FG, DIALOGUE WITH BOKO HARAM
Though belated, the Federal Government’s Democracy Day launch of a full-scale operation to put an end to the impunity of terrorists and declaration of amnesty for terrorists willing to lay down their arms are steps in the right direction in the nation’s desperate search for peace.
However, the two initiatives will hardly achieve therelease of over 200 innocent girls of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok abducted by Boko Haram insurgents 49 days ago.
The nation, indeed the world, is impatient with the continued detention of the girls by Boko Haram insurgents and desires a solution that will urgently deliver their release
There is therefore the need for the Federal Government to complement the launch of total war against terrorist and declaration of amnesty with dialogue so that the girls can be released and the problem of terrorism can be fully tackled.
There are strong indications that the Federal Government’s reticence to dialogue with Boko Haram is hinged on foreign governments’ advice. Well-intended as this advice may be, it is doubtful if it is implementable in the Nigerian context where lack of political will, mistrust between government and the aggrieved ethnic and religious groups, corruption, paucity of technology, deficit of competent and loyal security personnel hold sway.
The western nation’s concern and huge support so far are commendable. But there is a need to adopt a home-grown approach, given the nation’s peculiar situation.
Western nations who adopt this hard stance to terrorism have and adopt what it takes: political will, well-trained security personnel, robust funding, technology, well-thought-out strategy, ability to handle backlash in the event it backfires and public support.
Besides, the claim by the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, in Abuja last Monday that the military had discovered the whereabouts of the abducted girls but would not use force ‘because we can’t afford to kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back’ is an indication that dialogue is the best alternative under the circumstances.
It is inconceivable how any approach other than dialogue will deliver in a situation where a sect is in custody of over 200 girls and is using them as human shield. Dialogue with the notorious sect is never an indication of incompetence of the Nigerian military and other security agencies. It is only the wisest option under the present circumstances when the nation is holding the knife at the wrong end.
For a sect whose grouse is, among other core ones, the arrest and jailing of its members by the Federal Government, and for a sect that has offered to swap their jailed members for the release of the girls, they will be well disposed to dialogue. The next step should be adopting the right strategy to achieve a win-win situation.
Although the situations are not the same, the nation has the Niger Delta experience to learn from. Since the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua introduced dialogue and extended pardon to the Niger Delta militants, there has been relative peace in that region. The pockets of vandalism still subsisting in the region are triggered by post-pardon mismanagement and outright crime.
Since a face has been given to the Boko Haram insurgency and some people have offered to wade in, the post-release of the girls matter can be handled.
This is where the recent reported talks by ex- President Olusegun Obasanjo with some early facilitators of peace parley with the Boko Haram: Comrade Shehu Sani, Alhaji Mustapha Zanna, Ahmed Salkida in Abeokuta last week with a view to securing the release of the captured girls is salutary and should be considered by the Federal Government. Zani has since issued a release to confirm the meeting.
Ex-president Obasanjo’s meet with the Boko Haram’s contact reportedly addressed the need to restore the trust of the FG who is unsure of the seriousness of the sect.
The meeting also offered five options on the way forward – how to rescue the girls. One, restore trust between the FG and the Boko Haram leaders. Two, explore possible ways in which Boko Haram could be engaged. Three, convince Boko Haram to release the girls as a pre-condition before the sect’s demand for the release of their members could be considered. Four, possibility of handing over the girls to some Islamic clerics in trust until the government fulfills its own part of the bargain. Five, immunity for the Boko Haram leaders to meet with Obasanjo and government representatives.
The Federal Government needs to meet with President Obasanjo’s team, review and expand the options and strategies.
Since the abductors struck, they have threatened to sell the girls via a video clip posted on the YouTube after about three weeks of lull into the abduction; they have given the swap-girls-for-prisoners offer. Now, they got a negotiator, Salkida, who was initially arrested by the FG for his closeness to the sect and later released and later hired to dialogue with the sect, to deliver a video to the Federal Government in which the girls are begging the FG to secure their release. They got a former negotiator to deliver the video to the FG. Doesn’t all this suggest that they are open to dialogue? Isn’t it a departure from President Goodluck Jonathan’s earlier claim that Boko Haram members are unknown?
It is evident that the clues the nation has got to so far on the abduction saga are externally induced – voluntary information from Boko Haram, assistance from the international community and foreign countries. About three week after the abduction saga, the nation was in darkness. The first strand of hope of the situation and condition of the girls and subsequent rays of hope trickled in from Boko Haram. This situation has run for six weeks. It is a long time for a situation that involves hundreds of human lives and not oil wells.
For a nation whose over 200 girls are abducted and have been in custody of the abductors for about six weeks with no hope of rescue; for a nation that has lost over 2, 000 innocent citizens to the attacks of these insurgents so far and wakes up every morning to the news of deaths of scores of its innocent citizens, it is time it employed dialogue as a first course to securing the release of the girls. The second phase of talks should address the insurgency challenge holistically with a view to restoring peace to the nation.