Boko Haram recently said it has ceased fighting but the federal government said it would watch closely to know if its a genuine offer. What is your take on this?
The first question to ask is, ‘Who is Boko Haram?’ Nobody has come out to say that he or she is a member of Boko Haram. Now it looks as if every crime committed in the country is carried out by Boko Haram. Every criminal now appears to take his operational license from Boko Haram. Who are they? Who can the government talk to? Some people have said ‘no, we cannot negotiate with criminals’, but all these happenings that are coming under the auspices of Boko Haram, are they really the ones doing it? Is the country degenerating into a failed state? This Boko Haram is so nebulous. We have not been able to know who their leaders are. Are we fighting guerilla warfare? Is the origin of these insecurity crises coming from Mali? Is it coming from other parts of the Maghreb region in the Sahara? Honestly, we need a thorough investigation to know what exactly Boko Haram wants. The literal meaning of the word Boko Haram is ‘Western education is a sin’. But we all know that everybody has borrowed one form of education from another. For example, if you want to commit murder, you say ‘hara-kiri’. Hara-kiri is a Japanese word, but it has found its way into the English dictionary. Even the Quran and the Bible, they were not written by Englishmen or by Americans, the Bible existed even before America was founded. These two great books have their origin from the Middle East. The Tigris and Euphrates, these are the basis of civilization. So, those who are saying no to western education, they have not really sat down to examine what they are saying. The Quran preaches peace and love amongst neighbours, so does the Bible. The word ‘Islam’ itself means peace. So, when you now go around throwing bombs amongst people and targeting someone like the Emir of Kano, can these people be said to be doing it in furtherance of Islam? I think the answer is obvious. So, the government will have to brace itself to its duty. It is the duty of the government to provide security for its citizenry and they should go the extra mile to do so. So, telling me that a group of people that we don’t know their names and address tell the government that they are going to cease fire is unacceptable. Shouldn’t the government know who they are talking to? I think until they identify the leaders we can’t even begin to talk of we are going to give them a month to determine if their cease-fire talk is genuine. Who are we talking to? Who are we negotiating with? Who are these people that believe so much in violence? The two holy books talks about not shedding innocent blood unjustifiably, but what is happening now negates all that fundamental principles of Islam. And what some of us are hoping will not occur is when there is retaliation such that when the masses of this country believes that all these acts are not being carried out by Boko Haram but it is being done for political reasons and they too now decide that they are going to practice Hamurabi’s law which is ‘an eye for an eye’. If you kill an Igbo man in Sokoto, we kill an Hausa man in Imo. Is that what they want? So, we have to be careful not to fall into this very, very serious pitfall. And if we say it is because of poverty, a hungry man in Katsina is as hungry as a man in Eket, in Akwa- Ibom state. A poor man in Maiduguri is just as poor as a man in Badagry. They have that common denomination. So, the important thing is good governance. Once we have good governance, a lot of these unfortunate and needless murders will considerably abate.
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo said recently that President Jonathan should adopt the ‘carrot and stick’ approach in tackling Boko Haram insurgency. He accused the president of applying too much force in addressing the insurgency? Do you think that method will achieve the desired effect when applied?
The answer is yes and no. Yes because we have a Joint Task Force (JTF) that is operating in several areas of the North. They go after perceived Boko Haram people and there is usually exchange of gunfire leaving so many people dead. I am sure that the ones we don’t know is probably far more than the ones we know. They will tell you that ’30 Boko Haram members have been killed’. How are we sure that these ones killed are members of Boko Haram? Do they carry a card? Do they write it on their foreheads? We don’t know. There might be some mischief makers who will point to a village and say ‘those five people are members of Boko Haram’. JTF will come there and attack them and later it will turn out that they are innocent farmers who may have had some problems with some of their neighbours. So, obviously there is a mini-war going on between the JTF and certain elements in the far North. At the same time, the problem that President Jonathan may be faced with is that he may be thinking ‘How can I sit down and be negotiating with criminals? These people are murdering Nigerians and these are Nigerians who voted for me one way or the other when I contested for the position of president. How will the families of the victims feel if they hear that Mr. President is negotiating with them? How will a man who saw his family to church in the morning feel when he hears that his entire family has been murdered in church and that night he has to sleep in that house alone. And you tell him that he shouldn’t worry that the president will negotiate with those who wiped off his family? It is not an easy problem to solve. People believe that it is okay to talk to Boko Haram, but nobody has pointed out the leaders of this sect so that the president can negotiate with them. Since that has not happened, so who are we going to talk to? At least in Syria, Assad knows the people that are fighting him, some of them are abroad and they have been talking to him. The whole world knows them; even government has recognized some of them.