Wale Sokunbi CURRENTS
It is no longer news that the Boko Haram sect has proposed terms under which it would be ready to dialogue with the Federal Government on a ceasefire in its ongoing war against Christians and the Nigerian government.
A man who identified himself as Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz, second-in-command to the sect leader, Abubakar Shekau, told journalists at a radio conference in Maiduguri, last week, that the sect would stop its bombing campaigns if the government agrees with its conditions. First, it selected former Head of State, Gen. Mohammadu Buhari (rtd); Dr Shettima Monguno; a former Yobe State governor, Senator Bukar Ibrahim; Ambassador Gaji Galtimari; Aisha Alkali Wakil and her husband, Alkali, as “trusted Nigerians” that it would be ready to negotiate with it. Second, it insisted that the dialogue would not hold on Nigeria soil but in Saudi Arabia, and third, that the families of its members who were killed by the security agencies during its campaign should be compensated by the Federal Government.
Lastly, the group demanded rebuilding of its mosques destroyed by the Federal Government, and the arrest of former Borno State governor, Modu Sheriff, ostensibly over allegations that he sponsored the killing of its members. This offer of a ceasefire by Boko Haram has been generating ripples since it hit the airwaves. The Congress for Political Change (CPC), the political party which fielded Gen. Buhari as its candidate in the 2011 presidential election, has rejected the nomination of Buhari for the negotiations.
Initial reactions from the party claimed that the naming of Buhari as negotiator with Boko Haram is a plot of the Federal Government to rope him into the Boko Haram problem. There are, however, those who feel that any step that would lead to peaceful resolution of the Boko Haram conflict is welcome. President Goodluck Jonathan, himself, has said the peace overture is welcome if it would lead to peace. Former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, has also towed the same line. According to him, Buhari would not be the spokesman of the sect, but would only help to ensure that peace reigns again in the country.
The ceasefire negotiating terms proposed Boko Haram are, indeed, thought provoking, to put it mildly. First, the choice of Buhari. It is very strange to have a former Head of State of the country who is still aspiring to rule the country again being selected as a “trusted Nigerian” by an insurgent sect that has declared war on the country by willful killing of security agents and Christians in their churches.
The basis of this “trust” raises salient questions on Buhari’s credentials as neutral party in the conflict involving Boko Haram, the Federal Government and Christians in Nigeria. In spite of Gowon’s attempt to window-dress the role expected of Buhari in the negotiations, there is really no way to interpret the role other than that of a person who has the ears of the sect, and is somehow sympathetic to, or supportive of its cause. It is odd, also, for the sect to not only choose its representatives to the talks, but also that of the Federal Government. Would that not amount to a monologue? This picture of the former Head of State as a “trusted” friend of the sect through whom it can negotiate with the Federal Goverment is neither salutary to Buhari’s image as a former Nigerian leader, nor expedient to his quest to lead the country again.
If I were Buhari, I would be very worried, and quickly begin to press all my Boko Haram “buttons” to be excused from stepping on this giant banana peel. But, that is just one way to look at this proposal. Another way to consider the matter, which I think Gowon and Jonathan are trying to look at, is that the choice of Buhari does not matter as long as the process leads to peace and security in the country. Yet, other groups have spoken their minds.
The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), through General Secretary, Mr. Ayo Opadokun, described the Boko Haram talk terms as a curious attempt by “the tail to wag the dog”. To make this simpler, the “Boko Haram tail” trying to wag the “Nigerian Federal Government dog”. (except that sometimes, Nigerians are not really too sure who is the tail and who is the dog in this Boko Haram affair.” NADECO is of the opinion that negotiating with Boko Haram on its terms could propel other aggrieved groups in the country to adopt the same violent tactics used by Boko Haram.
Already, the Niger Delta Youth Parliament, through its coordinator, Mr Imoh Okoko, has said if Jonathan negotiates with Boko Haram, he should be ready to negotiate with the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and other aggrieved groups in the country. For me, there is no doubt that it is critical that a solution be found to the Boko Haram problem. There is clearly no way to get around the problem other than through dialogue.
It is a well acknowledged fact that crises, conflicts and wars usually arise out of a failure of parties to reach a consensus via dialogue, while most wars and conflicts inevitably end with the fighters agreeing on a resolution of their problems through dialogue. Considering the intransigence of the Boko Haram sect, and government’s failure to get a handle to the problem, there is no arguing the wisdom of a dialogue to end this insurgency. It is the terms of the negotiation of a Boko Haram ceasefire, however, that the Nigerian government needs to be careful about.
This dialogue should take place, but the President Jonathan government should ideally not be seen to have totally capitulated to the sect. The president must be careful to not only win the battle in this conflict, he must also win the peace. The president would be falling headlong if he accedes to every demand of Boko Haram on this proposed ceasefire. Yes, there should be dialogue. Jonathan should put a leg in the door of opportunity opened by Boko Haram. (“Assuming that the sect is sincere, and would not, thereafter, chop off the president’s heel and toes”).
But, Boko Haram’s selection of the venue and the representatives to the talk should not be swallowed hook, line and sinker by the government. One party to a talk should not select representatives for both sides. Although some have said that Buhari should view his selection by Boko Haram as a challenge and a sacrifice for peace in the nation, as Nigeria would be better for it, he might, inadvertently, be driving a nail in the coffin of his aspiration to national leadership, at least outside Northern Nigeria. It may be more advisable for him to plead with the sect to allow the other “trusted Nigerians” to handle the negotiations.
The talks could also hold on any neutral ground outside Nigeria. I don’t really know how Jonathan could feel to have a sect that has killed thousands of Nigerians dictating a meeting venue for him. It smacks of weakness. Let Jonathan, even if secretly, appeal to Boko Haram that his government be allowed to excuse Buhari from the talks, and that negotiations hold in another place other than Saudi Arabia. The demand for re-construction of demolished mosques is another controversial request. If the president is good natured (and that’s putting it very mildly) enough to rebuild mosques for Boko Haram, he must extend same privilege to churches that were burnt by the sect.
If the government must compensate families of Boko Haram operatives killed in the conflict, how much more the need to compensate innocent people killed while worshipping in their churches! On the demand for the arrest of Modu Sheriff, by all means, let him be picked up if there are sufficient grounds for his arrest. All in all, the window of opportunity for the negotiation of a ceasefire with Boko Haram is welcome.
Government must be proactive and seize the opportunity to end this problem, once and for all. The scourge of violence and insecurity that has enveloped Nigeria has hovered around for too long. Let all well meaning Nigerians intervene in whatever ways are necessary to end this problem, once and for all.