“Oga, nothing has changed”.
Those were the exact chilling words of Ahmed Salkida. I had expected him to come with some cheerful news. Sadly, he came with this cheerless news in that forlorn, dusty and decrepit motor mechanic’s park in the heart of Abuja sometime in 2015.
The ace reporter had come out of hiding from a foreign country to hold a meeting with Nigeria’s top security men. He had all along been hesitant for the meeting. I urged him on stressing the point that the group that had taken over government in Nigeria earlier that year was a more responsible one than the one that was booted out.
For six years (2009 -2015) Nigeria was at the brink of catastrophe. Insurgency was nothing new to Nigeria at that time. We experienced the first Tiv riots in 1960, just before independence, the second Tiv riots in 1964, the Western Nigerian riots (operation wetie), the first coup and the return match, the civil war and all.
Then, the Maitatsine uprisings. As a reporter, I was in Kano 1980, Maiduguri (Bulumkutu) 1982 and Yola 1984. As bloody and messy as the uprisings were in these three theatres of war when I went there, they were still a child’s play compared to what Boko Haram unleashed on Nigeria from 2009.
The human and material waste in the North East, beginning from Maiduguri, spanning out to Borno and Yobe states and gradually engulfing the expansive landmass of the whole of the region – Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba. The inferno went far beyond these borders; Plateau was on the front line, the endless bombings in Jos and Kaduna; the carnage resulting from
days of bombings and street fights in Kano; the bombings of strategic places in Abuja – the national police command headquarters, the United Nations office in Abuja, Sanni Abacha barracks, the Banex Plaza, Nyanya Bus terminal and many others.
Ahmed Salkida emerged from the blood and fire as an unusual personality. He established a network of contacts right into the vortex of Boko Haram hierarchy. What do journalists do? They report news. How do they get the news? They get it from sources/contacts. Teachers of journalism always emphasize the need for balance in a good story; the good reporter has to get the two sides of the coin to be able to turn in a good copy to his editor. But by establishing contact with Boko Haram to get the two sides, Salkida attracted society’s wrath.
The story of his adventures, finally leading to his flight – what I usually call Salkida’s hijra – is something else. It has been told before; it is still worth retelling some other day.
Back to 2015 when Buhari took over power as President from Goodluck Jonathan. Some of us heaved a sigh of relief. Here was a war tested general; some of us never saw him at the war front during the civil war but I had a rare privilege when in 1983 I was the lone Nigerian news reporter on the trail of his all-conquering military band that invaded Chad, almost conquering Ndjamena to the amazement, some say charging, of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, President, commander in chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. He and his men fought bravely and rubbed Hussein Habres and his men’s nose.
Given this background, I was sure he was going to do the same with Boko Haram. The President gave a good account of himself in the first few months in office as commander-in chief. His new field commanders gave the insurgents a bloody nose. For the first time, Boko Haram was not only on the defensive but in retreat. He reached out to and collaborated with the neighboring countries that had provided succor to the insurgents, freed a substantial number of the school girls that were held captive and after seven months in office, he told the BBC proudly on December 24 2015 that Boko Haram was “technically defeated.”
My meeting with Salkida in the bush motor mechanic park was held before the heroic presidential declaration that Boko Haram is “technically defeated.” Before the meeting, I was under the illusion that our man was winning, the way he won before my eyes against Habre in 1983. After the meeting, I became more circumspect. Now I know better. It is glaring. Even the blind can see insecurity everywhere in Nigeria. These are not the best of times.
There have been grumblings against the security chiefs for the wrong reasons in my view – based as they are on their ethnic and even religious origins. Whatever are the motives of those complaining, the fact still remains that the capacity of the security chiefs to keep us safe either from Boko Haram, kidnappers, herdsmen and other marauders has been called to question. Something ought to be done.
In desperation, Nigerians have resorted or are resorting to self-help. The emergence of such extra official security forces such as civilian Joint Task Forces and vigilante groups are all signs that the official security outfits have run out of gear and steam. The emergence of Amotekun has taken off the cover over the can of worms. The National Assembly has passed a vote of no confidence on our national security system.
The war commanders may have their problems. We must however pay adequate attention to the office of the National Security Adviser. This is the engine room that should provide the intellectual stretch for adequate strategic thinking that is so much lacking today.
Last Thursday, Mr. Olatunji Omirin a reporter of the Daily Trust was arrested in Maiduguri, handcuffed and detained by military men who were not happy with his reports. The National Security Adviser should know that the job at hand for him and his men is not a job for hunters; it is not also limited to using brute force and intimidating the civil populace.