By Akinkuolie Rasheed
The Boko Haram war after 11 years of fighting has claimed 40-50,000 lives and left Nigeria in a devastated state. The insurgency/ War may last for another 20 years, says the army chief, which is true. Insurgents rely on their resilience to fight long drawn wars, weaken and tire an army before destroying it.
Nigeria is not just fighting BH, but also their powerful backers viz: Alqaida, ISIS, LIFG( Libya Islamic Fighting Group ), Khalifa Army, ISWA. BH is now carrying out mop up operations by attacking civilians and taking hostages at will.
But, for how long will this continue? Is there any hope for peace at all, and when will life return back to normal in Nigeria? When a war is fought interminably, without any hope of ending it, either through negotiations or ongoing talks for peace, the best of armies become demoralized. There must a plan to end this war through dialogue. The chances of a military victory is almost dim and remote at this stage. The good news is that there are opportunities and openings to dialogue with BH and end this war.
I had written severally about the mediatory role, Hajia Hamsatu Allamin and Hajia Aisha Wakil could play in bringing peace to Northern Nigeria and end the BH insurgency.
Hajia Aisha Wakil’s relationship with BH started, when most of the members today were (Almajiri) street children in Maiduguri. She catered for their needs and developed such a strong relationship with them, that they affectionately called her ‘YAYI NJUMMA’ or dearest mother of peace or ‘Mama Boko Haram’ to the public.
These children in later years joined the Boko Haram insurgency, when Mohammed Yusuf, their spiritual leader was murdered by security agents in 2009.
Hajia Wakil wielded so much influence within the rank and file of BH, that she was able to negotiate the release of several BH hostages, including some of the Chibok girls without the government paying any ransom. Hajia Aisha Wakil incidentally is a lawyer from the South East of Nigeria, who is married to a Kanuri man. This shows that Nigeria’s problem is not fundamentally ethnic or religious, but the greed of leaders without good character, irrespective of their ethnic background or religion.
Hajia Hamsatu Allamin on the other hand was at the United Nations, EU and USA to draw the attention of the international community to the BH war, which has not been given enough coverage outside Nigeria. She renamed Boko Haram,(education is bad or harmful) to ‘Boko Halal’ to contrast the former, that education is good and desirable, if applied truthfully, appropriately and for the good of the society. She had on several occasions intervened and interfaced with the government to stop the harassment of young people in Maiduguri, broker peace and negotiate the release of hostages without ransom.
These two ladies are assets that could help end this war. Governor Zulum , whose state is severely affected by the insurgency is strongly advised to seek the dialogue option. The two ladies are within his reach. The reliance on the federal government for support will not yield much result. The helpless cannot help another helpless.
He had tried on several occasions to return displaced citizens to their homes without success. The people know, who holds the real power, and for self preservation and out of fear, have opted to negotiate privately with BH by paying tributes and taxes to them for protection and freedom to farm, fish, trade and engage in other social activities. The implication is that the government canot enjoy the support of the local population, which further compounds the military solution option.
Eventually, the African way of making peace among brethren will have to be adopted to deal with the deep rooted wounds, which only forgiveness can heal. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, post apartheid era, Rwanda after the genocide and Nigeria post Abacha’s regime are good examples to emulate in putting behind this bitterly fought war.
While dealing with the unfinished BH war, attention should not be taken away from another brewing crisis, which may ignite at any time, if urgent action is not taken.
The continued incarceration of Sheik El Zaky Zaky, leader of the Shiite Movement in Nigeria is a crisis which may soon unravel. The Sheik has been in government custody since December 2015, despite court orders that he should be released on bail.
The concern is, if the Skeik should die in government custody, we may pray against it, but it could happen. Is there a plan B to deal with the consequences, which may be protests; peaceful and not so peaceful ?
There is no security value in keeping the Sheik in custody. His freedom is not a threat to the public or the government in any way.
The young Shias who have been marching for his release have been very peaceful because of the HOPE, that he will be released unharmed. But, if the worst happens, their reaction may be unpredictable.
Will they seek revenge or fight for the survival of their choice of faith, which the Sheik represents and symbolizes ? Who knows? This is the worry and fear of the Nigerian people, who do not want to go through another round of problems, of which they have had enough. We should not forget so quickly, that the murder of Mohammed Yusuf ignited the BH insurgency, which has now lasted for eleven years.
The other concern is that Nigeria may inadvertently be getting itself involved in the Sunni/ Shiite rivalry in the Middle East, with Iran and Saudi Arabia fighting proxy wars in Yemen and Syria.
A Shiite war in Nigeria will attract the support of their members in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon ( Hezbollah) and these are formidable military regional powers. This will be a war too many, that may finally seal the fate of Nigeria.
The court order which granted the Sheik bail must be obeyed. The next court appearance in early 2021 is another opportunity to free him , and let peace reign.
Nigerians are fed up. They want to enjoy some respite for once, rather than going from one crisis into another, most of which are preventable.
-Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed was Director of Trade, Investment and Policy Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja Nigeria