On Monday July 8, 2013, the British interior ministry announced that the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram operating in Northern Nigeria is to be banned in Britain under anti-terror laws with effect from Friday July 12, 2013. To be banned too is Minbar Ansar Deen, also known as Ansar al-Sharia UK. The ban, which many believe will receive the blessing of the British parliament, “will make membership of, and support for, these organisations a criminal offence” according to the ministry. Explaining the rationale behind this move, the ministry stated that “The government is determined to work with the international community to tackle terrorism and take the steps necessary to keep the UK public safe.” The action of the British government may not be unconnected with the brutal murder of a British soldier, Lee Rigby, on a London Street in May this year by two British Nigerians, Michael Adebolaji and Michael Adebowale.
Hours after the British interior ministry made the above announcement; the Federal Government of Nigeria announced that it had signed a ceasefire deal with Boko Haram. According to the Nigerian Vanguard newspapers, the ceasefire agreement announcement was made by Alhaji Tanimu Turaki on Radio France International Hausa service monitored in Kano that Monday afternoon. Alhaji Tanimu Turaki is the Minister of Special Duties and Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of the security challenges in Northern Nigeria, commonly derisively referred to as Amnesty Committee by many Nigerians, who are outraged by the plan of the government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to reward these religious ideologues that have murdered thousands of innocent Nigerians with amnesty. Alhaji Turaki was to be reported the next day to have modified his statement that what his committee and the terrorist group had reached was an “understanding for ceasefire” largely for the sake of Ramandan, which was to begin the next day July 10, 2013. As cogent as the reason for the ceasefire is, one still wonders if the statement made in London and that of Alhaji Turaki’s, surprisingly made on Radio France International Hausa service instead of the BBC Hausa service that Nigerians are so accustomed to, were mere coincidences.
In any case, besides the latest British move, the United States had on June 20, 2013, labelled the acclaimed leader of Boko Haram, Imam Abubakar Shekau, and two of his partners in perpetration of horrendous acts against innocent Nigerians - Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi as global terrorists thus giving the US the leverage it needs to hunt down these terrorists. And on June 3, 2013, the US raised the stakes by posting a reward of $7m (N1.1bn) to anyone that would provide information that would lead to the capture of the leader of the Boko Haram terrorist group, Imam Shekau. It is hard to tell though if the US has abandoned its initial resolve of slipping in strange excuses for Boko Haram insurgency while attacks by the group were accompanied by silence from Washington. Both Washington and London have been known in the past and in recent times to robustly advance the cause of the North, the birth place of the Islamic group. There are enough grounds to believe America may have been worried over Boko Haram not being content with appealing to locals for support but engaging in what amounted to sacrilege by openly calling on the Afghanistan Taliban for help. And London may not rule out a passageway between the so-called Underwear Bomber and the latest Nigerian British attackers of the British soldier to the fundamentalists in Nigeria. Be that as it may, it all indicated that the door was closing for Boko Haram.
Of course, everyone in Nigeria and beyond knows that the Nigerian ruler Dr. Jonathan on May 14, 2013, finally found the courage to declare a state of emergency in three states in North East Nigeria; notably Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. Although Dr. Jonathan’s critics, especially the members of opposition parties, do not see the impact of that action, the truth is that Boko Haram has been significantly degraded since then. The fact is that many of these opposition members deliberately refuse to accept a well understood phenomenon that it takes just one successful operation by terrorists to create doubts in the minds of citizens of any nation fighting terrorism with regards to the effectiveness of the action(s) their government has taken to protect them. It took the successful Boston Marathon bombings allegedly carried out by the Chechen brothers, Tarmerlin and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 15, 2013, to puncture the superb job the United States government had done in preventing terrorist attacks on in the US since the 11th day of September 2001. As it is commonly said, any government fighting terrorism has to be hundred percent successful all the time, while the terrorists just need to be successful once to create an impact.
Undoubtedly, the Nigerian security forces have inflicted a devastating blow on the Boko Haram terrorists. Therefore, it is pertinent that one asks, “Ceasefire with Already Degraded Boko Haram: Whose Interest Does It Serve?” It is important that this question be asked, knowing that Boko Haram is a spent force now. Therefore, the Nigerian people should not allow this government to take the wrong steps.
One of the reactions which I found quite apt while reviewing the immediate reactions of some Nigerians interviewed by the Vanguard late evening of Monday 8 July, 2013 was a statement credited to Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin. Mr. Odumakin while offering his views to a Vanguard reporter on the development asked, “Is it a strategy to rule or what is it all about?” I found this statement quite appropriate in view of the fact that the previous day, Sunday July 7, 2013, the Governor of Niger State and Chairman Northern Governors Forum, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, had declared that the North would negotiate with those angling to become Nigeria’s president in 2015 in order to protect the interests of the North. Governor Aliyu stated this while inaugurating the office complex for federal workers in Enagi headquarters of Edati Local Government of his state. Hitherto, Governor Aliyu had spoken on the North’s quest for Nigeria’s presidency in 2015 in a manner that conveyed the impression that it was a core Northerner’s entitlement to become Nigeria’s president in 2015. He used the occasion to dispel that widely held impression.
Incidentally, in the early hours of the previous day, Saturday July 6, 2013, insurgents operating in the ruthless fashion of Boko Haram Islamic militants had stormed the Government Secondary School in the town of Mamudo, Yobe State, North East Nigeria and gruesomely murdered 30 innocent children and a teacher, with scores injured. I found it quite unsettling that Dr. Aliyu didn’t use that occasion to strongly condemn that inhuman act. Instead he found the occasion more auspicious to talk about the 2015 presidential election. It makes one wonder about what is actually important to Nigerian rulers. Is it the sanctity of human life or the quest for power? In bears reminding Nigerian rulers that the great Nelson Mandela once said that, “In countries where innocent people are dying, the leaders are following their blood rather than their brains.”
