The Oasis Reporters
December 26, 2019
To those who knew Southern Borno before the Boko Haram insurgency, they’d quickly say that it was the worst place on earth to be in.
The people have only bush tracks for roads. Hardly would you find any modern amenity and they were simply hated and neglected by the largely Muslim communities in Borno north and central who rule or govern the state, either as government officials or traditional monarchs.
Reason: Southern Borno is peopled by mainly indigenous people who are largely Christian. Appointments hardly ever come their way and their lives were brutish and sad.
With the Boko Haram insurgency, they quickly became target practice for the cadres of the islamists.
Prof Moses Ochonu wrote thus and I quote:
“The indigenous Christian population of the Borno-Yobe axis is probably the most endangered religious community in the world. It has been decimated by ten years of unrelenting Boko Haram attacks, killings, destruction of churches, abductions, and enslavement.
While ISWAP and the Shekau faction of Boko Haram bicker about whether it is lawful to attack, kill, and destroy the homes of Muslims, the two terrorist rivals are united by their commitment to the eradication of Christianity and Christians from the Borno-Yobe area. This consensus has authorized an ongoing campaign of ethno-religious cleansing, which has seen the Christians of Southern Borno face extinction.
Only yesterday, a predominantly Christian village near Chibok was attacked. Daily Trust reports that five people were killed and many girls and women were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists, who overwhelmed the military and vigilante groups. The marauders even made away with the chicken and prepared foods the villagers intended to use to celebrate Christmas.
The protection of villages and communities is the remit of the military, so the governor cannot be blamed for the attack”.
To put this in proper context, remember the famous ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ global movement that even had Michelle Obama, Yusufzai and other global icons enrolled ?
It was about the kidnapped schoolgirls from a boarding school in Chibok. The girls were Christians. And the abductors?
Islamist Boko Haram fighters. Almost 6 years after, many of the girls are still in captivity, dead, forced into into sex slavery or used as suicide bombers.
And there was another abduction in Dapchi Science Secondary School by another sect of the Boko Haram insurgents. This time, the girls were Muslims. Except one.
The insurgents quickly brought the girls back home to Dapchi. Except one.
Leah Sharibu. A Christian.
Because she won’t compromise by switching religion, she remains in captivity and her fate is uncertain.
That is the condition of the Christians in Southern Borno.
Back to the overarching original point of Moses Ochonu, he says that “a big part of governance is about optics, gestures, and symbolism. Governance in the Nigerian context is largely about empathy, compassion, and paternal/maternal care. Symbolic acts demonstrating these virtues are sometimes what folks in distress need and they appreciate them more than the empty promises of development”.
Then “Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State decided to spend Christmas in Southern Borno State. While there, he approved several infrastructure projects, reassured the people of his government’s commitment to their protection, and wished them a blissful Christmas celebration.
This is a powerful symbolic gesture on his part.
For those who do not know, Southern Borno is home to many indigenous Christians of various ethnicities”, and Governor Zulum is not a Christian !
Moses Ochonu went on: “Governor Zulum did not need or have to spend Christmas with the Christian communities of Southern Borno. He could have stayed back in Maiduguri and issued the familiar, stale Christmas goodwill message to the Christians of the state. He made the conscious decision to do so out of a sense of empathy and compassion.
It shows a level of natural political empathy that Zulum is embracing and identifying with a minority at a time when some governors consider minorities in their states to be politically dispensable, enemies to be destroyed, and a nuisance to be excised from the body politic.
Governor Zulum wanted to make a statement that he was a governor to the Christians too, that he was aware of their plight, that he identified with them, and that he wanted them to remain in their communities and celebrate their religious festival. He wanted them, the most alienated and endangered community in Borno, to feel included in state, and to have a sense of belonging.
It is easy as a political leader to pander to or empathize with the majority, whose political goodwill you need to thrive politically. The harder part is cuddling and catering to a peculiarly marginalized and threatened minority who are incapable of altering your political destiny.
With a simple gesture, Governor Zulum struck a blow against religious cleansing, hate, and exclusion. He struck a blow for inclusion, tolerance, and pluralism. And he made a powerful statement about how to do the symbolic work of governance.
Merry Christmas to the beleaguered Christian communities of the Borno-Yobe axis. Kudos to Governor Zulum for his powerful gesture”, and Prof Moses Ochonu signed off his write up.
Today, America is becoming more inclusive, ever since the civil rights movement that was energized by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He died for it, and President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law to grant civil rights to the African American community. And a Republican president, Ronald Reagan immortalized Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by declaring his birthday, a national holiday.
Will Borno State get to that level with the entitlement syndrome inherent in the psyche of its majority Muslim population that the Christian minorities are fodder for their evil fantasies, especially the Boko Haram insurgents ?
Only time will tell. For now, Governor Zulum has taken the first step. Like former Governor Ahmed Makarfi took as governor of Kaduna State, a State with religious fault lines like Borno. But the gains have today been reversed by it’s current governor who now has a Muslim deputy from the largely Christian Southern Kaduna.
( Professor Moses Ochonu’s write up has largely contributed to this post.)