Vanguard (Lagos)

18 May 2014

Nigeria: Boko Haram - the Negotiated Settlement, Resolution We Need - Lai Mohammed

interview

In an encounter, the Interim Publicity Secretary of All Progressive Congress, APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, blamed the Federal Government for engaging in blame game on Boko Haram and called for a security stakeholders meeting in order to curtail insurgency in the North-east.

What is your stand on the Boko Haram sect?

Without being partisan, government has not handled the Boko Haram issue in a competent manner. The government has approached the insurgency in three ways. First, they thought it will go away on it's own; second, at every point in time, they tried to hold somebody else responsible for the insurgency; third, the Federal Government believes the insurgency is politically motivated against them. This attitude of the GEJ administration does not allow them to take responsibility for the insurgency and on how it can be resolved.

It is the role of the government at the centre to take responsibility and control over the security apparatus in Nigeria. But you will observe that the government is just interested in blaming perceived political enemies and parties rather than act. For instance, when there is a bomb blast, government would blame it on the opposition. When these girls were abducted, they said it was meant to discredit government. When there is killing, some people will say it was because Jonathan is a minority leader or it has religious undertone.

This in not the way a responsible government should tackle insurgency. While you are tackling the insurgency, you could at the same time look for those behind the dastardly act. But Nigerians are not interested in those behind the insurgency. They are interested in two things. One; bring the insurgency to an end; two bring culprits to justice. We are tired of the blame game.

It is irresponsible for any government to continue with the blame game. For instance, if there is fire in my office, I won't be looking out for what caused the fire outbreak; my aim should be how to put out the fire. This is the unyielding attitude of the Federal Government in responding to Boko Haram. While they were doing this, they allowed the sect to link up with some more deadly international organisations, got better training, funding and equipment. Today, there is paralysis in Jonathan's administration, that shows they do not know what they are doing.

What's your suggestion on how to curtail the insurgency?

At first, the Federal Government did not accept the fact that the insurgency was beyond their capacity and as such did not call for outside help; by outside help, I mean not going outside Nigeria. The government must be ready to think outside the box by reaching out to all other stakeholders . In curbing the insurgency, every Nigerian should be seen as a stakeholder. We have offered advice several times to this administration that had been ignored.

Incidentally everything we suggested to the Federal Government is what is being re-echoed by the United States . The first thing we told this administration was that they should call a national summit of all stakeholders on security. In the last one month, we have issued this advice more than three times. Before then, we offered the following recommendations to them: Government should develop a holistic counter insurgency strategy, rather than reacting to attacks of terror groups; intelligence gathering is another major key to combat insurgency.

Even when you have the whole military men on ground, without intelligence gathering, you can not get effective result. We also advised them to strengthen what I refer to as the force enablers. This has to do with the equipment for fighting the insurgent group such as attack helicopters, air transportation field engineers, even medical assistance.

When the governor of Borno State cried out that it appeared the Boko-Haram sect was better equipped than the military guys on ground, all he was actually asking for was for government to improve force enablers for the military to allow them to do their job. Thirdly, we advised them that in defeating any insurgency, there must be negotiated resolutions and settlement.

What do you mean by negotiated resolutions and settlement?

You can hold negotiated settlement if there are intermediaries between government and the sect. We know of two instances when people like Shehu Sani volunteered to be the middlemen between the Federal Government and the sect. When negotiations were going on, government broke the agreement. We were also aware of a journalist who was negotiating on behalf of the sect in Kano.

In sensitive issues like this, you use individuals the sect has confidence in to negotiate. Shekau won't come out at the beginning of negotiation. But he has people he trusts who he would send. Also these people operate from certain localities. They belong to certain states and ethnic groups and they have leaders. So when government begins to ask who to negotiate with, it is an admission of failure on the part of the leadership. When husband and wife are fighting, is it not the in-laws that settle it without the spouses being present? We don't have to have Shekau on ground to begin negotiations. There are people government can start negotiations with.

