By Abubakar Alkali Runjin Sambo
As the multinational force comprising of troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger prepare to launch an expected final onslaught against Boko haram, it is imperative to post the question ‘Can military force decimate Boko haram once and for all? I ask this question because on at least 3 occasions in the last 5 years, there were similar operations by the Nigerian military to route Boko haram and crush the group and after each military operation, Boko haram bounces back in even stronger and deadly passion. After each military operation, the number of people killed by Boko haram increased. There is no doubting that the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari will implement his strategy against Boko haram in a different way and in a more purposeful, sincere and honest manner as against the last administration under former President Goodluck Jonathan who handled Boko haram as if human lives do not matter. However, the apprehensions about the efficacy of the military option against Boko haram are understandably condonable despite the gallant and excellent work by our armed forces to root out, degrade, dismantle and ultimately decimateBoko haram. For reference purposes, it is instructive that despite the enormous resources being deployed by the U.S in its war against terrorism, the war in Iraq is still very much on course and even getting messier with the transformation of AlQaeda in Iraq to ISIS with the latter seemingly more ambitious than even AlQaeda and the Taliban.It is simply a matter of concern as to how Boko Haram which started as a ragtag army of youths being used by desperate politicians to win elections under the banner of religion could have transformed into a deadly sect ranked amongst elite terrorist organisations in the world alongside AlQaeda, the Taliban and Alshabab.
In the several military operations conducted against Boko Haram, the pattern has been that when the heat is too much on Boko Haram, the militants simply dissolve into the communities, retool and restrategise only to bounce back in even more deadly passion when the heat has subsided. This has been the pattern that we see in the on-going and seemingly endless war in Afghanistan between the U.S and its allies on one hand and the Taliban on the other. It is the same outcome in the U.S- led global war against AlQaeda. It is also what obtains in Somalia where the war between the Somali government and AlShabab militants has been taking different turns albeit showing no sign of coming to an end. It is on record that military force has NEVER crushed an ideological insurgency in history.
When you are faced with an enemy who is ready to die and who think you are helping him by ending his life, then you begin to think on the applicability of balancing force with some form of persuasive engagement. The insurgent feels that he has nothing to lose because he/she believes that they are going to heaven if they lose their lives in the process. The former American secretary of state Henry Kissinger was more succinct when he stated that a conventional army can NEVER defeat a guerrilla force. The ongoing pattern of global terrorism has spiked up the debate on whether or not the military option is working. If the military option is working, then how could Boko Haram have succeeded in Annexing territory in Nigeria and across the borders into Cameroon and Niger? At some point, Boko Haram has carved out and controlled territory the size of Belgium. The gallant work of our armed forces has resulted in chasing out Boko Haram in parts of this territory yet this group still remains a potent danger to the corporate existence of Nigeria in both the near and long term. If the military moves in to clear out Boko Haram, there is every tendency that the sect will fade into the air and later regroup and bounce back. This trend presents a vicious and endless cycle of violence which needs to be broken once and for all. The foundation towards a lasting and negotiated solution to the Boko Haram problem should be the concern of all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria. The carrot and stick approach has been proposed as the appropriate strategy as against the use of full military force with dialogue being the carrot while military force will be the stick. The carrot and stick approach doesn’t in any way stop or even slow down the military onslaught against Boko Haram but is based on the key objective of providing a ground for the government to engage the Boko Haram and fully and effectively understand their grievances and why they are doing what they are doing.
Going back memory lane to understand why the dialogue option failed in the last 5 years, it can be easily recalled that in effect, there has NEVER been dialogue with Boko Haram under Jonathan. In fact, the Jonathan administration did everything it can to frustrate dialogue with Boko Haram. Former President Jonathan is even alleged to be a key promoter of Boko Haram and deeply interested in the sustenance and continued carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram such that his body language suggests that he was ready to wear a Turban, hid his face and join Boko Haram on the frontline. The cavalier disposition, ethnic and religious bias and he-doesn’t-give-a-damn attitude over Boko Haram clearly displayed by former President Jonathan while in office is widely touted to be the main reason why he crashed out of Aso rock in a remarkable passion. As a result of his glaring insincerity over Boko Haram, he lost the support of every right thinking human being including our friends in the international community. The recently released report of the human rights watchdog Amnesty international will eventually unearth the intrigues and deceits in the run up to the metamorphosis of Boko Haram including individual involvement. There is a moral duty to expose the sponsors and promoters of Boko Haram in order to get to the root of the problem and apply solutions. It is fair to state that there is the possibility of the international criminal court (ICC) coming into the picture to investigate some of the allegations and prosecute where necessary so as to avoid future reoccurrence.
