For sure, writing or discussing about Boko Haram and any government in power is like stepping on landmine. But there are questions to ask.
Over the past fortnight, daily newspapers have featured articles as framed for them by the government without asking more questions.
For the media, it is about not missing the most important news item of the day. As a newsroom leader I know it is always a tug of war between the editors and reporters on one hand and managing directors/editor-in-chief and editors on the other hand.
But here is the riddle. For the government, there’s a political interest to protect in times of crisis, and the media is often caught in the web of politics, profits and social justice as spin doctors swoop on it as a vehicle.
Clearly, the Buhari government has much political interests to protect having presented the former government as a failure on all fronts, especially with respect to dealing decisively with terrorism and corruption.
We can’t forget so soon that Buhari as a candidate during the election was marketed as someone who dealt with insurgency before and has the capacity and capability to win the war as soon as he resumed in Aso villa. It turned out to be a spin.
But in the politics and profits of Boko Haram terrorism, the name of one man — Zanna Mustapha — has been cyclical
The willingness of Mr. Mustapha, a Maiduguri-based lawyer to stay in the bedlam from one government to the other since Umaru Musa Yar’Adua presidency drew my attention in the recent swap deal that saw some Boko Haram commanders released from Nigerian prisons.
Really, we rarely hear of horror stories such as what happened after the release of the commanders, where pardoned criminals will take up arms against the government less than 24 hours after “amnesty” as shown in the latest video released by Boko Haram on May 12.
Just like in time past the government has asked us to dismiss the new video. I’m not surprised, because government everywhere knows the art-of-cover-up more than anything else. No government wants the citizens and enemies to see it as too soft on issues of terrorism. It was the undoing of Goodluck Jonathan regime—his government sounded too soft to the ears of citizens and enemies (Boko Haram fighters).
And while I’m supportive of government dismissing fake news, this government has failed to prove to Nigerians that the Boko Haram terrorists in the video were different from those released by his officials.
“A short term political victory,” are the words David Otto, a United Kingdom-based counter-terrorism expert with knowledge of Africa and European Union used to describe what happened when I pressed him for answer this week.
I concur. That’s probably what president Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) are looking for at this time.
Interestingly, Otto has worked with Zanna and Aisha Wakili, the two arrowheads of the swap deal.
“The decision to swap strategic Boko Haram commanders with 82 captives was never going to be a long term gain,” Otto said.
And why did the government keep the talk about this “secret amnesty” out of the public domain until the girls were released? It was because Boko Haram dictated it.
So, without asking more questions and investigating government claims, the media appears to be in bed with political interests.
Now, why is Zanna the go-to person for the government in this process? The fact of the matter is that Zanna is the man with the intelligence.
In 2007, Zanna became a go-to person with intelligence about Boko Haram, when he incorporated a school to cater for the children of victims of Boko Haram. The school, Future Prowess Islamic Foundation, was one of the schools that was not burnt or closed down during the peak of Boko Haram crisis in Borno State.
Tellingly, Zanna’s school is where you’ll find everybody across the divide—the families of Boko Haram militants and their victims. The wives of Boko Haram fighters share communion with Zanna and that helped him own so much intelligence.
In an interview he granted Daily Trust in July 2014, two months after the 270 Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped, Zanna said: “I have an Islamic foundation that caters for the well-being of orphans which cuts across various divides and that does not in any way exclude the insurgents’ family members, widowed and orphaned in the crises. Having them is leverage. As you know, we have the Future Prowess widows who are part of the Parent Teachers Association, which often guides the making of the school curriculum. If you need any advice on the insurgents and how to end the crisis you can meet them anytime you need… Talk of the insurgents for example, their leadership, they have over 270 of their children in this school.”
To be sure, Zanna worked with the Goodluck Jonathan government for the release of the girls, but couldn’t secure their release, because of the contentious word called swap.
Of course, the regime led by Jonathan was a confused one, when it comes to how to deal with Boko Haram. The United States already declared Boko Haram a terrorist organization and was not going to be party to swap deal, yet Zanna knew the only way out was to go with the swap deal.
The Boko Haram wanted their members released without any information to the public about it and that created a dilemma for Jonathan as his government equally faced a monstrous opposition after one error to the other.
Jonathan’s unwillingness to swap and other issues created deadlock, but Zanna counselled in an interview that Nigeria needs to take its own approach.
“Americans are saying that the insurgents have been blacklisted and that Boko Haram is a terrorist, organization. Don’t forget that the late Nelson Mandela, at the point of his death, his name was not removed from the list of terrorists but when Obama went for his burial, he described him like a kind of a saint…that is America for you.
“They are telling us that this is a terror organization but at the same time they are going to negotiate with Al-Qaeda for the release of their soldiers in exchange for terrorists. If the Americans can do this, it should be a lesson to us to look for a viable means of exchanging the girls with some of the insurgents. That would be a window to advance for further negotiations,” Zanna said.
That window I believe is what Buhari has opened, but we’re been made to think it is something different.
Next week, when I conclude the series, I will publish my conversation with Otto along the line of cherry picking captives with preference for Chibok girls and the effect of that in communities affected by Boko Haram insurgents.
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