Anxiety over FG, Boko Haram Parley
SINCE the eruption of the dreaded Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria which has claimed several lives and property worth millions of Naira, opinions have been divided on whether government should negotiate with the sect members or not.
While some are of the opinion that it is not necessary for the government to negotiate with the faceless group, others believe that if such dialogue will achieve the desired result, there is urgent need for it. Many also suggest that the government should apply the carrot and stick while dealing with the insurgents. Some have also asked: If the government and the military are sure of routing the insurgents out of the country by December, what is the essence negotiating with them?
It would be recalled that after several months of pussyfooting and dilly-dallying, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan on October 2014 announced that it has reached a ceasefire agreement with the sect members to the surprise and skepticism of many Nigerians. The ceasefire announcement was disclosed by then Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, at the end of the two-day Coordinating Conference on Cameroun-Nigeria Trans-Border Military Operations at the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), Headquarters in Abuja. Badeh had said he had also directed all the military Service Chiefs to comply with the new ceasefire agreement, which was said to have been signed in far away Saudi Arabia.
He said: “Without any prejudice to the outcome of our three days interactions and the conclusions of this forum, I wish to inform this audience that a ceasefire agreement has been concluded between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Ahlul Sunna Li Daawa Wal Jihad. I have, accordingly, directed the Service Chiefs to ensure immediate compliance with this development in the field.”
Speaking on why President Goodluck Jonathan approved the ceasefire agreement, the Director General, National Orientation Agency and Coordinator, National Information Centre, Mr. Mike Omeri had said it was in line with President Jonathan’s commitment to end insurgency, ensure security and peace in Nigeria.
“We can confirm to you that there have been contacts between the government and representatives of the Boko Haram. The discussions are essentially in relation to the general insecurity in the North-East and also the need to rescue all captives of the terrorists, including the students of Government Secondary School, Chibok. From the discussions, they, terrorists, indicated their desire for and willingness to discuss and resolve all associated issues,’’ he said.
According to him, the terrorists had also assured that the schoolgirls and all other people in their captivity were all alive and well.
“Already, the terrorists have announced a ceasefire in furtherance of their desire for peace. In this regard, the government of Nigeria has, in similar vein, declared ceasefire,” he stated.
Omeri had assured Nigerians that the greater goal of the process was to ensure the return of normalcy to the country, especially in areas affected by the terrorist activities, hinting that the negotiation was being facilitated by President Idriss Derby of Chad. He stressed that the essence was to end terrorism, free the Chibok girls and all those in captivity as well as stated that “no condition’’ was attached on the release of the girls and others.
According to him, one of the commanders of the sect, Danladi Ahmadu, represented the sect in the talks, while the Principal Private Secretary to the President, Hassan Tukur, represented the government. But despite the assurances, certainty and pontification by government, the terrorists continued to unleash mayhem on innocent Nigerians unabated. It was later discovered that the ceasefire was a scam which government alleged was sabotaged.
IDRISS DERBY’S DENIAL
Even the President of Chad, Idriss Derby whom the Federal Government said arranged the ceasefire talk with the sect, later denied it. In a media interview in March this year, Derby had said he warned Jonathan against holding talks with the sect, saying the whole episode was orchestrated by Boko Haram to buy time and re-group. He said Jonathan dismissed the advice and held talks with the group, a decision he argued was politically motivated. He accused Jonathan of downplaying the Boko Haram threat.
“I told President Goodluck not to open negotiations with terrorists, but it was a political choice,” Derby told French magazine, Le Point, in an interview re-published by AFP news agency. It has become something too serious for Nigerians to ignore. The blood of the dead that we have been counting every day for the past few years, demands attention,” he noted.
The alleged ceasefire in October was an embarrassment and a humiliation of the Nigerian government after it became clear that the purported deal with the insurgents, who are responsible for more than 15,000 deaths in the country, was a hoax. “The whole world is asking why the Nigerian army, which is a big army… is not in a position to stand up to untrained kids armed with Kalashnikovs,” Derby said.
