Posted by News Express | 3 March 2017 | 2,004 times
It was truly ‘hotter than July’ when the Nigerian Airways Boeing 737 landed at the Maiduguri Airport that July afternoon in 1981. Time was 5 pm, but, as we alighted from the aircraft, it was so hot the heat could slay a camel. Coming from Sokoto, I should ordinarily have no qualms with the heat in any part of the country. But Maiduguri proved me wrong, because the four years spent in comparatively temperate Zaria had left me susceptible.
The Sokoto-Kano-Maiduguri flight was my second epochal trip: the first was that warm August morning in1977 when I left Sokoto for the Samaru, Zaria, main campus of Ahmadu Bello University for a seven-month crash programme at the School of Basic Studies, preparatory for a three-year degree programme. Maiduguri posed initial challenges, but I quickly roused myself to the reality on the ground. I was on mandatory National Service, and Maiduguri was going to be my home for the next 12 months.
As fate would have it, I was to hang on in Maiduguri for another five years, after the service year ended in 1982. That several other corps members stayed on after the service year was proof of the relative peace and harmony Maiduguri enjoyed: no Boko Haram, no suicide bombing in markets and places of worship; no cold blooded, targeted killings. And, certainly, there was no fear-inducing civilian JTF or gun-totting security personnel on the lookout for Boko Haram bandits.
Like other Nigerian settlements, Maiduguri of yore met the aspirations of the adventurous. Fun was in abundance. The city revs to life after 10 pm and goes back to sleep in the wee hours of the morning! No roadblocks. No impromptu security checks. All you see all-day long are bright faces of happy and peace-loving people. Indeed, one of the major attractions of Maiduguri was the daily rendezvous at joints, where live traditional Sudan bands performed. You never visited Maiduguri if you missed a live performance by the sensational singing duo of Zainab and Hadiza!
There was more to Maiduguri than the love for traditional Sudan music or adventure, or any of the indulgences that catch the fancy of young men. One thing that struck me early in the day was the healthy mix of religion and ethnicity. This explains why Maiduguri, the state capital, has a large concentration of indigenous Christians as well as Christian settlers from other parts of the country. To that extent, nothing created the impression that Maiduguri of those days was predominantly Islamic and Muslim. If, of course, as it is the case, Islam and Muslims were and are still in the majority, the Muslim majority did nothing to make non-Muslims feel unwanted. On a personal note, top on the list of long-standing friends I made in Maiduguri 35 five years ago and who I still relate with, are non-Muslim indigenes of Borno State. It is against this background that one can say, and with some justification, that three and half decades ago, nobody who found himself in this harmonious environment could have imagined a group of bandits will contemplate or succeed in exploiting religion to perpetrate heinous crimes and turn Borno on its head. How sad!
Under our very eyes and, in 35 years, Maiduguri has changed from a city that young and old first-timers fell in love with at first sight. It has been turned into a virtual war zone where you visit at great risk and where residents constantly glance across their shoulders. As it happened to me 36 years ago, young graduates who should be deployed to Borno State for their National Service, and some of whom would have been dazzled by the peace and harmony of Maiduguri to consider an offer of appointment, have been denied the opportunity.
As things stand, places of worship remain on the radar of security agents, because young children could detonate themselves there. At a point, the extent of anarchy in peaceful and harmonious Borno got to the stage where traditional, religious and political leaders who summoned the courage to condemn this deadly and misplaced campaign of Boko Haram were killed. Other big and moderate voices, for fear of meeting with similar fate, got wiser: they either clammed up or hurriedly sneaked out of town, only to sneak back with gradual return of peace.
In the midst of the confusion, a group that went by the acronym, BELT, or Borno Elders and Leaders of Thought, was hurriedly convened to find a political solution to the anarchy in Borno. Made up of some of the authentic patriots in the country, there is nothing to suggest that members of BELT, collectively or individually, raised even the semblance of a whimper to condemn the insurgency when it began six years ago. The prevailing atmosphere of peace in Borno certainly did not come on the terms and conditions set by BELT.
It never came on the terms and conditions set by the modern-day fighting ‘Allah Nguburos’ of Boko Haram, either. Even if, like other Nigerians, Boko Haram members had one grouse or the other against the state or its agents, the idea of taking up arms against the state, issuing ultimatums, killing innocent citizens, kidnapping and serially raping young girls and married women, and creating a fear-and terror-induced atmosphere are not options to seek redress.
Sooner than later, security agents will crush Boko Haram and kill or arrest its leadership and disperse what remains of its followers, as has been the case in recent months. Of course, more innocent lives will be lost in the process. Then, as was the case with Maitatsine, it will be time for backslapping and bear hugs. In the euphoria of the victory, government will do well to intensify efforts aimed at redressing those socio-economic problems that gave rise to Boko Haram insurgency.
With peace gradually returning to Borno, some of us with emotional attachment to the state and its wonderful people look forward to our regular pilgrimage. A purposeful Federal Government and a committed leadership in Borno State are taking care of that.
•Magaji lives in Abuja and can be reached at email@example.com
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