The campaign of the violent insurgent sect, Boko Haram, took a dramatic turn on November 1 as the group rolled out a number of conditions under which it would dialogue with the Federal Government on a ceasefire. A man who identified himself as Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz and second-in-command to Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, told journalists at a radio conference in Maiduguri that the sect was ready to negotiate with Nigerian leaders and stop its bombing campaigns provided the dialogue takes place in Saudi Arabia; the former Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, is arrested and all Boko Haram members in the custody of the security agencies are released.
The group also listed “trusted Nigerians” it would be ready to negotiate with as former Head of State, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd); Dr Shettima Monguno; a former Yobe State governor, Senator Bukar Ibrahim; Ambassador Gaji Galtimari; Aisha Alkali Wakil and her husband, Alkali. It also demanded compensation for all its members killed by security agents in the course of its campaign and the rebuilding of mosques and other property destroyed by the authorities.
President Goodluck Jonathan has since welcomed the ceasefire offer. He said his government would accept the Boko Haram proposition if it would lead to peace in the country. We, however, find the president’s muted response to the ridiculous terms proposed by Boko Haram both surprising, and amusing. This offer of a negotiation with persons unknown to the Federal Government is strange. The choice of Buhari and four other Nigerians as the persons with whom the sect is ready to negotiate is also odd.
The question that this demand has thrown up is whether Buhari and the others would be chosen by Boko Haram as trusted persons it could negotiate with if there is no relationship whatsoever between them and the sect. Their selection suggests that they know the Boko Haram leaders, and the leaders know them as well to be sympathetic to their cause. It would, indeed, be strange if these people were named by Boko Haram leaders without prior consultation with them. It is good, therefore, that Buhari has rejected the nomination.
For us, as much as we welcome this offer of negotiation and a ceasefire in the interest of peace in the country, the proposition seems an elaborate charade designed to distract the attention of the authorities from the real issues at hand. If the government is not careful, it will divert attention from its efforts at containing Boko Haram and succumb to this latest drama scripted by the sect, whose objective is not all too clear now.
We support the quest for a peaceful resolution of the Boko Haram conflict, but it is decidedly preposterous for an insurgent sect with unmistakable Islamic leanings to ask the Federal Government to come over to Saudi Arabia for negotiations. We do not think a group such as Boko Haram ought to be dictating the venue of proposed talks to the Federal authorities. Nigerians should recall that this is not the first time that Boko Haram has come up with odd demands. It, at one time, demanded that the president meets with its representatives on television. At another, it was reported to have directed President Jonathan to convert to Islam or face tough consequences, although this was later denied.
We advise government to exercise great caution in its engagement with Boko Haram. The authorities should be circumspect on this matter, because it is not befitting of a sovereign state to have its representatives called to a meeting outside the country by a sect within the country. This is even more so as sovereign governments have not been recorded anywhere in history to have negotiated with, or paid money to terrorists, in exchange for peace. That would be truly demeaning and Nigeria must not fall into that error.
The nation must not be seen to succumb to terrorism. Although the widely accepted principle, worldwide, is for nations not to negotiate with terrorists who wage war against their countries, it has become necessary for Nigerian authorities to dialogue with Boko Haram because of apparent incapability of the government to deal with the insurgency. Nigeria should, therefore, negotiate with Boko Haram but on reasonable terms. Let government quickly come up with its conditions and proposals on the proposed talks and communicate them to the sect leaders.
Trying to play the pacifist under a policy of appeasement of terrorists will not serve Nigeria well in this present situation. It will be an abdication of responsibility by the government. President Jonathan and his security team must navigate carefully on this Boko Haram ceasefire offer if they are not to throw our national sovereignty to the dogs.