By Chioma Gabriel
NIGERIANS heaved a sigh of relief when mid last month, the Federal Government announced ceasefire deal with the Boko Haram sect. Nigerians were happy that finally, the siege was over especially with the promise that the over 200 kidnapped Chibok girls would soon be released. With the directive to the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Airforce and Inspector General of Police to comply with the ceasefire agreement in all theatres of operations, the media world-wide celebrated the anticipated peace.
The Chief of Defence Staff had said: “Without any prejudice to the outcome of our three-day interactions and the conclusions of this forum, I wish to inform this audience that a ceasefire agreement has been concluded between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Ahlul Sunna Li Daawa Wal Jihad (Boko Haram). I have accordingly directed the service chiefs to ensure immediate compliance with this development in the field.”
An unknown man who claimed to be the Boko Haram secretary, had confirmed the ceasefire, telling the VOA Hausa service that the group had accepted the ceasefire.
The doubts: Even at the time when the ceasefire was announced, many Nigerians including inhabitants of Borno expressed unbelief over its authenticity, giving diverse reasons for their doubts. It was not the first time a ceasefire was brokered and many felt it should not be seriously considered.
Asabe Kwambura, the principal of the Government Secondary School, Chibok,where the girls were kidnapped on April 14, at the announcement expressed her doubt saying, “we thought since our last meeting with the president in Abuja, these girls would have since been rescued and reunited with their parents. I will be the happiest person in the world to see these girls of mine return home in one piece. Nothing will supersede my joy but all this will not be possible if the federal government does not follow this declaration with action, honesty and sincerity.
“Many of the parents of these girls are suffering and dying. Some have died of high blood pressure and post trauma stress disorder. I was in Chibok with the parents and their plight is beyond words. We need to have these girls back; this is another opportunity for us to do so.”
Expressing his doubt, the Coordinator of Peace Ambassadors in Borno State, Ahmed Shehu, said his concern about the ceasefire was its timing.
Nature of present crisis
“My concern is on the nature of the present crisis and it’s timing.The timing for the cease-fire is suspicious. Why now; why would they wait for the four African countries to step up the fight before they announce a ceasefire; why would they wait until their capacity and strength be weakened before they announce a ceasefire? For me, there is more to it than meet the eye. It’s suspicious, and I don’t want to sound as a pessimist; (but) it is ill timed and it’s not feasible”.
Another resident said that “something is logically wrong with the whole ceasefire issue. This is not the first time that we are hearing declarations of ceasefire or its proposal by the Boko Haram.
There was a time when some members of the Boko Haram, though unknown, came out to say if we must cease fire, the federal government had to arrest so and so personality and even rebuild their destroyed central mosque in Maiduguri.
The pattern with which such declarations were made was very unique and consistent. But from the tone of the declaration made by the federal government as well as the manner with which the so-called secretary of the group had spoken in the radio, one tends to have some doubts.
“There is doubt because there had never been a time in the life of the Boko Haram leaders where we hear them lamenting loss of members or admitting the magnitude of pains they have suffered. If Shekau is to speak, his message is all about the doctrines of his group and what they stand for. He would emphasise that dying in the course of what they are doing is a thing of pride to them.
“But the problem is that we don’t even learn from history; if we are to follow the trend of these announcements, right from the time of Abukakar (the erstwhile spokesman of Boko Haram) period, there wasn’t a time where any persons speaking on behalf of the Boko Haram, be it Shekau or any other Amir would come and talk without reciting some verses of the Holy Quran first. But here we have one coming out to say he is the Secretary of the group and they have decided to ceasefire. It is really difficult to believe; but we all hope for a true ceasefire, anyway”.
These doubts by Borno residents became real barely 24 hours after the ceasefire deal was brokered and announced. It was all a spoof. Barely 24 hours after the ceasefire deal was announced, the terrorists struck Borno again, giving an indication that there was no such agreement, and attacking Maikadiri in Abadam Local Government Area, in northern Borno State, and Sina and Grata villages in Michika Local Government Area in Adamawa State.
The attacks continued from time to time and even more women and girls were abducted, leaving the federal government embarrassed and even stupid. The latest was the bomb explosion in Gombe State and seizure of Mubi in Adamawa State.
Irked by the worsening situation of things, many Nigerians and groups have expressed dismay and lack of confidence in the federal government and Boko Haram ceasefire deal. The Arewa Consultative Forum in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Muhammad Ibrahim, expressed dismay over the latest bomb blast that hit Gombe last Friday.
“The bomb blast in Gombe, the continued killings and seizure of towns and villages in Borno and now Mubi in Adamawa State by insurgents barely two weeks after the announcement that a ceasefire had been brokered between the Boko Haram insurgents and the Federal Government calls to question the sincerity and effectiveness of the ceasefire agreement.
“Despite the assurances given by government that appropriate security measures were being put in place to contain the insurgency including the ceasefire agreement, the situation in the Northeast region was deteriorating and required a decisive action to quell it. Towns like Bama, Gwoza and many others are still under the control of the insurgents despite the emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
“Nigerians are becoming skeptical and no longer had confidence in the assurances being given by government officials regarding the security challenges, since the terrorists had continued to unleash mayhem on the people without adequate counter offensive from the military. The bomb blast that occurred last Friday at the Gombe motor park was wicked, gruesome and condemnable considering the 27 innocent people killed in the blast and also the destruction of property it caused.
