By Kashim Shettima
Your royal highnesses and our elders, I will like to start by saying that the aim of convening this important meeting is not to pass blames or to pass any kind of verdict on our security agencies.
I think the most inhuman way to go is to gather and condemn those who are putting their lives on the line and giving their lives in efforts to find peace. We are principally here as a family, as a people all affected by the situation in Borno State, to discuss suggestions that will hopefully contribute to combined ongoing efforts towards addressing the problem.
For seven years, we held our regular security council meetings. I from to time consult with some of the participants here. However, I never for once convene an extraordinary meeting of this nature because, frankly speaking, I was avoiding a sort of dramatization or being sensational about our challenges in Borno State.
Without being insensitive to the realities of our situation, I feel deeply pained whenever Borno is being discussed on the basis of helpless weakness. I prefer to assume a position of strength; a position of normalcy and a character of being incurably optimistic. It was in these regards that we created a full-fledged Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement and deployed enormous public resources to rebuild more than 30,000 homes of citizens, hospitals, water installations, local government secretariats, schools and palaces of traditional rulers. It was with the same mind that we kept on pushing for voluntary and dignified return of displaced citizens to safe and rebuilt communities. My greatest wish was and still is, not to bequeath Boko Haram challenges and IDP Camps to my successor. We wanted to, and still want to get Borno fully back to normal days. Sometimes, I unconsciously find myself boasting that Borno is safer than Lagos. I simply feel very bad to sound pessimistic about Borno. I so much believe in optimism. Of course, I know that in governance, responding to some situations demand a combination of being both optimistic and realistic.
The realities, Your Royal highnesses, invited participants, is that while so much was achieved by our gallant military men and women, we are today faced with serious challenges in Borno State. But then, these challenges should strengthen our abiding faith and resolve to continually do whatever we can, in support of our military, the police, the DSS, our Civilian JTF, all para-military agencies and political authorities at the federal level, to end the Boko Haram insurgency.
I have met the President a number of times, including few weeks ago. I have led our national assembly members to the President and in all our discussions, we all saw on the face, in words and actions of the President, absolute sincerity in terms of his deep concern, his empathy and his compassion towards our plight in the northeast, particularly in Borno. President Muhammadu Buhari is without the slightest doubt, devoted to the fight against Boko Haram. I believe that service chiefs, the IGP, the DG of DSS and heads of all para-military agencies share the commitment of Mr President. Most importantly, troops in the front lines, have with their own lives, proved their commitment in the service of our country and in obedience to the President, Commander In Chief. The President has mobilized world leaders in support of Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. He has fostered regional cooperation and he supports troops.
Some persons have asked why I have not criticised the Buhari government or the Nigerian military over situations in Borno. My response to them is that unlike in previous years when I was treated as an enemy of the Presidency, I have from 2015 to date, gained unfettered access to the President. I see the Commander-In-Chief at the shortest request and I tell him my concerns, he listens to me with keen interest and in most cases, he takes measures. I have not had reason to be frustrated with the Presidency unlike previous years. Let me say that even under the previous administration, I regularly supported and defended the military. When I said in February 2014, tha the military was not being well equipped, it was not a comment by design, it was a spontaneous reaction which came out of frustration and it was in defense of the soldiers being killed in front lines. I knew the problems. Some people have said I was later vindicated. Nigerians can bear witness that from 2011 to date, I prefer to speak from position of strength rather than a position of hopelessness. I prefer to inspire our military and citizens. I prefer to make security matters as discrete as possible. There were times I managed to see the former President but our meetings were always under rush. There were times I resorted to writing him for the record. I remember one specific instance I wrote a strong letter in 2013, over serious concerns raised by the Nigerian Air Force command in Borno State, and I have to admit that President Jonathan took immediate measures on that.
As a state government, we have done and will continue to do everything humanly possible in support of the fight against Boko Haram. We have given very serious financial, moral and political support to the counter-insurgency. All security agencies and the federal government (including the previous Jonathan administration) have strongly acknowledged the role of the Civilian JTF in the successes recorded by the military. From 2013 to date, Borno State Government has been solely responsible for funding the Civilian JTF in terms of their training, their allowances, deployment, operational vehicles and their kits. We will continue to support the Civilian JTF, our military, the police and all other security agencies. We have secretly been engaging hunters in some areas without making noise. We believe security of lives is what makes government legitimate.
Your royal highnesses, invited participants, everyone here has been playing one or more roles in the fight against Boko Haram. This fight is a collective one that affects all of us. We all have stakes in the peace and stability of Borno and this is why we chose to hold an extraordinary security meeting with carefully chosen participants. There are many important stakeholders that were not invited and it is not because they do not matter but because we wanted to minimize our number. We deliberately did not invite persons on individual basis in order to prevent perceptions or feelings of alienation. Even as this gathering is constituted, it is too large from a security point of view. Nevertheless, we are at a point in which we needed to convene a meeting of this nature so as to form a broader and more inclusive platform to listen to each other, to hopefully generate some new ideas. To chart a new course and to also rebuild public confidence. Leadership requires building and nurturing the hopes of citizens. Times like ours require all of us raising the hopes of citizens, but these hopes should not be blind ones. They should be based on the measures we take.
Their Royal highnesses are permanent leaders and custodians of our communities. We politicians come and go, royal fathers do not have tenure of office. Our elders here are the conscience of our communities. They stood for Borno when it was impossible to move freely in our state capital. Our national and state assembly members are representatives of our people. I do not think it is wise to see security as purely an executive thing. I believe in productive and strategic cooperation. We all need ourselves to move faster. The legislature is sometimes the most authoritative in relating with organs of the Federal Government. All the groups we invited have roles to play. We need the buy-in and ideas of the NLC, whose members have been victims in different places attacked. We need the NBA whose lawyers deal with issues of public rights including being defendants of suspects under prosecution and who should guide us. We need our retired military elders in the Nigerian Legion whose experiences of yesterday can be benefit to this gathering. We invited journalists. We need the NUJ leadership to as stake-holders, help us manage information in ways that will help the state and not destabilize it. I have in the course of work realized that the best way to relate with journalists is to sometimes take them into confidence. We invited unions of transport and road workers whose hundreds of members move around the state and have come across different security situations. They see so much on the roads. We invited representatives of our tertiary institutions, religious leaders and management of markets for us to think ahead of insurgents. Knowing the Boko Haram, they may send our minds to the north while planning to head the south. We need to strengthen security measures in schools, mosques and churches, markets and all public places across Borno State. We should not be taken unawares. We invited the council on women societies because women and our children constitute the largest number of traumatized and displaced victims of the Boko Haram insurgency. They bear the brunt.
Your royal highnesses, elders, national and state assembly members, heads of security establishments, members of the state executive council, chairmen, representatives of various groups, I will like to appeal to all of us that our meeting should not be driven by emotions. We should speak with logic. We should see all of here as stakeholders with genuine interest in the peace and security of Borno. We should speak with mutual respect and with trust in the sincerity of each other. Our focus should largely be about finding solutions. We all know the situation of things. Let us as a family with equal stakes, suggest solutions that will insha’Allah, contribute to addressing our problems.
I wish us a meaningful meeting and not a tea party. I will at this point thank and request our friends in the media to allow us hold a closed door meeting. I will like to say also that we are not issuing a communique. Whatever we resolve will be transmitted to the President, Commander In Chief in writing and not for public consumption.
Shettima, Governor of Borno State gave the opening remarks at an Emergency Extraordinary Security Meeting with Diverse Groups which lasted till midnight of Monday in Maiduguri.