By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Hon. Mohammed Monguno represents Jere Federal Constituency of Borno State in the House of Representatives. The Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, in this interview, speaks on the raging insurgency in his home state and the killing of scores of soldiers by the Islamist group, Boko Haram.•Monguno
As a native of Borno State, how do you describe the place that has been under siege by Boko Haram for many years now?
Borno State and Maiduguri, the state capital, in particular, because of the prevailing peace before the advent of Boko Haram insurgency, had been christened ‘the Home of Peace’. But the coming of Boko Haram changed all that; with suicide attacks, attacks on villages, killing and maiming of people, and residents relocating to IDP camps and some to neighbouring countries to become refugees with the attendant and concomitant effects of losing their source of livelihood becoming the order of the day. As a result of the insurgency, the economy of the state is comatose because you cannot engage in meaningful economic activities amid insecurity.
The infrastructure of the state, schools, hospitals, police stations and the rest have been destroyed; so the effect on the economy and on the psychology of the people of the state is tremendous and it is not something one can describe because a lot of women have been widowed and a lot of children have been orphaned. So, we are witnessing a very difficult period in our history as a state and we continue to pray to God for intervention so that the situation will be ameliorated. But with the advent of this administration in 2015, there has been tremendous improvement in the efforts to rid the state of insurgency. Before 2015, about two thirds of the local governments in Borno were under the firm grip of Boko Haram; even my house in Borno was one of their operational headquarters, effectively occupied by one of the leaders.
You mean Shekau?
Yes, Shekau! When he was in Borno, he stayed in my house.
You hosted him?
I never saw or met him personally.
I don’t know the kind of person he is. But he and his fellow terrorists occupied my house when they took over Monguno before they were flushed out by the military after Monguno was liberated.
Do you think he has been killed because the Nigerian Army told us he has?
Well, there are various versions of the story. At a time, they said he had been killed and then he came on YouTube and other social media channels to speak; so we cannot actually determine the truth or otherwise of whether he has been killed or not. It is only the security people that can tell us the truth of the situation. But like I said earlier, before the advent of this administration, about two-thirds of the local governments in Borno were under effective occupation of Boko Haram but we thank God now that all the local governments have been liberated. The insurgents do not lay claim to a single territory that they can effectively administer anymore.
Insurgency throughout the world is something that we don’t eradicate in one or two days, it takes time to eradicate especially against the backdrop that Boko Haram in Borno now has affiliation to the Islamic State which supplies their logistics, finance and what have you from Syria and Iraq because of the porous nature of our borders. If you go to Libya now, arms and ammunitions are sold on the streets the way you sell any other article and the only country between us and Libya is Niger Republic and because of the vastness of Niger Republic, the government there finds it very difficult to administer the country.
So, terrorists have the freedom to import all these weapons from Libya through Sahara Desert into Nigeria. Also the fact that Chad, because of internal security challenges, they withdrew their forces from the multinational joint taskforce charged with the responsibility of policing the borders between Nigeria and Chad and that has now created a safe haven for Boko Haram insurgents within the fringes of the Lake Chad. They attack Nigerian forces from time to time, leading to heavy casualties like the one that was witnessed in Metele.
Nigeria was said to have lost over 100 soldiers in the Metele attack even when government says Boko Haram has been decimated. Does that worry you?
Yes, we have decimated Boko Haram in the sense that they no longer control local governments. They have been flushed out and these local governments have been liberated, a large number of IDPs have even gone back home. I can now go to Monguno from Maiduguri but before, even in the wildest of my dreams, I could not think of going to Monguno from Maiduguri. But Metele, just like my local government, shares borders with the Lake Chad where there is a safe haven for these terrorists which they use to launch attacks on our security forces.
What do you think these people really want because, in 2009, when Yusuf, their leader at that time, was killed, we heard that they wanted to establish an Islamic state within Nigeria?
They are still out to conquer some parts of Nigeria and then use it as a ground to further make incursions into Nigeria and then establish an Islamic state; that is their agenda.
There were calls by your colleagues to relieve the Service Chiefs of their duties over poor performance. Do you agree?
I don’t buy that idea. If l was on the floor of the House when that call came in, I would have opposed that aspect of the prayer because the Service Chiefs have done very well to deserve a pat on the back on the war against insurgency. Those of us from that part of the country know where we were before now and we know there is tremendous improvement. Definitely, we have not seen the end of the problem but that notwithstanding, there is tremendous improvement in the sense that those local governments captured have been liberated. If you can recall, before 2015, these people were coming to as far as Abuja to carry out attacks but now they don’t have the capacity to do so. There was a time they were even arrested in Lagos and Kano had become their second home; all these things have become history. Maiduguri was under siege but, now, if you go Maiduguri, you don’t see checkpoints that were everywhere. Some places in Maiduguri were under lock down but the insurgents have been chased out and they are now operating within the fringes of the Lake Chad.
Do you think the monies appropriated for the fight against Boko Haram are well utilized?
