My Peace Initiative with Boko Haram by Aisha Wakil
Not long ago, I reached out to members of a factional group of the Boko Haram sect led by Abu Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Aziz, and succeeded in persuading them to dialogue with the Borno state government. The group consequently declared a ceasefire. In 2009, I prevailed on the slain leader of the sect, late Mohammed Yusuf to
shelve planned attacks on security forces in Maiduguri. Since then, my attempts to broker peace in the state have continued
I was motivated to initiate dialogue between the sect and government, which resulted in the insurgent group declaring ceasefire, for the sake of Almighty Allah alone, because the Islamic religion, which I belong to and believe in, always promotes peace and harmony. I would not see blood of our people being shed unnecessary in Borno, Yobe and other states of the north. I’m not happy with the way children are being orphaned and women being widowed. So that was the major reason why I resolved to do all I could to reach out to the insurgents, to find a lasting peace.
Many Nigerians wondered how as a woman, i derived the courage and against all odds took the risk to engage in the dialogue drive. I did it because I’m the type of person who does not like to see people being oppressed or killed unnecessary, for these I can go out of my way to help people as much as I can. Then coming to this particular issue, I reside in Shehuri north Ward, the epicenter of the insurgency and I know majority of the insurgents, so I sat down and made up my mind, that how could I just watch them continue like that?
I started the dialogue process since 2009, even before the major crisis erupted, because I knew their slain spiritual leader, Muhammad Yusuf. His father in-law, late Alhaji Baa Fugu Mohammed was my spiritual father in Islam, and I used to visit his home. In fact, Mohammed Yusuf almost married my younger sister Amina, but Almighty Allah did not make it possible. So that was how I got closer to the duo, it went even to the extent that I was cooking food and taking it to the house of late Alhaji Fugu, to the pupils of the Qur’anic school, (almajirai). And because I am from the southern part of the country, I normally prepared southern dishes, which Yusuf had always come to eat, in fact he liked my egusi soup very much and we became very close when his father in-law told him that I was the one who cooked the food. So anytime we met he expressed delight and prayed that Almighty Allah would reward me, for he was eating from my pot and that was how I established a strong relationship with him. Though I did not know where he lived at that time, but whenever I visited Fugu’s house I saw many people trooping to the area and they would later gather behind a particular compound, so I asked Fugu who these people were, he replied that they were the followers of his son in-law and that they had come for a preaching session conducted by the late Boko Haram leader. When they finish the preaching and were offering closing prayers, I would sometimes walk across to get the blessings of the prayers.
When the first violent attack was about starting in 2009, late Yusuf had been detained severally and sometimes he will be released, so when he came out after one of the detentions, I went to his house to greet him, but his followers refused to allow me access to him, may be because I went there with a police escort. For that I was angry and said I would never go to greet him again, on hearing that, he rushed to his father in-law and asked him to plead with me that I should forgive him, saying he was not around when I came. I then said there was no problem, so the relationship continued and since then I had been listening to his preaching. But three weeks to this problem, I started hearing rumors that they would launch deadly attacks. So I called him, (Yusuf) to my house and when he came I learnt that Abubakar Shekau and other followers had escorted him, but they stayed outside. When he entered my house he didn’t even look directly at my face, he put his two hands behind him and I said to him, my son I’m hearing something, this rumors I’m hearing, I beg you in the name of Allah, don’t do it. He said that he was betrayed; I said by whom, he said by government, I said can I come into it, he said alright, if you can intervene and settle it, we are ready.
I was unable to intervene due to the protocol involved in government, especially when it entails meeting governors, you hardly see them unless you booked an appointment. But I tried all I could to get to the former governor, Ali Modu Sheriff for us to discuss the issue, but wasn’t able to get to him. But I later spoke to late Yusuf’s in-law, telling him that I was not comfortable with these rumors I was hearing but he said there was nothing he could do, as he was a man of over 70 years and that he had written a letter to the government but he didn’t tell me precisely the content of the said letter. I continued talking to Yusuf and he kept giving me instances of the betrayal as his followers were shot over the use of crash helmet for instance. Then when they carried their dead bodies for burial they shot them again despite the fact that there was an agreement between them, they were betrayed. In fact he had seriously lamented this betrayal as I’m talking to you now I don’t know the betrayal he was referring to and nobody has told me about it up till now. And another issue is, I didn’t know the problem will degenerate into mayhem like we have seen, otherwise I would have contacted some of the elders in the state so that they can come into the matter with a view to finding a solution to it.
