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

By

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.

Henry MGBEMENA

hmgbemena@gmail.com

Advertisements

[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…

View original post 4,739 more words

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?…

View original post 2,851 more words

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

Noel
=================================================================================

Image

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 nihebuzor@unicef.org, 8 noel.ihebuzor@gmail.com

  Dora Akunyili      <dnakunyili@yahoo.com>                                                      

To
 Noel Ihebuzor    <nihebuzor@unicef.org>   

11/02/2007 01:30     PM                                                        

 

cc

 Subject            Re: Etteh: sheath not hard swords

Dear Noel,

Many thanks for your mail.

Best regards,

Dora Akunyili

Noel Ihebuzor <nihebuzor@unicef.org> 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!

Stupor (poem) 1

powerful!

Newnaija's Place

dunk

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
@newnaija

Inspired by a drunk

View original post

AMNESTY FOR BOKO HARAM: CALCULATING THE RISKS AND COUNTING THE COSTS. Letter 5 from Rome, June 3rd 2014.

AMNESTY FOR BOKO HARAM:

CALCULATING THE RISKS AND COUNTING THE COSTS.

Letter 5 from Rome, June 3rd 2014.

By +John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja

 Image

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.

THE SULTAN, NIGERIAN MUSLIMS AND BOKO HARAM Letter 4 from Rome: 27 May 2014

THE SULTAN, NIGERIAN MUSLIMS AND BOKO HARAM

Letter 4 from Rome: 27 May 2014

By +John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja.

 Image

“Terrorism has no place in Islam….We must rise up as always, with one voice to condemn all acts of terrorism, condemn those terrorists wherever they are and try our best as Muslims to ensure peace reigns in our community”.

 

This is the core of the message of the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’adAbubakar III, and President of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) during a special prayer session last weekend organised by the same NSCIA at the Abuja National Mosque, an event that was widely covered by the Nigerian media. It was also given very wide and positive media coverage here in Rome, starting from the Vatican Radio. I congratulate the Sultan for his bold statement. This has given me the courage to voice out, with all good intention, a reflection that has been going through my own mind for some time now.

           

            For a long time, we used to pride ourselves as Nigerians for the generally good relations between our two major religious communities. We described ourselves as “the greatest Islamo-Christian nation in the world”. This is to highlight the fact that there is no nation in the world with so many Christians and so many Muslims living together in almost equal numbers and largely peacefully.

 

            We saw cases of “inter-religious” conflicts with loss of life and property. But we tended to dismiss them as anomalies occurring a few days in the year. We attributed this anomaly to the actions and utterances of a small group of extremists on both ends of the religious divide. At other times, we blame the manipulation, misuse and abuse of religion by people with other aims and objectives, political, ethnic and social. Often, all these factors merge.

 

But we soon began to wonder at the chronic repetition of such “anomalous” incidents. The role of religion became ever more evident, whether directly or indirectly. Most of the violent religious conflicts featured Muslim extremists targeting Christian objectives. It has also been largely a Northern affair. The records on this are clear.

 

            All this has become drastically exacerbated with the emergence of the Boko Haram. They have raised the level of destruction and ruthlessness to inhuman dimensions. They have also been carrying out their murderous activities calling the name of “Allah” and giving Islam a bad name. We do not know how many they are, but they are enough to constitute a major danger to the entire nation. Like poison, you need only a little portion to kill many people. They have also become a cause of concern for the international community, having now acquired the dubious merit of a mention at the United Nations’ Security Council.

 

            How do we get out of “this very serious situation” as the Sultan rightly describes our present predicament? The abduction of the over 250 school girls is no doubt very serious, and we pray that our daughters will return home soon. But it is only a tragic symptom of the wider issue of terrorism, which needs to be addressed from the roots. The complexity of the problem calls for many sided approaches, military, yes, but also political and economic. Beyond all this, the religious dimension is what I particularly want to draw attention to in this reflection. The government must key this dimension into its strategies for a lasting solution to the problem. Government should abandon its tendency to close its eyes to the religious issues. Too little effort is being made in this direction.

