Boko Haram: The negotiated settlement, resolution we need, by Lai Mohammed

on   /   in Politics, Top Stories 2:54 am   /   Comments

‘How govt rejected options to curtail insurgency’

By Olayinka Ajayi

In an encounter, the Interim Publicity Secretary of All Progressive Congress, APC,  Alhaji Lai Mohammed, blamed the Federal Government for engaging  in  blame game  on Boko Haram and called  for a security stakeholders meeting in order to curtail  insurgency in  the North-east.

What is your stand on the Boko Haram sect?
Without being partisan, government has not handled the Boko Haram  issue in a competent manner.  The government has approached the insurgency  in three ways. First,  they thought  it will go away on it’s own;  second,  at every point in time, they tried  to hold somebody else responsible for the insurgency;  third,  the Federal Government believes the insurgency is politically motivated against them. This attitude of  the GEJ administration does not allow them to take responsibility for the  insurgency  and on how it can be resolved.

It is the role of the government at the centre to take responsibility and control over the security apparatus in Nigeria. But  you will observe that the government is just interested  in blaming perceived political enemies and parties rather than act. For instance, when there is a bomb blast,  government would blame it on the opposition. When these girls were abducted, they said it was meant  to discredit  government. When there is killing, some people will say it was because Jonathan is a minority leader or it has religious undertone.

This in  not  the way a responsible government should tackle insurgency. While you are tackling the insurgency, you could at the same time look for those behind the dastardly act. But Nigerians are not interested in those behind the insurgency. They are interested in two things. One; bring the insurgency to an end; two bring  culprits  to justice. We are tired of the blame game.

It is irresponsible for any government to continue with the blame game. For instance, if there is  fire in my office, I won’t be looking out for what caused the fire outbreak; my aim should be how to put out the fire. This is the unyielding attitude of the Federal Government in responding to Boko Haram. While they were doing this, they allowed the sect to link up with some more deadly international organisations, got better training, funding and equipment. Today, there is  paralysis in Jonathan’s administration, that shows they do not know what they are doing.

What’s your suggestion on how to curtail the insurgency?
At first, the Federal Government did not  accept the fact that the insurgency  was beyond their  capacity and as such did not call for outside help; by outside help, I mean not going outside Nigeria. The government must be ready to think outside the box by reaching out to all other stakeholders . In curbing the insurgency, every Nigerian should be seen as a stakeholder. We have offered advice several times to this administration that had been ignored.

A picture taken from a video distributed to journalists in recent days through intermediaries and obtained by AFP on March 5, 2013 reportedly shows Abubakar Shekau (C), the suspected leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, flanked by six armed and hooded fighters in an undisclosed place.

A picture taken from a video shows Abubakar Shekau (C), the suspected leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, flanked by six armed and hooded fighters in an undisclosed place.

Incidentally everything we suggested to the Federal Government is what is being re-echoed by the United States . The first thing we told  this administration was that they should call a national summit of all stakeholders on security. In the last one month, we have issued this advice more than three times. Before then, we offered the following recommendations to them: Government should develop a   holistic counter insurgency strategy, rather than reacting to attacks of  terror groups;  intelligence gathering is another major key to combat insurgency.

Even when you have the whole military men on ground, without intelligence gathering, you can not get effective result.  We also advised them to strengthen what I refer to as the force enablers. This has to do with the equipment  for fighting the insurgent group such as attack helicopters,  air transportation field engineers, even medical assistance.

When the governor of Borno State cried out that it appeared the Boko-Haram sect  was better equipped than the military guys on ground, all he was actually asking for was for government to improve  force enablers for the military to allow them to do their job. Thirdly, we advised them that in defeating any insurgency, there  must be negotiated resolutions and settlement.

What do you mean by negotiated resolutions and settlement?
You can hold negotiated settlement if there are intermediaries between government and the sect. We know of two instances when people like Shehu Sani volunteered to be the middlemen between the Federal Government and the sect. When negotiations were  going on, government broke the agreement. We were also aware of a journalist who was negotiating on behalf of the sect in Kano.

In  sensitive issues like this, you use individuals  the sect has confidence in to negotiate. Shekau won’t come out at the beginning of  negotiation. But he has people he trusts  who he would send. Also  these people operate from certain localities. They belong to certain states and ethnic groups and they have leaders. So when government  begins to ask who to negotiate with, it is an admission of failure on the part of the leadership. When husband and wife are fighting, is it not the in-laws that settle  it without the spouses being present? We don’t have to have Shekau on ground to begin negotiations. There are people government can start negotiations with.