I am not a member of the Committee on Army and neither am l a member of the Committee on Defence. Therefore, I don’t go on oversight to know whether the monies appropriated for the Nigerian Army are utilized properly or not.
If you are asked to proffer a solution to this problem, what would you say?
I will emphasize on the need for the Lake Chad Basin Commission member-countries to work closely, hand-in-hand to defeat Boko Haram. There is also the need for international support; just like the US, EU, Russia came together to decimate ISIS in Iraq and Syria. There is the need also to increase funding for security.
You were there with the President during his recent trip to Maiduguri; do you think our soldiers, with the latest massive killings, are still in high spirit to fight Boko Haram?
Yes, their morale is still high the way I saw it. I was there when the President addressed the troops and also when he visited injured soldiers in hospital. Their morale is still very high; they are in high spirit to keep the Nigerian flag flying until every inch of our territory is freed from insurgents.
Do you think insurgency could be a threat to next year’s general elections in Borno State?
INEC has already anticipated that problem and has started considering Plan B because, about two months ago, stakeholders were summoned for a meeting by the electoral body to consider whether elections should be conducted in those challenged areas or they should be conducted in IDP camps just the way it was done in 2015. And the stakeholders agreed that because of the security challenge in the five or so local governments in northern Borno, elections should be conducted in IDP camps.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, on the day he launched his book ‘My Transition Hours’, said Boko Haram and the abduction of the Chibok girls were used against him in the 2015 elections; how may you respond to that?
The primary responsibility of any government is the protection of lives and property; so any government that fails or neglects to perform that primary duty of guaranteeing peace and security should be held accountable. As I told you earlier on, about two-thirds of the local governments in Borno and some local governments in Adamawa and Yobe were effectively under the control of Boko Haram and that means the territorial integrity of Nigeria was compromised. So for any government to allow a situation to degenerate into such a level, it should be held to account and must answer for it.
The present government promised to eradicate insurgency but your colleagues in the House expressed disappointment that the government has not delivered.
Insurgency anywhere in the world is not something you can eradicate within two, three or four years. Look at what is happening in Afghanistan; it has been there for long. Look at what is happening in Pakistan; it has been there even before the advent of Boko Haram. As somebody from the place (North-East), I am not playing to the gallery because this is something that involves the security and lives of the people I am representing. I am not going to politicize it because even God will hold me to account. I am telling you there is tremendous improvement. And Mr President and the APC did not promise that they were going to eradicate, they said they were going to bring security and there is tremendous improvement.
Have you at any point in time encountered these insurgents?
Yes, they once kidnapped my mother but I was able to get her back from them.
How did that play out?
It was in Maiduguri before they were chased out; all of us that were politicians, businessmen and what have you, they go round asking you to give them money. One day after I came back home from an outing, my security guard gave me an envelope that somebody dropped. When I opened the envelope, I saw two bullets and a letter written with red ink, saying I should call them and that if I refused to call them, it will be at the risk of my life. Immediately I saw that, I alerted security agents. Subsequently when I called them (insurgents), they told me that they knew my house, they knew where my mother was and that if I didn’t give them money, they were going to kidnap my mother. After that, I travelled to Benin on oversight.
During the trip and around 1am on a particular day, I saw a call from my mother’s line and I was wondering why my mother would be calling me at that odd hour. When I picked the call, I heard the voice of a man and immediately I concluded that the people had come to my house. And the man at the other end of the phone told me that they were the ones that had been talking to me all along and that I am a politician and that I was doing something that was against Islam. He said, “So we are right now in your mother’s house and we are going with her, you have to give us money to further the cause of Islam”.
Immediately I dropped the call, I alerted the DPO in my area that “these people are right now in my mother’s house”; so they mobilised and went to my mother’s house. These people are also very clever; they had stationed people around the road to be giving them information. So when they saw the police, they immediately gave information to those in my mother’s house. So they left my mother and ran away. But by the time the police got to my mother’s house, they had already tied her hands and put cloth in her mouth so that she will not shout as they were ready to go with her, but they abandoned her and ran.
The following day, they called to tell me that “what happened yesterday” was just a child’s play, that if I didn’t send money to them, they were going to do more deadly things. I told the police and the State Security Service and they said I should play along, that they will catch them and I played along. We agreed on a date, time and venue and also on an amount to drop. But before that time, the police and the SSS had stationed a team around that place. So I told them that someone was going drop the money at a designated spot behind one bridge.
At the agreed time, someone went and dropped something there; it wasn’t money, we merely concealed something that looked like money and dropped it there. Nobody came to pick it up until about 30 minutes later when someone came to pick it up and he was arrested and he turned out to be a terrorist.
So they were not kidnappers or hoodlums.
They were terrorists looking for money to fund their operations because, at that time, they had not established links with major terror groups from outside the country now funding them.
When was that?
That was in late 2012. At that time, they were just trying to get money to carry out their operations. And as I told you earlier, they would go to politicians and businessmen’s houses, asking for money. And salary of civil servants, especially that of local governments, if it was to be paid in cash and it was being conveyed in vehicles, they will waylay those carrying it and collect it.Related