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Boko Haram 'ceasefire'- The Nation

By The Citizen
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Chinua Achebe quipped in one of his novels, quoting an Igbo proverb: when a bully sees someone he can beat up, he becomes hungry for a fight. The attitude that drives bullies is cowardice. So, the converse to that Igbo proverb is when a bully sees someone that can beat him up, he scurries away like a rat.

That explains Boko Haram, the terrorist group's sudden unilateral declaration of ceasefire. When it was busy running rings round Goodluck Jonathan's security apparatuses, Imam Abubakar Shekau and his group were waxing bloodily lyrical as to how they would finish with the North and go on to Islamise the whole of Nigeria. They even told Jonathan to convert to Islam as a prelude to any peace talk! Shekau even rhapsodised on some exclusive divine charter from 'Allah', to kill his enemies - as if God, that created Man, needed any man to fight His battles.

But now that the French are pacifying the Mali base of the cowardly Boko Haram leaders, they are scurrying home and panting 'ceasefire'; in a fond hope to turn looming defeat into a victory of sorts - not unlike the dead Osama Bin Laden that hid in the dubious safety of rocks, but told brain-washed suicide bombers to go kill themselves and thousands of innocent others for a false cause.

But make no mistake. Boko Haram and its mass murder serve as wake-up call from the iniquity of running this country. President Jonathan is not the strongest president in Nigerian history. But his glaring weakness in confronting the Boko Haram crisis goes beyond his perceived weakness or strength. And the collateral damage, in lost lives, hacked limbs and shattered psyches, desecrated worship places, is glaring but tragic comeuppance for a nation ever willing to be hustled and bustled into systemic injustices.

Jonathan's road to the presidency was clearly controversial, if not outright iniquitous; given the brazen abrogation of his party's zoning principle. When this debate raged, Nigerians almost as a consensus, hee-hawed; when they should have spoken out on principle.

So when the first Boko Haram mass slaughter hit the polity, Jonathan, perhaps smitten by his own conscience, felt obliged to appease. But the more he did that, the more contemptuous his traducers - angry victims of an unfair power deal - appeared to become. We must note that his olive branch was tentative and gloatingly hypocritical. Hence, the lexicon: 'political Boko Haram', made a tragic entry into the polity. For a society that readily acquiesces to injustice, the Boko Haram mass destruction was a tragic consequence. We hope everyone has learnt their lessons.

That brings the question to Boko Haram and its demands, in exchange for some 'amnesty', which in real terms sound more like amnesia. But amnesia is the costliest commodity this polity can afford right now, if it is not to sink in a messier bog in the immediate future.

Interestingly, some 'Northern elders' under the auspices of the Northern Development Focus Initiative (NDFI) are already pushing for 'amnesty' in a surface link with the Niger Delta amnesty package, which curbed the swamp terrorism in the South.

Many might even wax poetic by this poser: if the late Umaru Yar'Adua, a 'northern' president could fix the Niger Delta crisis, why shouldn't President Jonathan, a 'southern' president, draw the curtains on Boko Haram's urban warfare?

There is no reason why not. To start with, terrorism is terrorism. It did not matter if Niger Delta militants were attacking oil installations; and the Boko Haram lunatics are bombing innocent citizens in the streets, many of them luckless Christians in their churches, muslims in mosques, merchandisers in the open markets and vulnerable police officers who never had any quarrel with Boko Haram; or demystifying the Nigerian state by facing down and 'vanquishing' the Police, prime symbol of power and authority of the Nigerian state.

So, if you could do a deal with Niger Delta militants and later set many of them up with juicy federal contracts, why not also pat Boko Haram leaders in the back and hand them their own golden handshakes? Amnesia is amnesia. If you can, for 'peace', forget the havoc of militants, so can you for the havoc of Boko Haram murderers!

Beyond sarcasm, however, there are at least two definitive differences in the end game of the two crises: the Niger Delta militants were close to defeat; and the amnesty deal was some face-saving device. In the present case, Boko Haram is far from defeat. So, those crowing amnesty must know that, as things stand, should the French go back to Paris, Boko Haram can restart where it left off.

But more fundamentally, the Niger Delta amnesty was basically a deal for agents of the Nigerian state to have more access to oil and its endless gravy. In the case of Boko Haram, there is no such consensus based on strategic greed.

All Boko Haram has left in its trail is a smouldering North: troubled politics, prostrate economy, ruptured society, especially along religious and sectarian lines, and a shattered psyche. In other words, if indeed there is anything like 'political Boko Haram' as alleged, all it has done is cut the North's nose to spite its face; while hoping to put Jonathan's nose out of joint. So those 'northern elders' who push for amnesty based on amnesia should think twice: an un-decapitated Boko Haram may yet wreak more havoc for that region, its luckless people and the Federal Republic.

While the Jonathan presidency must make some compromises for peace, such compromises must not be at the expense of justice - for there can be no peace without justice. That is why it must rigorously examine Boko Haram demands and only grant those that are reasonable.

If Boko Haram, for instance, asks for their mosques to be rebuilt, that demand is reasonable, equitable, just and fair. If the state knows its Basic Law guarantees freedom of worship and still recklessly goes ahead to destroy places of worship, it must pay for its constitutional crime. If that would come in rebuilding mosques and paying compensation, so be it.

But the Boko Haram request that its detained members should be released is patently absurd. How can the state release willful and murderous criminals? If there is any soft-landing at all, it should be for the brainwashed canon fodders. To serve as deterrent, the Boko Haram ring leaders must be made to pay for their crime, though in the spirit of compromise, the severity of the penalty could be tempered.

Beyond reasonable and unreasonable demands, however, the Nigerian state should evolve an economic recovery and rehabilitation template for post-Boko Haram North to wipe out the poverty that has served as convenient nursery for Abubakar Shekau and his doctrinal anarchists to thrive.

It is time the North - and the country - made a fresh start. But that should be under the template of a reworked and productive federal system.