Throughout last week, former Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff issued series of statements with some of them containing threats. His reaction was based on my remarks at the NBA conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. I was a discussant over a paper delivered by Professor Mohammed Tabiu of Bayero University, Kano, titled, “Strengthening The Justice Sector: Implications And Challenges of National Security And Economic Growth”. During his delivery, Professor Rabiu pointed out some of the causes of the Boko Haram in Borno and other parts of the Northeast. It was during my contributions as a discussant that I spoke about some of the main causes of the Boko Haram violence with particular reference to how the violence was caused by the impunity of Ali Modu Sheriff while he was Governor of Borno State from 2003 to 2011.
Of all the things Sheriff said last week, the only aspect that captured my attention was his demand for me to publish facts in support of what I said in Port Harcourt.
It is based on Sheriff’s request that I present 40 chronicles of how former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff aided and abetted Boko Haram violence in Borno State which unfortunately, were ether unknown to many or were simply ignored or suppressed:
In 2008, the Borno state government under Governor Ali Modu Sheriff established a special joint police and military anti-robbery squad, called Operation Flush and commander of the operation was reporting directly to Governor Sheriff as against the usual military practice of the commander reporting to the then Commander of the 21 Armoured Brigade in Maiduguri. The operation flush which had assisted in checking the rising cases of armed robbery. However, the Operation got involved in arbitrary arrests of all manner in people including purely civil matters that were not within their terms of reference.
In 2009, the Federal Road Safety Commission introduced a policy on compulsory use of crash helmets by commercial and private motorcycle riders.
On Thursday, June 11, 2009, a detachment of Operation Flush near the Customs market in Maiduguri intercepted a group of members of the Boko Haram sect then known ‘Yan Yusufiyya’ who were on a funeral procession and asked them why they rode on motorcycles without wearing crash helmet.
The sect members saw the challenge as disregard for their mournful situation and began hot argument with the operation flush members.
An armed member of the Operation Flush eventually opened fire on 17 members of the Boko Haram sect with some of them sustaining fatal shots and admitted at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.
The Borno Government under Ali Modu Sheriff completely disregarded that incident. The Government did not issue statement to condemn the shooting; the sympathise with the victims; the Government did not conduct any inquiry on the shooting; the Government neither visited the shot sect members in the hospital nor did it care to pay for the medication of the 17 injured sect members.
Sheriff was told by different public commentators including some officials in his administration that his act of disregard for that bloody incident could be viewed by the sect as an affront yet out of arrogance, Sheriff ignored all wise counsel with his Government acting as if there was no incident at all.
On June 12, 2009, the alleged shooter of the sect members in the operation flush team was said to have been sighted at the same duty post where he opened fire the previous day in what many saw as impunity.
In an interview on Daily Trust a few days later, leader of the sect, Malam Muhammad Yusuf threatened a reprisal attack alleging that the actions of the Borno State Government which neither condemned the shooting, made inquiry nor empathized with the sect was an indication that the shooting was orchestrated with the aim of eliminating his followers .
A day or so after the interview, Yusuf delivered a sermon in Hausa language, titled, “open letter to President Umaru Musa Yar’adua” and directed his followers to go and arm themselves in preparation of self-defense and eventful Jihad in response to the shooting of his 17 followers.
Even while Muhammad Yusuf issued this directive and threat for Jihad, Governor Ali Modu Sheriff still disregarded the possible room to make peace with the sect.
On Tuesday, July 21, 2009, some members of the sect, 9 in number were arrested in possession of 74 empty bomb shells, a large quantity of gun powders, chemicals and other components of making improvised explosive devices. They were arrested in Biu, headquarters of Biu local government area in southern part of Borno State, which is about 180 kilometers away from Maiduguri.
On Friday, July 24, 2009, the 9 arrested sect members were paraded at the police headquarters in Maiduguri with their materials for making Improvised explosive devices on display by the police.
Commander of the group of 9 sect members, Inusa Ibrahim Sabo told journalists on record that they were in possession of the explosive materials in preparation to defend themselves against Ali Modu Sheriff’s operation flush. He said they were directd by Muhammad Yusuf to arm themselves because they presumed the shooting of their brothers was intentional and they were no longer safe.
That very Friday of July 24, 2009, the first explosion in Maiduguri took place. It was a locally made bomb which exploded at night in the residence of one Hassan Sani Badami from Biu, a follower of the sect trained in making explosive devices. The bomb exploded whileit as being prepared by Badami. Another follower of the sect working with Badami sustained severe injuries while Badami’s wife and child were taking to the headquarters of Operation Flush on Dikwa road.
The following day, Muhammad Yusuf in reaction, described Badami’s death as ticket for him into paradise.
On Sunday, July 26, 2009, Daily Trust published an interview granted by Muhammad Yusuf in which Yusuf reviewed the whole situation including what happened and threatened that there was going to be revenge but refused to disclose details of the operation.
Unknown to residents, Yusuf and his fighters had planned their attack for the night of that same Sunday, July 26, 2009. All GSM lines were disabled by the sect as no network had service throughout the night. The aim was to make the simultaneous strike successful. At about 10 pm or so, members of the sect grouped in batches and, simultaneously, struck different police stations and residences of police officers and killed policemen. They were repelled at the police headquarters in Maiduguri after three hours of fire exchange which was said to have begun at 12:30 am.
A counter- insurgency operation was launched by the federal government and soldiers were deployed to Maiduguri, targeting Yusuf’s enclave which is the sect’s headquarters. After about four days of fight, the sect was subdued.
After the sect was dislodged, Sheriff invited traditional ward heads and ordered them to point at houses belonging to fleeing sect members with most of the houses brought down.
