about to start at about 8:35pm when journalists were asked to leave on the grounds - that it was not for coverage, LEADERSHIP gathered that national issues, including whether or not to grant amnesty to the Boko Haram sect, were discussed.
The Sultan of Sokoto and some northern governors had on Tuesday asked the president to grant amnesty to the sect the way it happened in the case of the Niger Delta militants.
A source at the meeting told LEADERSHIP that the issue of whether or not to grant amnesty to the group was a hard nut to crack, as there are other Nigerian communities who are not too comfortable with the carrot and stick approach in handling the group.
The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. "Mr. President is in dilemma as to the issue of amnesty for the Boko Haram. While he is under pressure from northern leaders to grant amnesty to the sect, he is also considering other sections of Nigerians who are against it.
'Remember that he is the leader of the whole country and whatever is of national interest must be treated with care; hence this meeting which is among other things discuss this issue properly before embarking on the two days working visit tomorrow".
Present at the meeting were PDP national chairman, Dr. Bamanga Tukur; the party's BoT chairman, Chief Tony Anenih; Senate President David Mark; Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu; Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihediora; Sam Jaja and Senator Walin Jubrin.
Others are the chairman of PDP Governors' Forum, Godswill Akpabio; Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta); Governor Ibrahim Shema (Katsina); Governor Theodore Orji (Abia); Governor Isa Yuguda (Bauchi); Governor Gabriel Suswam (Benue); Senator Ahmadu Ali; Godsday Orubebe; Petroleum minister Diezani Allison-Madueke; Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Pius Anyin and political adviser to the president, Ahmed Gulak.