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Negotiating With Boko Haram

30/05/2012

Not for the first time, key players in Nigeria’s policy making elite are raising the issue of negotiations with the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, who have killed thousands in their quest to impose shari’ah law across all the 36 states that make up the Federal State of Nigeria. To be sure, the idea of a general amnesty and negotiations with the sect is a sign of weakness on the part of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Despite, the establishment of a Special Military Task Force consisting of the army, navy, air force, Department of State Security and the Nigerian Police Force, the carnage has continued. Despite curfews in states like Adamawa and a state of emergency being declared in Borno, Niger, Plateau and Yobe state, fresh new terrorist atrocities have continued. Despite the establishment of checkpoints and the closure of borders, the violence unleashed by Boko Haram has intensified in scale and magnitude. Despite 30,000 army, police and state security personnel having been deployed the bombings and shootings continue unabated. Despite the enactment of an Anti-Terrorism Bill, Nigeria’s security forces have been unable to cope with the terrorism unleashed by Boko Haram. Recognising this failure, General Andrew Azizi, National Security Advisor to President Jonathan lamented that Nigeria’s current security infrastructure was ill-equipped to deal with the terrorist threat posed by Boko Haram.

This is both a failure at the political level and a failure at the level of the security forces. Political mandarins have failed to arm their security services adequately and allow them to have sufficient funds to engage in long-term intelligence operations to penetrate Islamist organizations in the country. Nigeria’s federal structure has also undermined effective coordination among different security organizations.

There are however, failures on the part of the security services as well. The skill sets of those in the Nigerian intelligence community do not provide an adequate “fit” to the challenges posed by sects like that of Boko Haram. Indeed most of those in the intelligence community seem to have a background in VIP protection – the protection of senior political officeholders – as opposed to intelligence proper. One example of the lack of skill sets occurred in December 2011in the northern city of Kano when security police were keeping the home of a suspected militant, Mohammed Aliyu, under surveillance. Upon arriving at his home, Aliyu immediately realised that his home was under surveillance. He then called up members of his sect and within minutes they drove up in three vehicles – shooting dead three undercover police officers.

In addition, there is the ongoing problem of nepotism within the security services – people being appointed on the basis of who they know as opposed to what they know. Agekameh captured the sorry state of Nigerian security services by noting that, “Standards have fallen due to political partisanship. People now occupy sensitive positions in the security agencies not because of their ability to perform, but because they are either from one geographical location, simply wield some influence or know some people at the top who will nurture their career. The twin evil of godfatherism and favouritism has eaten deep into the entire gamut of the security agencies. Sycophancy rather than professionalism has been elevated as the most important criterion for career advancement”.

Far from attempting to fix these problems, President Jonathan is attempting to negotiate his way out of this failure – in the process surrendering his country to the blackmail of terrorism. There will be no happy ending here as the demands of Boko Haram increases. The original demand for a strict application of shari’ah in the twelve northern states has been extended to cover the entire 36-state federation. Other demands have been swift in coming including the release of Boko Haram prisoners. Whilst demands from the group have escalated, so has its bombing campaign. Abuja needs to change course and fast.