(This is an excerpt of an interview Governor Shettima granted Theophilus Abbah and published in Daily Trust on Sunday in May 2014)
It’s about two weeks since Chibok schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram. Is there any good news for their parents?
That incident is one nightmare that troubles me so much as a father and as a leader. It remains the worst in my entire life. As a father, I can imagine what a parent feels when a daughter is in the hands of abductors who are very capable of forceful marriage, rape, slavery and who are against education. Like I said at a courtesy call earlier today, we are at a brokenhearted time in our dear Borno State because as we speak, over 200 precious daughters of Borno, 200 young enterprising schoolgirls working towards a bright future, are being detained somewhere by our fellow men who claim to be devoted Muslims, whereas Allah who created all of us has mandated us to protect women, to support them, to serve them with special attention and to even spare them during Islamic holy wars that the Boko Haram claim to be fighting. Like I said on Wednesday during the swearing-in of our new Grand Khadi, which your paper published, in Islam, a woman that grows from a girl-child is supposed to be treated like gold, Islam requires that a man should be the one to prepare meals and serve a woman but when a woman chooses to cook she should be paid for cooking that meal unless she forfeits being paid and offers to serve the man free. Our noble Prophet had only one surviving child that was a girl who grew to become a woman. Allah destined it to be so. As a Prophetic tradition goes, heaven lies at the feet of mothers, this is the extent to which Allah has dignified the girl-child but these misguided vandals, descendants of the Kharytes, have turned every cherished concept, belief, norms, and values in Islam upside down.
No security chief that has served in Borno since we came on board can accuse us of less than extraordinary support
The day after that attack, I wasn’t myself when I read the reaction of one of the fathers of the girls saying he would have preferred to see his daughter’s corpse than have her abducted by insurgents. I can’t tell you what I went through that day, I pray no leader in this country ever goes through the trauma I am passing. My heart was regularly beating uncontrollably more so when my daughter came around me, the moment is looking into her eyes, I fight to hold back tears, I imagine what our 200 daughters and their biological parents are going through. Unfortunately, as we speak, over 200 of these girls are still being held in the forest, their parents are in unimaginable trauma. It is a terrible thing but we are very hopeful that Insha Allah they will be rescued.
We are being careful about the information we release regarding these our abducted daughters so as not to compromise their safety. Just to recall the unfortunate incident, on the 14th of April, 2014, some gunmen numbering about 100 stormed the Government Secondary School, Chibok at about 11:45 pm. Some residents had it that the attackers pretended to be offering help to the girls, that they misled them into believing that the school was about being attacked and they were there to move them to safe locations but then how do you reconcile the fact that the attackers razed down the school? If they were there to save them, the students wouldn’t expect them to destroy the entire school. The School has a population of one thousand, six hundred and ten students. Five hundred and thirty registered for this year’s WAEC and NECO exams.
Initially, we all got information that only 129 science students were at the hostel at the time of the attack but as we later came to, unfortunately, realize when I visited the school, that over two hundred and thirty girls were missing. But out of them, 53 girls are safely back, security agencies are working very hard along with volunteers, we are giving them all the support they need to complete the efforts of the Federal Government and we are very hopeful to have all of them. The number of over 200 became known because we opened a register and made an appeal to parents and guardians to register complaints on missing girls while announcements were made for parents whose daughters ran home to return them so we could have accurate statistics on missing girls. When I visited Chibok, I met over 200 tearful parents who registered complaints.
How come you visited Chibok when the security was said to have barred you from there due to threats?
The visit to Chibok was one decision I had to make against fears over my safety raised by my security details. There was intense fear about the safety of the route to Chibok from some point within Borno that is while approaching Chibok, it was thought that insurgents may hide around the route for ambush or bury explosives or possibly plan a suicide attack so most advocated that it was best for us to drive to Yola through routes outside Borno or charter a flight and fly to Yola in Adamawa and then join convoy that should travel ahead of the proceed to Chibok.
Without being proud, I saw that suggestion as embarrassing, I asked myself if as a Governor with all my normal security details and extra security support I can get, there is a ‘No-Go-Area’ for me in my State, then what about other citizens who by compelling reasons would have to drive through the dreaded route. I was told that others may drive freely at that time but I would be a big target. I respected all the opinions and appreciated concerns over my safety but I couldn’t bear remaining in Maiduguri while parents were in Chibok crying and rightly demanding.
Borno has gone through wars in its over 1000 years of history. We will come back stronger Insha Allah. leadership.
So, along with Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume who is a very courageous man, we went to Chibok through the route in Borno, the security agencies took good proactive steps. But despite all the assurances, many of the appointees that usually join my convoy abandoned me, some said they had some work and smartly gave excuses to be absent, some switched off their phones so they couldn’t be reached, some traveled ahead so they would have good reasons not to be around, others who were with us the previous night didn’t even come near the government house the day of the trip, very few joined my convoy but I don’t blame any of those that dogged that trip, they are human, fear is a natural element like hunger, thirst, and desire to sleep, the bulk stop at my table, it was my constitutional and moral duty to provide leadership no matter how tough the times might be, I needed to support victims regardless of whatever we are doing to support security agencies and community policing through civilians.
