SHehu Sani, an activist has in the past made efforts to mediate between the Federal Government and the Boko Haram Islamic sect.
Sani in this interview says he is still willing to take the negotiation further and outlines steps the Federal Government should urgently take to ensure the release of the over 200 girls seized by the sect from the Government Secondary School, Chibok and end the menace of insurgency in the northeast. Excerpts:
BY Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
What do you make of the speech by President Jonathan to crush Boko Haram and also give them amnesty?
The speech of Mr. President is full of contradictions. On one hand he is saying that is has declared to total war against Boko Haram and on the other, he is saying the door for amnesty is still open for the insurgents.
How can the insurgents come out and enter the open door of the amnesty when there is a price tag on the head of the leader of the Boko Haram sect, Abubakar Shekau, by the United States, which was also supported by the Nigerian government? How can the insurgents enter the open door of the amnesty when already there is an anti-terrorism law that outlaws the group and criminalises any form of communication with its members?
How can the insurgents embrace the open door provided by the amnesty when there is a state of emergency in places that will go after any insurgent that rears his head up? How can the insurgents embrace the amnesty when Nigeria sponsored the resolution at the United Nations that blacklisted the group?
How can the insurgents avail themselves of amnesty when Nigeria invited the United States, Israel, France and Britain, whose drones are already hovering over their heads? I think what we have is a President that is confused and does not know how to handle the Boko Haram situation.
Why did your previous efforts to bring the Boko Haram members to the negotiation table fail?
There were two or three attempts to negotiate with the insurgents. They all collapsed because the government changed its mind at the end of every deal.
Negotiating with insurgents
When we travelled to Maiduguri with former President Olussegun Obasanjo, we came back with some suggestions and advice from the insurgents themselves on how to end the violence. But when we took the suggestions of the insurgents to the government, they threw it away.
At that time, it was the then National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoye Andrew Azazi, who felt that they were on top of the situation and that they were determined to crush the insurgency once and for all. As such, we were humiliated and disappointed by the action of the government.
The second attempt was the one that Dr. Ahmed Datti made in his capacity as the representative of the Boko Harm group. He too was frustrated and disappointed by the same government.
Now, the Federal Government also appointed me as a member of the Dialogue Committee and I declined to serve because at that time I made contacts with the insurgents to find out if they had the interest of dialoguing further for amnesty and they told me they were not interested because the outcomes of the previous two attempts were not honoured by the government.
After that, I had no other option than to pull out and I declined the offer to serve on the committee. A week after the Chibok girls were abducted, I reached out to the government and gave them the name of the person, whom I believe would be in a position to talk to the Boko Haram leadership to free the girls.
Surprisingly, the government never got back to me but went directly to the person and he mediated and negotiated with the insurgents. The girls would have been released about two weeks ago but the President cancelled the deal upon his return from France. This has always been the attitude of the government.
What were the conditions given by the Boko Haram sect for the release of the girls?
The conditions are not really different from what they stated in the video the sect released some weeks ago. They demanded the swapping of their members who are in detention for the freedom of the girls and I don’t really see anything wrong with that because to free the girls, you must either use force or negotiate.
To use force, you need to know where they are and to take cognisance of the fact that something can go wrong and that these girls can be killed. In negotiation, what you only need is a small team of mediators, who would guarantee both sides and ensure the honesty and sincerity of the negotiators. The team would ensure that the girls are released by their abductors and also the government should free all those who have been detained without trial.
Detention without trial
It is after that we can use any method to confront the insurgents- whether we want to use force, nuclear weapons or anything. But we should note that you cannot shoot at the insurgents without shooting at the girls. The girls are not just abducted people but they are hostages and they are there as human shields.
I believe that anyone who has a daughter among the girls will not see anything wrong with swapping these girls with the insurgents. We should not forget that the insurgents have been storming police and military cells and freeing their members. So the issue of saying not getting them out will embolden the terrorists does not arise. No.
Given your frustration in the hand of the government in the past, are you still willing to assist in spearheading further negotiation with the sect in order to end the violence in the Northeast?
Yes, I am prepared to assist in terms of working out the possibility of getting out the Chibok girls through negotiation. But I cannot do it alone. This is something that requires the collaboration of many others. What needs to be done for now is in two ways. The first one is for the government to tell the insurgents to send their team to sit down and negotiate with the government on how to free the girls.
They should also ensure that members of the families of the sect who are in detention are released. The second step is to invite Islamic clerics in northern Nigeria, who have been neutral and have not made their feelings about the insurgency known and still enjoy the respect by the insurgents. These clerics should serve as the team of negotiators.
The government only needs to recognise and empower them and encourage them to reach out to the insurgents to free the girls. Islamic clerics in northern Nigeria are very crucial in resolving the issue and I believe that with their intervention we can get the girls back.
Two to three people can free these Chibok girls once they have the right contacts with the insurgents. It is even more impacting than a million people protesting because the insurgents are not moved by protests. They even do not consider the Bringbackourgirls campaign as an issue that concerns them. They see it as an issue between the protesters and the government of Nigeria. All they know is that the protesters will not come to them and what they are saying does not involve them.
What do you think about the involvement of foreign troops in the bid to free the girls? Some say it may compromise our sovereignty and pride as a nation.
It is unfortunate and shameful that Nigeria, which has been undertaking peacekeeping missions around the globe is now resorting to assistance from other countries.
Nigerians have a misconceived opinion that the West is here for fight our war. The Western world does not fight any war unless it threatens its own national security or a direct attack on itself. The U.S for instance is not even prepared to go into Ukraine to drive away the Russians apart from imposing sanctions. They backed down in Syria. Even when they were fighting Gaddafi, they did not enter the city but shot from the sea and air.
I have heard the President raising some false sense of hope thinking that with their intervention they would help us. If you look at the kind of people the U.S sent to Nigeria, you will discover that they have only two set of people: intelligence experts and experts in hostage negotiations and some aircraft to do some surveillance around Yobe and Borno states. So, the presence of foreign military experts is not in the best interest of Nigeria. We have a role to play in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
We need to do is to fund them and equip them to be able to deliver on their mandate. The recent discord between the Ministry of Finance and the military over the money that was allocated for defence and security is very clear that we are having some problems somewhere and corruption is a contributory factor in sustaining insurgency in the north. We don’t need the US, France, Israel and Britain in combating terrorism and protect us.
We should be able to see this problem as part of our history and the challenge before us is that we should not allow it to be our albatross. What is needed now is national solidarity, unity, resilience and the need to stand up and fight the threat because it is very clear that it is threatening our freedom, democracy, national unity and is becoming a dark chapter in the annals of our country. We must be able to find the path through the light to move by ourselves.