Boko Haram: Negotiation As An Option, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
Terrorism is achieving political agenda through violence. The politics of power is the reason behind the argument of not negotiating with terrorists. The protagonist point of view is that negotiating with terrorists rewards violence and discourages political change through peaceful means. They argue that negotiation weakens the negotiating government’s democratic structures, sets a dangerous precedence and undermines international effort at eradicating terrorism. The terrorists ability to undermine government’s legitimacy as a guardian of public peace and as a trustee of the democracy is why the agents of government always find themselves in an awkward position when secret negotiation falls flat. No one illustrates this better than Marylyn Ogar, whose misteps in her partisan blindfolds is legendary.
The dirty and murky boiler room deals, involving third party negotiators with government approval, is a potent indicator that governments most often negotiate with terrorists contrary to their admissions. Marylyn Ogar and her bosses cannot claim ignorance of Dr. Stephen Davis. They also know most if not all the sponsors of Boko Haram. They are not exposed because Nigeria is one big corrupt jungle where power is sought by a clique to corner the commonwealth. The unwritten rule remains: ‘I will not hurt you as long as we protect each other’. Make no mistake about it, Boko Haram are backed by political juggernauts who are bent on having a Nigeria of their own construct. The reluctance to name, shame and try them for their crimes lends credence to the facts. Why is the Nigerian government denying Dr. Stephen Davis? The Australian negotiator has clearly brokered deals for government with Niger Delta militants before; documents and pictures exists to prove it. Apparently, he decided to go public because this government lacks the capacity and political will to name, shame, prosecute and bring the sponsors and the chief perpetrators to justice. With a castrated military, I understand the frustrations of Dr. Davis. There seem to be no other way. Nigerians are crushed helpless by the devastating, cruel, daily deaths and the loss of towns and villages to the Islamic Caliphate of Boko Haram.
What to do? Clearly, the government knows what we don’t know. It is near certain that the sponsors will never be tried in this country even if all of them get named. The best Nigerians can hope for within the country’s border is a press conference to deny their involvement and a few crocodile tears and the macabre dance of death will continue unless the alleged sponsors venture out of this country. I have always believed in not negotiating with terrorists. But in the case of Boko Haram versus the Nigerian Army, what are the options? Under the prevailing circumstance, I have assumed a more realistic posture and have revised my priors. The Nigerian military cannot defeat Boko Haram. The military has been decimated by decades of corruption, dis-incentivization of meritocracy, cronyism and contract splitting. Given Nigeria’s adverse circumstances, negotiation may be the best, if not the only way of avoiding an undesirable outcome of a bloody country-wide war.
Nigeria is not the United States or France who dare proclaim we don’t negotiate with terrorists. The United States has the best military in the world, their superior air force will destroy Boko Haram in a nanosecond. The opposite is what Nigeria has. The Nigerian Armed Forces tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other military equipment do not justify the budget allocated to the defence ministry year after year. The Air Force actually has one operational fighter jet while the Presidential fleet has a dozen aircrafts. The once proud and competent military has been crippled and has become a huge joke.
This war cannot be won by executive fiat or by wishing. No one can legislate patriotism and competence for fractious armies with low morale. The military must be invested in and changed, and change takes time. On the fighting capacity of the military, the country is sadly a decade late and several billion dollars short. It will take more than 10 years of rigorous training, policy redirection and monitored funding to bring back the military to its former glorious height. Nigerians must be prepared for a slow and painful process of balkanization if negotiation is taken off the table. In the case of Boko Haram, given a weak military, ethnic and religious schisms, Nigeria is better served by employing careful negotiation as a means of constructing an outcome that is better than what obtains now and the evil that lies ahead.
Make no mistake about it, Boko Haram are backed by political juggernauts who are bent on having a Nigeria of their own construct. The reluctance to name, shame and try them for their crimes lends credence to the fact.
Negotiation is uniquely suited to Nigeria because the country, since the Maitatsine uprising, has spent the last 34 years fighting itself one way or the other. The denial and unwillingness to face the truth lies in the explanation and interpretation of the various levels of violence in the nation. Going through history, it is often difficult knowing where to begin. Violence has become the reference point for Nigerian politics, society, and economy as referenced by electoral violence, ethnic strife, sectarian violence and economic sabotage in the the Niger Delta. The arguments against negotiations are based on narrow political considerations, statements of principle, and personal opinions, profiteering from misery, rather than well-rounded, pragmatic recommendations.
Military chiefs have been alleged to be opposed to negotiations because they are profiting from the $6billion defence budget and do not want to see a cut in the face-value of their meal ticket. Is the successive capture of territories and incapacitation of the Nigerian army not suggestive that Boko Haram is more powerful and shows Nigeria’s interests cannot be satisfied through the status quo? Negotiation strategies and the decision to accept or reject a proposal should always be based on Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). That is, the decision to accept or reject a negotiated agreement should be a function of Nigeria’s best alternative course of action. What is Nigeria’s best alternative under the current circumstance? I have serious doubts if procuring military equipment can help Nigeria in the short term. What is the use of an embroidery machine and electric motor sewing machines to a bad tailor? We have an abysmal alternative in our military. The comparative cost of fighting instead of negotiating is getting higher everyday. A whole section is under attack and the country is at war. Beginning negotiations is no guarantee that a negotiated solution will be reached, but it is a necessary and often profitable first step towards ending the carnage. The Chibok girls are still missing and many more men are slaughtered, their wives and daughter cornered as sex slaves. Should this continue?
Given the current status of Boko Haram, President Jonathan has two essential alternatives to negotiating with the terror group. The first alternative would be to examine their demands, negotiate what can be met and opt for conditional amnesty. The second option is for the military to submerge itself in total confrontation with Boko Haram, seeking their comprehensive defeat or surrender. No country wins a war by being indifferent to its people and their suffering. The public is getting increasingly weary of the ongoing carnage in the conflict. Shekau’s public statements point to his preference for a confrontation strategy and further escalation of the conflict leading to seizure of many more territories. Is that Nigeria’s preferred option?
“Negotiation is an intricate exercise that begins with utopia and that which is desirable, continues with that which is possible, and reaches that which is viable, passing by that which is necessary.” I’m in favour of negotiations, but it can only help buy more time. The outcome of the National Conference shows the dearth of statesmen in Nigeria. Nigeria is not ready to take the bitter pill towards a just and equitable nationhood. There is no short cut to unity until there is a political agenda based on substantial agrarian reform, redistribution of wealth, state ownership and exploitation of natural resources, and higher investment in education and health sectors.
Bamidele maintains a weekly column on Politics and Socioeconomic issues every Tuesday. She is a member of PREMIUM TIMES Editorial Board.