Friday, 9 September 2016

Nigerian Army and the wanted ‘friends’ of Boko Haram

Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper

Nigerian Army’s declared invitation the other day of three influential paladins of Boko Haram – Dubai-based Nigerian journalist Ahmad Salkida, human rights lawyer Aisha Wakil and Ahmed Umar Bolori – and the subsequent interrogation of the latter two, is no doubt a dicey, complicated drama that may frustrate resolution of the Boko Haram insurgency, if not properly managed. It has also revealed a problem of moral tension when a citizen is caught between obligation to respect confidentiality and loyalty to one’s nation.

According to reports, the army had declared Bolori, Wakil and Salkida wanted, following the recent video released by the Boko Haram to the public, where the leader, Shekau, demanded the release of its members in the custody of the Federal Government, in exchange for the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. The Boko Haram leader, who showed some of the abducted schoolgirls in the video said the sect would be willing to negotiate with the Federal Government through Sakilda, Bolori and Wakil. He also warned that the sect will not recognise or honour any negotiation on its behalf by anybody else.

In the light of these two demands, it is understandable why the Nigerian Army declared the trio wanted. The argument here is that if these ‘friends’ of the Boko Haram have access to the insurgents as widely bandied, then they would have some inkling into the whereabouts of the Chibok girls, if not the exact location of the girls. Moreover, there is also the economic dimension of the peace-brokering that makes the Nigerian Army suspicious of the mediation moves being proposed by the insurgents.

Why would the insurgents foreclose any negotiation with anybody else? Must the trio be the only mediators in the negotiation?

From the experience of the failed negotiation carried out during the Goodluck Jonathan administration and the huge funds expended on that mediation project, there is strong feeling within military intelligence circle that they are plans ìto cajole government into another phantom negotiation that will see government lose millions of scarce public funds and at the end of it still end in a fluke, just as we experienced during the last dispensation. Declaring the trio wanted, therefore, would not only be an avenue to ascertain the veracity, if any, of their knowledge of the whereabouts of the Chibok girls, but also a means of facilitating proper interrogation and profiling that may lead to more profound revelations about yet-to-be-revealed liaisons with Boko Haram.

Are there other friends of Boko Haram in the National Assembly? Or as ministers? Or as governors? Or even as lecturers in Nigeria’s universities? The deep ethnic and religious animosity among Nigerians has made it difficult to evaluate terrorist sympathisers without profiling them. It is very difficult to know who is, or is not a member of Boko Haram given the situation of the country. But it would be recalled in the heat of the Boko Haram crisis that, former President Goodluck Jonathan had, to the indifference of many Nigerians, stated that even his government was infested with Boko Haram members. Although he did not name who these Boko Haram agents in his government were, recent interviews published about some of the negotiators in the crisis have given a clear picture of their character and interests. With this development, the secrecy around the suspicion that there are many Boko Haram members in the government is ripped open.

What this reveals, to a nation with so much harvest of senseless deaths from the insurgents, is that some leading lights of negotiation are not exculpable from the carnage and its destructive aftermath. It is also a pointer to the fact that within the government, there are fifth columnists fighting against the very instrument that they should be fighting for.

Over all, there seems to be a gradual diminution of the negotiation component in the relationship between the trio and Boko Haram to something sinister, and this raises some apprehension. Can any of the trio of Bolori, Wakil and Salkida lead the Nigerian Army to where the Boko Haram central command is? Are they obliged to do so, should the government request this of them? What if they decline to lead the Nigerian Army to the Boko Haram? Surely, if the relationship the trio has with Boko Haram is rooted in some form of confidentiality, it would be difficult for any of them to be obligated to patriotism without betraying Boko Haram. Would they be willing to do such?

Judging from their prized familiarity with the insurgents, it is clear that they hold an ace into a resolution of the crisis. Wakil is reportedly so close to the insurgents to a point of uncommon filiality, while the other two would rather not see the murderous sectarian fanatics as terrorists or insurgents. This form of fearless amity with Boko Haram raises questions about whatever kind of loyalty these people would claim for the country. It raises the question whether loyalty to the national cause could ever be contemplated by them, without compromising the friendship with the terrorists.

What should the government do? Should the government invoke the law to compel the people to cooperate whenever the Nigerian security agencies require their assistance?

Given the cloudy nature of the perceived relationship between the trio and the Boko Haram, however, the Federal Government should tread softly so that the gains made so far in the fight against insurgency are not lost.

Despite their privileged position as acquaintances of the insurgents, they should not over-price their value to national security in the manner they manage the complicated information about Boko Haram. While they are obliged to heed the dictates of their consciences, their primary social responsibility is their loyalty to the cause of the common good.

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