The time has come for the Federal Government to deal more decisively with Boko Haram’s disregard for the corporate entity, writes Shola Oyeyipo
At a time that the NATO operation in Libya had peaked, CNN featured a war analysis expert who still thought that the organisation could still explore dialogue as against the bloodshed that was then the plight of innocent Libya citizens. But NATO's commander for Libya, Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, disagreed. He thought the war at that stage had passed the realm of dialogue. Instead, he said the allied force would not scale down its airstrikes despite calls from some nations for a pause in the operation.
The mission, entering its fourth month at the time, Bouchard said had made "significant progress" and that attacks on civilians by Libyan government forces had also lessened.
Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, said the offer of ceasefire and negotiations with the rebels by the late former Libyan leader, Moammar Gaddafi, must be backed up by action, hence the White House rejected the proposal as not credible, especially that Gaddafi’s government was not complying with a Security Council resolution intended to protect the Libyan people.
The idea of dialoguing with Boko Haram as a way out of its unceasing insurgency appears the most popular of options, particularly bought into by those who thought that aside the mindlessness of the sect, it also has a justification for its actions. This, therefore, explains why government has never been averse to the initiative, despite the challenge of insecurity that the spate of attacks by the sect poses to both the politics and economy of the country.
But while Nigerians wait to hear the last of the activities of Boko Haram, which had sent scores to their untimely grave with many others displaced, the hope of an end to the insurgency may have been dashed again when one of the leaders of the group, Abubakar Shekau, in an undated video made available to reporters in Maiduguri, Borno State, last Sunday, said the much celebrated ceasefire was a farce. He said his group was not involved in any peace talk with government.
Shekau’s revelation clearly contradicts the January declaration by Ibn Idris, who claimed to be a second-in-command in charge of Borno North and South. He had also told reporters in Maiduguri that the decision to ceasefire was arrived at after weeks of discussions with the Borno State Government.
At that time, he assured the people that he had the authority of Shekau to declare the conditional ceasefire, which he went as far as warning that anybody who broke the ceasefire would be dealt with. But this latest declaration has therefore put Nigerians and the leadership on their toes again.
Although, the development may not be coming as a shocker to Nigerians who had always doubted the authenticity of the ceasefire and readiness for dialogue, what is bothersome is its implication for the polity. President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, was one of the first set of people to express doubt over the reliability of the ceasefire. He had reservations as to the real identity and sincerity of the dreaded Islamic sect.
He had questioned the rationale behind the decision of the sect to take the Federal Government (FG) to far away Saudi Arabia, and why they opted for former military head of State, General Mohammadu Buhari in addition to other tough conditions for the ceasefire. Buhari was however quick to turn down his nomination as one of its negotiators with the FG by the sect.
Presidential spokesman, Doyin Okupe, had told journalists in Abuja that the declaration was welcomed, and that it would be preferable if it was coming from the group as whole and not sectional.
“It is a good step for Boko Haram to be moving in the right direction. We wish it to become an all encompassing thing, rather than just a faction. I’m sure the government will discuss (its move) once it has been ascertained that it is genuine, that it is sincere,” Okupe said.
The Federal Government, eager to quell the spate of violence had even gone as far as admitting to offer amnesty to members of Boko Haram, if their leader, Shekau, would give himself up.
National Coordinator of the Counter Terrorism Centre, Major General Sarkin-Yaki Bello (rtd) gave the hint at an interactive session with top US military (Capstone course) personnel led by Admiral (rtd) Henry Chiles at the National Defence College, Abuja. He said government was ready to accommodate members of the group in a rehabilitation programme. "Government is also working to ensure that an opportunity will be created to embrace extremists who renounce terrorism to come forward for rehabilitation."
But within 60 days of announcing the ceasefire, the Northern Nigerian has continued to witness characteristic violence. Another Islamic group, Ansaru, believed to be an offshoot of Boko Haram, said it kidnapped seven foreign workers in a raid that saw a security guard killed, in Jamaare, Bauchi State. Italian, British, Greek and Lebanese workers are among those held after the attack.
They were working on a construction project when the militants attacked. Four hours later, other kidnappers took seven French tourists in Cameroon, across the border into neighbouring Nigeria. There were reports that six armed kidnappers on three motorbikes had abducted a couple, their four children and an uncle. There were suspicions that they were Boko Haram members.
Still within the period of the announced ceasefire, nine health workers were slaughtered in Kano, five police officers were killed in Kaduna and all these have continued to put Nigeria on the international stage and made nonsense of the ceasefire. It has also created considerable economic gridlock signaling an impending economic doldrums with foreign construction companies, private business enterprise and others that are contributing to the buoyancy of the region pulling out for fear of their lives.
In fact, Britain had warned its citizens in clear terms not to travel to northern Nigeria, following attacks blamed on terrorists and the abduction of foreigners. The statement from the UK Office also advised against traveling to Gombe, Kano, Kaduna, Jigwa, Katsina and the Okene region of Kogi States where there have been an increase in violent attacks; Mubi Town in Adamawa State and the area north of Mubi Town that borders Borno State. Also listed was Jos City where there have been violent attacks and ongoing inter-communal tensions.
With rising tension from the activities of Boko Haram, there is the feeling that dialogue may no longer be an option but a firm stand to tackle the menace. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently launched a fresh attack on President Goodluck Jonathan over the security challenge in the country. He was of the view that the President should blame no one but himself if he could not address the Boko Haram crisis.
“If the president is the chief security officer of the country and there is a security problem, where do you go for the solution? And if that solution is not coming from the chief security officer, who has everybody and can mobilise everybody inside and outside to get a solution, then he has the responsibility to solve the problem. And nobody else should be blamed but him,” Obasanjo said.
Also, advising FG on the way out of the growing insurgency, Emeritus Professor Akinjide Osuntokun, at an annual lecture organised by Nigerian Society of International Affairs (NSIA) at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), said that though the initial concern was that allowing US military bases may hamper the nation’s sovereignty, he noted that in the light of the fact that other countries of the world have US bases without affecting their sovereignty and the growing rate of violent insurgency, Nigeria should review her initial position on the matter.
“We import our weapons of war and security largely from the West and we should not be squeamish in seeking support from friendly countries. In peace time, we share security and intelligence with friendly countries and in war time and time of crisis, there is need to pool resources together with other friendly countries. If this is what Nigeria has to do to secure itself and the region, it must not hesitate to do it.
“When AFRICOM was being set up, there was a lively debate about granting the United States basis in West Africa. Many opposed this in the interest of our sovereignty and perhaps, this was the correct position. But there may be a need to rethink our position in this sub-region because countries such as Japan (Okinawa), Germany (Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Bonn); Saudi Arabia (Riyadh); and Great Britain (Northwood) have huge America bases without compromising their sovereignty,” Osuntokun said.
At any rate, it is about time that the Federal Government dealt with the Boko Haram more decisively and put an end to its menace. It is clear that the sect is not willing to dialogue and like Obasanjo said, the decision to either put a stop to the madness or allow the impunity to continue to thrive is the president’s. However, in taking a stand, the president, observers say should know that first and foremost, he has a responsibility to protect the lives and property of the citizenry.