Not quite a few Nigerians believe that the upsurge of the activities of Boko Haram since Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was elected to rule Nigeria is a stratagem by some powerful core Northerners to make the country ungovernable for Jonathan. Such people point to the threatening statements made by some of these Northerners after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) picked Dr. Jonathan to fly its flag in the 2011 presidential contest, as evidence of the Northerners’ complicity. Of course, the Northern leadership believes that poverty and not the above reason is responsible for terrorism in their region. However, the unvarnished truth is that Boko Haram members are a group of people who have declared on a number of occasions that they are fighting for the establishment of a Nigerian state based on the Sharia Law. Only a few occasions have they targeted Muslims. Their targets have always been Christians in churches on Easter and Christmas Day and, of course, a critical symbol of the Nigerian state, the security forces. The fact that Boko Haram never declared any truce during Easter and Christmas celebrations is a pointer to the fact that the principal targets are Christians and will always be.
But if one may ask; Which Boko Haram group has the government of Nigeria reached “ceasefire understanding” with? Does the government know how many splinter groups of the Congregation and People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad (Jamā'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jihād) widely known as Boko Haram that are in existence? At least, we know of one splinter group, Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Lands (Jamāʿatu Anṣāril Muslimīna fī Bilādis Sūdān), commonly called Ansaru. There could be several other splinter groups.
More importantly, whose interest is a ceasefire with a significantly degraded Boko Haram that unarmed kids who should be in school are now on the streets of Maiduguri trying to fish out going to serve? Is it a strategy to rule or what is it all about as Mr. Odumakin penetratingly asked? Is it a way the North wants to use to get as much resources as what they think the Niger Delta region is getting? Is the ceasefire with a significantly degraded Boko Haram going to be used to blackmail the Jonathan government into allocation of huge resources to youth programmes or outright pay off to mass killers at the expense of Nigerian youth from other regions of Nigeria? Is the ceasefire with a degraded Boko Haram going to serve some interests among the ruling class in Nigeria who are waiting in the wings for the dole outs to sustain their opulent lifestyle? Or is it a move to support Dr. Jonathan for a second term in 2015? So far, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) through its spokesperson, Professor Ango Abdullahi had vociferously insisted that if Jonathan returns to power, Nigeria will breakup. Is this the point of the North’s willingness now to negotiate with any presidential aspirant for the 2015 election? How would a ceasefire with a significantly degraded Boko Haram serve the interest of the victims of Boko Haram’s years of murderous campaigns?
Some people may point at the Taliban’s new move of trying to have direct talks with the United States by opening a political office in Doha, Qatar. Instructively, since June 18, 2013, when the Taliban opened that office and draped it with the flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, not much progress has been made. Recently, that flag has been removed to address the concerns of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Reuters of July 9, 2013 quoted diplomatic sources as saying that the move is “expected to be a difficult and unpredictable peace process”. And Taliban is not known to have a splinter group. Taliban were former rulers of Afghanistan. Even though the talk of negotiation is in the air, the Taliban continues to launch frequent and effective attacks on the Afghan army, the international military forces in Afghanistan and other targets of interest.
But this is not our case in Nigeria. Boko Haram has been significantly degraded. And Nigeria is not dealing with former rulers of Nigeria, who were ‘smoked’ out of office. Nigeria is dealing with a group that believes that Nigeria should become “Islamic Emirate of Nigeria” with them in charge. Nigeria is dealing with a group of demented ideologues who in the pursuit of their objective, massacred thousands of innocent Nigerians, maimed many more, displaced and destroyed the business enterprises of the victims.
On Tuesday July 9, 2013, a federal high court sitting in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, sentenced four members of Boko Haram to life imprisonment for killing 19 people in separate bombing incidents in Suleja, Niger State, near Abuja, in 2011, as well as an explosion that took the lives of 3 policemen in Dakina Village, Bwuari, Abuja. This is the first time any member of the Islamic fundamentalist group was jailed. Many Nigerians are disappointed that these people responsible for abruptly terminating the lives of their fellow citizens would be kept in prison to be sustained by tax payers’ money instead of having them executed. In the United States, one of the surviving alleged Boston Marathon bombers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was arraigned in a federal court in Boston on July 10, 2013, for his suspected role in the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. Dzhokhar, if convicted, will face the death penalty. If a terrorist who inflicted minimal damage on the American people could face death penalty why should terrorists in Nigeria, who have murdered thousands, have the luxury of life sentence? Is Nigeria more civilised than America? Knowing the way state pardon is granted to all manner of criminals in Nigeria, the possibility of these murderers being released after a few years in imprison is quite high. Is that the path Nigeria should take not to talk of granting them amnesty?
The blood of thousands of innocent Nigerians gruesomely murdered is crying for justice. That justice does not rest upon a ceasefire with Boko Haram, especially now that the Nigerian security forces have significantly cut down Boko Haram’s capacity to freely operate; now, that the United States actions and the UK move have made their invincibility extremely vulnerable. Therefore, what is required at the moment is that the Nigerian security forces be further encouraged to mop up the remnants of this group and for the Nigerian government to bring the captured to face justice like the four just sentenced for life.
*This article first appeared on Nkem Ekeopara's website