Since President Muhammadu Buhari spoke about his administration’s talks with Boko Haram, many Nigerians have been wondering how the dialogue will end. They recall that the Jonathan administration burnt its fingers negotiating with the sect. But lawyers endorse the talks since, according to them, they are all about getting back the Chibok girls. Precious Igbonwelundu reports.
President Muhammadu Buhari said the Federal Government was talking with Boko Haram on the release of the over 200 girls abducted at the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, last year.
He was responding to questions from members of Nigerians In Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), France. The President told his audience that the sect was demanding the release of its Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) strategist in exchange for the girls.
The kidnap of the girls from on their school remains a big blow to the nation, especially because the insurgents, dressed in military camouflage, were said to have conveyed them in seven lorries. Their school was razed.
Unable to withstand the emotional and psychological trauma of having their children with the group, which alleged that it had married them off, some of the parents died. Others are yet to recover from strange illness.
Despite efforts by the multinational joint security team and experts from other parts of the world, the girls have not been rescued.
The military has combed every area, including the Sambisa Forest where it is believed the girls are being held.
There is a clamour for the girls’ return, which President Buhari noted during his France trip.
Buhari said: ‘‘The issue of Chibok girls has occupied our minds and because of the international attention it drew and the sympathy throughout the country and the world, the government is negotiating with some of the Boko Haram leadership.
‘‘They wanted us to release one of their leaders, who is a strategic person in developing and making IEDs that is causing a lot of havoc in the country by blowing people in Churches, Mosques, market places, motor parks and others. But it is very important that if we are going to talk to anybody, we have to know how much he is worth.
“Let them bring all the girls and then, we will be prepared to negotiate. I will allow them to come back to Nigeria or to be absolved in the community. We have to be very careful, the concern we have for the Chibok girls, one only imagine if they got a daughter there between 14 and 18 and for more than one year and a half year, a lot of the parents, who have died would rather see the graves of their daughters than the condition they imagine they are in.
“This has drawn a lot of sympathy throughout the world, that is why this government is getting very hard in negotiating and getting the balance of those who are alive.’’
Although Buhari’s disclosure was to reassure the people of government’s commitment to rescuing the girls as promised, critics have described the negotiation as an acknowledgment of weakness by the Federal Government.
They condemned the government’s move on the grounds that the sect has killed over 20 thousand people in very gruesome ways since 2009; kidnapped hundreds, including women and children, some of whom have been used as suicide bombers; razed public and private property; made millions fugitives as well as taking up arms against the state.
According to them, the terrorists should have been flushed out by the military, which is already winning the battle, or arrested alive and prosecuted for treason and war crimes.
The critics believe that the negotiation will not yield any positive outcome, especially because the previous administration tried negotiating with the sect without success.
To them, it will be impossible to negotiate with a sect whose purpose for fighting is to islamise the country, and which has various factions, is faceless and has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State (IS).
However, many Nigerians, including the Centre for Crisis Communication, see nothing wrong in exploring and exploiting every opportunity that will lead to freeing all Boko Haram captives and ending terrorism.
But they argue that the issue must be thoroughly debated to ensure a practical and enduring end to the menace if the government was considering amnesty for the insurgents.
To this group, dialogue should be open for genuine leaders of the sect who are committed to keeping their side of the bargain, with the interest of humanity at heart, just as they noted that every conflict or crisis usually ends on the negotiation table.
They insisted that the government must ensure it negotiates from a point of strength by ensuring that the terrorists surrender their arms and promise never to engage in such activities again. It must also ensure that they are rehabilitated before being absorbed into society.
The supporters argued that the terrorists were feeling the heat of the seriousness of the current government to nib terrorism in the bud, and have as such, reached out for negotiations in order to embrace peace, which the government should consider.
Lawyers, who shared their view on the issue, said there was nothing wrong with negotiating with the terrorists, as long as the government got the girls back and put an end to the menace. They advised the government to ensure a comprehensive list of the abducted girls is available, before starting the negotiations, to avoid being fooled by the insurgents.
