In June, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, facing increasing domestic criticism over his government’s handling of the Northern rebel sect Boko Haram, appointed a new National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. Dasuki, who is a member of the Northern aristocratic, political, and military elites, soon initiated a tour of Northern cities that have been affected by Boko Haram’s violence. The Jonathan administration has in the past talked about dialogue with Boko Haram, and Dasuki’s tour has repeatedly stressed the idea of dialogue, suggesting that the administration’s strategy is moving more firmly in that direction. Dasuki’s tour has also attempted to give Northern “stakeholders” a greater sense of inclusion in the administration’s efforts to deal with Boko Haram.
Among Dasuki’s first stops were Maidiguri (Borno State), Potiskum, and Damataru (Yobe State). Maiduguri, site of one of Boko Haram’s largest uprisings in 2009, has remained the epicenter of the violence, and Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked the latter two cities. In Maiduguri, Dasuki spoke of a potential ceasefire between the government and Boko Haram.
Other stops have included Jos (Plateau State), Katsina State, and Kano (Kano State). In Jos, Dasuki announced his intention to meet with Boko Haram:
Dasuki, who spoke in Jos during a meeting with stakeholders in Plateau, said he was planning to meet with the group on the need for it to cease fire and embrace dialogue as soon as possible.
“I was in Yobe and Borno States last week and I have got the telephone numbers and contacts of key Boko Haram members and I will meet with them. I saw the dangerous effect of Boko Haram in these states and what I saw was pathetic. But I have the mandate to put heads together with religious and traditional leaders as well as the state governments to ensure an immediate ceasefire,” Dasuki said.
If Dasuki has obtained the telephone numbers of Boko Haram leaders, then his tour has already borne some fruit.
In Kaduna, Dasuki added another element to the call for dialogue. “He urged the stakeholders to reach out to all known contacts of leaders of Boko Haram and make them embrace the latest dialogue initiative by the Federal Government.” The dialogue strategy, then, combines Abuja’s own efforts at outreach with more localized efforts.
As Dasuki pursues dialogue, he is also working to reassure Northern leaders and strengthen the Federal Government’s relations with them. In Katsina, he emphasized the idea of “listening” to the local leaders (indeed, almost every article on Dasuki’s stops includes quotes from governors and other local politicians):
When he paid a courtesy visit to Katsina State governor Ibrahim Shema, [Dasuki] said “what is happening in the north is not something anyone will be proud of”.
“We are in Katsina to listen to the state’s concerns to and offer full support to the government in ensuring that peace is sustained,” he said. “While we are addressing areas with problems, we don’t want new ones to come up.”
Dasuki said that his visit was part of measures to offer support and cooperation to the state.
He assured Kano state governor, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso that his office was ever ready to partner with the state government to surmount rising security challenges in Kano.
Dasuki said the government of President Goodluck Jonathan was ready to give full assistance to the people and government of Kano state in their bid to ensure adequate security of lives and property.
“Considering the importance of Kano, a major economic hub, the last place anybody would want any disruption is Kano.”
As reported in the press (and it is noteworthy that in Kano Dasuki complained about the press’ coverage of national security issues and stated that journalists sometimes distort his words), the tone of some governors’ statements has been slightly different than the tone Dasuki takes; for example, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State asked the federal government to deploy more troops to his state, and expressed caution about dialogue at the same time that he said authorities in his state are pursuing it. But despite what seems to be the occasional difference of opinion, the Northern governors appear to have received Dasuki quite enthusiastically and to be happy with his appointment. His physical presence on the scene appears to have meant something to state and local authorities. Dasuki’s background and personal connections, of course, may play a role in making some of the Northern politicians comfortable with him.
I have not seen a schedule of the tour, so I cannot tell whether Dasuki will return to Abuja, take the tour further west, or make these visits an ongoing part of his work. But now that he has made these visits, his challenge will be to make the promised dialogue happen and to preserve the goodwill he seems to have established so far.