Last Tuesday was an emotional day at the Government House, Maiduguri, capital of Borno State. Fifty school age children orphaned by Boko Haram militants in different parts of the city were brought to the Government House as recipients of government scholarship. Some of the kids narrated how insurgents stormed their houses and slaughtered their parents, and how their education was cut short by the action of the killers.
Kashim Shettima, governor of Borno State, moved to tears by the tragic loss suffered by these children, told them to regard him henceforth as their father, promising to ensure that they get the education they deserved. He said the scholarship would cover their expenses throughout the years they would be in school.
While people were shedding tears at the Maiduguri Government House, cheering news came from Kabiru Turaki, chairman, Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts in Northern Nigeria that Boko Haram had agreed to a ceasefire. Turaki, who is also the minister of special duties, said his committee had met and discussed with the leadership of the militant sect, and that the group had agreed to surrender their weapon and ceasefire. He said details of the agreement were still being worked out.
Turaki’s disclosure came shortly after Mohammed Marwana, a purported deputy leader of the sect, told the world that his group was ready for ceasefire, and had entered an agreement with the federal government to surrender their arms. Marwana said he had the authority of Abubakar Shekau to enter the ceasefire deal, adding that his group was not responsible for the recent attack on schools.
Although many Nigerians were sceptical about Marwana’s declaration of ceasefire in view of past experience with the group, Turaki’s confident endorsement of the ceasefire as having the blessing of Shekau, who is regarded as the arrowhead of the insurgency, gave indication that terrorists’ attacks would soon end. Turaki further disclosed that his committee had met the insurgents one-on-one before achieving the ceasefire agreement.
But barely 24 hours after Turaki’s disclosure, came the first sign that the country was being taken for another ride, and that the ceasefire might be a mirage after all. The military, a key stakeholder in the war on terror, said it was not aware of any deal with the sect. Chris Olukolade, a brigadier-general and spokesman of the military, said if there was any ceasefire agreement with Boko Haram, the military was not involved. Olukolade did not make any further statement on the issue.
Then came the shocking denial by Shekau that his group entered into a ceasefire deal with the federal government. In a video recording obtained by the AFP, Shekau vowed his group would never enter into any deal with the federal government. “The claim that we have entered into a truce with the government of Nigeria is not true. We don’t know Kabiru Turaki. We have never spoken with him. He is lying,” said Shekau.
The militant leader expressed support for the recent school attacks in Yobe State, saying teachers who teach Western education deserved to be killed. He said all schools established to teach Western education was “a plot against Islam.”
Shekau’s denial of any agreement with government must have shocked members of the reconciliation committee and embarrassed the government. As at press time last week, the committee was yet to make any official statement on Shekau’s repudiation of the alleged agreement. Efforts to get Turaki’s reaction were also fruitless as he refused to pick his calls and did not respond to text messages from the magazine.
Labaran Maku, minister of information, was also dodgy on the issue. The minister avoided the matter during his briefing last Wednesday after the Federal Executive Council meeting, fuelling speculation that the government was embarrassed by developments on the ceasefire deal. Many who spoke to the magazine said it was shocking that some insurgents were lured into believing that a deal was at hand, when there was none, could easily hoodwink a presidential committee with such calibre of people.
But some members of the committee, who wish to be anonymous, were reported to have said that Shekau was fighting for his own survival, knowing fully that if the ceasefire succeeds, he would still be hunted down to answer to his crimes. Thus, the committee gave the impression that Shekau was the only one trying to scuttle the ceasefire, and that his lieutenants had deserted him.
But available evidence does not support this portrayal of Shekau and Boko Haram. The magazine reliably gathered that the committee did not meet Boko Haram leaders still at large. It only met some members of the sect who had been captured by soldiers and were being detained in various military detention centres and prisons. A source said what the committee did was simply to “hop from prison to prison” talking with detained members of the sect, and eventually getting them to accept that ceasefire was the only way out for them.
The alleged ceasefire agreement failed, according to analysts, because it did not come from the insurgents, who have repeatedly said they would not negotiate with the government. It was a contraption of the reconciliation committee to justify its mandate and claim undue credit.
