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No Easy Choices – Boko Haram: Which Way Forward for President Goodluck Jonathan


Henry Mgbemena

In light of recent developments in America and President Jonathan’s statements indicating military actions against Boko Haram may be looming, I just couldn’t resist writing this sequel to my last blog #Bring Back Our Girls: Eyes on the ball Mr. Chief of Defense Staff!. On May 31, 2014, President Obama released five top Taliban commanders held in Guantanamo prison in exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan since 2009. The prisoners swap has generated a lot of debates, with opponents querying the rationale behind the deal and likely impact on US war on terror. This incident got me thinking about the dilemma President Jonathan finds himself over the Chibok girls’ abduction. I maintain my earlier submission in support of whatever decision he takes in resolving the impasse and hope he makes the right call which only posterity shall tell. As an experienced hostage negotiator, I know that in every hostage incident management, all options remain on the table until the hostages are safely released. Though each situation is unique, approaches defer based on personalities involved, value placed on the hostages and assessed likelihood of a successful military tactical release. My intention here is simply to highlight how other countries have dealt with similar situations in the past and to analyze the likely effect each approach will have on Nigeria.

Israel is a country that highly values her citizens and will go to any extent to secure their freedom with proper strategic appreciation of each situation. In July 1976, Israel refused to concede to hijackers’ demands to trade 53 Palestinian militants detainees for 95 Jewish passengers and French crew taken hostage on Air France flight 139 diverted to Uganda. Israeli military commandos launched Operation Thunderbolt, struck with precision and rescued 102 hostages. All the hijackers, three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed. In October 2011 however, Israel changed tactics and agreed to exchange a soldier captured by Hamas in 2006 for a whopping 1027 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, not minding that the released prisoners were responsible for the deaths of 569 Israeli civilians. 

On the other hand, Algeria is a country known for their hardline approach to terrorism as a result of bitter experiences from fighting terrorists and rebellions since the 1990s. In January 2013, militants loyal to Mokhtar Belmokhtar opposed to French military involvement in Mali took several hostages in an Algerian refinery in Ain Amenas. Algerian government’s response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists; favoring military action over negotiation. Algerian Special Forces used helicopter gunships to bomb the location regardless of the hostages that were used as human shield by the terrorists. The attack left at least 23 hostages dead and all 32 militants killed—I leave it to your judgment as to whether or not the government’s determination to stamp out terrorism is worth the supreme sacrifice the innocent hostages had to pay. 

The ball is in now in President Jonathan’s court and  this is surely a test case as whatever step he takes will define his counter terrorism strategy. Hopefully his decision will not be based on emotions, devoid of political undertones, well thought-through and communicated. And above all, the security of the entire citizenry should be paramount. Perhaps he should take this opportunity to ponder over other Nigerian hostages all over the country and those incarcerated without trials in countries like China, Thailand, UAE, Saudi Arabia…the list is endless. Can this situation define the value the government places on Nigerians?

We all sympathize with the families of the Chibok girls who would prefer President Jonathan to strike a deal to secure their freedom. But if he deals and frees the girls, will that win the war against Boko Haram? Since Israel traded one soldier for over a thousand Palestinian, they still maintain an upper hand in the conflict and may have arrested more than the number of militants released from 2011 till date. Even though President Obama has been criticized for his decision to trade the Taliban prisoners, I believe he must have critically examined it and certain the benefit outweighs likely negative impact on America’s overall counterterrorism strategy. He must have surely placed a value on the life of the soldier who has been with the Taliban for five years—a possible source of vital intelligence? My take is if President Jonathan decides to deal, it should be followed by a very robust game plan to strike a bigger blow on Boko Haram.