So much effort is being put in place by the security forces; we are doing everything to support them by way of complementing the efforts of the Federal Government. There is a commitment by all stakeholders and Insha Allah, these daughters of ours will be gotten back and in good health. Look, tough times don’t last forever but tough people do. Borno will Insha Allah get out of this, no one thought Maiduguri was going to become as peaceful it is by this time, the day insurgents were openly brandishing weapons on the streets, serially murdering people, many people thought it would years for the city to be safe but today Maiduguri is safe and so are most of our urban centers of Biu, Monguno, Bama, Mobbar and others. Borno has gone through wars in its over 1000 years of history. We will come back stronger Insha Allah. We are resilient people, you can see from our youths, the civilian JTF. Together as a people, more united by insurgent-inspired sorrows, we will rebuild Borno to a greater level by Allah’s power, Allah is above any evil war that man can wage no matter how tough.
Why do you think these girls were abducted, from your own analysis?
I have read many publications in trying to understand the workings of insurgents so that as a Government, we know better, how to manage our unfortunate situation in Borno. Insurgents kidnap for many reasons. Generally, kidnapping and extortion are two of their sources of funding terror activities. Men are kidnapped sometimes to be forcefully recruited; brainwashed or probably induced with something and made to become fighters. In some cases, they are led to battles in a guarded way such that they can hardly escape, some luckily escape though. Women are sometimes kidnapped to use them as a human shield or to use them for domestic activities and in some cases, there are some of the insurgents who have a sort of belief in forcefully marrying abducted women so that they give birth to children that will inherit the sect’s struggle to sustain a chain of terror even after the parents are killed. There is also the element of kidnapping to bargain for the release of detained sect members but this can hardly work, insurgents can only succeed in doing this under a strongly controlled territory where they for instance control an entire State or some local government areas. Insurgents do things that will attract publicity, such as kidnapping. Generally, terrorists crave for and bask in the oxygen of publicity.
Will Borno State pay if the sect demands ransom?
Payment of ransom to terrorists under the anti-terror laws of Nigeria which are in force is regarded as terrorism financing which is a very serious offense. When you pay the ransom you are giving money to insurgents to procure arms and unleash havoc on more people, you end up rearming them. However, any news about the freedom of these girls, any calls for negotiations will be very cheering news that might even be of interest to the Presidential Dialogue Committee that is still working and I am sure the committee might view that as another avenue to accelerate negotiation for a peaceful resolution, the security will also be needed to advise on whatever comes up in that regard, as you know the issue of these girls is not just a national but global one now and, unfortunately, Borno State has in the last two weeks dominated the airwaves and pages for the very wrong reasons. Every time, I hear this issue mentioned on the CNN, BBC, and VOA Hausa or English and other International media houses, I feel extremely bad, the same way I feel when I read it on the print and broadcast media in Nigeria.
There was a story in a national newspaper quoting a security source who alleged that the Borno State Government might have arranged the kidnap just to embarrass the military to justify the failure of the emergency rule and work against any extension, the source also accuses some Governors of working against the military, what is your take?
I have read the same story. “Absurdity supported by power” according to Michael Priestley “cannot stand its ground with the efforts of reason”. Sometimes it is more honorable to ignore such diatribes but then when left unattended to, it can equally assume a life of its own. I didn’t want any reaction since the security source was concealed and I think publishing such a weighty allegation and hiding the identity of the so-called security source of the allegation is not a good journalism practice. If someone is ready to make such a weighty allegation he or she should be courageous to own up to it. If he or she can’t, then the claim is not worth media reporting unless if the same view is shared by the media house but I don’t think any media house in Nigeria will share that view, they have been following up on what has been happening and they have all been supportive. Let me however say on behalf of the people of Borno State, that may God harshly judge between us and that so-called source or whoever fabricated that childish nonsense. If he or she is actually good security personnel, where was he or she when the Government arranged to kidnap the schoolgirls as he or she falsely claimed, how come he or she didn’t stop it? If he or she was capable of knowing who did it, he should have been capable of have prior knowledge and stopping it. This is so insensitive to the parents of these girls and our feelings as a people. Such weighty allegations are callous and an insult to common sense. Instead of resorting to malicious concoctions and casting aspersions on our integrity, the solution to any so-called security source diving into politics is simple, remove the khaki and join the political fray.
Generally, terrorists crave for and bask in the oxygen of publicity.
As Governor of Borno State, I am next to the parents of these girls, the most troubled by that incident, I am under immense pressure from families, I am even pressured by my conscience, I am morally disturbed, these girls are daughters of Borno, by being abducted while in school, the Borno State Government naturally comes under more pressure because they were abducted while being under our care as a Government, the school was not the only one in session when that attack took place, no one anticipated attack on that school, as humans we all can analyze threats and map out areas of threats and those presumed to be safe, there were other schools where girls were writing exams just like the one in Chibok, I don’t want to mention the schools for security reasons.
No one in Borno stands to gain anything from that incident. Those who sit somewhere and say all manner of things don’t know what is happening in Borno. No security chief that has served in Borno since we came on board can accuse us of less than extraordinary support. One of the first things we did after our inauguration in 2011 was to present dozens of armored personnel carriers to the police, we have provided not less than 300 brand new Hilux patrol vehicles to security agencies, we provide daily fuelling and maintain the vehicles, we provide other material logistics, the service chiefs have unfettered access to my office, they are in my topmost priority list, my security aides usher them to my office soon as they come and at any given time, we work with them as a team, they know everything we are doing, we collaborate very effectively, we pay one million naira to the families of every soldier killed in combat as an immediate palliative to bereaved families, we support the police too.
I can’t go to press with other things we do, that will amount to be saying too much on security. The Defence Headquarters, the then Chief of Army Staff that had visited Borno severally, the Nigeria Police Headquarters, the DSS, and para-military organizations always score us excellent in supporting security agencies in Borno so I just wonder why some unpatriotic elements without the confidence of owning their comments will sit down and ferment mischief at a time we need to be more united to confront our common challenges.