By Tonnie Iredia
An overview of Nigerian history shows clearly that the fabric of solidarity that binds the nation together is so fragile that it stretches to breaking point at the slightest provocation.
As a result, many well meaning citizens are now and again in a state of despair. But the truth is that the preponderance of a multiplicity of centrifugal forces in the Nigerian society which induces such apprehension is an unavoidable feature of every heterogeneous society. There are indeed too many persons with parochial interests who oil the nation’s divisive factors.
They sponsor destructive agitations by bodies which go by different acronyms. The agitations are not restricted to the suffering lowest cadre of society that some people derisively describe as miscreants.
Sometimes the agitators belong to the elite class like university lecturers who usually bring the nation to its knees whenever they have an unresolved grievance. In reality therefore, it should not matter who is aggrieved. What should matter is the ability of the nation to contain each infraction. This is why we were thrilled last week by the news item that the Federal Government was setting up a committee to dialogue with the Boko Haram sect that has for a while become destructive and a source of worry to society.
When the committee was eventually inaugurated, government warned it not to negotiate with the sect but “to create a forum whereby every person who has suggestions on a way forward will, without restriction, reach out to the committee with ease”. We do not know the information available to government but the posture looks like a re-think, more so as the Chairman of the Committee, Usman Galtimari was reported to have called on the leadership of the sect to embrace dialogue with the assurance that all their rights and privileges would be granted.
May be the government was reacting to critics who think that to negotiate with Boko Haram suggests that government was patronizing criminals or that it had been intimidated by the sect. Even the premise of government that “Boko Haram is faceless and that you do not negotiate with whom you do not know” is rather simplistic.
While it is true that it may not be easy to identify the group because it obviously has gone underground, to deal with it may not be as difficult as it is imagined considering the quantum of information that is now known about the sect to the world at large. Since 2002, the group has had a religious complex, which consists of a mosque and an Islamic school in Maiduguri which reportedly enrolls children of the poor from anywhere.
In 2004, it moved to Kanamma, Yobe State, where it set up a base called “Afghanistan”. In Bauchi, the group does not mix with the local people making it easy to know who is who. In September 2010, the sect was accused of freeing over 700 inmates from a prison in Bauchi State. In December 2010, it was blamed for a market bombing, following which 92 of its members were allegedly arrested by the police but were they faceless? To say so exposes how visibly behind we are in world affairs in which security by intelligence has long overtaken the use of armoured carriers and guns.
That we claim not to know those who belong to Boko Haram even makes dialogue inevitable. This is because we cannot afford to heed the call of those that prefer the military option as we will not know who to smash. Otherwise, we may fail to learn from history as we will merely repeat Odi and Zaki Biam without regards for the innocent?
Besides, our western friends who seem to cherish the military option employ it only when dealing with external problems. They don’t smash their over indulged citizens who in spite of free food, clothing and shelter from a well administered social security system still occasionally over heat the polity. In our own case, the average citizen can as a result of hard life justifiably become destructive. Thus we are obliged to patiently unravel not just the symptoms but the root cause of the excesses of every Nigerian group.
Luckily, many statesmen have recommended this approach. Former Head of State, Chief Ernest Shonekan opines that the spate of violence being unleashed on the country would abate when government engaged the sect in meaningful dialogue. At about the same time, President Alassane Ouattara, of Cote d’Ivoire at a meeting with the Nigerian business community in Abuja told us point blank that the activities of Boko Haram should be addressed with utmost caution.
For him, “the only solution to the problem is dialogue. The Government should have a round-table discussion with the leaders of the sect and find a lasting solution to the problem. Even wars between two countries were being tackled with dialogue and this method should be used to solve the problem at hand”
For us, dialogue is imperative in any national matter hence we are using this medium to appeal to President Jonathan who has always embraced peace not to see dialogue with Boko Haram as an indication of weakness but as a sign of tolerance and maturity. It is indeed an integral part of democracy.
To dialogue is not the same thing as to succumb; instead it helps to reduce areas of differences thereby simplifying the task at the point of resolution. What ends a war is not force but dialogue. Force can halt combats and all forms of physical hostilities but it usually does not end bitterness. That is why issues resolved by force often resurrect. Thus dialogue is expedient in a nation especially when it is complimented by some positive actions that are directed at national integration.
There is also the issue of prevention being better than cure. We need to put behind us the fire brigade culture by which we attend to things only when they have exploded into dangerous dimensions. Here, it was soothing to read the other day, a report that two dangerous sects that would have been a threat to the peace and stability of Niger State were dislodged without shedding any blood.
The former Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Michael Zuokumor who disclosed this while handing over to his successor revealed that the two sects, Daru-Islam and Kalikoto were dislodged from their abodes along Mokwa and Kontagora axis of the state.
We hear he did it with the active support of Governor Babangida Aliyu. Should that surprise those who know the pragmatism of the Chief Servant? Borno State should at this point not only seek to have the likes of Police Commissioner Zuokumor but to also assimilate Minna tutorials on good governance particularly how to deploy security vote.
Our last word today is that since Boko Haram is a Muslim group let us take advantage of this fasting period of sobriety among adherents of Islam to attain peace through dialogue.