Those, who spoke on the issue include professor of law, Itse Sagay (SAN); constitutional lawyers, Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), Dele Belgore (SAN), Dr. Fred Agbaje and former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja Branch Chairman, Monday Ubani.
Sagay said the government is right to negotiate because of the girls, whose situation has left a void in the heart of the country and the world.
“Each side has to give something. I thought the terrorists will seek to surrender without grievous consequences since many of them have committed treason and war crimes. But with their demand that their bomb maker be released, it is left for the government to consider the consequences of releasing the suspect.
“If the government can ensure that they can no longer assemble these explosives to continue killing people. It will be a bitter pill to swallow if that should happen. If that is taken care of, there is nothing wrong with the swap.
“Government will be given a list of the number of persons in the terrorists’ net that they are willing to release. I think the action that will be taken at the end will be based on the number of people available, alive and whom the terrorists are willing to release.’’
Akintola said it was a great idea and practised globally.
“There is nothing wrong with negotiation as long as the government is not blackmailed. There is nowhere in the world.
where crisis does not end on the negotiation table. I do not see anything wrong with it, but government must negotiate from a point of strength, so that new groups are not motivated to pick up arms against the state.
Belgore criticised the fact that the planned negotiation was publicised.
“The classical view in this kind of engagement is that you don’t negotiate with terrorists, but we all know that even countries who proclaim this view do negotiate through the backdoor where the situation demands.
“We live in an imperfect world and ideological or policy positions frequently have to give way to practicalities.
“Bringing back our girls would in itself be a victory in the war against Boko Haram, even if it’s a negotiated release. What I don’t understand is why it has to be announced before hand,” Belgore said.
Similarly, Agbaje supported the moves on grounds that the insurgents must release all the girls, including pregnant ones, if there are any.
He said: ‘‘Initially, I was adamant about negotiation with terrorists, but now, in view of the fact that the girls have suffered alot, as well as their parents, I do not think any sacrifice is too much.
“But the terrorists must release all the girls whether pregnant or not, in exchange for the bomb maker; they must assure Nigerians that the truce will be the end of Boko Haram, or any other terrorist group, any of their members might want to start.’’
To Ubani, the government should be cautious in negotiating and swapping the suspect for the girls if their intentions are genuine.
“I think that negotiation with caution should be advised in the situation. The government is advised to discuss with genuine and credible leaders of the terrorists. If the terms include an honest swap with our stolen girls, I will support such negotiation that will lead to the release of our girls without any harm.
“Should their leaders be swapped? Yes, if they will honestly release all our girls complete and intact! Should they be exonerated? Very serious question that requires wise and careful answer. If they will stop the killings, repent of their evil ways and undertake never to disturb the peace of the country, then we can take a look at them with some level of forgiveness.
“Remember I said with some level of forgiveness, they must not be forgiven totally. However, the government must, as of necessity, pay heavy compensation to families that lost lives and properties as a result of the madness of these fellows, who took up arms against their country and against their fellow citizens.
“The country must, in addition, institute a strong panel to unravel the genesis of this madness, what precipitated it, the quantum of loss of lives and properties and what should be done to ensure that never again should we as a nation pass through this inglorious road of shedding of blood and wanton destruction of properties of the country and that of fellow citizens by any group whatsoever.
“The country must be sincere to itself by agreeing to ask all the ethnic groups in Nigeria whether we want to stay together as one indivisible nation? If the answer is in the affirmative, the terms and conditions of staying together should be well spelt out in a constitution drawn and affirmed to by the people of Nigeria.
“If the answer is resounding “NO”, then the process for separation should be worked out peacefully to enable the separation take place without loss of lives or properties. Unity is not forced, it is earned, we must not continue to endure this forced marriage if it is not working out.
“If it must work out, the ingredients of justice and equity must be brought in generously to ensure the happiness of all ethnic groups in the union. The present leadership at the centre possess all it takes to bring in these ingredients to make Nigeria work and live in peace again; yes they can.’’ he said.