I live in Shehuri north Ward of Maiduguri metropolis, the epicenter of the insurgency and know quite a number of the insurgents, before they suddenly went into hiding. I started looking for the ones I know but was told that so and so person had fought the war and fled, if I asked where mallam A or B was the answer was that they were on the run because they had engaged in the 2009 battle with security forces. But later I succeeded in getting telephone numbers of some of them and that was how we started the peace talks even before we met physically. That was how I got them, sometimes one person would lead me to another.
It was not easy persuading them to attend a meeting physically, it was hell, it was horrifying, scary, because when I spoke with one of them, he directed me to come to a particular place, when I reached the location, I found him with an AK 47 rifle and improvised explosive devices, (IEDs). Afterwards he said, “mama, why did you risk your life to come here?, I said because we are killing ourselves and I want to put a stop to the bloodshed. He said “you know I’m not alone”, I replied him that yes, I knew and I said but you can talk to others and that was how the whole thing started. I was able to persuade them to come out from their hide-outs in the forest and show their faces, promising that they will not be harmed or arrested. I was able to do so because I’m fully involved in the dialogue procedure. After succeeding in convincing some of the insurgents to show up as their safety was guaranteed, I was linked with someone and I contacted the Borno state Governor, Kashim Shettima who welcomed the development and facilitated several meetings between myself and the insurgents who accepted the dialogue on one hand with the top officials of the state government as well as the Borno Elders Forum, after which the dialogue process was mapped out resulting in the present ceasefire.
When I approached the sect for dialogue, they listed some conditions which indicated the need for absolute confidence from government that they would not be arrested, all their members in detention should be freed, compensation should be paid to the families and relations of all those killed in the violence. Others were, rebuilding of the enclave of their leader and houses of some members destroyed in the conflicts, they should also be empowered to be self-reliant, and that all those involved in the extra-judicial killing of late Yusuf should be prosecuted.
I had been asked whether the ceasefire agreement i brokered with the sect has been disputed by the other faction led by the spiritual leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau as leaflets were circulated within Maiduguri metropolis, purportedly written by Shekau, and denied that such an agreement was reached. Similarly of recent, unknown person who claimed to be Shekau, appeared in video footage posted on the internet, dismissing the issue. Does this mean that the dialogue initiated or peace agreement was entered with the wrong group?
It should be noted that the leaflets didn’t emanate from Shekau, because he was in support of the truce, in fact he was the one who directed Ibn Abdul-Aziz to represent the sect in the agreement. Moreover, why did it take long before the purported Shekau deny the ceasefire? You could recall that before the ceasefire was reached, Shekau was always hasty to react on any particular issue that didn’t emanate from him. I also want to dismiss the recent video footage of the person who claimed to be Shekau, because the insurgents’ spiritual leader does not cover his face in all his appearances as that man did. But even with the ceasefire killings and bombings have continued. Actually all these attacks were the handiwork of some faceless enemies of peace and progress of the state. Whether they are politicians or ordinary citizens, all I know is that there are some individuals who are not at all happy with the ongoing peace process that the state has started enjoying.
It is quite unfortunate that President Goodluck Jonathan in his recent visits to Borno and Yobe states rejected calls by eminent Nigerians, urging the Federal Government to grant amnesty to the sect, saying Boko Haram members are ghosts at a time when dialogue is still going on, Boko Harm is not a faceless group because we have seen them and sat with them. The president’s position will not in any way jeopardize our peace initiative because we are doing it for the benefit of women, children and elderly people who are at the receiving end.
Mr. President had argued that even the amnesty granted the Niger Delta militants did not work properly as it is bedeviled by some challenges. If the President claimed that amnesty did not work in Niger Delta to some extent, and presumed it is not going to work here, then if he knows the strategy or the one that is going to work here, let him present it to us.
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