You Cannot Negotiate With God (2), By Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò
What is now required is serious intelligence. Intelligence is another word for knowledge. As I have often contended, a society that does not seek knowledge when it does not need it will not have it when it most needs it. For too long, we have degraded our police and intelligence services into tools of survival for the government of the day or ornaments for the decoration of the rich and famous amongst us. Add to that the foolish insistence on having one police force for a complex federation marked by myriad pluralisms. The outcome is that we lack the intelligence networks that would allow police officers on the beat as well as intelligence personnel properly deployed to eavesdrop on privileged conversations amongst those planning mayhem in the neighbourhood.
Slightly over three years ago, my “You Cannot Negotiate with God” was published by TheNews (February 26, 2012). Current events, specifically the statement credited to the Special Adviser on Media to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr. Femi Adesina, to the effect that the federal government is open to negotiating with Boko Haram in order to end the terror group’s rampage in different parts of north and central Nigeria. He was also quick to add, as reported, that the government will not negotiate from a position of weakness. Since then, other Nigerians have weighed in on the wisdom and necessity of negotiating with Boko Haram.
It is my realisation of how all too human we Nigerians can be when it comes to the matter of how short our memory can be that has prompted me to revisit the unheeded advice contained in my long-ago opinion piece. I would like to remind us that as the original piece held, and nothing has happened in the intervening years to pooh pooh the thesis of that piece, you cannot negotiate with groups like Boko Haram. The reason is simple: YOU CANNOT NEGOTIATE WITH GOD!
Since that time, a lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge. When the Jonathan administration first mooted the idea of negotiation, Boko Haram did not control a square foot of Nigeria’s geopolitical space. Until about April, this year, Boko Haram had mastered 14 local government areas in North-East Nigeria. When I wrote the original piece, Boko Haram had not openly identified with the then leading terrorist network in the world, al-Qaeda. Now, it is openly allied with, or more exactly, allegiant to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levantine (ISIS). When I wrote the original piece, there was no record of any Nigerian in Boko Haram captivity. Now we know that, until recently, close to 3,000 women and children were victims of Boko Haram kidnapping. And, of course, the most notorious case of the Chibok girls remains unresolved.
In what should go down in history as a singular instance of political and strategic ineptitude, the likes of which are rare in human political history, the Jonathan administration and his bevy of PhD-wielding advisers and counsellors, driven more by an insane desire to win re-election at all costs than by logic, went into “negotiations” with what turned out to be Boko Haram impostors, gave heaven-knows-how-much money to them and announced gleefully that the insurgency was at an end. We all know how that ended.
As is usual in our dear country, no one knows what transpired, who got what, and who was responsible for the debacle. We citizens, too, have been absolutely remiss in not insisting that our government answer to us. Many of our so-called civil society organisations are too busy grandstanding on social media and enjoying their loot from their gullible foreign funders. Our press have not been clamorous in establishing responsibility and insisting that those responsible receive their comeuppance.
Now we have a new administration and it is already beaten a path to a discredited idea with a disastrous outcome the last time it was tried. Let me say it again, you cannot negotiate with God.
Let me quickly dismiss any analogy with the erstwhile, now settled, thank you, militants of the Niger Delta. Whatever it was that I did not like about the militants of the creeks, their demands were clear — resource control; though it turned out, it was all really about being settled by their original sponsors: the politicians. Although they wore disguises and operated, as all insurgent groups do, in a clandestine fashion, they had no problem disposing of their disguises and settling into garish mansions and expensive boats, the fruits of insurgency, indeed! And that was that.
What do Boko Haram want? They have no truck with resource control. They have no desire to lay their treasures on earth; they are patient enough to have their virgins delivered post-death. Much as Lake Chad might offer a beautiful setting for opulent yachts, they have no interest to set upon such a course. They have one simple aim: to build Allah’s kingdom on earth and have its inhabitants all submit to Allah’s will as interpreted by Boko Haram and their fellow travellers or accept to be second class citizens paying protection money to Allah’s enforcers, the minimum they must do to continue to enjoy the right to life under Islamic rule. What part of this programme can be negotiated? There is none.
To start with, negotiation requires two parties marked by parity. Boko Haram represent God’s will on earth. Once you acknowledge this will, you have two options: submit or face the consequences of refusal to submit. The Nigerian government and the state it dominates cannot be Allah’s equals. Indeed, in Boko Haram’s eyes, their very being represents an unacceptable challenge to Allah’s supremacy and the specialness of the faithful seeking to realise his will. When secular authorities pretend to be on the same level with Allah, as they must be in any negotiation, they are, prima facie, guilty of blasphemy. Are you still thinking that I am talking through my hat?
Historically, religion-based insurgencies have rarely, if ever, being negotiated into resolution. Only when they have other demands have negotiations been undertaken and successfully concluded. The Irish Republican Army was, strictly speaking, not a religious insurgency. The Moro National Liberation Front in the Philippines is not a religious insurgency. The Taliban movement remains uncommitted to negotiation because nothing short of an Islamic state under Shari’a will do in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Neither ISIS nor al Qaeda before it is willing to sit down with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — the sole custodian of Islam’s holiest shrines, no less — to negotiate whatever the movements are convinced is wrong with the birthplace of Islam. Allah’s will, as apprehended by the movements, must prevail; any departure from that goal is haram, pure and simple. Those who are resolute that, in their conviction, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is haram, are not likely to think that a Nigerian president, even a Muslim one, is a worthy interlocutor for them.
What then do we do with Boko Haram? Liquidate them. Cut off their access to new recruits with a programme of stupendous economic development in their areas of operation such that the young people would be too busy enjoying their lives they would have little time for God! And Africa, as a whole, can surely use some time away from God right now, in my humble opinion.
How is that to be achieved? I do not wish to be accused of not offering possible pointers to a successful conclusion of the fight against Boko Haram. From the beginning the Boko Haram issue was one of policing, not a military one. And those who know know that policing is a cultural science: you cannot police a people you don’t know. The importance of this realisation is being underscored in the aftermath of the military successes that Nigeria’s armed forces have recorded against the insurgents. The evidence is in the fact that they are back detonating human bombs in public places and invading defenceless and non-defendable villages and wasting the lives of ordinary citizens. I said non-defendable because, given the nature of the insurgency, short of herding poor villagers into military formations designed for defensive purposes by the army, there is no army that can defend such locations. It is why neighbourhoods are routinely defenceless against marauding robbers.
What is now required is serious intelligence. Intelligence is another word for knowledge. As I have often contended, a society that does not seek knowledge when it does not need it will not have it when it most needs it. For too long, we have degraded our police and intelligence services into tools of survival for the government of the day or ornaments for the decoration of the rich and famous amongst us. Add to that the foolish insistence on having one police force for a complex federation marked by myriad pluralisms. The outcome is that we lack the intelligence networks that would allow police officers on the beat as well as intelligence personnel properly deployed to eavesdrop on privileged conversations amongst those planning mayhem in the neighbourhood. It is how good policing picks up necessary information from buka, pepper-soup joints, naming ceremonies, and sundry other everyday life situations. They would speak the local languages, be invested in the usages of the vicinity and, most important of all, in the preservation of peace and tranquility of their neighbourhoods for themselves and their loved ones. These are the ultimate sources of the information that will shift us from picking up the body pieces after explosions to nipping in the bud potential detonations.
No, it is never too late to do the right thing. Restore our police to the crime fighting and civil protection duties that are their wont, decentralise the policing structures, and let local people take charge of their neighbourhoods. They will more than likely give up the false prophets, the malaika of mayhem, lurking in their communities, to the appropriate authorities.
Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò teaches at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, U.S.A.