There  is no where in the world that insurgency is wished away. Today, part of the problem in the North-east  is poverty, unemployment and bad governance. If you introduce a  serious economic  plan there  today, you are surely going to win many youths away from Boko Haram. If somebody can feed and he has a good job, he will not consider  associating with Boko Haram as the next option.  It is easier to go to a person who is unemployed and ask such person to do a job for you with N10,000 but a man who is gainfully employed  would not even be seen.

If a governor is visiting or a head of state goes for party rallies, you will observe  lots of crowd following him; if they have jobs,  will they come out to listen to campaigns? Or can you imagine the kind of campaign we have in Nigeria where we have one million people coming out on campaign ground. Can that happen in the United State? They would rather do it on the social media because everybody is busy.

We are not saying the terrorist group does not have religious under tone, no! Are we saying it does not have political under tone? All we are saying is that, be it political or religious undertone, you can reduce it, by building the economy, by giving hope to the youths. Government must recognize that if they improve the economy with a Marshal Plan, it will weaken the base of Boko Haram in recruiting youths.

It is also a battle for the mind of the people. The Federal Government should de-radicalise by changing the kind of message that the average youth in the North-east listens to which includes if you kill a non- Muslim, you will make paradise and you will be bestowed with seven virgins. Government must send messages about the values and sanctity of lives. Letting people imbibe moral values would be an advantage. Government can start the strategy through secondary schools.

There is also a problem with inter-agency rivalry between the army, the navy and  the police  which is also weakening their result and strengthening the sect.  I guess the reason for the reshuffle of  the service chiefs can be linked to it.

Again the military  can not bring peace to any part of the world. They can only quell riots. But people have to live together. So you must include internal peace makers, which include the immediate community, non-governmental organisations, who have the experience of mending together broken families. These are some of the suggestions we made to government through letters and through our various governors. Anybody who says we are not making suggestions to the Federal Government is not correct.

Since the international community is showing keen interest in the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign, do you see the scourge of insurgency being curtailed any time soon?
When these girls were abducted, what did  government do? They first denied it, that nothing happened, that  they were  trying to blackmail  government; later, they said the opposition was responsible. Then, they said they wanted  to see their pictures to confirm it. Over 200 children were abducted and they wanted  to wish it away. For 15 days,  this administration did nothing. The President must change his attitude and accept that he is in charge.

As the President of a country, the buck stops at his table. Pointing accusing finger does not help the matter. Who ever is behind it should be arrested but first and foremost bring back all these girls safely.

I don’t know what the United States  is bringing  on board, but I can assure you that some of the recommendations that we have made either in intelligence gathering, strengthening our force capability, aligning the political, social with the military, or getting a defined counter terrorism strategy, these are the things they will recommend.  I don’t see them going outside the  parameters  we have  suggested.

If they do, good for us, because these European countries have  lots of experience in fighting insurgency. But we believe that the matter wouldn’t have gotten this far, if  government from the beginning had focus on the matter rather than alleging  the opposition as the cause of it.

Some people are of the view that  military administrators  should be appointed by the President for normalcy to return to  the insurgency infested states. What  is your take on  emergency rule?
State of emergency has always been misunderstood. We are of the belief  that we cannot curtail insurgency without the military. However, it is always recommended that for the military to succeed, they must work with the immediate communities and the stakeholders. The military must be seen as  soldiers of occupation, they must not see the governors as if they are not part of the same quest.

It is very unpleasant  for people to think that the governor, the House of Assembly hinder the soldiers from doing their job, how do they  stop the military from doing their work? If you bring  solders into a place, they only have maps, they will need the cooperation of the people on ground. If the democratic system is dissolved, the House of Assembly, as well as the local government, who will the soldiers relate with.

How can a governor elected by his people be against peace being returned  to his own state? It is the governor, whose market has been closed, whose people are being killed and buried everyday,  whose schools had been closed.
It is an attempt by the Federal Government to politicise everything which  made the matter worse. They are always looking for the cheap way-out. Can any governor stand in the way of a military tank or a bazooka? If the democratic process is being dismantled, that means there will be military administration. Even when the US went into Afghanistan, they built democratic institutions, now some Nigerians want it destroyed.


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