Speaking about the ongoing insurgency war that involves Chad, Niger and Cameroun, Derby said that the Nigerian military had not cooperated with his country in fighting the jihadists.
Before this, former president of the country, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and human right activist now a Senator representing Kaduna Central, Mallam Shehu Sani made an attempt to negotiate with the leaders of the sect, but their efforts were aborted following the killing of some of the sect leaders in controversial circumstances.
With President Muhammadu Buhari’s assumption of office on May 29, this year, Service Chiefs were changed and new approaches were adopted in the fight against the insurgents. Countries that were reluctant to sell ammunition to the Nigerian government all of a sudden became interested and started assisting the country in the fight with sophisticated arms. But it has become obvious since July that Buhari’s government is readily available to negotiate with the insurgents.
Addressing an audience recently at a dinner in Abuja, organised to honour the president’s media team, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina said the government could not afford to negotiate with anybody masquerading as the leader of the group and in the end, collect money from government fraudulently. Adesina, who lamented that the insurgents had attacked so many villages and killed scores of people, said the Federal Government was not ruling out negotiations with the sect if it would put an end to the activities of the group.
In line with Adesina’s position and rumours that have been in the public domain, President Buhari during a recent visit to France, confirmed that the Nigerian government has started negotiations with members of the Boko Haram sect, with the view to securing the release of the over 200 school girls kidnapped in Chibok, Borno State.
Buhari made the statement while responding to questions from members of the Nigerian community in France under the auspices of Nigerians in the Diaspora Organisation (NIDO). He said his administration was worried by the continued stay of the girls in the hands of their captors and was working tirelessly to get them released.
Buhari stated that the unfortunate incident had attracted global attention and sympathy within Nigeria, and that the government could not fold its arms to watch helplessly. “The issue of Chibok girls has occupied our minds and because of the international attention it drew and the sympathy throughout the country and the world, the government is negotiating with some of the Boko Haram leadership,” he said.
Buhari noted that the government had to first establish genuine members of the sect so that it would not make the mistake of engaging the wrong persons. “It is a very sensitive development in the sense that; first, we have to establish; are they genuine leaders of the Boko Haram? That is number one. Number two, what are their terms? The first impression we had was not very encouraging,” he further stated.
The President said one of the conditions given by the group was to release one of its members who had been strategic in developing Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs), a demand that the government would not accept. “They wanted us to release one of their leaders who is a strategic person in developing and making IEDs that is causing a lot of havoc in the country, by blowing up people in Churches, Mosque, market places, motor parks and other places. But it is very important that if we are going to talk to anybody, we have to know how much he is worth.
“Let them bring all the girls and then, we will be prepared to negotiate, I will allow them to come back to Nigeria or to be absolved in the community. We have to be very careful, the concern we have for the Chibok girls, one only imagine if they got a daughter there between 14 and 18 and for more than one and a half years, a lot of the parents who have died would rather see the graves of their daughters than the condition they imagine they are in.
“This has drawn a lot of sympathy throughout the world, that is why this government is getting very hard in negotiating and getting the balance of those who are alive,” he emphasized.
BOKO HARAM’S CONSENT
Besides, the Executive Secretary of the Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC), the group acting as the go-between for government and Boko Haram, Air Commodore Yusuf Anas (rtd), on Wednesday said he got a message from Boko Haram saying “they are tired of fighting and are ready for a quick deal to end the war”. Anas said that although the insurgents were not asking for monetary compensation as a pre-condition for laying down their arms, they are seeking genuine commitment from government in the ongoing negotiations.
He further claimed that some Boko Haram elements had approached the CCC to help facilitate negotiations between them and the Federal Government sometime in August 2015. He applauded the Federal Government’s willingness to dialogue with the genuine leaders of the terrorist group, adding that the CCC believes that the new position has become imperative in view of the fact that military option alone has failed to
resolve the issue.
