Boko Haram …What Nigeria needs to do

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In Nigeria
Aug 26th, 2014
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Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye, a Judge of the High Court of Justice of Kogi State, studied Terrorism at Walden University, USA. In this piece,  he examines the Boko Haram menace and suggests ways to defeat the insurgents

Terrorism is one word that now bestrides Nigeria like a colossus. It is now a household word. Nigeria has been the victim of an undeclared war, engendered by Boko Haram, a so-called Islamist sect, which has put the northern part of the country under siege of attacks since 2009.  The popular image of terrorism in Nigeria today is one promoted by Boko Haram: car bombs, suicide bombs, indiscriminate bombing of selected targets, kidnapping, abduction of persons and assassinations, amongst other heinous and violent crimes, which have now become regular features. The direct consequence of these is that no one feels safe anywhere: at home, at work, at the airport, at a bus stop, while walking on the street or inside a mall. The sacred and hallowed sanctuaries of worship centres are not free from terrorist attacks, assaults and bombardments. A climate of fear and insecurity now pervades the land. According to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram has so far been responsible for the death of 2,053 civilians in 95 attacks during the first six months of this year.

Basically, all these terrorists strikes are meant to destabilise the nation by challenging her sovereignty and integrity. The attacks on defenceless civilians are designed to generate terror, fear, and anarchism by creating a general feeling of insecurity. By daring the police and other security agencies, Boko Haram seeks to demoralise the security forces. The attacks at churches, mosques and other religious worship centres are meant to injure sentiments, whip up religious passions and tear apart the secular fabric that holds Nigeria together. They are also designed to promote prejudices and bigotry.

There is no crime the sect has committed that has traumatised the country quite like the abduction of 270 school girls at a village called Chibok in Borno State, on April 15, 2014. The girls, aged between 16 and 18, were preparing to write exams when they were taken from school hostels late at night. About 50 of them escaped. Others have remained in Boko Haram captivity for a period of over four months now. It is thought that the militants initially took the girls to Sambisa forest. Subsequent reports however, suggest that some may have been trafficked into neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon and forced to “marry.” There are also fears that the girls might have been indoctrinated and recruited into the army of Boko Haram, given the spate of reported female bombers in recent times. These fears may not be unfounded as nobody has reported the loss of any other girl apart from Chibok girls of late.

The abduction of these Chibok girls, as they are now popularly called, has drawn worldwide condemnation and sparked international outpouring of support for Nigeria in her fight against terrorism. Significantly, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign resonated at both the British Parliament and the Senate of the United States of America.

To be sure, terrorism is a global phenomenon, not peculiar to Nigeria. Indeed, it has become the most worrisome feature of contemporary life. Though violent behaviour is not new, the present day terrorism has obtained a different character and taken a different dimension. It poses an extraordinary challenge to the civilized world. The basic tenets and edifices of a modern State, like democracy, state security, the rule of law, sovereignty and integrity, basic human rights etc. are under the threat and attack of terrorism.

The abduction of the Chibok girls has brought into the front-burner of public debate the propriety or otherwise of government negotiating with terrorists. I proceed on the hypothesis that it remains the primary responsibility of the government to secure the lives and property of its citizens. I make an assumption that when faced with the choice of negotiating or not negotiating with terrorists, government will take a decision that will serve the best interest of the generality of the people. Flowing from this assumption, I posit that the interest of the citizenry will be best served if their lives and property are secured and protected. The basic question here then is: should the government negotiate with the Boko Haram terrorists or not?

In answering this question, it is good that we know what negotiation means and entails. Black’s Law Dictionary (8th edition) defines the term negotiation as a “consensus bargaining process in which the parties attempt to reach agreement on disputed or potentially disputed matter.” For the purpose of this discussion, I choose to adopt the definition given by Robert Mnookin (2003), a negotiation expert, that, negotiation is a “joint decision making process involving interactive communication in which parties that lack identical interests attempt to reach agreement”. It is important to note here that the ultimate goal of negotiation is to resolve disagreement.

Negotiations can be genuine or pretentious. A genuine negotiation bears some basic features. The features include, amongst others, the willingness of the affected parties to make some concessions or trade-offs, however nominal. It must also be in good faith and necessarily embody readiness to meet the other party’s interests, whether or not the other party consists of terrorists. It must not be used as a ploy, trick or stratagem to deceive terrorists by bringing them out of their hidings to be captured or attacked. A measure of compromise and flexibility on both sides is required for a meaningful negotiation to be attained.

Nations all over the world have different attitudes and policies towards terrorists. Some countries have a stated policy of never negotiating with terrorists. Quite often, however, such a policy is honoured more in the breach than observance. This is because, while it is openly declared or asserted that there is no negotiation with terrorists, governments still go behind to negotiate with the groups they have declared as “terrorist organisations”. For instance, Britain negotiated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Israel negotiated with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and other Palestinian factions. Spain negotiated with Basque ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuma (Homeland and Freedom). Even the United States of America, under President Reagan, provided TOC missiles to Iran to win the release of hostages held by Hezbollah. Most recently, Obama administration exchanged one soldier for five Taliban held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after some forms of negotiation.

President W. Bush was a hardliner. He was uncompromising in his stand not to negotiate with Al-Qaeda. His administration held tenaciously to the position that Al-Qaeda was an enemy that “holds no territory, defends no population, is unconstrained by rules of warfare and respects no law of morality.”.He, therefore, maintained that, such an enemy cannot be deterred, contained and appeased or negotiated with. “It can only be destroyed,” he asserted.

