The “Presidential” Visit to Boko Haram

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s recent surprise visit to Borno to make peace with Boko Haram has had ripple effects. Three days after his peace mission, his Boko Haram host, Babakura Fugu was murdered. The motive for this act is still shrouded in mystery. Boko Haram later claimed responsibility for the assassination. However, moments later, another Boko Haram claimed ignorance of the act, condemning, in strongest terms, the killing of the “man of peace”. It then became clear that there could be two factions of the terrorist organization in the country. The second faction denied any knowledge of the plot to kill Fugu, and described General Obasanjo as someone the Islamic North respected so much, and whose peace moves were well received by the group.

Reactions have also trailed both the visit of President Obasanjo and the killing of his host. The most striking ones have been those of Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, and one Shehu Sani, the “facilitator” of the meeting between Boko Haram and General Obasanjo. Professor Soyinka described Obasanjo’s visit as untimely because it was done the same day a memorial for those killed in an attack on the UN building in Abuja by the same Boko Haram Obasanjo had gone to meet. According to Soyinka, the visit smacked of the former president’s insensitivity and lack of empathy regarding the sensibilities and feelings of the families of those killed. He said Obasanjo’s act was to demonstrate some kind of heroism and statesmanship at the expense of national and global feeling. For the Professor, it was a total disrespect for the dead and a show of honour for those who have arrogantly claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks and killings in the last nine months.

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Shehu Sani’s reaction was rather interesting. He claimed that he led Obasanjo to Boko Haram to put an end to the orgy of violence. He wanted Obasanjo, a highly respected statesman and admired personality in the north to broker a truce between the terrorist group and the State. He indicted the State saying: “the intention was to help stop the spate of killings that the government has not been able to stop”.

Sani disclosed that the killing of Fugu was shocking and instructive, implying that he would wash his hands off any further negotiations. He however, counseled the government to meet the needs and demands of the group as soon as possible to avoid further bloodshed. His exact words: “I will not put my life on the line again for another meeting with them unless the government meets the sect’s demands and guarantees the security of its members and myself”.

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Let me now dissect the words of Soyinka and Fugu and reach some conclusions. First, Soyinka’s. Truly, President Obasanjo’s visit on a day to honour victims of the sect seemed misplaced. It was an act of dishonouring the victims of Boko Haram attacks and most ironically, according great honour to the avowed Enemy of the Nigerian State. The visit legitimates and dignifies Boko Haram. Further, it boosts and massages their ego, and it establishes the fact that their agitations are approved and legitimate. President Obasanjo is one of Nigeria’s most respected global citizens: he had brokered peace between groups outside Nigeria, nations and had been UN ambassador on several peace missions; he was Head of State and civilian President. Obasanjo has a large personality that his presence anywhere automatically accords dignity and approval to the place or person. For such groups as the Boko Haram, one would have expected him to give President Jonathan the kind of wise military counsel and courage that Gowon enjoyed during the Civil War that made Nigeria to conquer Biafra. Obasanjo himself was instrumental in the final surrender of the rebels.

But the visit of this great personality to Boko Haram thus means a big boost to the sect, and a subtle way of stating that the Nigerian State is weak and has lost control, totally. President Jonathan, as Soyinka rightly observed, would definitely have known and approved of President Obasanjo’s visit. So, what this means is that the government is sucking up to the sect, which concretely implies that the State has lost it.

This brings me to the reaction of the facilitator, Shehu Sani. His fuming and threat to quit future negotiations demonstrate the extent to which the terror group understands the fears and anxieties in government circles about them. It is like when a child is threatened to bend in obedience or he would face the consequences. Sani and Boko Haram surely have seen the weakness of the Nigerian State. No wonder he said he initiated the ‘peace meeting’ to end the violence and killings that “government has failed to stop”. No wonder too, Mr. Sani subtly issued a threat too when he “counselled” the state to “better meet the demands of the sect and secure its members” and himself before he could initiate future peace dialogue.

Now, what peace dialogue with enemies of the state? Peace over what? Meet what demands? Demands to Islamize Nigeria? Demands to end western education? Demands to have a Moslem President? What demands? Secure who? What is the security capacity of those who are to secure others? Can’t government see that this is already a group that does not want to be stopped on their warpath? And if government actually knows the murderers and their locations and would continue this ignoble act of dialoguing with them, then it must be fair to all: negotiate with robbery and assassination gangs whom they probably know as well, beg them to stop the violence and meet their impossible demands.

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