In June, 2010, Malam Abubakar Shekau appeared in a circulated video, (the first from the sect), declaring himself the new leader of the sect and threatening to turn Borno and Nigeria into “Somalia” in revenge of what he called “injustice against the sect” and saying he will violently institute Sharia legal system in Nigeria.
From 2010, the sect members, riding on motorcycles began to assassinate policemen at check points and duty posts. Then, they started killing soldiers, Government workers, politicians and later theybegan to attack communities.
All as they say, is now a history of violence resulting from the impunity of Ali Modu Sheriff.
It is important to say here, that Ali Modu Sheriff might in his usual convenience, want to create a diversion by likely going to say that Boko Haram attacks preceded his administration but this is not true and here are the facts.
Prior to the 2003 Governorship elections, Ali Modu Sheriff as the candidate of the then ANPP was in a comparatively weak position because he was contesting against a sitting Governor Mala Kachalla who was seeking reelection under the Alliance for Democracy.
It was public knowledge that following the introduction of Sharia legal system by Zamfara State, there was general agitation by Muslims across the Northern States that Sharia legal be introduced in their respective States.
Ahead of the 2003 elections, agitation for Sharia continued to the extent that some Governorship candidates openly promised to introduce Sharia if elected while some Governors in power introduced Sharia to avoide loosing reelection.
In Borno State, then Governor Mala Kachalla didn’t introduce Sharia but he had set up a council of religious leaders for advice.
Muhammad Yusuf who wasn’t violent then was known to be a major proponent of Sharia.
It wasn’t clear whether Ali Modu Sheriff as Governorship candidate desperate to defeat a sitting Governor might have approached Muhammad Yusuf for support of his followers in exchange for introduction of Sharia law after winning the Governorship.
Shortly after winning the 2003 elections, Ali Modu Sheriff created the Ministry of Religious Affairs under a pioneer Commissioner, Buji Foi who was later found to be one of the financiers of the sect under Yusuf. However, Sheriff didn’t introduce Sharia.
In an exclusive interview titled “Betrayal drove Boko Haram to arms –Aisha Wakili” published by The Sun Newspapers on 22nd August 2016, Barrister Aisha Wakil, known to have had a close relationship with the late Muhammad Yusuf was quoted to have said, that before the 2009 crisis that led to the current violence of the Boko Haram, the late Yusuf had told her that he was betrayed by Borno State Government led by Ali Modu Sheriff. “He (Yusuf) said they would fight the government. I said it was not going to happen. I asked him if I could come in and he agreed. He said the government had betrayed the group, but he refused to tell me what the betrayal was all about. He said that they would call me and some elders and I would know how they were betrayed” said Aisha Wakil in that recent interview.
Whereas Sheriff has always claimed that the violence of Boko Haram preceded his administration, what is a fact is that in October, 2003, part of the Boko Haram members, then known as Taliban, broke away from Muhammad Yusuf claiming that they could no longer live in a place that wasn’t being governed by Sharia law and this was some months after Sheriff took oath of office on May 29, 2003.
The breakaway faction called themselves ‘Taliban’ led by someone nicknamed Mullah Umar. They set up a base outside Kanamma, a village in Yobe state, located on the border between Nigeria and Niger Republic. They nicknamed their new base ‘Afghanistan’. They declared the new base a sovereign State under Sharia law.
In January 2004, the sect members had problems with the police in Kannama (the new sovereign State under the breakaway). The sect members launched their first ever attack on the police in Kananma and another in Damaturu, carting away police arms and ammunitions.
The federal government under President Olusegun Obasanjo responded by sending military troops to confront them. After two days of fierce battle, dozens of them were said to have been killed and 50 were arrested, while the rest fled and went underground. Some soldiers might have been killed also, but the military did not disclose the number of casualties.
In September, 2004 another group of the sect, attacked the divisional police headquarters in Bama local government area of Borno state, killed some policemen including an assistant commissioner, and destroyed the station. The group also laid similar ambush on the divisional police headquarters in Gwoza local government, destroyed some properties and, carted away arms. The sect members moved to the Mandara hills in Gwoza local government. The federal government responded by deploying soldiers.
After two days of battle on the hills, 28 members of the group were killed while others fled. Later, security men in Cameroon arrested five members of the sect and handed over to the Nigerian government.
For 3 years, the sect went underground until, in May 2007, they re-appeared in Kano state shortly after the April elections, and attacked the Sharada office of the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC), killing two officers on night duty. Within the same week, they were said to have attacked Panshekara police station, killing 11 policemen, including a DPO, and carted away arms.
In 2009, they reappeared in Maiduguri where they first left in 2003.
In an interview on Sunday Politics on Channels TV, Ali Modu Sheriff said about two weeks ago, that he had seen Muhammad Yusuf at the Giwa military Barracks in Maiduguri after he was arrested during 2009 crisis. The important question is why was Yusuf moved from the military custody to the police headquarters if not for him to be killed especially given the fact that Buji Foi was taken to the same police headquarters and killed? What did Sheriff as Chief security officer do to secure Muhammad Yusuf? Why was Muhammad Yusuf not allowed to make open confessions which could have included his claim of being betrayed?
On 5th of July, 2011, former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff tendered an apology to the Boko Haram sect “for whatever he might have done wrong to them”. Why did he apologize if he knew he did nothing wrong to the sect?
From the 40 chronicles here presented, what I find undoubted is that former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff’s likely desperation for power in 2003 and his arrogance is what led us to the violence of the Boko Haram insurgents that has led to the deaths of over 20,000 persons, displacement of over 2.5 million citizens and destruction of property worth 3 trillion naira.
Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan
Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Borno State.