Vanguard (Lagos)

8 November 2012

Nigeria: Negotiating With Boko Haram

Long before it became accepted wisdom, I had been an advocate of negotiation with the Islamist organisation, Boko Haram.

At a point when intellectual, media and political circles, especially in the Southern part of the country saw the counter-insurgency tactics of the Nigerian Army as an opportunity to destroy the insurgency, and by extension, lay to waste a huge swathe of the North, I was one of the few commentators arguing that the Nigerian state would invariably have to find the way to reach some détente with the Islamist insurgency.

We were pilloried; and I still regularly get abused on many web sites as a spokesperson for the insurgency.

I have advocated negotiation for a host of reasons. In the first place, it was very important to place the insurgency within the context of anti-state activities which have manifested in various guises around the country.

It was merely a reflection of our various levels of understanding or the depth of prejudice, that some Nigerians will excuse "militancy" in the Niger Delta; valorize the activities of MASSOB or OPC, but will blindly dismiss out of hand, the insurgency of Boko Haram, unwilling to even place the phenomenon in a social context, whatsoever.

But Nigerians have been hurting at various levels and anti-state activities will often be informed by the specific historical experiences and settings in different parts of a huge and complex country like Nigeria.

As it is, in Northern Nigeria, given over one thousand years of Islamic history and a tradition of radicalism that has always been part of the Islamic heritage here, it was no surprise that Islam became the basis and context of anti state activism and in the extreme, the insurgency of Boko Haram.

My effort to assist in understanding the social context of the insurgency was often crudely reduced to an acceptance of the ideology and belief systems or tactics of the organisation.

Mishandling Boko Haram

It was clear that the Nigerian state had mishandled the phenomenon from the beginning and the greatest mistake was the order given by the late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua to wipe out the organisation.

The extra-judicial killings of members and innocent people alike, is still available on YOUTUBE! Unfortunately, the security apparatus of the government, especially under Andrew Azazi, framed the insurgency as a political conspiracy by the North against the Jonathan administration.

That led to two inter-related consequences; on the one hand, the deepening of counter-insurgency, with its scorched earth tactics leading to unending killings of innocent people in the communities affected in Borno and Yobe states. The Nigerian military inadvertently became recruitment sergeants for the insurgency.

On the other hand, the security budget became a 'Milch Cow' that fed the 'securicrats' and international security contractors. Yet, the nation was not getting the peace it so craved, as the security apparatus and the regime were locked in a very faulty appreciation of the problem they are dealing with. As the international human rights organisations have reported in recent days, the nation's security apparatus has carried out a lot of atrocities in its fight against the insurgency.

I was in Bornoin May and it was clear that people were more afraid of the security forces than they were of the insurgency. And it was the unending killing of young people; the disruption of socio-economic life; the curtailment of cultural existence and the overall levels of insecurity, which made Borno Elders to consistently speak out against the activities of the security forces.

This past week has brought things to a head in the struggle against the insurgency. There was the killing of General Muhammed Shuwa, war-time hero and one of the most decent leaders of recent Nigerian history.

Boko Haram has denied that it killed the old man. I was also reliably informed that all roads leading to his residence are ringed with military outposts; it is therefore imperative to ask basic questions about the security situation and the circumstance which led to General Shuwa's killing.

How was it possible for the killers to elude all the security posts around Shuwa's residence? Who was interested in his death? And what end was it expected to serve?

These are not idle questions especially when it came in the same week that a 'spokesperson' of Boko Haram said it was ready to negotiate with the Nigerian government to end the insurgency, listing a number of issues it wanted resolved as well as people it wanted as part of a negotiation process.

Expectedly, the name of General MuhammaduBuhari has excited the opprobrium of certain quarters in the country. From a member of the House of Representatives from Plateau, BitrusKaze, through to Chief Solomon Lar and the leadership of CAN, there has been an orchestrated campaign against General Buhari. Those who object to Buhari are locked in their prejudices about his place in the nation's social, religious and political spaces.

I think Sam Nda-Isaiah's column in LEADERSHIP newspaper (THE BUHAR I KNOW), on Monday, is a very good appreciation of the man, General Buhari. Whatever prejudices inform the outcry against General Buhari has been deliberately orchestrated in an effort to drown out the voices of a negotiated end of the Boko Haram insurgency.

