14 January 2013

Nigeria: Boko Haram - Let Obasanjo Lead the Talks

Photo: This Day
JTF soldiers


The recent comment by ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo that the federal government ought to find a way to initiate dialogue with Boko Haram ought to be examined more closely.

The government's outright dismissal of Obasanjo's suggestion may turn out to be unhelpful in the long run. Granted that Obasanjo had earlier advocated a scorched-earth approach to the problem, his current advocacy of a carrot-and-stick tactic should be objectively evaluated and, if found practicable, pursued with vigour.

In the CNN interview, Obasanjo had said that "to deal with a group like that, you need a carrot and stick. The carrot is finding out how to reach out to them. When you try to reach out to them and they are not amenable to being reached out to, you have to use the stick".

In the present circumstance, the nation can do with as many suggestions on the way out of the security challenges as are offered by notable citizens no matter their antecedents. Obasanjo may have been an unlikely democrat. His record in handling such security problems during his two-term presidency may have been brutal; his choice of forum to offer advice to President Jonathan may have seemed opportunistic; but the nation stands to lose nothing by critically examining his suggestions. Even the presidency must agree with Obasanjo that "Boko Haram undermines security, and anything that undermines security undermines development".

It is possible, even probable, that General Obasanjo now has more information about the Boko Haram sect to make him reverse his earlier hawkish stance on the subject. All over the civilised world, former presidents always make their services available to incumbent leaders, especially in cases involving high-wire negotiations. They run diplomatic and socio-political errands for their successors in the service of their fatherland. Rather than continue to chastise him for his comments, the federal government should consider enlisting Obasanjo to lead talks with Boko Haram. This is not the time to rustle up Obasanjo's gory record in Odi and Zaki Biam. His CNN interview gives the impression that the former president knows exactly how to go about the whos, wheres, hows and whats of the Boko Haram problem. He may just be the negotiator the nation has been waiting for. President Jonathan should live up to his own admonition at the recent conference on security challenges in Nigeria where he declared that "the time has come for us as a nation to seriously rise up and address the security challenges confronting the nation... In this respect, the government, security agencies, stakeholders and other citizens have to work together".

Without further delay, President Jonathan should constitute a negotiating team with Obasanjo as negotiator-in-chief.

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