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Please, negotiate with Boko Haram

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By Tochukwu Ezukanma
The administration of Goodluck Jonathan has, thus far, failed in its war against Boko Haram. It has been unable to contain and emasculate the terrorist group. Consequently, Boko Haram is ascendant; striking at its target at will, with its attacks more daring and its methods more sophisticated. The abduction of 230 schoolgirls by Boko Haram operatives and their complete elusion of the Nigerian government for more than one month is a potent arraignment of the president and his military and security chiefs; it made a mockery of their war against terror.

I am totally ignorant of military matters and the strategic doctrine that informs the war against Boko Haram. However, common sense tells me that the vehicular or pedestrian movement of 230 girls and their captors, even, under the cover of a starless, moonless night could not have eluded the detection of Nigerian soldiers and other security agents, supposedly, deployed in large numbers in Borno and adjoining states to combat the insurgents. It is questionable that they were unable to spot and intercept that multitude of school girls and terrorist goons as they moved through the by –ways and by-passes of the town/village into farmland/bushes and disappeared into their redoubt in Sambisa forest.

It is corruption is making it impossible for the Jonathan government to mount an effective campaign against Boko Haram. The United States Under Secretary of State, Sarah Sewall, stated that, “despite Nigeria's $5.8bn security budget for 2014, corruption prevents supplies as basic as bullets and transport vehicles from reaching the front lines of the struggle against Boko Haram.” The Economist magazine recently reported that Nigerian soldiers are not motivated in the fight against terrorism because “their commanders pocket a bulk of their salaries leaving them with little incentive to fight the well-equipped guerrillas”. Ayo Olukotun, in a newspaper article referred to it as “a system so corrupt and dehumanizing (that) it scores goals against itself”.

Consequently, Boko Haram gained an upper hand in its war against the Nigerian government. Almost uninhibited, it is indiscriminately attacking civilian centers and gratuitously butchering and maiming the innocent and defenseless. It is a heartrending reality succinctly captured by the dolorous words of an exasperated Jos resident, “Last month they abducted over 200 schoolgirls; on Thursday, they attacked two schools in Bauchi State; on Sunday, they bombed Kano city. Today, it is the turn of Jos. God, where are we heading for in Nigeria?”

It is against this background that the administration of Goodluck Jonathan should consider the Boko Haram's peace overture. It is proposing the swapping the girls with its members in Nigerian government incarceration. The Nigerian government should take advantage of this peace proposal from this, otherwise, spooky and inscrutable terrorist group.

Disconcertingly, in response to the peace proposal, both the Interior Minister, Abba Moro and the Senate President, David Mark are of the view that: the government will not negotiate the release of the girls. And President Jonathan stated that “the government would not release the incarcerated Boko Haram members in exchange for the girls”. In other words, the Nigerian government is refusing to negotiate with terrorists. That is reminiscent of the American government's verbal flamboyance on terrorism. American government officials bluster about their abiding tradition of not negotiating with terrorists. But then, the American government has proven, time and time again, that it can back up its rodomontade with action. For example, it refused to negotiate with Al Qaeda, and then, successfully, tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders.    

The Nigerian government cannot afford to talk tough on terrorism and refuse to negotiate with terrorists because, unlike the American government, it lacks the wherewithal to back up its bluff    with actions. Therefore, it must parley with Boko Haram, and if necessary, swap the girls with its members in government imprisonment. The most important concern of the Goodluck administration should be the safe return of these girls to their parents and loved ones.  

The satellite imageries and military intelligence offered to the Nigerian government by some Western Powers may not yield dividend immediately. The US State Department spokesman, Jen Psaki, cautioned the Nigerian government “against expecting quick results from the surveillance fights because this is a difficult mission, we are looking for the girls in an area roughly the size of New England”. In other worlds, the girls, most likely, will continue to languish in captivity and their families sorrowing and pining for them for a protracted period of time.

And when the satellite imageries and the surveillance and reconnaissance flights finally reveal the location(s) of the girls and their captors, and with the government still refusing to negotiate with terrorists, what will be the government's course of action – the storming the terrorist redoubts to release the girls by the Nigerian armed forces? That will be the most reckless, coldhearted and appalling approach to the abduction crisis because it will invariably result in causalities, not only of the combatants but of the innocent girls. The death of any of these girls must be avoided at all cost. For the parents and other loved ones of these girls, the people of Nigerian and sympathizers across the world want them home alive and unscathed.

Therefore, inescapably, the Nigerian government should negotiate with Boko Haram for their release. The situation presents itself not for political expediency or proof of military prowess and dexterity. It calls, solely, for earnest, unyielding and painstaking endeavor at avoiding the death of any of these innocent, hapless girls. Ultimately, the greatest victory for the government and people of Nigerian in this unfolding moral drama is the return of our girls alive and unharmed.  

Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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