What if President Jonathan decides not to deal? I know it is a difficult call to make knowing that the lives of innocent children are involved. But is that not what it takes to be the Commander-in-Chief of a country of over 150million people at war? Two key issues that should be considered is do we have the military capabilities to carry out a precision attack like the Israelis or Navy Seal Team Six that snuffed out life from Osama bin laden or are we adopting the Algerian formula? Is it a correct assumption that we don’t have that precision capability based on the statement by the military that they know where the girls are but not ready to use force for fear of casualties? How then does this tie up with comments by Senator David Mark that Nigeria will not negotiate and that of President Jonathan that all is set to deal Boko Haram a deadly blow? Is this a pointer that he is deploying foreign boots on the ground? 

The President’s comment is indeed a very welcome development but hastily communicated knowing that surprise is a key principle of war. I saw the documentary on the killing of Osama bin Laden and was struck by the top secret nature of the entire operations. Only a handful of people in the Obama cabinet knew about the operation, to the extent that the deputy National Security Adviser was not told until the last minute. The Navy Seal Team Six that carried out the attack only knew their target just before boarding the aircrafts, and President Obama only announced the mission after the body of Bin Laden was subjected to a DNA test and confirmed a match. I think President Jonathan spoke too soon but hopefully, the Generals may still find a way to carry out the tactical but we should all continue to pray for the soldiers that will be involved in “Operation Deadly Blow”.

Can President Jonathan do it the Algerian way? How will Nigerians and the international community react to such an outcome especially since the hostages are children? I still remember the September 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis and how Russia was criticized for the rescue mission that left over 380 people dead. How will the Government handle the fallout from such a situation considering the poor public relations record in the overall Boko Haram saga? I believe a dynamic government-media partnership is what we need rather than total media blackout. Nigerians need to be kept informed and prepared for whatever it takes to defeat these fanatics because that is the only way to garner their support. Terrorism is a cancer that requires a long battle, especially when it has metastasized like Boko Haram. No single deadly blow can do the magic as demobilization, de-radicalization, reconciliation and reintegration strategies still need to be worked out.


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[Guest BlogPost – Professor Pius Adesanmi] #WhoOwnsTheProblem?

Tangling with and trying to disentangle African Culture and African Problems in a globalised media suffused world!

Pa Ikhide

By Professor Pius Adesanmi

Winner, the Penguin Prize for African Writing

Author of  You’re Not a Country, Africa!

Carnegie Diaspora Visiting Professor, University of Ghana, Legon

(This keynote lecture was initially delivered as part of the opening session plenary addresses at the Fourth Annual African Renaissance for Unity Conference convened by the Africa Institute of South Africa and The Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute, Pretoria, South Africa, on May 22, 2014. A modified version of it was subsequently delivered as Professor Pius Adesanmi’s valedictory lecture at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, on May 29, 2014, in conclusion of his tenure as a Carnegie Diaspora Visiting Scholar.)

Your Excellency President Thabo Mbeki, organizers, sponsors and co-sponsors of this conference, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, you must forgive me for the peculiar title of this lecture. It is true that the organizers of this timely conference gave me an…

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The 2014 Caine Prize: Stories in the age of social media

Ikhide should Professing Literary Criticism at Ife!

Pa Ikhide

As the world knows, the 2014 Caine Prize shortlist is out. The shortlisted stories are: Phosphorescence by Diane Awerbuck of South Africa; Chicken by Efemia Chela of Ghana/Zambia; The Intervention by Tendai Huchu of Zimbabwe; The Gorilla’s Apprentice by Billy Kahora of Kenya; and My Father’s Head by Okwiri Oduor of Kenya. No Nigerian made the shortlist. Which begs the question, is it an authentic Caine Prize if no Nigerian is on the shortlist? The answer is, YES. Nigerians, get over yourselves, abeg. There is a short biography of each of the five writers here. Reading the stories wasn’t a waste of my time, but compared to the fun I am having on social media, it was a collective near-yawn. I was not overly impressed by any of the stories, well that is not entirely correct, a couple of the stories held my interest quite a bit.

