A Purported Offer of Dialogue from Boko Haram, and the Reactions of Nigeria’s Political Class

On November 1, a man calling himself Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz and claiming to speak for the Nigerian rebel sect Boko Haram held a teleconference with journalists. He stated that representatives from the group would be willing to negotiate a cease-fire with the Federal Government of Nigeria provided that certain conditions were met. The fullest version of the stated conditions that I have seen is here (h/t Carmen McCain):

[Abdulaziz] said: “To bring an end to these attacks, bombings, killings and arrests of our members in Nigeria, we have been mandated by our leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, to appoint high members, elders and others from the North-East sub-region to dialogue with the Borno State and Federal Governments of Nigeria in a neutral state of Saudi Arabia.”

He said five members of the group  were mandated to liaise with a five-member committee of Borno elders to dialogue with the Federal Government.

The Nigerian mediators, according to him, include Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno, Buhari, Sen. Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Amb. Gaji Galtimari and Aisha Wakil and her husband.

On a neutral centre for the dialogue, Abdulaziz said: “We insist on having the dialogue in Saudi Arabia, because the Federal Government has betrayed us on two different occasions… The committee members for dialogue comprise my humble self, Abu Mohammed Abdulaziz, Shiek Abu Abass, Shiek Ibrahim Yusuf, Shiek Sani Kontagora and Mamman Nur.”

The announcement has occasioned a lot of important commentary. I refer you to Amb. John Campbell‘s piece on the subject, to the quoted remarks from Mallam Shehu Sani of the Northern Civil Society Coalition, and to AFP‘s overview. For some observers, the November 2 assassination of retired General Muhammadu Shuwa in Maiduguri, an act attributed to Boko Haram but denied by the group, has cast strong doubt on the seriousness of the peace offer. At the moment I would place myself, along with Sani and others, in the skeptical camp, though matters with Boko Haram have been so fluid that it’s difficult to be certain of much.

I have three points to make about the political class’ reaction to the announcement. First, as AFP notes, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan is willing to talk to the group should the offer prove genuine. Yet this willingness to negotiate does not entail wholesale acceptance of the stated terms. The Nation reports that the administration would accept Saudi Arabia as a location, but is still mulling over the other conditions and the choice of interlocutors. It also seems the administration will not release any prisoners as a precondition of talks.

Second, we find prominent political voices both supporting and opposing the idea of talks; there is no consensus. Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal, for example, favors dialogue, while Chief Solomon Lar, a former National Chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, opposes the idea. If plans for dialogue did become more concrete, the debate would undoubtedly intensify.

Finally, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the party of Gen. Buhari, opposes the idea of the General’s participation in talks (h/t Chike Chukudebelu).

According to the CPC, this move is the “latest gambit in the desire of this organically corrupt PDP-led Federal Government in diverting the attention of the unsuspecting Nigerian public from the on-going massive looting of their common patrimony”, as it heaps the blame for the insurgency on the ruling party.

“The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), as a corporate entity, is the harbinger of the insecurity travails of the Nigerian People for the sole reason of ensuring perpetuity in governance” the statement alleged.

The opposition party claimed that there are three variants of Boko-Haram adding that the PDP federal government is a “political Boko Haram”.

“The original Boko-Haram that is at daggers drawn with the Nigerian authority for the extra-judicial killing of their leader; the criminal Boko-haram that is involved in all criminality for economic reasons and of course, the most lethal of all, the Political Boko-Haram-which this PDP-led Federal government represents.”

I agree with Chike’s analysis when he writes, “Buhari and CPC were wise to reject the offer, because it would ‘associate them with Boko Haram.’ At least this is the interpretation that the Christian community in the North and Southerners will buy. It would have been exploited by ambitious politicians to scuttle Buhari’s chances come 2015.” Buhari has stated that he will not run in 2015, but the chances are decent that he will change his mind about running. This editorial (leaving aside some of the author’s bold claims about Boko Haram that would be difficult, if not impossible, to verify) features some interesting reasoning about the difficult choices Buhari faces as a potential mediator, and the danger for him to be seen as power-hungry whether he accepts or refuses.

If this attempt at dialogue fails it will be, by my count, the third such failure (at least): see here and here. The idea of dialogue surfaces regularly, which makes sense given that crackdowns against Boko Haram have not so far stopped the group’s violence. But the repeated failures of dialogue point to the same structural problems that have come into play this time: a lack of trust between the government and the sect, a lack of willing mediators, and a lack of clarity regarding who really speaks for Boko Haram.


One thought on “A Purported Offer of Dialogue from Boko Haram, and the Reactions of Nigeria’s Political Class

  1. I am speaking as a Nigerian, not a scholar.

    I think Nigeria is at crossroads, at the cusp of something new. What it is, we don’t know, but the old order is no longer sustainable.

    The North will exist after Boko Haram, but it will be a different North. The Northern elite would have learned that ignoring the poor and using them as mere statistics to grab more resources from the center to embezzle, is not a wise course of action.

    People in the North will learn, hopefully, that religious bigotry leads to Boko Haram and a wiser course of action is to accommodate other beliefs. They will learn that Muslims need to accommodate Christians and vice-versa and intolerance of non-Northerners breeds animosity.

    Nigeria needs healing, reconciliation and understanding. One of my twitter friends referred to Nigeria as a “multi-national” nation. Nigeria is several nations in one and the largest nation in which Muslims and Christians exist in equal numbers.

    The “drip drip” of bad news is exacerbating tensions. There are obviously challenges. Each Church bombing / attack on Muslims creates fresh wounds and weakens the bonds of unity. Southerners swear that they’ll have “nothing to do with the North” and there are very few measured voices attempting to calm the storm.

    The biggest question facing Nigeria is “what sort of Nigeria should exist post Boko Haram”? This question will be answered by my generation (not Babangida’s generation as the US State Department tends to assume).

    Nigerians will have to ask themselves tough questions, “old wounds will be reopened”, fundamental assumptions will be challenged, the economic basis for unity will be up for argument and tempers will flare – but it is an important discussion, that has been delayed for too long.

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