Boko Haram: Even with the bombings, there is no alternative to dialogue

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AS most Nigerian newspapers reported last Friday, Nigeria crossed the Rubicon on Thursday, with the first ‘suicide bombing’ [I have doubts it really was!] in our national history!

And what a venue to explode such bomb: police HQ. But we might miss the essential point if detained by the ‘novelty’ of the bombing, because it was just a matter of time that in a globalised world of oppressive use of power and desperate resistance of that power, there were chances of copy-cat acts of terrorism even in Nigeria. Our home-grown militants arrived that point last week.

It was instructive that BOKO HARAM not only claimed responsibility, but specifically stated it did not target the innocent, but the IGP, Hafiz Ringim, who literally escaped by the skin of his teeth.

State violence
BOKO HARAM reached this height largely because of the state violence deployed against it, in 2009. Its leader and dozens others were extra-judicially executed by the police, as broadcast on television around the world. President Umaru Yar’adua who gave a carte blanche against the group did not weigh the consequences of what followed his order and the report of the enquiry ordered never saw light of day.

The international context of the over-zealous repression of Islamist groups was the 9-11 attacks on the USA by Al-Qaeda. The Bush administration launched a “War on Terror” which became pretext for the illegal invasion/occupation of Iraq; the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of hundreds of suspected “enemy combatants”; detentions in Bhagram in Afghanistan and Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay.

American client regimes also launched their own mini-Wars on Terror to  repress local Islamist groups, often abetted by prejudiced media reportage as in Nigeria, where Islam and Muslims have often been unpopular subjects of coverage anyway.

Subsequently, BOKO HARAM metamorphosed into a guerilla organisation that has become a serious menace to the Nigerian state, whose security system is notoriously corrupt and incompetent; preys on innocent individuals (like journalists) and is not people-friendly. BOKO HARAM exposed the incompetence of our security system and the clay-footedness of the Nigerian state itself. The natural hunch is to launch even more vicious acts of repression against the organisation.

Road to dialogue
Vice President, Namadi Sambo should be commended for re-iterating, even after last week’s bombing, that government was committed to “dialogue with members of the Boko Haram Sect”. Sambo said the group would be handled in “the spirit of dialogue, negotiation and national reconciliation”.

Two weeks earlier, he chaired a security meeting on BOKO HARAM, after which government resolved to a “carrot and stick” approach to diffuse the threat posed by the group.

That followed the decision by new governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, to explore amnesty for the BOKO HARAM militants, as corner stone of policy, to win back peace and find space to deliver the development which Borno desperately desires, in education, health care and poverty reduction.

Instructively, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, said they had no contacts with leaders of the group; apparently conveniently forgetting that his body supported the crackdown on the group two years ago, thus alienating a significant section of radical Muslim youth.

Following offers of dialogue, BOKO HARAM has carried out more daring killings and made demands of its own: release of report on the execution of its members; full implementation of Sharia; trial of former Borno governor, Ali Modu Sherriff and resignation of new governor, Kashim Shettima. Those were negotiation demands before the IGP’s faux pas that he would soon eliminate the BOKO HARAM threat.

Last week’s bombing was apparently in response to the IGP’s boast. It was a personal humiliation for Ringim and the fact that the bomber joined his official convoy up to his HQ exposed the hollowness and vulnerability of the convoy system, long used to terrorise Nigerian roads as an arrogant expression of power by security outfits and our thieving politicians!

These are really difficult times for Nigeria. But exploring dialogue/amnesty with the sect is a correct step. This is not just a “law and order” issue to crush with military jackboots. There is a deep-seated social problem which must be tackled for members of the sect to emerge from the underground to abandon guerilla activities and become rehabilitated into society.

This thinking is useful, and the negative responses on the matter, have been in the Southern media, with a history of a knee-jerk hostility to Islam, Muslims and the North. Ochereome Nnanna, whose constant bête noire is Northern Nigeria, “was petrified” in his column for VANGUARD, on Monday June 13, 2011, that government decided on a “carrot and stick” approach to solve the problem.

The unrepentant defender of ‘Biafranism’ would rather the ‘“stick” that was deployed to stamp out Boko Haram’s “ancestor”, the Maitatsine terrorist group in 1980′. Nnnana rejects ‘Amnesty’ in dealing with “terrorists intent on imposing their warped style of Islamic rule on Nigeria”.

He probably accepts the “SAINTS” of MASSOB “intent upon imposing” their “SAINTLY” BIAFRA on Nigeria’s Eastern Region! He concluded his “SURRENDER TO BOKO HARAM? NEVER!” piece with a harangue which Hitler and Goebbels would have been proud of: “There is no carrot for criminals and terrorists. (Does that include MASSOB gangsters?).

There is no meeting them halfway. Even if it requires a state of emergency, let us put on the iron fist, move in and delete the Boko Haram louse from Borno. We did it before and we can do it again-even better”. Ignorance is bliss! Ochereome Nnannna’s fantasy of a jackboot crushing ‘the Boko Haram louse’ is deluded, coming in the week of revealation that after 10 years of an unwinnable war, the most powerful imperialist nation in history, the USA, is beginning negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan!

Hatred for the North
Unfortunately, Nnanna’s deep-seated hatred for the North and strong anti-Islam bias won’t allow him find reason in anything concerning his objects of hate. For him, “the amnesty offered the Niger Delta militants had a sound rhyme and reason to it”.

Why? “The militants were fighting injustice meted out to their people in over 50 years of exploitation of their resources as if they were a conquered foreign territory. They were not implacable enemies of the Nigerian state”. They were justified, from his standpoint of their “fighting injustice meted out to their people” to have carried out killings; declare war on Nigeria and cut off vital oil supplies on which depends Nigerian economic well-being.

They had a RIGHT to do these and then get amnesty and a government-funded rehabilitation. The “Boko Haram louse” has no such entitlement; deserving, in the martial firmament Nnanna resides, only “the iron fist”! Many of the BOKO HARAM militants are said to be educated in the Western sense, but rebelled against the corruption of the Westernized Nigerian elite.

BOKO HARAM is a clear expression of the crisis of underdevelopment in Northern Nigeria. The oldest known conversion to Islam in what became Nigeria took place over a thousand years ago, when Mai Jilme, a king of old Kanem-Borno accepted Islam and made it state religion. Islamic identity is platform of grievance against the irresponsibility of the Nigerian state.

Even with the recent bombings, the wise thing is to enter dialogue with the militants to bring them into the development process. We should give them opportunity to come in from the cold!


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