There is no where in the world that insurgency is wished away. Today, part of the problem in the North-east is poverty, unemployment and bad governance. If you introduce a serious economic plan there today, you are surely going to win many youths away from Boko Haram. If somebody can feed and he has a good job, he will not consider associating with Boko Haram as the next option. It is easier to go to a person who is unemployed and ask such person to do a job for you with N10,000 but a man who is gainfully employed would not even be seen.

If a governor is visiting or a head of state goes for party rallies, you will observe lots of crowd following him; if they have jobs, will they come out to listen to campaigns? Or can you imagine the kind of campaign we have in Nigeria where we have one million people coming out on campaign ground. Can that happen in the United State? They would rather do it on the social media because everybody is busy.

We are not saying the terrorist group does not have religious under tone, no! Are we saying it does not have political under tone? All we are saying is that, be it political or religious undertone, you can reduce it, by building the economy, by giving hope to the youths. Government must recognize that if they improve the economy with a Marshal Plan, it will weaken the base of Boko Haram in recruiting youths.

It is also a battle for the mind of the people. The Federal Government should de-radicalise by changing the kind of message that the average youth in the North-east listens to which includes if you kill a non- Muslim, you will make paradise and you will be bestowed with seven virgins. Government must send messages about the values and sanctity of lives. Letting people imbibe moral values would be an advantage. Government can start the strategy through secondary schools.

There is also a problem with inter-agency rivalry between the army, the navy and the police which is also weakening their result and strengthening the sect. I guess the reason for the reshuffle of the service chiefs can be linked to it.

Again the military can not bring peace to any part of the world. They can only quell riots. But people have to live together. So you must include internal peace makers, which include the immediate community, non-governmental organisations, who have the experience of mending together broken families. These are some of the suggestions we made to government through letters and through our various governors. Anybody who says we are not making suggestions to the Federal Government is not correct.

Since the international community is showing keen interest in the 'Bring Back Our Girls' campaign, do you see the scourge of insurgency being curtailed any time soon?

When these girls were abducted, what did government do? They first denied it, that nothing happened, that they were trying to blackmail government; later, they said the opposition was responsible. Then, they said they wanted to see their pictures to confirm it. Over 200 children were abducted and they wanted to wish it away. For 15 days, this administration did nothing. The President must change his attitude and accept that he is in charge.

As the President of a country, the buck stops at his table. Pointing accusing finger does not help the matter. Who ever is behind it should be arrested but first and foremost bring back all these girls safely.

I don't know what the United States is bringing on board, but I can assure you that some of the recommendations that we have made either in intelligence gathering, strengthening our force capability, aligning the political, social with the military, or getting a defined counter terrorism strategy, these are the things they will recommend. I don't see them going outside the parameters we have suggested.

If they do, good for us, because these European countries have lots of experience in fighting insurgency. But we believe that the matter wouldn't have gotten this far, if government from the beginning had focus on the matter rather than alleging the opposition as the cause of it.

Some people are of the view that military administrators should be appointed by the President for normalcy to return to the insurgency infested states. What is your take on emergency rule?

State of emergency has always been misunderstood. We are of the belief that we cannot curtail insurgency without the military. However, it is always recommended that for the military to succeed, they must work with the immediate communities and the stakeholders. The military must be seen as soldiers of occupation, they must not see the governors as if they are not part of the same quest.

It is very unpleasant for people to think that the governor, the House of Assembly hinder the soldiers from doing their job, how do they stop the military from doing their work? If you bring solders into a place, they only have maps, they will need the cooperation of the people on ground. If the democratic system is dissolved, the House of Assembly, as well as the local government, who will the soldiers relate with.

How can a governor elected by his people be against peace being returned to his own state? It is the governor, whose market has been closed, whose people are being killed and buried everyday, whose schools had been closed.

It is an attempt by the Federal Government to politicise everything which made the matter worse. They are always looking for the cheap way-out. Can any governor stand in the way of a military tank or a bazooka? If the democratic process is being dismantled, that means there will be military administration. Even when the US went into Afghanistan, they built democratic institutions, now some Nigerians want it destroyed.

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