Never negotiate with terrorists!
In less than three months hence, it would be 40 years since that dramatic event occurred in the sunset of Field Marshall Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda. It goes without saying that President Idi Amin’s reign (1971-1979) was replete with dramatic events: from his overthrow of the democratically elected government of Milton Obote, to his unceremonious expulsion of Asians from Uganda; to declaring himself Africa’s first “Field Marshall”; and to his own eventual overthrow in 1979 – to mention a few of such events. But the event that is being alluded to here stands head and shoulders above the others, as it were. The U.S. Movie industry was so captivated by its dramatic qualities that it dedicated a theme to it: Raid On Entebbe.
The Raid On Entebbe retold in motion pictures the hijacking of a Paris-bound French passenger airliner by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the German Revolutionary Cells (RZ) terrorist groups. Air France Flight 139 had departed the Israeli capital, Tel Aviv, on June 28, 1976 en route Paris via Athens with 248 passengers and 12 crew-members on board. Shortly after the brief stopover in Greece, four hijackers took over command of Flight 139 and forcefully diverted it to Benghazi, Libya, where a female passenger who claimed she was pregnant was released. After recharging its tanks, the Airbus A300 jumbo jet flew straight to the Ugandan capital, Entebbe. There, three more members of the PFLP joined the new arrivals; the non-Israeli passengers were subsequently released by the hijackers, while the others and their captors took up improvised lodgings in the old terminal building at the airport. Almost immediately after the hijackers demanded for the release of 53 prisoners, reported to be held in Israel, Kenya, France, Germany and Switzerland; else all the 106 hostages would be put to the knife within 48 hours.
While the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhat Rabin came under increasing domestic pressure to negotiate with the terrorists, he and his cabinet furiously worked behind the scenes. Their lips were hermetically sealed on the burning issue of entering negotiation with the hijackers, though the prime minister had earlier used the pretence of negotiating to extend the 48 hours deadline.
Meanwhile, MOSSAD, the Israeli Intelligence outfit quickly gathered critical information from the released non-Jewish passengers. The Israeli construction company, which incidentally built Entebbe airport, had promptly made the blueprint available to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). In no time the IDF put together a daring-do rescue plan for the prime minister’s approval.
Four Lockheed C130 Hercules aircraft; two Boeing 707 aircraft; 100 soldiers; and 12 commanders were to be deployed for the rescue mission, code named “Operation Thunderbolt.” A decorated middle-level officer, Lt. Col. Yohatan Netanyahu (an elder sibling of the sitting Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu) was to lead the rescue operation proper. Yitzhat Rabin wasted no time in approving the plan. The 90-minute nocturnal operation was roundly successful. 103 of the 106 hostages were liberated; all the hijackers were killed; three of the hostages and the heroic leader of the storm troop lost their lives in the operation. The palpable moral of Raid On Entebbe is: irrespective of pressure, Never Negotiate With Terrorists; because these are persons who have utterly lost the capacity to be reasonable.
On the second anniversary of the kidnapped 219 Chibok girls, it is pertinent to review how the Federal Government has gone about the mission of “bringing back our girls.” From reported accounts we learnt that 15 of the unfortunate girls managed to escape shortly after they were taken from their school. Government spokespersons have held media conferences on our soldiers’ exploits in killing and capturing members of the Boko Haram terrorist group. Northern leaders of thought have familiarly, if suggestively, talked about the leadership of Boko Haram, their families, their friends, and their homesteads. And most instructively, a serving senator from Kaduna State, in volunteering to broker negotiation between the Federal Government and Boko Haram’s leadership, let slip his intimate knowledge of members of the terrorist group. Selfsame first-term senator has been having a battle of wits with the governor of his state; and was recently suspended from the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.
With the above potential sources of credible intelligence on the group, Nigeria’s Defence outfit ought to have not only long liberated the 219 Chibok girls, but also to have completely taken out the nihilistic terrorists. Regrettably, neither of this has happened; not such a flattering credential for a sub-regional power. Not so long ago during a television chat programme, no less a personage than Nigeria’s sitting president, a retired two-star general, casually told the world that the Federal Government didn’t have any credible intelligence on the whereabouts of the unfortunate Chibok girls(!) I cannot bring myself to believe that this is true.
And what’s more incredible, top government officials are now unashamedly talking about a willingness of the Federal Government to open negotiations with the Boko Haram group(?) Is this another way of saying that defeating Boko Haram is beyond the ken of Nigeria’s superfluously funded military? If so, what would be the basis for the envisaged negotiations? Would the Federal Government be also willing to consider Boko Haram’s declared obnoxious objective for Nigeria; or would the Federal Government be willing to dispense with huge acreages of Nigeria’s hydrocarbon endowments for the release of the Chibok girls? What has become of the vaunted sub-regional cooperation to liquidate Boko Haram? What is the logic in negotiating with a “largely degraded” enemy? These and related questions are begging for answers as government officials continue to offend the sensibilities of Nigerians with talks of opening negotiations with Boko Haram.
If his successor in Aso Rock is in earnest to defeat the Boko Haram terrorists, as he had consistently promised Nigerians during his campaign, he must search for these faceless capitalistic sponsors with a fine-toothed comb, and take the fight to them with unflagging resolution. These are Nigeria’s real enemies, the enemies within; having evidently failed to cow Nigeria violently, they have now resorted to pushing the idea of negotiation from within. President Muhammadu Buhari must heed the immutable lesson of history: Never Negotiate With Terrorists!
• Nkemdiche, a consulting engineer, wrote from Abuja.