The failure of the ceasefire deal has vindicated members who pulled out of the committee on the grounds that the composition and leadership of the committee constituted an impediment to achieving its mandate. Datti Ahmad, president of the Supreme Council for Sharia, and Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress, both declined membership of the committee, stressing that a committee led by a serving minister of government could hardly achieve anything with the insurgents. Since then both men have refrained from making further comments about the sect.
Many are of the opinion that unless government declares general amnesty with a call on all insurgents to come out openly and surrender their arms under a guarantee of their safety, there may never be any genuine ceasefire. But despite public appeal for general amnesty for the sect, the government did not seem amenable to it, and it has cleverly dodged the issue by setting up the reconciliation committee as a “first step.”
Government’s refusal to declare general amnesty for the militants was also out of regard for the feelings of a cross-section of Nigerians and organisations, which have expressed strong opposition to amnesty for the sect. The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, especially, has been vehement in its opposition. Ayo Oritsejafor, who was re-elected president of CAN two weeks ago, had repeatedly urged the government to ignore calls for amnesty to Boko Haram, and instead compensate victims of the insurgency.
The Jama’atul Nasril Islam, JNI, the umbrella association for Nigerian Muslims led by Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto, on the other hand, urged government to consider amnesty for the sect in order to have lasting peace. The Sultan himself publicly called on the government at a function in Kaduna to grant amnesty to members of the sect who were willing to renounce violence.
This lack of a national consensus on amnesty for Boko Haram had compelled government to take the middle ground by setting up the reconciliation committee led by Turaki, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. The committee has 26 members, including Bolaji Akinyemi, former foreign affairs minister and Ahmed Lemu, a frontline northern cleric.
The military is also a major obstacle to any plan for official pardon for Boko Haram. The top brass of the military has never hidden its preference for a military solution to the Boko Haram menace, and had opposed calls for amnesty. Azubuike Ihejirika, chief of army staff, especially, has stated at several public fora that the sect was evil, and that the military would flush them out of the country.
Sources within the military confided in the magazine that the insurgents had killed many military officers by ambush and during operations, and that the military considered official pardon as a slight on their deceased colleagues. The military had urged the President to declare state of emergency in the hotbeds of the insurgency long before the May 14 declaration of emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
Although the military operation to flush out the insurgents has succeeded to a large extent, there is no doubt that insurgents are still very much with us. After two months of intense military raids on insurgents, recent attacks on schools and police stations in Yobe, Borno and Kaduna are reminders that there may be need to review strategy and increase intelligence gathering.
Last Tuesday, Ikedichi Iweha, spokesman of the JTF in Kano, issued a statement that members of the sect under fire in the Northeast had fled to some parts of the North. He said “extensive intelligence build up” by the military led to a raid of Abunabu, a village in Jigawa State where some terrorists were believed to be taking refuge. Iweha said after exchange of fire with the militants, three of them were killed while several weapons, including AK47 rifles, were recovered from their hideouts.
As a way of getting the confidence of the local communities so that they can provide intelligence, the military has also embarked on the construction of several beneficial projects in communities that were destroyed during military operations. In Maiduguri, for instance, several boreholes were sunk in different parts of the city to bring drinking water to the people. The chief of army staff created a new office – Office of Civil/Military Relations, to handle the projects. Bola Koleosho, a major-general, heads the office. Koleosho told the magazine that the chief of army staff felt it was a way of giving back to the communities that co-operated with the military to flush out insurgents. “It is also a way of alleviating the problems of the local communities,” he told the magazine.
Analysts are of the opinion that the military should continue its raids on the insurgents since there is no hope of achieving a ceasefire peacefully. “The Boko Haram is factionalised and it is difficult for the reconciliation committee to know which is the authentic group to negotiate with,” said Abubakar Tsav, a former commissioner of police in Lagos State.
But the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, has said people should allow the government to do what it considered in the best interest of the country. Anthony Sani, spokesman of the apex northern organisation, said last week that dialogue with the sect was a good option if government could bring them to the table. “Peace is what Nigerians want, and if talking to them would bring peace, why should some people be opposed to it,” he asked.