he scourge of Boko Haram has become the ultimate test of political will for Goodluck Jonathan. This is one problem that will define, and make or mar his administration. If he gives this problem the usual ad-hoc tactical and short term solution that is characteristic of Nigeria, the country faces the risk of worse anarchy than that prevalent in Somalia. The sublime dilemma here is this: to negotiate or not negotiate with Boko Haram.
Of late there have been strident calls on the president to negotiate with Boko Haram to forestall further senseless murder of Nigerians in the Northern part of the country. Heavy hitters like Prof Ango Abdulahhi, the Sultan of Sokoto and almost all northern politicians have lead this call for dialogue and amnesty for BH. Most or all of them are of the opinion that as it was with the Niger Delta militants, so it should be with the Northern terrorists. But that argument does not pan out. In the first place, that seems to be the only reason these northern politicians appear to have for calling for dialogue and amnesty for BH. Treat them like you treated Niger Delta militants. And of course the other comic reason that members of Boko Haram are not ghosts.
It is flagrant dishonesty to place the Islamic fundamentalist Boko Haram on the same pedestal with the Niger Delta economic and social activist militants. The problem of the Niger Delta has been there for decades. It has consumed a number of their prominent sons like Isaac Boro and Saro wiwa. The injustice has been evident there for all to see. Fishing is their main occupation. But the exploration and mining of oil have left the seas around them so toxic that fishing is no longer a viable venture. What is more the giant multinational corporations that exploit the oil behaved like they had no concept of social responsibility. No schools, no electricity, no good roads, no potable water, no hospitals. In fact there was none of the social infrastructure to make life meaningful and initiate the transition from troglodyte living to a minimum decent life. I am Igbo. I do not admire the people of Niger Delta area very much. But the truth is incontrovertible.
When Saro wiwa was hanged for taking up the issue of environmental degradation of their region, the Deltans became cowed and intimidated into silence and apathy. But with the return of civil rule, they once more found their voice despite the fact that the initial civil rule dealt them a tough hand at Odi. Having been ignored, intimidated and exploited for so long, they felt they had to take their fate into their hand. They resorted to militancy. They made their voice heard within the international communities. CNN, 20/20 and other cable channels ran documentaries juxtaposing the abject poverty of the goose that lays the golden eggs with the insulting opulence in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and Kaduna. Yet all that opulence was financed from the oil for which the Niger Delta areas were devastated and degraded. So they had their just grievance. The moral strength of their cause was so strong that the federal government had no option but to negotiate with them. But what is the declared grievance of Boko Haram?
When the Deltans took up arms, their targets were well defined. They targeted the oil companies and their facilities. They kidnapped their personnel, bombed their oil lines and disrupted their activities. They were focused on the entities whose activities were wreaking havoc on their lives. They never attacked churches or mosques; they never attacked schools, buses packed full of civilian passengers or drinking parlors. Their action was such you could not read ethnic cleansing or religious fundamentalism into it. Can that be said of Boko Haram? It amounts to egregious mischief and dishonesty to compare Boko Haram terrorism to Niger Delta militancy. The actions of Boko Haram portray it as the classic terrorist.
The Boko Haram has never left anyone in doubt that it is fighting a jihad. Its avowed and declared mission has been the islamization of Nigeria and the adoption of the sharia as the legal code for Nigeria. Unless I missed something, I have not heard of them say their problem is economic deprivation or any sort of social inequity or injustice. Their name declares their mission: BOKO HARAM: Western education is useless. IS THIS WHAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS GOING TO NEGOTIATE OR DIALOGUE WITH THEM ABOUT? All they want is Arabic studies and recitation of the Koran. But this does not prepare them for a place in the western-oriented economy Nigeria operates. Has anyone heard of any declared wrong doing done to Boko Harm members or their states? They have been pampered over the years to embrace education but they won't. Billions have been spent in pursuing them and their cattle with education in the name of nomadic education, but to no avail. It is for them that quota system was introduced in admission into Nigerian universities. Yet they have never been able to fill their quota in any year. They want to sound like a violin while they are crafted and shaped like a cello.
