The Governor of Borno State, Prof Babagana Zulum, has revealed that there are foreign interests sponsoring the Boko Haram terrorist group to recruit children as fighters.
He, therefore, called on Nigerians not to see the insurgency in the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa as a northern problem but a challenge that affects everyone.
Citing Libya and Iraq as examples of how sectional insecurity could engulf a country, he said there was a need for cooperation by all Nigerians to defeat the insurgents.
The governor spoke in Lagos on Friday at the 17th Chief Gani Fawehinmi annual lecture, themed ‘The constitutional history of Nigeria’s dysfunction: Any pathway to indivisibility and common progress?’ which was organised by the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch, to celebrate the life and times of Fawehinmi, who died on September 5, 2009.
Zulum stated further that Borno State shares a border with Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic and that as a result of Nigeria’s porous borders, people were importing arms into the country, which is also fuelling the insurgency. “Our borders are so porous and proliferation of arms is existing there,” he added.
He said, “I’m from Borno State, and many of our children are into Boko Haram. I’m not denying the fact. But again, they are being sponsored by many people across the world. Among Boko Haram, we have white men, Asians, Africans, Muslims and Christians.”
For years, there had been reports of children being used as suicide bombers by the insurgents. In 2019, for example, the United Nations Children’s Fund revealed that the insurgents used children to carry out an attack on Konduga town in Borno State on June 18, 2019. It said the suicide bombers killed no fewer than 30 persons in the triple attack.
Meanwhile, Zulum lamented that the problem of insurgency, banditry and kidnapping across the country is a result of the high unemployment rate, poverty, poor social infrastructure, high social inequality and drug abuse, among others.
He pointed out that to address these challenges and take children off the street, it was expedient to improve on the educational system and provide job opportunities for young people, noting that the mismatch between the educational system and the labour market, which makes “some graduates unemployable”, must be addressed.
He added, “Throughout northern Nigeria, particularly Borno State, a committee is working on how to reform the Almajiri system of education. We want to streamline the non-formal and formal education sectors to avail those children basic literacy and numeracy skills so they can stand on their own. And we are not in support of street begging.
“We must stop seeing this insurgency as a problem of the north. The distance between Borno State and Lagos State is about 1,700km, but mind you if Borno State is not peaceful, other parts of the nation will never be peaceful. We have to unite and fight these insurgents. We have seen what happened in Libya, Iraq and other countries. Peacebuilding and social cohesion are very important in strengthening the resilience of our communities.”
He also stressed the need to shun nepotism, tribalism and the idea of using religion to cause division. He said he replaced his former Head of Service, who was a fellow Muslim, with a Christian, because he prioritised competence above loyalty. He said that was the first time a Christian would occupy the position in the state.
He added, “Unless we get rid of nepotism, tribalism and exploitation of religion, we will not get it right in this country. The constitution is very clear on the need for peaceful coexistence among all of us, which is why the principle of federal character is enshrined in the constitution, but it has been abused.”
…Says Current Governor’s’ Will Grossly Abuse state police
Meanwhile, in the midst of the clamour for state police due to the rising insecurity, the governor has said even though state policing is a good idea, it will be a bad idea to implement it now because governors will grossly abuse it.
He said the problems it would create would be more than what is being faced at the moment, adding that it could also cause division.
Zulum stated, “Given the current insecurity challenges in the country and the escalation of banditry, policing becomes another issue that needs closer attention for the purpose of strengthening its efficiency across national spectrum.
“There are already calls for state policing, but let me be very clear here that while the idea of state policing might be altruistic and in fact desirable, I Babagana Zulum do not support state policing. The reason is very simple. State police will further polarise an already fragile system and disintegrate further our weak national unity.
“For the sake of national unity, I will not advise the creation of state police. It’s not yet time for us to have it, but as time goes on, the idea of having state police is very good. I’m entitled to my opinion.”
But in his contribution, the spokesperson for the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, disagreed with the governor on the issue of state police. He said though there might be abuse by governors, measures to check it should rather be put in place, noting that the federal police in operation was also being abused. “We cannot have state governors who do not have the capacity to enforce their own laws.”
In his response, Zulum said he had no doubt that state police would be useful, but that the timing wasn’t right yet.
He added, “For now, if the powers over the police are vested in the governors, I’m afraid that such powers may be abused grossly. Yes, in Borno State we have insurgency crisis, which has triggered an acute humanitarian and post-displacement crisis, but I’m looking at the country in general rather than my state.
“I’m not saying state police is bad, but looking at the calibre of governors we have now, not excluding myself, if we have state police now, it will be subject to very serious gross abuse. Believe me sincerely, if care is not taken, the situation will be worse than what we have now.
“If the opportunity is given for us to have state police, no state can benefit from it like Borno State because of the insecurity, but I openly objected because of the calibre of people we have in this country. Being the governor of Borno State is not easy. When I assumed office as the governor, within my 55 days in office, I saw my children three times only. It’s not easy.”
‘Constitution gave President, govs too much powers’
Speaking on some of the demerits of the constitution, the governor said government at all levels were given powers they should not have.
He added, “One of the demerits of the constitution is that it allocates too much power to the President and indeed the governors. The constitution also facilitates an expensive administration. The exclusive legislative list is too large and the immunity enjoyed by the President and governors is usually abused.”
In his remarks, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), said lawyers must rise up to save Nigeria’s democracy.
The Executive Director, Enough is Enough, a non-governmental organisation, Ms Yemi Adamolekun, said it was regrettable that the flaws in the constitution had been used to deprive and exploit the people, adding that Nigeria needs good people in office.
She added, “Political leaders must know they work for people who voted them in. The President and governors are our employees because the citizens voted for them.”
One of the children of the late Fawehinmi, Mohammed, who represented the family, praised the choice of Zulum as the keynote speaker, “being a man of integrity and not one who has embezzled state funds.”
He added, “I call on all senior advocates of Nigeria to be men of exemplary nature and posture. Lawyers must learn to speak the truth. We should be able to show dignity.”