With these developments, a lot of questions are begging for answers. How sincere and genuine is the ongoing negotiation? What will be the outcome and how will it help to stem the activities of the insurgents? What happens to the insurgents after the negotiation, if they surrender? What will be the fate of the abducted Chibok girls if they are eventually released? This is considering the fact that it was alleged recently that most of them have been married off by the insurgents.
What are the government’s plans to reintegrate and rehabilitate the rescued victims as well as the repentant insurgents? Who is the negotiator? Can the government and security agents vouch for his or her credibility and sincerity? Will the negotiation or dialogue be different from the previous ones that ended in futility? Why did the government go public with the disclosure of such sensitive and security matter? Won’t it be another tactics by the insurgents that have been under pressure in recent times to buy time and reinforce?
There is no doubt that this unfolding drama begets more questions and answers which only time will unravel. It calls for caution and concern on the part of government. This is because Nigerians cannot afford to experience another botched negotiation with the insurgents, especially now that the international communities are willing and prepared to assist Nigeria to end the insurgency.
Speaking on the matter in a Channels Television interview recently in Abuja, Former Minister of Education and Convener of Bring Back Our Girls Campaign, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili said the government should be more focused on the results to prevent a recurrence of previous events. She said that government must follow due diligence and security intelligence to ensure that results will be achieved.
A security source disclosed to The Guardian that the government was mindful of the risk and effects of engaging in a botched deal with the insurgents. The security source said: “The government is aware of what happened in the past regarding the botched negotiation between government and the insurgents. The government is extremely cautious and is not leaving any room for lapses. That is why it is combining the stick and the carrot in the deal.
The government is involving the multi-national forces in the deal to ensure that the desired results are achieved.”
FEARS OF THE PAST
Speaking to The Guardian on the issue, National Chairman of United Peoples Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie said the negotiation was just a mere political statement. “I don’t think anything meaningful will come of out it. It may be government’s plot to show the world that it is not only using stick in the fight, but also carrot. Already there is disagreement between the sect and government. The sect has demanded for the release of their bomb expert, but government said no, release the abducted Chibok girls and get amnesty. With this it is clear that the deal has collapsed even before taking off,” Okorie said.
Similarly, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State cautioned that the Federal Government must be careful in its resolve to negotiate with the dreaded Boko Haram sect. Ganduje, who volunteered his views on the talks recently in Abuja, expressed fears that government might end up not talking with the genuine faction of the sect.
“I hope when we negotiate with them, we are negotiating with the correct people. Experience has shown that they have so many factions and if we are not lucky, we may be dealing with the wrong faction. I believe the security agencies should have intelligence information to know what type of people we are dealing with”, he stated.
Also, a renowned security expert and retired military officer, Captain Aliyu Umar advised the government to negotiate from a position of strength, given that Nigerian troops have upper hand in the region presently, as manifested in the reported surrender of insurgents in their droves recently.
Umar said: “Next, while negotiations are ongoing, military and other relevant operations to reclaim, redeem and secure our nation-space will stay on course… there will be no break, pause or downtime in this regard.
“Intelligence Chieftains should track every aspect of the negotiations, particularly that which the insurgents claim or offer, while cross-checking same with what is known and feasible on ground; this way we will guard against any attempt to subject the exalted position of our Commander-in-Chief to ridicule or time wasting antics, as was sadly the case in the still born ceasefire, purportedly conceived of in Chad, in the last dispensation.
“In fact, the outcome and pace of the negotiations, not less so the commitment levels of the insurgents should directly inform the mood and tempo of security operations therein. Nothing short of this will do.”
Meanwhile as Nigerians await the outcome of the new negotiation moves, they equally look forward to the promised December deadline by the government and military to rout the insurgents out of the country’s territory and restore permanent peace to the country and the North East in particular.