With its unrelenting campaign of violence in some Northern states, the Jama'atul Ahlis Sunnah Lidda'awati Wal Jihad otherwise known as Boko Haram has done a huge damage to Nigeria, former United States Ambassador John Campbell has said.
In a chat with THISDAY at the weekend, the former US envoy to Nigeria while appraising the impact of the activities of the religious sect said "the cost is huge".
Buttressing his assertion, Campbell said: "There is considerable number of internally displaced persons, economic activities is low in places like Maiduguri, investment is low, the rhetoric of Boko Haram has driven a wedge between Christians and Muslims. That is not good for Nigeria".
While noting that the violent campaign of the sect had even made several Nigerians to question the unity of the country, Campbell maintained that he believes that in spite of these challenges, Nigeria would not break up.
Appraising Nigeria's response to the Boko Haram challenge so far, the American diplomat said, "It seems to me that the government's response to Boko Haram has been to treat it as a security challenge and thereby trying to suppress it by military means".
He said a political approach to the violence was vital. Such political approach, he said involves dialogue and reaching out to leaders of the North.
Apart from that, he said government should also initiate development plan for the region as a way of tackling the problem of poverty and the feeling of marginalisation.
"The problem I see in the North is that the sense of marginalisation is widespread, the sense of poverty is widespread", he said.
Noting that though issues about development of the North were not part of the demands of Boko Haram, Campbell said government should still initiate development plan for the region so as to deny the sect any support base. "The issue is how to reduce the support base of Boko Haram and the way to do that is by removing the factors that bring about the sense of marginalisation," said Campbell who served as US ambassador to Nigeria between 2004 and 2007.
On the recent expression of willingness by Boko Haram to dialogue with government, Campbell said he believes that Nigeria should take advantage of any opportunity to dialogue with the sect.
The former envoy, who is a Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, said he was aware that government had said it was ready to dialogue but added that his concern was whether the call for dialogue by the sect was genuine.
In a surprise move on November 1, a spokesman of the extremist group which had always waved aside any call for dialogue, announced its readiness to ceasefire and enter into dialogue with the government in Saudi Arabia.
It even went a step further by releasing the list of its team and listing its terms which include payment of compensation for its members killed by security forces, rebuilding of its damaged property, release of its supporters in detention, and prosecution of immediate-past Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff.
While the President's spokesman immediately described the group's willingness to cease fire and dialogue as "a welcome development," the killing of retired General Muhammadu Shuwa, a civil war veteran, and its continued campaign of violence in some Northern states have called to question the genuiness of the ceasefire and the proposed dialogue.
A recently released Amnesty International report on Boko Haram documented both the atrocities committed by the violent sect, and also catalogued the serious human rights violations carried out by the security forces deployed to counter the militant group, including enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial executions, the burning of homes and detention without trial.
Amnesty International's 76-page report titled, "Nigeria: Trapped in the Cycle of Violence", specifically faulted the strategy employed to tackle these challlenges whereby rule of law is disregarded and human rights are violated with impunity, thus creating a vicious cycle of violence.