A serving local government chairman in Borno State, Shettima Mafa, was last week arrested and detained by the military for allegedly keeping a suspected Boko Haram militant in his Maiduguri home.
News of his arrest, which began as a rumours, suddenly generated an uproar in the state when it began to trend in the social media.
The Borno State government confirmed the incident on Sunday, describing it as a “worrisome twist” in the war against Boko Haram insurgency.
At the weekend, the news got to the media that a council chairman, whose local government was one of the strongholds of Boko Haram, was picked by the military for allegedly keeping a suspected insurgent in his house.
He was said to have been picked from his home to the military barracks. He has not been released since then.
The authorities at the 7 Division Nigeria Army, Maiduguri and those in the Theater Command of Operation Lafiya Dole, have not issued any statement to this effect.
Apparently embarrassed by the trending news about one of its most “trusted” council chairmen, the Borno government released a statement on the matter.
The statement, released by the Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, said the government doubted the complicity of the council chairman in the activities of Boko Haram.
The commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs, Usman Zanna, said the arrested council chairman had been in the forefront of assisting security operatives in the fight against Boko Haram. As such, he should not be the one being linked with the insurgents.
The Commissioner said he had to speak because his ministry supervises the chairmen of the 27 local government areas in Borno State.
Mr. Zanna said, his Ministry “neither questions the judgment and authority of the military nor exonerates the chairman of any wrongdoing in order not to preempt the outcome of ongoing investigation”.
“If not because of media reports on this matter, the Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs which oversees the affairs of the 27 local government areas in Borno State, would have preferred not to make public comment over a matter that is still being investigated by our competent and patriotic military establishment involved in the fight against Boko Haram.
“It has become necessary that this statement is issued in order to put some records straight. First of all, contrary to media reports, the caretaker chairman in question was not arrested. He actually reported himself to the military command in Maiduguri after he got information that he was needed by the military.
“Secondly, contrary to reports by the media that he was arrested at the 1,000 housing estate along Maiduguri-Damaturu road, there was never any issue at all at 1,000 estate. The Chairman lives at 505 housing estate, which is located on an entirely different route, along Dikwa and Mafa which is the way to the Chairman’s office in Mafa.
“The Chairman actually reported himself to the military last week and was detained pending the outcome of ongoing investigations being conducted by the military.
“While we do not intend to question the intelligence gathering, judgment and authority of the military, to us at the Ministry for Local Government and Emirate Affairs, the whole development is a worrisome twist.
“It is a twist because, for years, the caretaker chairman has been known for his courage in joining hunters to go into front lines to battle Boko Haram fighters. His commitment in the fight against insurgents is known to different Army Commanders that served in Mafa local government area in the last two years. The likes of Major Manga can bear testimony to this. It is mainly due to his passion for the fight against insurgency that he has been successively reappointed as caretaker Chairman of Mafa for renewable term of six months as provided by laws of Borno State.
“The Chairman is also known to champion the course of citizens fleeing from communities after attacks by insurgents. From information available to the military, the Chairman recently got involved in assisting some citizens trapped in a village within his local government area and he is believed to have Internally Displaced Persons living in his residence at 505 estate like most adults in Maiduguri, Jere and parts of Konduga do have fleeing relatives and friends living with them.
“There is an information that a certain suspected member of the Boko Haram might have joined some of the citizens he helped last week but whether he knew the identity of the suspect and deliberately hid him and for whatever purpose is what we look forward to being determined by the military.
“This investigation is particularly important to us because it affects the safety and integrity of the Ministry. As we acknowledge, it would amount to sitting on a keg of gun powder if anyone dealing with the Ministry, involves in harbouring any criminal, especially insurgents that have killed our parents, wives, sons and daughters in addition to sending our families out of their communities to now live with us in pains.
“We assure citizens of the 27 local government areas; other concerned Nigerians and the International community that we are usually very thorough in identifying those appointed either as local government chairmen, ward councillors, traditional rulers, vigilantes and members of the Civilian JTF deployed to the 27 local government areas of Borno State. As can be confirmed by security agencies, we do not engage any youth as vigilante or in the Civilian JTF unless he or she is verified by the Department of State Security in addition to fingerprints and photographs of everyone captured into a database.
“We anxiously look forward to the outcome of the investigation while we shall abide by publicly known position of Governor Kashim Shettima that anyone found having any connection with insurgents is an enemy of Borno State and it’s people,” Mr. Zanna, said.