Senator Zanna Ahmed Khalifa, represent Borno Central in the National Assembly. In this interview with SOLA ADEOLA, he speaks about the effects of the Boko Haram insurgency on the people of Borno State, why it has been difficult to tackle the insurgents and other issues.
Very recently, there were reports that you cried after you saw the effects of Boko Haram attacks on your people during a visit to your senatorial district. What did you see that made you cry?
Yes, I have been to my village which is Bama in Borno State. It™s not a village as such because it is as big as Damaturu, the Yobe State capital. It was where I was born and brought up. And 50 per cent of the city is burnt. Well, most the people have already run away but they were able to kill at least 100 people. The damage is enormous. Though most people ran away with their cars, they succeeded in at least burning 386 cars and buses in that town. And people don™t know where to go.
Government has not erected any tent for them to go into. But thank God for the excellent family system that we have in our state that has absorbed most of the shocks. But it is not enough. Even those people that they have gone to stay with are handicapped because for the past two years, there have been no business. Business activities have gone down to less than 20 per cent.
Maiduguri was the third fastest growing city in West Africa, but it is now a shadow of its old self. Before, it was the military and members of Boko Haram that were doing all sorts of atrocities and then criminals also came in and put people under bondage. It is difficult taking care of your own family, not to talk of taking care of another person™s family. I can say 60 per cent of Borno citizens are eating once in a day now because most of the towns and cities are burnt down and there is no town you will not see carnage or killings of young people, particularly in the villages. Their children are taking away by force
Males or females?
Even males, you know people are no longer willing to join Boko Haram again at least in the past one year, but they will go and take all the young men in the village by force and after sometime, they will start enticing their families with money and this and that and they will say ˜this is business o™.
Are you saying people are not willing to join Boko Haram again, that they are being forced to join?
Many, particularly those who joined in the last one year, they were drafted into Boko Haram by force. Even, three weeks ago, they took one of my cousins who ran away to Cameroon. Even in Cameroon, three men who were armed went to meet him, they said ˜you are learned in Arabic and Quoran, come and teach our boys.™ They took him by force and after two, three days they came back to pick two of his children who were of age of 25, 23.
They conscripted him to their side?
Yes. That is the situation. Even before then, we™ve lost almost 80,000 youths
Since the insurgency started?
Yes. By now, it must have reached almost 100.000. It is a whole generation, about 90 per cent are of the age of 30 and below.
Are you saying that there are no youths in Borno State?
We have a lot of youths. You know our people don™t control births, so one family has 20 children, 30 children, 15 children. So, we are talking about losing almost 100, 000 youths and traditionally our people get married within the age of 17, 18, 19 and you can see that those young men that have died must have left their parents, must have two, three children. Some of them have two wives, so we are talking about more than 100 widows and not less than 500,000 orphans and there is no single orphanage in the whole of Borno State. That™s why I said thank God for our extended family system. At the peak of the crisis, I think over 150 people were in my house. Even now, almost 100 people are in my house. Whenever I come to office, I see no fewer than 30 people and I must take them home. If I get my allowance, it is finished within a month, I will start hiding.
So, how do you think Nigeria can get out of this insurgency?
Thank God that we have gotten committed military officials of recent. Some of the past military chiefs and officials of certain security apparatus were involved in the whole affair, including top politicians. But this is under investigations. And if government is serious, they have to investigate the reasons for what is going on. It has continued unabated because some people are interested in what is going on. I don™t want to point fingers, but we know the people who are interested in what is going on.
What is their interest in seeing the continuation of the insurgency?
There are political, financial, religious interests.
The Chairman of INEC said recently that there may be no election in Borno State in 2015 if the Boko Haram activities continue…
Now, if the present leadership continues the way they have started now, I think there is nothing that will disturb us from holding election. But if in the process, certain interests comes in, then that will be what we are going to see. But as far as I can see, the way they have started we would soon see light at the end of the tunnel.
From the information at your disposal, why do you think it has been difficult to tackle the terrorists?
When the State of emergency was declared, I gave an interview to NTA and AIT that the state of emergency will succeed only if there is commitment, If there is the will on the part of the security agencies. But like I say, there was no will, there was no commitment, that™s why they have found it difficult to defeat them up to this time. But with the change of baton of the military chiefs, I could see a renewed sense of seriousness. And I am sure that if they continue in this way, we will see an end to it.
Do you agree with Governor Kashim who said members of Boko Haram looked better motivated and equipped than Nigeria soldiers?
Yes, that™s why I said the present leadership of the military were not aware maybe at the beginning because we have always crying that there are no enough men, no proper equipment and I supported Governor Sheriff when he said members of Boko Haram are better equipped than Nigerians soldiers because I know what is going on. I have been interacting with the Commanders and their boys who were operating and they have been telling me why they are handicapped.
