Only a few people in the South-East region see it as it is – an evil red in the eyes, fangs and claws.
If you have followed the rise of Boko Haram, you cannot miss the similarities that the killers of policemen and non-indigenes, specifically Hausa and Fulani, in the South-East share with their Boko Haram brothers in Sambisa forest.
The only difference is the faith that either of them claims to profess and practice. But the modus operandi is the same.
Boko Haram started by attacking police posts and stations in Borno, Yobe and Kano. Most people at the time, sided with the insurgents whom they see as giving the police a taste of their medicine.
The group portrayed itself as championing the cause of those that the Nigerian system was oppressing through their own ideology of Islam.
Only a few people voiced out opposition against Boko Haram’s tactics and those became the easy target of annihilation for the group.
How can we forget so easily how the sect avoided carrying out attacks against civilians and even when they did, they came out and stoutly denied them all in their ploy to continue enjoying the sympathy of the populace.
It was not long before one police station after the other, in far-flung localities, closed their doors and seeing policemen in uniform outside their armoured vehicles became a task so huge that can compare with finding water in the desert.
After the police disappeared, the terrorists turned to their erstwhile hailers, the men and women who would always jubilate after one attack or the other on police stations.
The group made it a taboo, in the way it decried western education as prohibited, to be addressed as Boko Haram. How many civilians were traced right to their homes and shot dead in front of family members for merely relating one story about “Boko Haram”.?
Can we even forget how names like ‘Yaran Mlalam’, ‘Unknown gunmen’ and other polite descriptions were quickly crafted by our frightened mouths attempting to save our necks and avoid the group’s wrath?
Whether we called them Boko Haram or not, it actually did not change anything. They went to schools, churches and mosques and killed indiscriminately. They killed the ones who knew them as Boko Haran and the ones who revered them as Yaran Malam. Everybody became a victim, except those who by providence happened to be absent at places where their bombs were detonated and their guns fired.
It was then that it downed on us that the police, now so weakened and cowed, despite their excesses and atrocities, were the ones truly on our side.
It was too late because Boko Haram had crept into neighborhoods and established cells.
Our folly has thrown us into the waiting claws of those you do not mean us well.
There was a joke that had different versions that became popular in Kano at the time. It said that a citizen of Niger Republic went to a police station to report a case. On sighting him from afar, the police officers on duty screamed at him: “Stop there! Where are you going?”
The fellow, who was now shaking with fear, replied: “I came to report a case of theft against a neighbour who stole my bag of dates.” The joke had it that one of the officers gave out a loud hiss, before shouting an order back to the man, “Go and report the case at your police station in Niger Republic. They can handle it there.”
It may be a joke but with a drift so real and so true.
The police stations that stood their ground and refused to disappear because of Boko Haram’s daily onslaught, became battlegrounds within cities, repelling waves after waves of suicide bombers, gun trucks, gunmen, RPGs and IEDs.
Even if the police do not tell you to take your case to Niger Republic, you will not want to be near there so as not to risk being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. On your own, you will choose to go get your issues sort out in Niger.
Anyone who is not holding a weapon on behalf of the state is not one to trust so quickly, regardless of how good and altruistic that person presents his/herself.
In the early stage of an insurgency, the perpetrators, knowing their weakness against the state, try not to raise so many armies and opponents against their cause. At that stage, they almost always appear in the garb of good people with a pro-masses agenda.
No matter how evil a few police officers can be, terrorists are never an option to consider to stand in the gap.
After attacks on police stations, they graduate to attacking army barracks – and now they have become powerful. They will open their books about how you should be ruled and you will find out to your chagrin that you have not a say in how your affairs will be dictated.
The South-East is steadily driving on that path and its elite, intelligentsia and its businessmen are all strangely silent. Nmamdi Kanu has been allowed a free hand to mobilize on social media and on ground and his forces are now razing one police station after another, stealing weapons.
The only other similarity IPOB does not share with Boko Haram is its targeting of people based on their ethnic background – and that is where IPOB’s fuel for starting a conflagration so massive and so frightening has a potent more destructive than Boko Haram’s.
The military and the police will eventually prevail but before that is achieved, the South-East may not be the same again and there is a hint about the road to that success in Kano, Yobe and Borno.
It is not too late. The South-East can stop the rise of this evil. It has been born; it should not be allowed to grow.
Hassan Umar wrote from Kaduna.