It is an irony that, while Nigerians in the Northeast region are being killed by insurgents and Nigerian territories being seized, our politicians are busy collecting party declaration forms to contest 2015 elections instead of collaborating efforts to contain the insurgency.”
Boko Haram denies ceasefire
But in a strange development, Boko Haram denied that they had agreed to a ceasefire with the Nigerian government. A new video obtained by news agency AFP on October 31 showed Abubakar Shekau, (the same man the military claimed they had killed?) describing the Nigerian government claims of a ceasefire as a lie and also saying that the 219 abducted Chibok schoolgirls had been converted to Islam and married off. The presidency had announced that an agreement had been reached to free the missing Chibok girls whose abduction sparked global anger and demands for their release.
Shekau had said in Hausa: “We did not negotiate with anyone… It’s a lie. It’s a lie. We will not negotiate. What is our business with negotiation? Allah said we should not.”
Shekau in the same video equally ruled out future talks with the Nigerian Government. With continued killings in the northeast in spite of the ceasefire, Nigerian soldiers numbering about 300 fled to Cameroon after Boko Haram insurgents overran Mubi, the second largest city in Borno State. The Nigerian soldiers fled the north-eastern part of Nigeria and crossed the Nigeria-Cameroon border. The troops fled to the border towns in Cameroon after the Mubi attack.
There have also been mass exodus of residents that Cameroon started screening refugees to prevent infiltration by insurgents. Worried by the worsening situation of things, the Bringback our girls Movement expressed shock over the failure of the ceasefire and continued bombardment of the Northeast communities.
“We are extremely shocked and gravely perturbed that the insurgency seems to be engulfing more cities within the North East zone even at a time the Federal Government confidently announced a ceasefire of its counter terrorism war. Let no one pretend that we are not facing the most substantial threat to the integrity and existence of our country.
What more extreme manifestations are we waiting for than the evidence of a rampaging group of terrorists carrying out heinous carnage in Mubi in Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and Gombe barely two weeks after the Chief of Defence Staff publicly conveyed a stand down order to our troops who were in the front prosecuting the war.
We, like most Nigerians, are at a loss on what the latest development means for our counter insurgency war and for the safety of our citizens and territory. Has the purported ‘ceasefire’ failed? What explains the gruesome reality that after the “ceasefire” announcement of October 17, the terrorists have been attacking many more communities. How do we explain the escalating number of innocent citizens being killed or taken hostage after they had been informed by our government of a negotiated truce and détente? Has our Federal Government, through the military, given a new and countermanding order to our soldiers to resume the war and protect our citizens and territory?”
From records, it was not the first time that an agreement was brokered between Federal Government and Boko Haram and it was not the first time truce talk with the sect failed. In July 2013, Imam Muhammadu Marwana, who claimed to represent Boko Haram spoke on the Hausa Service of Radio France International, apologising on behalf of the sect’s past murderous activities and announcing a decision to end insurgency. Marwana made the announcement days after the Federal Government raised a 25-man committee to work out modalities for granting amnesty to the sect, saying in the radio programme that the Minister of Special Duties and chairman of the Peace and Dialogue Committee in the North, Alhaji Tanimu Turaki, signed the ‘agreement’ on behalf of the Jonathan government.
It was a failed project
On January 28. 2013, Muhammed Abdulazeez Ibn Idris, claiming to be a Boko Haram commander announced a ceasefire deal on behalf of Shekau, the leader of the sect. He claimed the truce was the outcome of meetings with Borno State government officials and Boko Haram, saying the sect agreed to end insurgency out of concern for women and children who have borne the brunt of activities of the sect. Idris had demanded that the former head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, should serve as a negotiator in the talks. But Buhari turned down the request, accusing the PDP instead of deliberately using the purported Boko Haram emissary to portray him as a sponsor of the sect to discredit him politically.
A month later, Shekau repudiated the ceasefire declaration and vowed to continue the deadly attacks. So, kidnapping, suicide bombing and killings continued, an evidence that the sect was not part of any of such ceasefire deal.
Before this time, a ceasefire was attempted in 2012 when the sect nominated Dr. Datti Ahmed, a Kano-based medical doctor and Muslim cleric, and Comrade Sani, to represent it in talks with government but Ahmed, known to be active in the promotion of the Muslim Sharia legal system that Boko Haram is advocating withdrew from the mediation with the government on the grounds of insincerity on the part of government and leakage of the details of meetings to the media.
The same year (2012), the sect pulled out of talks with government representatives in Kaduna following the arrest of one of its senior commanders, Abu Dardaa, whom it had sent for talks.
Nigerians witnessed how negotiations that would have gotten the Chibok girls released early in the year in exchange for Boko Haram commanders in its custody failed because the Federal Governement did not follow it through. That negotiation was handled by the Australian cleric, Stephen Davis.