They attacked Bama twice- they destroyed the barracks. But a commanding officer has been in that place for how many years now, I can™t remember. And there were only 76 men guarding that place and they knew that Boko Haram was coming, but nothing was done. The Commanding officer consistently reported to the GOC at that time that they wanted men and equipment if these people are going to come. But there was no response until they came and destroyed the barrack. And they killed 21 out of the 76 soldiers that were in Bama at that time. In their second they were also less than 100. If there is commitment, do you think the situation will be like that?
Do you have any idea of where these Boko Haram men get their sophisticated equipment from?
We wouldn™t know, but the borders are porous and at the same time, there was no control whatsoever in the routes where these arms were coming from. I severally wrote to the military that there are supply routes of arms and whatever, but nobody was controlling. The borders were porous, most of the security personnel have left. Nobody was at the border.
When did that happen?
I think for the last six, seven months. The border was left vacant, no Customs, no Immigration.
There are insinuations that that the Boko Haram may have linked up with Al-Qaeda, the global terrorist group because of the kind of the ammunition in their possession?
I didn™t see that. Anyway, you cannot rule it out because when they went to Bama, I think second or third person in the group must have an RPG. And if you see three of them, two will have an AK 47 or what is powerful than an Ak 47 and then, the third with an RPG. But when I went to Maiduguri, in the whole of the Command what do they have? They have only two RPGs. Certain arms that they are displaying cannot be accessed ordinarily by the local Boko Haram.
They seem never to run out of ammunition?
Never, because they are given free access in Cameroon, they can ride 400, 500 kilometers with arms in their cars or their bags and nobody question them.
What is the leadership of Nigeria and Cameroon doing to tackle Boko Haram?
I don™t know for whatever reason the Cameroonian government is giving very cold shoulder to tackling Boko Haram. And when the insurgents come under pressure from the security forces in Nigeria, they will run into Cameroon. My local government is directly a neighbor to Cameroon. So, they can come in, kill our people and run back to Cameroon. They are always with their AK 47 and the Police and the Cameroonian Army seeing them and they don™t arrest them.
Former President Bush once went to confront the Mexican President asking him to stop Mexicans who were engaged in smuggling guns and other things into the United States. Why have we not done the same thing?
Our own case is not like that. I have been telling the government about the conspiracy of Cameroon with members of Boko Haram in the past one year. And I didn™t see any complaint by the Nigerian government against Cameroon at the United Nations or any other complaint by the Nigerian government. None. Maybe it didn™t concern them, I dont know.
So, the two countries are not doing anything to together on the Boko Haram issue?
It is not just the two countries. All our French neighbours, the three that are involved in this Boko Haram issue- Niger, Cameroon, Chad- they don™t arrest members of Boko Haram. But all the arms are coming in through their countries.
But without the military, won™t the insurgents have run over Borno State?
When the insurgence started, they were not many. The SSS and the Police could have handled it with their intelligence. The demands of Boko Haram was very minimal at that time- they said government has destroyed our mosque, rebuild it. Some people went and killed our leaders and our colleagues, please prosecute those who killed them and release all those who are in detention. You could have accepted this- building their mosque is nothing, make a kangaroo trial if you don™t want a real trial for those who killed their leaders, they are known. Is that difficult? Or is it because somebody was involved in the whole affair that government allowed the issue to escalate?
But as at the time you said the demands of the insurgents were minimal, they had already started killing people. Are you saying there should not be justice for those they have killed?
Remember their members were also being killed and the number of their members is even at the minimal level at that time. Now, they said rebuild our mosque, and although we lost our members, please you must kill those who kill our leaders. That was their demand.
But when government initiated a dialogue, they refused to participate or respond?
The government has never sincerely called for dialogue. All these Committees on Dialogues and whatever are all hoaxes. The first Committee in which Senator Ndume was involved submitted its report, a white paper came out but nothing was done about the recommendations.
Do you also support calls that President Jonathan should visit areas affected by the insurgency to commiserate with the people?
Of course, I do because it is very sad that the President didn™t even say anything in a part of the country where over 1,000 people were killed in a few months. What he mentioned in his media chat was what the Governor said about the military. That was all the comments he made. But he never cared to commiserate with the people of Borno. I don™t think he is afraid to go there, but there are things I don™t want to say now that the military are working.
But Northern leaders have refused to come together to discuss this problem. Their focus seemed to be on 2015. What is the problem?
This is bothering me more than you. I was the Senator representing Borno Central. After the indictment of Ndume, I was targeted, but I was able to resist them. Since that time none of our elders has come out. Maybe some of them are afraid of government or they think at one time or the other they may be given jobs by the government. But how are you going to enjoy that job if there is no peace?
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