By Kingsley Omonobi & Victoria Ojeme
ABUJA— FOLLOWING President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of his administration’s readiness to dialogue with genuine members of the Boko Haram, some members of the terrorist group have contacted the Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC) to initiate a dialogue process with the Federal Government on their behalf.
Currently, the government has increased its offensive against the sect with ample support from a host of African countries in pursuit of the president’s vow to bring the insurgency to an end by December this year.
Towards this end, the terrorists have made several calls to the CCC claiming that hundreds of their members who were tired and now have contrary opinions to the destructive and murderous activities of the terrorist organization are willing to lay down their arms.
Making the disclosure in Abuja, yesterday, the CCC Executive Secretary, Air Commodore Yusuf Anas (rtd), said: “The efforts by some members of the group to get across to the Centre and the discussions we have had, have been encouraging. We have taken measures also to ascertain the genuineness or otherwise of these persons. We believe they are ready for genuine dialogue. However, discussions are still ongoing and nothing concrete has been arrived at, but it is an opportunity to interact with what I call insiders in the Boko Haram group.”
This came as the US pledged improved military cooperation with Nigeria against the insurgency, saying that Boko Haram activities may have been funded with proceeds of illegal crude oil sales.
Boko Haram dialogue moves
Commodore Anas, who also spoke on sundry national issues including cattle rustling, National Assembly crisis, pipeline vandalism, kidnapping, armed robbery and Radio Biafra among others, said he and his team were already in the process of facilitating a meeting with relevant government agencies for the much awaited dialogue.
His words: “The Boko Haram challenges have continued to become an intractable crisis situation to our nation. Recently, Governor Kashim Shetima of Borno stated that ‘more than three million innocent Nigerians from Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and other parts of Nigeria live in deep agony, having lost their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, other relations and neighbours after being brutally attacked by members of Boko Haram.
“Some prominent Nigerians have in recent times canvassed the idea of dialogue with Boko Haram. The option of dialogue, according to them, at the moment, provides a leeway for not only safely rescuing the abducted Chibok school girls alive but also possibly bringing to an end, the orgy of violence unleashed on innocent Nigerians by the group.
“Considering the unspeakable atrocities which the group has visited on Nigeria and Nigerians, this option is no doubt a hard sell. However, the recent statement of President Muhammadu Buhari on government’s readiness to negotiate with credible members of the sect has rekindled hope for dialogue.
“The Centre views this gesture as good because it has opened a window of opportunity for dialogue for these insurgents that are willing and ready to lay down their arms. This position is predicated on calls made to the Centre by some members of the Boko Haram requesting for genuine and comprehensive dialogue that could lead to hundreds of them coming out to renounce their membership”.
Towards this end, Commodore Anas said: “From discussions held so far, the members seem to be speaking on behalf of a cross section of the group. They expressed willingness to come forward to make certain proposals on behalf of other members of the group. If we pursue this line, I believe something positive will come out.
“The Centre, however, suggests that such dialogue should be done with every sense of caution and responsibility bearing in mind the previous disappointments that attended attempts at negotiations.”
It is unclear whether the latest moves will yield dividends on account of the past botched attempts and sect’s alliance with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Last March 7, following deadly bombardment from Nigerian and multinational forces, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS).
Will the section of the sect willing to dialogue do so with the backing of IS? Will the sect go against the terms of its allegiance to IS? It is to be seen how the issues will pan out.
B’ Haram may have been funded from illicit oil sale —US Congressman
Meanwhile, United States Congressman, Darrel Edward Issa, has disclosed that the terrorists could be getting their funding from illicit trade of oil and called on the Nigerian government to end corruption in the sector to address the insurgency.
Mr Issa, made this disclosure when he led a United States Congressional delegation to a press conference in Abuja, yesterday, at the US Embassy.
“As long as billions of dollars in oil is being sold, you have a black market that funds many things. Boko Haram can be a clandestine beneficiary of that money too. Some of these areas are within the power of the Nigerian government. So, when they end corruption they may also reduce the flow of that kind of money that goes into sponsoring terrorism,” he said, adding that the US government is ready to assist Nigeria in any capacity.
Issa, who spoke alongside other congress delegates, said nothing in the current U.S. law prevented it from giving Nigeria the necessary support in the fight against Boko Haram.
“Nothing on the current U.S. law prevents full cooperation and technical support or training for the Nigerian military and for all the departments of government. Nothing in the law prevents the U.S. Agency for International Development from its full engagement throughout Nigeria. Nothing in the law will stop the U.S. from providing any and all assistance to the Nigerian military,” he said.
Issa said that the level of willingness of the U.S. to support Nigeria had always been the same. “The commitment from President Obama to President Buhari was: ‘We will give you all you need, just tell us what you want’. That bold statement by President Obama tells a great deal. The U.S. has been involved in training the Nigerian military and it stands ready to do a great deal of more,” he said.
He stressed that the Leahy Law does not limit the kind of training and assistance that the US is willing to give to Nigeria, adding that if the Nigerian authorities show great commitment to preservation of human rights then it will become incumbent on the US to lift the Leahy amendment.
He explained that the Nigerian military did not need equipment more than training adding: “The number one thing that we can bring to this government is professionalising the military. Your military does not lack basic firearms; it does not lack basic ability to buy ammunition on the international market. It didn’t even lack drums which it purchased from China. In the meantime, there is a greater level of military training that is needed; that we would provide,” he said.
He said the U.S. would continue to provide some of the most high-level surveillance and tactical assistance flown by U.S. to support the hunting down of the insurgents.
Issa said the U.S. would continue to provide humanitarian relief to the North East and other areas in need.
“U.S. has contributed half a billion dollars a year of USAID support. We have contributed countless billions of dollars of military and large ships to the Navy. We continue to bring in as many soldiers including a most elite special forces to train the military in fighting techniques. We would continue to do that. U.S. has been a partner in Nigeria, around Africa and around the globe in providing the intelligence and the capability at all levels and we will continue to,” he said.
On whether U.S. supported negotiating with Boko Haram, Issa said there was always a need for a truce so as to negotiate peace and reconciliation.
He, however, said “we do not tell sovereign nations what to do; we provide technical assistance including assistance in conflict resolution,” he added.
Congresswoman, Sheila Jackson Lee, in her contribution, expressed confidence that Boko Haram will be defeated. She charged the Nigerian government and people to work with the US to also free the abducted Chibok girls and bring them back to normal life.
She said that Boko Haram is not only a threat to Nigeria but also to the region and the international community.
“You need to provide for the internally displaced and secure their village for them to return so that they can begin their work in agriculture. You are ways ahead of extinguishing Boko Haram. African Union has now recognised that Boko Haram is a threat to the region. We can collaborate within the law to defeat Boko Haram,’’ she said.
Another Congresswoman, Federica Wilson, noted that Nigeria has all it takes to ensure the safety of its people against the dreaded sect. She also praised the resilience of the members of the Bringback our Girls team, for their ceaseless efforts in championing the cause of freedom for the girls. She also admonished them not to relent until the girls are freed from captivity.