Pushed to the wall by the incessant and seemingly unending attacks by insurgents in his state, Borno State governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, has called on all citizens and friends of the state to observe tomorrow, Monday, February 24, 2020, as a day of prayer and fasting. The governor, during a broadcast to the state last week, said, “Even though this decision is based on the popular demand of our people, some observers may rightly argue that it is a strange call. But then, Borno has been befallen with a strange evil since 2009, and sometimes, strange ailments require strange approaches. As your Governor, I hereby declare Monday the 24th of February 2020 as a day of devotion to pray for the return of peace in Borno. I intend to fast on that day and I appeal to every one of us in Borno, who can, to join in that simple, but pricelessly rewarding spiritual endeavour.”
The case of Borno is pathetic. After what appeared to be a respite from the unwarranted Boko Haram attacks, there has been a resurgence that has left blood, broken limbs and devastated people in its wake. As the leader of the state, the governor is justifiably concerned and worried. As he noted, desperate situations require desperate solutions. The governor’s desperate solution to the situation at hand is his call for prayer and fasting.
But while it is good to pray and fast because of the effect of divine intervention in the lives of humans, prayer and fasting will lose their potency if not backed by the appropriate work. Many of us who pray often overlook one immutable fact; God will not do for man what man can do for himself. God’s input is required in situations that are beyond man’s capacity. But to pray for God to do what He has put within the capacity of man is to waste both God’s time and ours. Instead of calling on the people to fast and pray so that peace may reign in Borno, the governor should have started by asking the question, what put peace to flight in the state? Peace has been on vacation in Borno because injustice reigns in the land. To bring back peace, justice must be restored. Peace will remain elusive anywhere until justice is emplaced there.
Before calling on the people to embark on the spiritual activity of praying and fasting, Governor Zulum ought to tinker with the system that encourages the perpetuation of injustice and forces criminality and violence on the people. If that is not within his power to ensure, then he should appeal to those at the centre to look at how injustice has been foisted on the system and criminality encouraged. Until this is done, though I believe that prayers can move mountain, I don’t see the spiritual exercise to be embarked upon by the people of the state producing their heart cry, which is peace.
One pointer to the fact that the prayers of the Borno people may not get answered is the decision of the Federal Government to pardon ‘repentant’ insurgents and release them and the proposal by the Senate to establish an agency for the rehabilitation, deradicalisation and integration for repentant insurgents. While the government is releasing insurgents who reportedly have repented, Boko Haram insurgents have not relented in killing men and officers of the Nigerian military captured by them. Is that justice? While insurgents are depopulating the military, Nigerian government keeps returning captured insurgents to their fold. Is that what the Nigerian law says? Why is it difficult for the government to live up to the dictate of its own laws? What does the law say about captured insurgents? What is the punishment for insurgency in Nigeria? Has the government ever subjected any arrested insurgent to the full wrath of Nigerian law?
While innocent men and women captured by insurgents are subjected to agony and torture, the Federal Government treats captured insurgents with kid gloves. Is that justice? Is that not a fillip to do more of what they have been doing? While bandits kill mercilessly and foist untold hardship upon their victims, state governments have been negotiating with them to buy peace. Is that justice? Is that fair to the people? Is that the way to run a just society? Is that not an invitation for further attacks?
When governments pay insurgents and bandits, where is the motivation to stop their misdeeds? Is that not an encouragement to do more of what they are doing? What is encouraged increases while what is discouraged decreases. So, by releasing ‘repentant’ insurgents and not allowing them to pay for their crime against the society and paying bandits, the government is technically supporting insurgency and banditry. That is the injustice that fuels criminality. To change this, the government has to change its strategy.
Is it fair for the Senate to even contemplate the establishment of an agency for the rehabilitation of insurgents when internally displaced persons are more or less abandoned? Is that how to build a just system? Are insurgents more important than their victims?
So, while Borno State people may embark on fasting and prayer to see the end of insurgency in their domain, until the government emplaces a system that guarantees justice, it would be difficult to defeat insurgency in the state.
Travelling the wrong path no matter how fast and for how long will take no one to the right destination. Unless the strategy is right the result will continue to be wrong.