Rules of disengagement
By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“Victory in this war will not determine who is right, only who is left” – Anonymous graffiti
THE dust raised by the chilling indictment of the Nigerian security agencies and the Jamaatu Ahlil Sunnah Diddaawati Wal Jihad (JASLIWAJ) (a.k.a. Boko Haram) by Amnesty International had hardly settled down when the war was taken up to new levels in Yobe and Borno States.
In one skirmish alone, over 40 people were reported killed, and morgues were reported to be overflowing with bodies.
A bombing mission which appeared to have targeted a resumption of ethno-religious mayhem in Kaduna took lives, and was contained only by a rising awareness among locals that they are being goaded into fighting someone else’s war.
Then the war took its most prized casualty: a living war legend, General Muhammadu Shuwa.
Shot in his home amidst friends in broad daylight in an area littered by military checkpoints, the killing of General Shuwa was the most conclusive evidence that this war is being escalated by both sides, and its implications should worry more than just the administration.
Not all the speculations over coincidences in the manner this conflict is unfolding are idle. There are questions being asked about linkages between the quarrels between PDP and ANPP leaders in Borno State over who is the real sponsor of the insurgency, and what links they may have with the murder of General Shuwa who was a prominent ANPP chieftain.
There are questions around the purported offer of peace talks between the JASLIWAJ and the government, and preconditions which included the prosecution of governor Sheriff. There have been one or two murders of other prominent ANPP leaders in the State, so speculations are being made with regards to the possibility that the offer to talk peace may be an olive branch from ANPP.
Again, there are speculations that the entire peace gesture is all a ploy to create the impression that the insurgency wants peace, while putting forward conditions which are virtually impossible to accept.
Finally, there are speculations that the offer to talk is a trap to rope in General Muhammadu Buhari and one or two respected elders, and is being made by interests far from the insurgency.
The denial of responsibility for the murder of General Shuwa by the same spokesman who put forward the peace offer adds another twist.
It reinforces the suspicion that there are factions of the insurgency which are active; or are entirely independent of known leaders; or rogue elements on the fringes of the insurgency; or interests which have hijacked its franchise and modus operandi to weaken the state. These suspicions only serve to make this problem altogether much more serious.
In the midst of these conflicting scenarios, it may be safe to isolate issues which may be reasonably assumed as making sense.
One is that General Buhari is most unlikely to take up the nomination from an insurgency he has been variously accused of creating, sustaining or supporting. His party says the entire offer is a ploy to link him up with the insurgency.
It is unlikely that a man who aspires to lead the nation, will take up an offer from a group which fundamentally repudiates the concept and existence of the Nigerian state as it exists. He will be accused of refusing to help, of course, but that will be a cross he will have to bear.
He will be damned if he does accept; and damned if he doesn’t. Others on the list “nominated” by the insurgency will also very carefully weigh the full implications of their nomination, both in terms of the conditions set forth by the insurgency, and by the chances of any success.
Full blown war
Another dimension which could be considered settled is the fact of the existence of a full blown war which neither government nor the insurgency is likely to win without massive, additional damage to the citizenry and economy of the nation.
The civilian population in the epicentres of Yobe and Borno States, as well as major towns in Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa Taraba, Kano and Kaduna State and even Abuja are now effectively hostages of an insurgency which is intricately woven into the fabric of communities that pay huge penalties for it.
The security agencies, in spite of periodic complaints from community elders, Amnesty International and much of the international media, will most likely sustain their aggressive pursuit of the enemy, and lean very hard on young men, wives and children until the insurgency is wiped out. That, from all appearances, will take some time, and massive casualties to accomplish.
It is obvious that government and this insurgency both need the active involvement of leaders with credibility and courage to intervene and facilitate the beginnings of a resolution.
The claim by a spokeman of the insurgency that it is ready to talk will be welcome, but the conditions for it are not likely to be accepted by the administration. To the extent that it represents a genuine offer to talk, it is a serious step which should be considered.
The manner it was made, however, is likely to scuttle it, and will make subsequent attempts to engineer negotiations in future more difficult.
Government also needs a breathing space, and must be acutely conscious that the insurgency has succeeded in creating massive hostility against security agents in the active frontlines of this war. With the community harassed and hostile, a scorched earth policy by security agents is exactly what the insurgency needs to create enclaves and sustain campaigns.
A disengagement strategy should now be initiated by northern leaders with politicians, including Generals Buhari, Babangida, Abdussalami, Atiku, Ribadu, Maitama Sule, Ali Munguno, Ango Abdullahi, Jibril Aminu and others getting off the fence and rallying around other leaders to the cause.
They should work with respected muslim and community leaders from Borno and Yobe States to engage northern governors and other leaders of political groups in the north. A coherent and practical outline of a planned resolution, starting with a three-month moratorium, should be discussed with the President.
The Vice President must be actively involved in all stages of these discussions. Northern christian leaders should also be closely briefed on progress and should play active roles in the search for resolution. Ultimately, a national momentum towards full and final resolution should be created.
Signs of good faith
Matters relating to release of women and children, treatment of detainees, release of suspects who have no cases to answer should be prioritised.
Government should be prevailed upon to address these as signs of good faith, and as evidence that it can respond to the grievances of communities.
Positions on limiting collateral damage in or around communities, as well as those which encourage insurgents to reduce or stop attacks on security agents should be discussed with government.
Once a credible and genuine framework has been established in which respected community and religious leaders are involved, comprehensive peace talks should take place, and should target cessation of hostilities, rehabilitation and restitution demands of the insurgency as well as other issues it raises.
It should be made clear to the insurgency that the talks and the resolution efforts are not merely meant to accommodate its demands and appease it unconditionally: The Nigerian state and all citizens also have demands and rights which the talks must table and protect as well.
The north is facing its biggest and most destructive challenge. Its leaders who sit and wait for Boko Haram or the government to invite them to mediate in this horrific war have no claims to leadership. They should get out of their comfort zones, and shape its destiny.