What are the stories about?…

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A tribute for Dora Akunyili – written in 2007

By Noel Ihebuzor

Ezigbo Ada Anyi,

Strange that an internal UNICEF exchange on which you were copied allowed
me to get in touch with a lady whose tales of courage and care  I have
heard but who I have not been privileged to meet in person as I have been
out of Nigeria for a bit now.
I have written a short poem for you to convey how I feel and to celebrate
this “meeting”.
written in a hurry, the poem is full of imperfections – but the intentions
are clean and should redeem these imperfections

Jisie ike – Chukwu ga na agba gi ume



For Dora Akunyili

 and to all like you

who care to dare

who dare to care


may your names be song forever in cadence of joy from the tops of iroko trees

may fame rightly gained grow and glow and blossom

till like a rainbow it embraces the entire sky

and lives are lightened and brightened by its bloom

and the boundaries of darkness eroded and rolled back by its ennobling beauty and brightness


long may your actions continue to be song

long and far and wide

on shores beyond seven rivers

beyond eight market days and nine hills will your story be told


Ada anyi, may your feat of courage conspire

with those of kindred spirits to inspire,

to loosen feet and consciences held down in lead

to refresh and renew souls, to reborn and restore values

so that a thousand like you in diverse callings in time

will emerge and converge


and redeem our country from its pain and shame


ogologo ndu, ezigbo ada nwanyi

ihu na anya Chukwu, amara ya na ebere ya buru kwa nke gi


and may He renew you whose actions renew and revitalize


as He will to all who care, who care to dare and who dare to care.


Noel Ihebuzor, Chef du Programme Education, UNICEF DRC 8, 8

  Dora Akunyili      <>                                                      

 Noel Ihebuzor    <>   

11/02/2007 01:30     PM                                                        



 Subject            Re: Etteh: sheath not hard swords

Dear Noel,

Many thanks for your mail.

Best regards,

Dora Akunyili

Noel Ihebuzor <> wrote:

Poem 2 

 Sheath Not Hard Swords

 Sheath not hard swords against the deceiver, 

speak not hard words against a brethren/”sisthren”, 


scatter not

let not gender strife

endanger a worthy cause,

for those that divide us,

divide their spoils without us, 

behind us,

and enfold us in mists of myths, 

in sweet coated slippery ideologies

of schisms and rifts, 


let not the victims divide

 let us be on course for the time is rife
 tide is high
 and let us all roll with the tide and times

 in times present
 while we count time slowly like slow snails
 may those who rip off of our land,
 not reap from our toils
 may their shares in the end be shearing shame
 when in the end, inevitably, our fame emerges

 finished 0900 hours 02/11/2007 –

this second poem was an appeal for rallying round a good, cause particularly after Dora’s intentions were questioned and a good cause then faced the threat of being split and thus weakened by appeals to gender, religion and region! Naija sef!

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Stupor (poem) 1


Newnaija's Place


Jun 3 at 4:49 AM

Eyes bleary, staring scarily
Seeing the invisible
Hearing the inaudibles
Playing esoteric music
Dinging and shinging

Men floating bye in cottony cloud
Constantly changing
Clanging the cymbals
Shrieking in voice full of vice

I am being swallowed in my wailing
Walking on a whitish earth
Flowing in a fluidity of wart
I am in a world of the ethereal

Seeing the idiocy of mankind
Displayed in orderly disorder
In monotonous continuity
Doing same thing for no reason

Madly mad they are I see
Deadly drunken in their zest
In my quest to understand
I perch on their world

I see them drunken with wine
Wine of pain and sorrow
Looking plain without gain
I aim to claim my drunkenness

Isaacola AA

Inspired by a drunk

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Letter 5 from Rome, June 3rd 2014.

By +John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja


It is often said that “to err is human and to forgive is divine”. To forgive does not easily come to us human beings; we find it very difficult to resist the urge to hit back, to revenge. And yet, on the long run, it is clear that pardon is better than vengeance. While vengeance tends to perpetuate enmity, pardon heals hurt and creates friendship. The command of Jesus: “Love your enemies”, (Luke 6:27) is not only not as unrealistic as it may appear, but is indeed excellent common sense. Furthermore, even when pardon is generously offered, it is often not easy to humbly accept it, since this implies the admission of guilt, which our pride resists. We see here the drama of pardon in inter-personal relationships.


