In February of this year, I wrote an article on this site about whether the idea of negotiating with the Boko Haram terrorist group was one that should be supported or not. I took a hard-line stance that there should not in any way be negotiations with the group, and even drew comparisons between it and and the talks between the Yar’adua administration and the Niger-Delta militants, talks that led to the present amnesty programme.
Over time, a lot has occurred: there have been numerous attacks, especially on churches. There were attacks on two churches in Zaria and one in Kaduna, both in Kaduna State, that led to reprisals from Christian youth and the imposition of a curfew in the entire state for almost a week. Concurrently, the sect was waging war against security forces in Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State. The security situation also led to a long overdue shake-up of our security apparatus, costing the then National Security Adviser and the Minister of Defence their jobs.
Frankly, I am tired, as so is almost everyone else in the country. At this point, I am open to supporting any idea, as long it brings about peace. Every option including dialogue and negotiation should be on the table. There is a lot of support for dialogue, although this support is much higher in the North than in the South. There is also a lot of evidence to support the theory that the Federal Government itself is open to dialoguing with them, especially with the selection of revered Islamic cleric, Sheikh Dahiru Usman Bauchi to lead the talks on behalf of the government.
But for me, the most important signals continue to be those coming from the other side of the table: the terrorist group itself. They have continually rejected overtures at negotiations, and even warned negotiators that they proceed at their own risk. The attacks have also not ceased, even though there have been no car bombs detonated at churches since Col Sambo Dasuki was appointed the National Security Adviser close to 2 months ago.
I was was able to get a copy of the latest video message by the sect, directed specifically at President Goodluck Jonathan, which was released last week. The message, which was recorded in Hausa by the soft-spoken leader of the group spoke of their many ‘troubles’ at the hands of the government and how they were simply defending themselves against attacks from the government. He also spoke of how they were also avenging the Nigerian Muslim community, not minding the fact that the sect does not enjoy popular support among Nigerian Muslims.
But the part that really got my attention was his continued insistence that they were simply obeying a divine calling, to turn all ‘infidels’ to the path of truth. He even cast his group as victims and the government as the aggressors. To me, he did not sound like one who was willing to take a seat at the negotiating table.
This is one of the major problems in dealing with terrorists of a religious persuasion: they believe their work to be so divinely inspired that they are willing to die with it. For them, it is all or nothing. To live is to wage war, while to die is to ‘gain paradise’
Over time, I have shifted ground somewhat in being open to accepting negotiation as a route to making peace.
But of greater concern right now is: how feasible is it that these peace talks will ever hold?