Times have changed and the prospects for dialogue with Boko Haram are no longer as they used to be in the last 3 or 4 years with Boko Haram’s gradual movement and somewhat fast paced motion towards irredeemability. However, dialogue can never be taken off the table and there is no war that ends on the battle field. Every war finally ends on the negotiation table. During the Jonathan era, there were 3 opportunities towards genuine dialogue with Boko Haram that were deliberately thwarted by the former President. One was when Dr Datti Ahmed offered to mediate even at the risk of his own life but was frustrated by the Jonathan administration. The second was the Ambassador Galtimari committee which was set up by Jonathan himself which submitted a report and recommended dialogue with Boko Haram but former President Jonathan thought it was not necessary to implement the report of the committee that he set up himself. The third was the genuine efforts by former President Obasanjo and now Senator Shehu Sani to engage the Boko Haram which prompted Obasanjo to risk a trip to Maiduguri to meet with Boko Haram right in their own den. Obasanjo reported his findings to Jonathan who again thought there was no need to take the issue further because as he (Jonathan) said in South Korea in 2012, Boko Haram affects only the North.
For the carrot and stick approach to succeed, there is the need to involve prominent and respected leaders from all sections of Nigeria (Not necessarily only from the North) into a peace and reconciliation commission (PRC) to genuinely engage the insurgents and understand their grievances. The good thing being that there is already a structure in place as signified by certain leaders who were involved in the efforts to dialogue with Boko Haram but were frustrated during the Jonathan administration. On one hand, the current government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari can build on this structure and establish a respected, genuine and sincere team that will reach out and engage with Boko Haram while on the other hand pursuing the military option. The carrot and stick approach will also present a platform through which any moderate Boko Haram ready to accept truce and integrate into the wider society will be given the chance to do so. There is a very realistic prospect that the carrot and stick approach on Boko Haram will succeed under our highly respected, sincere and honest President Muhammadu Buhari who’s honesty and integrity are beyond question. This is more so when juxtaposed with the fact that the main cog in the wheel of solution to Boko Haram is the clear insincerity during the better forgotten reign of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Even if you don’t like President Muhammadu Buhari, you cannot question his sincerity and commitment to project Nigeria. The coming to power of President Buhari is the best chance yet for Nigeria to finally turn the page on Boko Haram and focus on development programmes that will free majority of its people from the shackles of poverty. It is clear that Boko Haram is a big distraction to the current government in its bid to deliver on its campaign promises. Recall that the very first assignment of Mr President after being sworn in on 29th May 2015 was to travel to Niger and Chad to discuss Boko Haram. The Presidents of Chad and Niger also came to Nigeria and met with President Buhari on Boko Haram. The international community has signified its intention to assist Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram which presents a window of opportunity to find a lasting solution to the problem. Indeed global terrorism is a concern to all nations not only the host country. Recall that the U.S and its allies are also using some channels to talk with both Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban. The Boko Haram issue is a very critical one for our country and all hands should be on deck to nip it in the bud before it becomes a way of life for our youths.
As a long term shock absorber against the radicalisation of our youths, the government should focus actively on job creation through skill acquisition and promotion of small and medium scale enterprises (SME’s). At the moment, the carrot and stick approach looks to be the best yet untried option in the fight against Boko Haram. The key ingredients of the carrot and stick approach i.e. honesty and sincerity, are all firmly in place under President Muhammadu Buhari.
The path to a successful carrot and stick approach on Boko Haram may be long but it is aa certain one to peace if carefully applied. What is required is a deliberate and concerted effort to engage the insurgents so as to understand their grievances. Understanding the grievances of the Boko haram is the first step towards a possible negotiated solution to the problem just as was done for the Niger Delta militants during the late YarAdua/Jonathan administration.