Negotiating With Boko Haram
AS long as the objectives are to rescue the over 200 Chibok girls who have been in the captivity of Boko Haram for more than a year and to restore peace to the war-ravaged North East of Nigeria, it would be a welcome development for the Federal Government to hold talks with the insurgents. President Muhammadu Buhari’s hint the other day of the prospect of a negotiation with the group is, therefore, a sure step towards peace, which Nigerians should not be afraid to take. The country has been traumatised beyond description by the insurgent group. The wounds are deep and the wailing unceasing. An end must be sought and found to the senseless blood-letting.
While military efforts to defeat the Boko Haram are on course, an effective engagement as proposed by the president may contribute in some ways to preventing the insurgency from lingering any further. The president fully well acknowledged the grim reality of the insecurity in the country and the imperative of engagement with the group when he said that the activities of the insurgents were a great threat to the economic development of the nation. And that until the insurgents were routed and peace attained, much progress would not be recorded in any sector of the nation.
Since the emergence of Boko Haram, the Federal Government has made several efforts to negotiate with the group. In this regard, the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan once set up a presidential committee as part of the quest to understand the grievances of the group and to negotiate with them. The government went further to negotiate with some supposed
Boko Haram leaders who were later discovered to be anything but the true representatives of the group. This fact was brought into focus by the escalation of attacks in the midst of the talks. But this was after the government had invested huge resources in the failed peace deal.
Thus it is commendable that the Buhari government is considering another round of engagement with Boko Haram as part of the options to end its mindless killings. However, it is necessary that the government takes some steps to avoid making such a repeat of the charade, which previous attempts in this regard turned out to be. It is true that Nigerians are eager for the Chibok girls and other people being held by Boko Haram to be freed and for peace to return to the North East. But the government must not allow itself to be stampeded into negotiating with anybody from a position of weakness.
The government must demonstrate its resolve to negotiate from the position of strength by ensuring that the conditions for the talks are acceptable to the citizens and Nigerians would like to know what the terrorists really want. Here the government must recall the fact that Buhari has said that he would only negotiate with credible leaders of the group. In other words, before negotiation can take place, the government must identify credible leaders of the group and not self-appointed leaders whose only driving motive is pecuniary.
The task of identifying the credible leaders of the group would, of course, entail painstaking intelligence gathering. The government must therefore activate its intelligence gathering apparatus and ensure that there is grass-roots engagement before the actual talks. This is very important because Boko Haram has ceased being a single, coherent organisation since it has been largely dislodged by the military from its strongholds. There are apparently now factions in the group, franchisees and phony representatives. And this is why its mode of operation has changed from taking over communities with sophisticated weapons to individual Boko Haram members engaging in suicide bombing. Thus, intelligence gathering and the actual negotiation should be done discreetly without giving it undue publicity.
For the negotiation, the government should choose representatives who would be mutually acceptable to it and Boko Haram. The government needs to be strategic in order to win the confidence of Boko Haram as regards its sincerity. The country can no longer endure being stalked by the activities of the terror group. It should deploy every legitimate means at its disposal to reach an enduring peace deal so it can move on to attend to other pressing issues of governance in the country.