It does appear to me that Nigeria has no clearly defined and consistent policy of dealing with terrorists. The Nigerian government seems to be overwhelmed with terrorist attacks such that it finds itself in a state of confusion and bewilderment. As it pursues the terrorists militarily, it also attempts to negotiate, persuade and dialogue with them. This is what Professor James B. Kantiok (n.d), describes as a ‘two-prong approach’. The inability of the government to be effective in its fight against Boko Haram terrorists and particularly, in securing the release of the abducted Chibok girls, puts the viability of this approach into question.

The leader of Boko Haram sect had in a video message boasted: “These are the girls abducted by us that the Nigerian government has been calling for their release. We won’t release them to you and you can’t take them away from us no matter how you tried (sic). We would only release them if you, the government, release our brothers you have arrested and detained for 4 to 5 years now.” Since the time the video clips were released, there have been divergent views as to whether or not government should negotiate with Boko Haram. Even amongst senior government officials, there have been some discordant tunes.

Sometime ago, an eight-man presidential committee on security challenges in the North-East zone headed by Ambassador Usman Gaji Galtumari was set up. At the inauguration of the committee, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, said the government could not negotiate with the sect because “it is a faceless organisation.” Anyim told the panel members that their duty excludes negotiating with the group because “you don’t talk with those you don’t know.”

In the same vein, the Senate President, David Mark, said negotiating with terrorists as proposed by Shekau over the abducted girls, may not serve any good purpose but to further give them room to wreck more havoc on both the country and the citizens without even them fulfilling any terms of agreement that may be entered into with them with no platform of trust whatsoever. He added that, Nigeria will not negotiate with terrorists under any circumstance because “you don’t negotiate with criminals which Boko Haram insurgents are”. Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida added his weighty voice to this issue as he recently spoke against negotiating with Boko Haram. He asked rhetorically, “who do you negotiate with? …You can only negotiate with persons who everybody knows are fighting for a cause… But we don’t know these guys”.

Some other prominent Nigerians hold a contrary view. They are of the opinion that the only way out of the current quagmire is to negotiate with the insurgents. The Sultan of Sokoto and President of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA), Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III has been consistent in calling on the government to negotiate with Boko Haram insurgents at every opportunity available to him. He has advanced the facelessness of Boko Haram insurgents and the criminal nature of their activities as reasons why the government should negotiate with the sect. It is to be noted here that the same reasons have also been given on why the government should not negotiate with the sect. “You cannot fight a group of faceless individuals whose locations are unknown,” the Sultan warned. And, in veiled reference to the Senate President’s position, the Sultan said: “Ï have heard people saying you don’t dialogue with criminals, who says you don’t dialogue with criminals? You cannot fight the criminals because you don’t even know where they are… You cannot win any insurgency by use of force, nowhere in the world has that worked.”

Senior government officials have also been known to have indicated the readiness of the government to negotiate with the insurgents. Prominent amongst them are Tanimu Turaki, Minister of Special Duties, and Mike Omeri, Director General, National Orientation Agency. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, can also be counted amongst government officials calling for negotiation with Boko Haram insurgents. According to him, negotiation “does not just mean you are submitting: you are not. It is just a strategy”

Those who object to the policy of negotiating with terrorists usually predicate their stand on five main arguments. First and foremost, they state that it sets bad precedent and encourages future attacks. Secondly, it is argued that the very act of negotiating with a group that has been declared by government as a terrorist group is incongruous and self-defeating. The reasoning here is that the formal designation of a group as terrorist organisation is essentially designed to stigmatise, delegitimise and isolate such a group. By agreeing to negotiate with such a group, implies that the same government is granting legitimacy to the terrorists group. This, they say, usually encourages other would-be terrorist groups that violence is a relatively easy way to gain government’s recognition. By this, terrorism becomes an attractive way to pursue political agenda.

Thirdly, it is also often argued that terrorists are simply not trustworthy and therefore make bad negotiating partners. The fourth argument is a strategic consideration of the likelihood of losing domestic and international support. It is believed that government’s ability to harness domestic as well as international support could diminish if negotiations were underway. Fifthly, terrorists are usually treated as satanic. There is, therefore, a strong moral aversion to dealing with the “devil”.

There is no doubt that a decision as to whether or not the government should negotiate with Boko Haram insurgents is an extremely difficult one, due to many factors and the uncertainties of what the result of any particular decision will be. In coming to a decision or recommending a decision on this issue, it is important to reflect on the fact that Boko Haram insurgency has been with us since 2009. We failed to nip it in the bud at its embryonic stage, until it escalated beyond unimaginable proportion. All along, we ignored the use of force when it was absolutely necessary to do so, until the insurgents got an upper hand.

Now, over 200 of our girls are in the custody of the insurgents. I understand that 100 other young boys have been captured by them. If the government says it will not negotiate, what next will it do? In my view, a blanket refusal to negotiate in the circumstances in which we find ourselves will simply portray the government as uncaring. And a government that does nothing in the face of endangered citizens, panicky family members of the captives, traumatised nation and the horror engendered by the insurgents, will appear ineffectual. The government has, indeed, lost the moral right not to negotiate with the insurgents. The essential goal of negotiation in this context is to protect Nigerian citizens. At least, the government must demonstrate clearly that it has real interest in the safety of those now held hostage. The most effective way to do this is for the government to enter into a genuine negotiation with the insurgents. Thereafter, it may proceed with whatever actions it may consider necessary and appropriate to combat Boko Haram insurgency.

 

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