Up until last Thursday’s dodgy offer of dialogue by someone who claimed to be a spokesperson for Boko Haram, I have always held the strong view that the Federal Government should not engage Boko Haram leaders or representatives in any kind of dialogue. For clarify, my position has not shifted.
Why? Well, you do not hold dialogue with an organisation that has killed thousands of innocent Nigerians because the Federal Government has refused to be force-fed with the organisation’s religious creed. Anyone who is advocating any dialogue with Boko Haram should be reminded that the organisation is a terrorist group waging a violent religious war against those who do not share their ideology.
Last week’s offer of dialogue by a Boko Haram representative is ringed with doubts for a number of reasons. First, it is not the first time that someone who claimed to be associated with Boko Haram would make an offer of dialogue but set out pre-conditions for the peace talk. Boko Haram has continued to shift its position in regard to a dialogue with the government, just as it has continued to tinker with its terms for peace talks. In early August 2012, Boko Haram listed two key conditions that must be met before it would engage the government in dialogue.
The conditions were that President Goodluck Jonathan must resign and, as if that was not enough, Jonathan was also required to abandon his religion and switch to Islam. Both conditions were regarded as offensive to Jonathan who said, through Reuben Abati, his special adviser on media and publicity: “The President cannot be intimidated by any group or individual.
The President will never resign. He has the mandate of Nigerians to serve his fatherland and nobody should imagine that he will succumb to blackmail.” Now, Boko Haram seems to have abandoned the conditions it outlined in August and minted a new set of terms which it insists have to be met before it could start peace talks. This is shifty politics. The second reason why Boko Haram’s latest offer of dialogue must be considered dubious is that, as a nocturnal underground organisation that does business in darkened caves, it will always be difficult to verify the identity of anyone who claims to be the authentic voice of the group. Experience has shown that there are factions or groups that claimed previously to be spokespersons for Boko Haram.
How does this latest call for dialogue differ from previous pranks? When a violent sectarian organisation issues a call for peace but sets out its own terms and conditions, you have to question the validity of the request and the spirit behind the call for dialogue. Let us assume that Boko Haram is seeking to enter into conversation with the Federal Government or that it wants to make atonement for the atrocities it has committed across the country.
The key questions should be: is Boko Haram asking for dialogue on a level playing field, on a platform of peaceful renunciation of violence? If the answer is affirmative, does the organisation have the legitimacy to set the conditions for peace talks? The stupidity of the peace terms set out last Thursday by the so-called representative of Boko Haram, Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz, is obvious.
The conditions are as ludicrous as Boko Haram’s previous terms for peace. How could Jonathan agree to Boko Haram’s request that the Federal Government must pay some kind of reparation to the families of its members who were exterminated during their battle with security agents? This demonstrates that Boko Haram is disgustingly insensitive to the trauma it has caused so many families in Nigeria. How would the families of innocent citizens killed by Boko Haram bombs and assassination squads view this hideous request by a representative of the organisation? When Boko Haram requested, as a condition for commencement of peace talks, that the government should rebuild mosques damaged by security forces during endless battles with the organisation’s agents of terror, it seemed to have forgotten that many churches and houses of worship used by members of various religious denominations were also burnt down or incinerated by Boko Haram suicide bombers.
There is absolutely no legal basis for Boko Haram to receive compensation for its members, living or dead. Boko Haram introduced unprecedented hostility and deadly weapons in its campaign against the Nigerian state. Some of its members deliberately committed suicide or died when the bombs they were preparing exploded prematurely. In these contexts, it would be foolish for Boko Haram to expect that families of their deceased members would be recompensed. The nomination of Saudi Arabia (by Boko Haram’s spokesperson) as a venue for the peace talks and the demand for the arrest of the former governor of Borno State are silly in intention and logical judgment. These two terms alone have exposed the dishonesty in the call for dialogue.
Boko Haram is undertaking armed insurrection against the government and people of Nigeria. The venue for peace talks must be inside the country, not outside, except if Saudi Arabia admits openly that it is an unofficial sponsor of the murderous group. Although I remain vehemently opposed to the Federal Government engaging in peace talks with Boko Haram, I would argue that if Jonathan decides against reason to enter into dialogue with this criminal group, the framework for that peace talk must be set by the government, not by the evil organisation.
The same philosophy should apply to the selection of a venue. Government must not and should never negotiate from a position of weakness. If it does, it would have given Boko Haram the upper hand in a contest in which the aggressor would be framed to appear as the good guy Another irony in the call for dialogue emerged when the man, Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz, who addressed journalists through a radio programme last Thursday, made an unsound argument. In his superficial defence of the activities of Boko Haram, he said: “We are not actually challenging the state, as people are saying, but the security (forces) that are killing our members, children and wives.”
This is ludicrous. There are too many contradictions in that sentence. Security forces are an emblem of the Nigerian state. There is no state without security forces. So, when Abdulaziz said Boko Haram was attacking the security forces and not the authority of the state, you have to pity the lack of reason in his argument. If Boko Haram has not been attacking the state, why have they been targeting the institutions of state? Abdulaziz also said they have been pursuing security forces that are “killing our members, children and wives”.
This is nonsense! How would he describe the bombs planted and exploded by Boko Haram advocates, particularly explosive devices that are directed against churches, innocent citizens, school children, market women, as well as public and private sector workers? All these have no relationship with Nigeria’s security forces. In light of these inconsistencies, it must come as a huge shock to many people that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, a man who should be defending the unity of Nigeria, argued on Saturday (3 November 2012) that the Federal Government should consider some of the bogus conditions set by Boko Haram.
In his response to news that Boko Haram has called for dialogue, Tambuwal said: “There will be a dialogue; it may not necessarily have to be all the conditions they have given or about to give that would be met, the government should be engaged and see how best we can resolve issues.” It is paradoxical that Tambuwal, the number four citizen of Nigeria, should encourage the Federal Government to accept some of the conditions set by Boko Haram for dialogue while ignoring the incalculable damage the organisation has done to the country through indiscriminate killings and bombing of private and public buildings and institutions.
Tambuwal is a disgrace to the House of Representatives. He is so consumed by how the nation should meet the terms set by Boko Haram to facilitate dialogue that he forgot so easily that there are too many families whose loved ones were cut down and despatched to their graves through unprecedented violence committed by Boko Haram. The leader of a House that symbolises law, order, peace and security of the nation should not be so narrow-minded. How do you talk peace with an organisation that wants to eliminate you, your family and everything you hold dear in life? It is unthinkable that Boko Haram would ask for dialogue with a government it does not recognise.
I have argued in a previous essay that any proposed conversation between the Federal Government and Boko Haram would achieve nothing. The two sides are irreconcilable. No side will concede its core values. Dialogue or peace offer or conversation or negotiation or whatever you call it, government must not give in to this deception because it will convey the impression that it is OK for any organisation such as Boko Haram that advocates the destruction of Nigeria to use violent behaviour to achieve its objectives.