It is not Buhari that they hurt with the irresponsible, deliberately orchestrated hysteria, but Nigeria. In any case, those who object to Buhari as a possible negotiator to help end the insurgency, that he has not even accepted anyway, should tell us what role Wole Soyinka played in the Niger Delta "militancy" which made MEND name him a negotiator and they did not object then!

A deteriorated social space

The Nigerian social space has so deteriorated in recent years and people have retreated into ethno-religious subjectivism to the point that has made rational discourse so difficult to commence.

But we must never be intimidated by religious bigotry and ethnic chauvinism; no matter how copious a space they can win in the media. If the Nigerian state has finally arrived at a resolve that the best way out of the Boko Haram insurgency is a negotiated end, it is imperative to pull all stops to achieve success of the endeavour.

For those still wooly-eyed about a military solution, I will state it for the umpteenth time, that there can be no military solution to a stubborn, ideological insurgency; the Americans discovered that in Afghanistan. Even the most powerful nation in human history wants out of the Afghan insurgency!

Professor Mahmud Yakubu and TETFUND

IT was Professor Mahmud Yakubu's definitive study of the life and times of Sa'adZungur, one of the most radical intellectuals, poets and politicians, of 20th century Northern Nigeria, which first attracted me to the unassuming and decent professor (And as an aside, I think every Nigerian interested in understanding the radical tradition in Northern Nigeria, including the recent upsurge in Islamic radicalism, must read Yakubu's seminal study of Zungur's life).

I read through the work over a weekend, sometime in 2000, and sought out Professor Yakubu. He was a Senior Lecturer at the Nigeria Defence Academy in Kaduna; I was General Manager at the Kwara State Television Service in Ilorin at the time, and the first meeting was as if we had been friends all our lives!

He was very modest about the Sa'adZungur study, which took me to his residence in the first place; just as he always was about his academic pedigree: a First Class Degree in History and Post-Graduate in record time at Cambridge and Oxford Universities.

It struck me even then, that Nigeria was going to hear a lot about this dyed-in-the-wool intellectual into the future!

The next time I saw his ability was at the organisational level during the 200th anniversary of the Sokoto Jihad, commemorated with a gathering which brought intellectuals, politicians, religious scholars and traditional rulers from around the world.

Professor Mahmud Yakubu was one of the moving forces of a successful commemoration of one of the most important intellectual, political and religious revolutions to ever take place in Africa: the Jihad led by Sheikhs Usmanu Bin Fodiye; AbdullahiFodiye and Muhammad Bello.

When the late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua appointed Professor Mahmud Yakubu as Executive Secretary of the Educational Trust Fund, it was, in the views of many people who know the importance of that Fund, one of the good appointments made by the administration.

Mahmud went to work with devotion and competence within the vision of the Fund, fought for by patriotic Nigerian intellectuals in ASUU, to aid the tertiary level of our educational sector. And by all accounts, the past five years have been some of the most productive in the history of the organisation.

Professor Mahmud Yakubu provided an insightful leadership that took TETFUND (as it became under his leadership) to every nook and cranny of Nigeria, providing critical support for old and young tertiary institutions alike.

He provided opportunity for over 5000 Nigerian intellectuals to train away from their institutions to defeat academic "in-breeding" that has become a problem of the tertiary education level in the country.

It was therefore no surprise that people connected with the work of the organisation have been rooting for a second four-year term for Professor Mahmud Yakubu. Even President Goodluck Jonathan was reported to be asking about the professor heading TETFUND, whose tenure everybody has described in glowing terms!

Nigerian appointments have often placed square pegs in round holes. The effect has been the crisis all around us.

But once in a while, the Nigerian state gets it right; an individual is given an assignment that he is capable of carrying out because he has the training, temperament and pedigree for the position. In such a circumstance things work almost like clockwork and achievements are recorded which redeem the social space in the country.

That was the case with Professor Mahmud Yakubu at TETFUND over the past five years. As the saying goes, one good term deserves the second; no wonder, stakeholders in the tertiary education level, such as ASUU, have been rooting for Professor Mahmud Yakubu's re-appointment for a second, four-year tenure. When a public official works well for society, it elevates the public space; Mahmud Yakubuhas been truly exemplary at TETFUND!

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