So you see that the mission of the Boko Haram is different from that of their politicians like Ango Abdulahi and the Sultan of Sokoto. While Boko Haram is pursuing its Jihadist agenda, their politicians are hiding behind Boko Harm to pursue their own agenda of share of the national cake. These politicians simply want the federal government to put northern almajiris on the dole. They want to blackmail and intimidate the government into placing their unemployed and unemployable people into a program where they will be paid a stipend monthly. They believe the stipend being paid to the Niger Delta militants is a slice of the national cake the North is entitled to. How many states will be involved? Of course there will be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of insurgents from all the states in the North. This is an orchestrated thing. So who is going to say who is or not among the terrorist. The government might end up dealing with all the unemployed youth of the North.
There are two possible types of solution to this madness. One is tactical and the other strategic. A tactical solution is one of temporary containment of the situation. A tactical solution ignores long term implication and consequences that follow it. It could turn out to be a cure that initiates a chronic disease more deadly than the one it cured. Treating these Islamic terrorists like the Delta militants will amount to opening the proverbial Pandora's Box. In the first place, it will be ethically and morally repugnant to reward these people for the cold-blooded murder of innocent Nigerians. Who is the Nigerian ready to shake hands with these people and say "for bombing so many churches and buses and killing so many thousands we will pay you 60000 naira a month? Such is all they want.
All the northern elders and politicians have been attributing Boko Haram terrorism to social injustice. This is difficult to understand in view of the pampering that has been done to them over time. It was because of them that federal character was introduced into the civil service. It was for them that quota system was introduced in admission into Nigerian universities. It was for them that different cut-off points were adopted for each state in grading university entrance exams. It is such that a student from Sokoto, Zamfara, Borno or any of the northern states who scores 500 less than a student from Imo, Edo or Lagos sates would get admission before those from other states that scored higher. What injustice can these people say they have suffered or are suffering in Nigeria?
The Northern states are the only ones in Nigeria where unemployment is unheard of. They still depend on the NYSC for most of their teachers, nurses, doctors, etc. But come to the south east, you have an army of graduates with nothing to do because there is no federal presence or factories to employ them. Yet they have not resorted to militancy or shouted injustice which they are most justified to do.
If amnesty is granted to Boko Haram, especially if it is patterned along the line of Niger Delta amnesty, the government will have shackled itself in the fight against future militants and terrorist groups. Would the government have any reason to treat any other group differently? Moreover, would an amnesty to such antisocial group like Boko Haram not be plain encouragement to our restive youth that militancy and terrorism are the ways to go if it wants the government to listen to it. This is one of the considerations to bear in mind in adopting a tactical solution to this social malaise. Do you solve a problem in such a way that the solution spawns more of the problem that you have just solved? This is where strategic solution becomes relevant. Strategic solutions are always forward looking. Their results may not be immediate, but they are more enduring and comprehensive in nature. Politicians adopt tactical solutions, but statesmen go for strategic solutions.
I am hamstrung to offer or suggest any strategic solution to the menace of Boko Haram. This is for the simple reason that nobody knows exactly what they want or what their grievance is. So far its only avowed objective is Islamization of Nigeria and adoption of the Sharia as the legal code for Nigeria. Is this a grievance? How can this be the subject of dialogue between it and the government? A solution should mirror the nature of the problem otherwise you would be providing an answer before you know the question. However, if their main objective is the islamization of Nigeria, they should lobby the national assembly to amend the constitution to suspend or annul the secular status of Nigeria, and enact another law proclaiming Nigeria an Islamic Nation like Iran.
The government could grant them amnesty in the sense of freedom from persecution for their crime against humanity. Such goes to reflect the dire political and social dilemma of the situation. After the amnesty, the state governments would have to identify them and work out a program for their rehabilitation.