25 June 2014

Nigeria: Umar - 'Dialogue Is in the Only Way Open'

Suspected Boko Haram Islamist militants have struck again, taking dozens of women and girls captive in a raid on a village in Borno state in northeast Nigeria.

Protests in Abuja, Nigeria in May 2014 over the kidnapping of hundreds of girls from a secondary school in Chibok.

The kidnapping comes two months after 200 schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok in the same state, triggering international outrage and indigantion.

DW. A state of emergency is in force in Borno state. How was it possible that these abductions could occur under such tight security conditions?

Dangiwa Umar: Well, to be honest, it is shocking and surprising and just as you said there is a state of emergency in the state. The military is now also aware of these abductions which are occurring daily. There is a failure of intelligence and up until now we are not sure where the Boko Haram is getting its support from, the sophisticated weapons that we see, the vehicles, particularly the armored personnel carriers. There is also the problem that the governor of Borno state has alluded to - that is the problem of the Nigerian military's poor equipment. It is evident that Boko Haram is better equipped in terms of weaponry. So even if the Nigerian military have information or intelligence on the intentions of Boko Haram, it is very difficult for them to react without adequate logistics.

How do you assess allegations that the military is actually in cahoots with Boko Haram?

It is still in the realm of speculation, but I would be very surprised. I think the truth is that the military has been ill-equipped. I don't think there is connivance between military people and Boko Haram. The military is overwhelmed, because of lack of sophisticated weapons and also poor motivation. I understand that things are going to improve and the military is going to get support from Western allies. I also understand the situation will improve in terms of logistics

Given the pressure the Nigerian government is facing, do you think it is open to talks?

Well, I think the Nigerian government has been talking directly or indirectly to the militants. If an agreement has not been reached, I think it is due to the preposterous demands by Boko Haram. For example, the release of people who have been convicted of murder of innocent civilians. I think it is difficult for the government to accept such conditions. But again the government is in two minds. On the one hand, it is willing to talk to the insurgents. On the other hand, both local and foreign media and public opinion are against any dialogue with insurgents. That to me is wrong because if their demands a reasonable, it's ok. There is nothing wrong in dialogue. After all the United States recently dialogued with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and a soldier was released. I think it was a good move. So I believe there should be some form of dialogue. It is very difficult to see how the girls can be rescued through the use of force. Neither the foreign powers, nor the Nigerian military has the wherewithal to have these girls rescued alive and well through the use of force, so I think dialogue is the only way open now.

So negotiations are already taking place between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram?

That is what I took away from a committee that was established about six months back to reach out to Boko Haram. But if negotiations have stalled, it must be because Boko Haram demanded things that the government cannot offer - as I said - the release of people who have already been convicted of mass murder. I think that is not possible. On the one hand, supporters of the government are talking about some northern politicians being the puppeteers of Boko Haram and opponents of the government are talking about how the government is inept and possibly how even the military are assisting Boko Haram. I think there must be unity of purpose; the nation must be united in this very dangerous war against Boko Haram. The only way Boko Haram can succeed is if the nation gets divided and it is up to the federal government to unite the public against Boko Haram.

Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar was governor of the state of Kaduna from 1985 to 1988 while Nigeria was under the military rule of General Ibrahim Babangida. Umar left the military in 1993 and founded a political party, Movement for Unity and Progress.

Interview: Stefanie Duckstein

DW recommends

Date 25.06.2014

Author Stefanie Duckstein

Editor Susan Houlton

Keywords Boko Haram

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