When this is translated to the level of amnesty of government to citizens, the drama can become very problematic. Although the duty of government to ensure justice and enforce good order normally entails punishing criminals, this may at times not exclude offering pardon and amnesty. This is why each case has to be judged on its own merit. It is often a matter of calculating the risks of “tempering justice with mercy” for the higher purpose of peace and reconciliation in the community.


A well-known example is the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” which the government of South Africa under Nelson Mandela set up after Apartheid. Despite its limits, it certainly opened the way for the “Rainbow Nation” to move on after the grievous hurts and injuries of the Apartheid regime. It is significant that it was promoted by Mandela, a victim who generously offered pardon. Nor should one underestimate the importance of the “Archbishop Desmond Tutu factor”, which turned the whole process into a somewhat “spiritual exercise”.


We have other examples nearer home. The famous “Oputa Panel” had the lofty aims of bringing about national reconciliation after the injuries of the military era, though for various reasons, it ended with very limited achievement in that regard. For many aggrieved, the wounds are still festering and waiting to be effectively addressed. The “amnesty program” for the Niger Delta militants, which the Yar’Ardua administration initiated and which was continued by President Jonathan, is another example. It has perhaps appeased a few people. But one can still wonder how much it has effectively tackled the problems of the Niger Delta. The beautiful concept of amnesty can take different forms.


In his address to the nation during the last “Democracy Day” celebrations, President Jonathan spoke strongly about matters of national security which are obviously of major concern not only to Nigerians but to the entire international community. Our abducted girls must be brought back home. The menace of terrorism in our land must be brought to an end. Everything will be done to ensure the unity, integrity and peace in Nigeria. Our armed forces and other security agents have been given clear directives, and we hope also adequate means to get the job done. Nigerians and the world are waiting for concrete action and clear results.


Squeezed in between the tough talk is a short but significant paragraph 24, to the effect that government is prepared to offer amnesty to terrorists who lay down their arms and embrace peace with their fatherland. The local and international media have given this story a well-deserved wide publicity. This is a great challenge which calls for a lot of commitment, sincerity and consistency on the part of government and its agents.


It should be clear to all that this is not a case of enthroning impunity which could become a precedent to blackmail government in future through violence. The motivation has to be the pursuit of peace and reconciliation with people who admit wrong-doing and are ready to repent. It is therefore not enough to lay down arms, perhaps because of superior fire power of government forces. There must also be a sincere change of heart. And this is a difficult though not an impossible project.


The amnesty will be an encouragement to those who are already disposed to abandon terrorism but may not be prepared to submit themselves for summary execution.The promise of Mr. President “to ensure their de-radicalization, rehabilitation and re-integration into the broader society” is a serious commitment that must be sincerely carried out. There is need for patience. If government waits for the entire group to renounce violence before making any move, no one can say how long this will take. We can surely start with individuals and groups ready to break ranks and take advantage of the generous offer of government. There is of course the risk here that insincere people may infiltrate the process. But it is a risk that has to be carefully calculated and embraced.


Amnesty and rehabilitation of repented terrorists raises the bigger issue of rehabilitation of victims of terrorism over the years. There is no way to bring back the dead. But the nation cannot leave surviving victims without any form of adequate compensation. The hurt and anger of victims cannot be ignored if a true reconciliation in the “broader society” is ever to begin to take place. This may involve a greater challenge than amnesty for terrorists. But it is a challenge that must be taken on board, promptly and visibly. It does not make any sense, both in justice and morality, to budget for former murderers and make no provisions for the innocent victims of their atrocities. People have lost loved ones. Widows and orphans have been left without succor. Businesses have been destroyed. Property, homes and even places of worship have been reduced to rubbles. There is a lot of “rehabilitation and re-integration into the broader society” to be done. Amnesty for terrorists must go hand in hand with compensation for victims.


We pray for God’s guidance for President Jonathan and his government. May God bless our nation with peace and prosperity. Amen.