The Governor of Borno State, Prof Babagana Zulum, has revealed that there are foreign interests sponsoring the Boko Haram terrorist group to recruit children as fighters.
He therefore called on Nigerians not to see the insurgency in the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa as a northern problem but a challenge that affects everyone.
Citing Libya and Iraq as examples of how sectional insecurity could engulf a country, he said there was a need for cooperation by all Nigerians to defeat the insurgents.
The governor spoke in Lagos on Friday at the 17th Chief Gani Fawehinmi annual lecture, themed ‘The constitutional history of Nigeria’s dysfunction: Any pathway to indivisibility and common progress?’ which was organised by the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch, to celebrate the life and times of Fawehinmi, who died on September 5, 2009.
Zulum stated further that Borno State shares a border with Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic and that as a result of Nigeria’s porous borders, people were importing arms into the country, which is also fuelling the insurgency. “Our borders are so porous and proliferation of arms is existing there,” he added.
He said, “I’m from Borno State, and many of our children are into Boko Haram. I’m not denying the fact. But again, they are being sponsored by many people across the world. Among Boko Haram, we have white men, Asians, Africans, Muslims and Christians.”
For years, there had been reports of children being used as suicide bombers by the insurgents. In 2019, for example, the United Nations Children’s Fund revealed that the insurgents used children to carry out an attack on Konduga town in Borno State on June 18, 2019. It said the suicide bombers killed no fewer than 30 persons in the triple attack.
Meanwhile, Zulum lamented that the problem of insurgency, banditry and kidnapping across the country were as a result of high unemployment rate, poverty, poor social infrastructure, high social inequality and drug abuse, among others.
He pointed out that to address these challenges and take children off the street, it was expedient to improve on the educational system and provide job opportunities for young people, noting that the mismatch between the educational system and the labour market, which makes “some graduates unemployable”, must be addressed.
He added, “Throughout northern Nigeria, particularly Borno State, a committee is working on how to reform the Almajiri system of education. We want to streamline the non-formal and formal education sectors to avail those children basic literacy and numeracy skills so they can stand on their own. And we are not in support of street begging.
“We must stop seeing this insurgency as a problem of the north. The distance between Borno State and Lagos State is about 1,700km, but mind you if Borno State is not peaceful, other parts of the nation will never be peaceful. We have to unite and fight these insurgents. We have seen what happened in Libya, Iraq and other countries. Peace building and social cohesion are very important in strengthening the resilience of our communities.”
He also stressed the need to shun nepotism, tribalism and the idea of using religion to cause division. He said he replaced his former Head of Service, who was a fellow Muslim, with a Christian, because he prioritised competence above loyalty. He said that was the first time a Christian would occupy the position in the state.
He added, “Unless we get rid of nepotism, tribalism and exploitation of religion, we will not get it right in this country. The constitution is very clear on the need for peaceful coexistence among all of us, which is why the principle of federal character is enshrined in the constitution, but it has been abused.”