Boko Haram: After Negotiation, What Next? By Akpos Ebinum
On Saturday, 28th January this year, THISDAY Newspaper published excerpts of an interview Sanusi Lamido Sanusi granted the Financial Times of London. Amongst other suggestions he made in the highly controversial interview, he insinuated that the Boko Haram violence in the North is indirectly proportional to the revenue shared to states in the region by the Federal government.
Puerile as this argument may sound, it unfortunately represents the thinking of many Nigerians as regards violence being a means to an end .One can hardly be faulted for subscribing to this line of thought considering the way and manner in which merchants of violence have been ‘settled’.
If recent history is a guide, then it is safe to argue that the higher your propensity to execute violence, the more likelihood it is for you to be negotiated with. If one has the capacity to ‘hit’ at economic targets, then one is sure being courted and negotiated with because violence promises more rewards than risk.
Take a look at the rogues and bandits that terrorized the Niger Delta. They are now courted in high places and move around with armed escorts. One of them was even recently awarded a contract of mind boggling sum to ‘protect’ our territorial waters. Many of them are on scholarship outside the country to acquire education and skills, while others are on monthly allowances. The brigands are now privileged compared to the many decent hardworking Niger Delta youths who did not join them.
The Niger Delta ‘struggle’ was to a very large extent hijacked by politicians who made a lot of political capital from it. The presidency being occupied by somebody of South-South extraction is a direct consequence of this. In economic terms, a ministry of the Niger Delta was created and an unprecedented amount of funds have been pumped into the Niger Delta or rather into the pockets of politicians and their cohorts. In the 2012 budget, over sixty five billion naira was budgeted for amnesty alone in the Niger Delta.
Boko Haram is the ‘Northern’ answer to Niger Delta militancy, just as it can be argued that OPC and MASSOB are the ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ progenitors of a future violent upheaval in the respective regions. The way some politicians and elites of Northern extraction try to rationalize the Boko Haram activities lays credence to this assertion.
By their nefarious activities, these blood thirsty agents of death have made the Northern part of the country a theatre of violence. According to Daniel Benjamin of the office for counter terrorism, Nigeria accounted for percent of Africa’s reported cases of terrorism in 2011 and fifth worldwide(with five hundred and ninety reported cases) only behind Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia. You can be sure that the figures for 2012 will surmount that of 2011.
There are even rumoured talks of negotiation between government officials and representatives of the murderous sect akin to the talks that preceded the 2009 amnesty programme. This exactly is the primary aim of the sponsors of the sect, to use them in the bargaining for political and economic benefits.
Learning from history and considering the nature of the sect, it is highly doubtful if anything positive will come out of the negotiation. Attempts at negotiation in Afghanistan led to the killing of the government negotiator, just as former president Obasanjo’s earlier attempt at negotiation led to the killing of Baba Kura Fugu. Negotiation with militants in the Niger Delta threw up more factions and discontent and emergency millionaires than enduring peace. The costly ‘peace’ in the Niger Delta is only to create a conducive atmosphere for illegal bunkering activities to thrive as it is estimated by SHELL at least a hundred and fifty thousand barrels of crude is stolen daily.
If you want mass appeal and legitimacy, no matter how diabolic your cause is, you invoke religion or ethnicity and you can be sure of support even from most unlikely sources especially in a society like ours with serious fault lines. We have threaded this ignominious path before during the ‘Niger Delta’ struggle’ when Asari Dokubo invoked Islam and MEND invoked Egbesu, the traditional Ijaw god, so Boko Haram’s fatuous claim to be fighting for Islam should be taken with a pinch of salt, if anything, they have done more damage to Islam than any other force. By the way, the most wanted felon in the world today, Joseph Kony, claimed he was fighting God’s battle, but committed unprecedented atrocious acts.
There are quite a number of prominent northerners and Muslims though, who have decided not to partake in the conspiracy of silence prevalent in the north as regards the Boko Haram scourge. The emir of Anka, Alh Attahiru Muhammad Ahmad, is one of them. He was the one quoted to have said ‘why should everybody be afraid of Boko Haram? The one who kills must be killed…… The fiery Muslim cleric, Sheikh Gumi, has also been virulent in his criticism. When bandits were reigning supreme in the Niger Delta, a lot of the opinion leaders kept mute and relocated from the region and left the politicians to be fraternizing with them save for a few like the current Rivers state governor who was even against the terms of the amnesty. Today, everybody in the region is at the mercy of supposedly disarmed militants. The rate of illegal bunkering is at a scale not experienced before in the nation’s history, with the attendant oil spillages that destroy the flora and fauna. Kidnapping, armed robbery and cultism is the most lucrative ‘businesses amongst the unemployed youths in the region. This should not be unexpected considering the quantity of arms in the wrong hands. This is where the biggest challenge lies to our brothers across the Niger. After Boko Haram, what next? Who will mop up the arms in wrong hands in the North? How do you handle the litany of unemployable radicalized youths who have been indoctrinated to lay a zero premium on human life? How do you heal the animosity prevalent in the north? I dare say the north will witness challenges beyond the capacity of its leaders post Boko Haram if urgent steps are not taken now before things degenerate any further.
And for the people in authority at the center, as they go about their Faustian agreement with the bandits who are still on a mission of calibrated bloodletting in the northern parts of the country, let it be told to them that they are on an odyssey that was started in 2009, and all such negotiations will only lead to the birth of other militant groups in future, and all those on a pacification campaign or calling Boko Haram their ‘freedom fighters’ hopefully will not loose their voices in future, or sing a different tune if the security challenge is from a different part of the country like Hon. Na’Allah did during the Niger Delta militancy era. I wonder why he is silent now.
I am @akposebinum on twitter
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