Negotiating with Boko Haram By Ugo Onuoha


President Muhammadu Buhari has too many things in his plate. And many of them  demand immediate attention. The Naira is in a tailspin in spite of the desperate measures being adopted by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The Capital Market is severely unstable. Investors and other formal economic operators are in a state of ‘siddon look’ – waiting for the Federal Government to show its economic direction. The price of crude oil in the international market is crashing at a rate equal or even faster than the speed at which the Buhari administration is heading towards the fabled 100 days in office. Corruption and stealing in the public sector are still staring us in the face (indeed, the President said as lately as June that crude oil theft was still rampant). Poverty is still prowling the land and ravaging our people. Hope and resignation are playing tricks with Nigerians; and then there is still the unsettled issue of insecurity in the North East and elsewhere.

In the two and half months since Buhari has been in office, and in power, he has particularly taken the menace of corruption and insecurity very seriously. He has been virtually everywhere in search of help to tackle these problems – Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Benin, Germany and the United States of America. On Tuesday the President inaugurated an advisory panel on anti-corruption and about 10 days earlier the West African Multi-National Task Force on  Boko Haram was formally deployed. Security is key to peace and development as well as economic revival. And that is the area we have most anxiety with the approach of the government in dealing with Boko Haram.

On at least four occasions, the President and his spokesmen had spoken about negotiating with Boko Haram. Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan tried negotiation but he got burnt and swindled. Buhari probably knows better. I am not convinced about that anyway. Many Nigerians may not be against negotiation or dialogue with the Boko Haram terrorist group if the parametres for the dialogue are clearly established. The position of the government that it will only enter into dialogue with genuine leaders of Boko Haram is hogwash. The primary and perhaps, the only demand of the Boko Haram terrorists at the onset of its  war against Nigeria was the carving out of a territory from Nigeria to establish an Islamic Caliphate. How does that form a basis for negotiation or dialogue? Perhaps, to drive home its seriousness, Boko Haram has since pledged it loyalty to the ISIL, the worst terrorism scourge afflicting the world right now. Yes, worse than Mullah Omar’s al qaeda that destroyed some American cities in September 2001.

Part of the oath of office of the President is to ensure the inviolability of the territory of the federal republic. Any discussion, any negotiation, any dialogue that remotely suggests the violation of the territorial integrity of Nigeria should be off the table. If Nigeria must be restructured, it should only be by the participation and agreement of the federating nations. There’s a danger in this administration giving the impression that it’s willing, under coercion, to negotiate the terms of the sovereignty of the country. It will be an invitation to chaos. If our government must negotiate with terrorists, it should copy the West and play the ostrich. Publicly it should maintain that it will never negotiate with terrorists, but behind the scene it should engage a third party to negotiate on its behalf. If at any point, negotiations go awry, the government would distance itself. As for the President of Chad who has just discovered that Shekau has been removed as Boko Haram leader and replaced with someone who is open to negotiation, let him set the ball rolling. For the apologists in Nigeria, there is no similarity between Boko Haram and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. To attempt any linkage will be self-serving. Nobody should open a Pandora’s Box.


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