 

            The Muslim community has come out several times in the past to condemn the Boko Haram. That is commendable but not enough. It is also certainly not helpful to maintain that the terrorists are not Muslims because they are doing things that are clearly contrary to what the majority of Muslims hold. If there is ever to be any channels of dialogue and peace-making with the group, it will necessarily involve Muslim elements with access to them, people they respect and will listen to. We see here the wisdom and importance of the call of the Sultan.

            To go beyond mere condemnation, it seems to me that there is an urgent need for an in-house dialogue within the Nigerian Muslim community. Such a dialogue would make it possible to courageously and sincerely deal with currents and movements that create the kind of religious climate and atmosphere in which Boko Haram and similar groups emerge and thrive. It is not enough to condemn market bombing, killing in villages and places of worship and abduction of innocent schoolgirls. All this is expected of any right thinking person. But it is also necessary to condemn extreme and intolerant religious positions and attitudes which make peace with others impossible. It is not enough to merely tolerate people of other faiths, considered perhaps as undesirable. It is also necessary to respect the religious convictions of everyone and accept the reality of our multi-religious nation as being in the plan of the One God whom we all worship. Our freedom of religion has to do with freedom to speak the truth of our faiths. It cannot be license to insult and denigrate others, less still to foment violence and hatred. It is surely the duty of the state to enforce and ensure good order and deal firmly with all trouble makers. But it is the greater duty of religious authorities to promote peace and harmony among God’s children in our nation.

            Every effort in this direction deserves the encouragement of the entire nation, starting with government. The Christian community too should welcome and support such efforts, with a view to “close ranks as Nigerians”, as the Sultan has wisely suggested. In this regard, we must say that this is hardly the time for the Nigerian Inter-religious Council, (NIREC) to go into a slumber. We should all wake up to salvage our nation, before it becomes too late.  

THE PAINFUL DILEMMA OF DIALOGUE WITH BOKO HARAM Letter 3 from Rome: May 19th 2014

THE PAINFUL DILEMMA OF DIALOGUE WITH BOKO HARAM

Letter 3 from Rome: May 19th 2014

By +John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja.

 Image

The world renowned Catholic prelate, His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze, once defined dialogue as “You talk I listen; I talk and you listen.” He certainly knew what he was talking about, because he was for many years the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, the agency of the Holy See for dialogue with people of other faiths. There has been much talk about dialogue not only in the past few weeks with the abduction of over 250 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, but since more than three years ago. Unfortunately, there has been quite a lot of ambiguity and confusion in what we mean by dialogue, leading to inconsistency in the practical steps that have been taken. It is no wonder that little or no progress has been made in this line. It seems to me that the major short coming is that there is too much talking and not enough listening, on all sides of the discussion.

 

Dialogue means talking and listening across lines of differences, seeking common grounds on which to build some measure of agreement. It does not ignore nor deny differences, but rather seeks to honestly identify the point of difference and how to live with such differences in order to avoid conflict, especially violent conflict.

 

We have been following with grave concern the deep dilemma of government as regards whether and to what extent it can engage the Boko Haram in dialogue over the release of the abducted girls. But would like to say that what looks now to be confusion and contradiction is in the nature of dialogue. On the one hand, the government is right to reject the demand of Boko Haram to swap the girls for their imprisoned comrades. There is no parallel between innocent schoolgirls and terrorists detained for violent and heinous crimes. Besides, no government can ignore the unspeakable consequence of setting such a precedent.

 

But on the other hand, government cannot abandon our girls in the forest or wherever at the hands of their abductors. There must be a way of bringing them back home to their families, safe and as sound as possible. At this moment of writing, we have no news yet of their whereabouts. And even if and when we find where they are, rescuing them by force of arms would entail the kind of danger and risk that even the parents of the girls would be unlikely to sanction. The only option left therefore is some form of dialogue and hard bargain that would bring the girls back without setting a dangerous and unacceptable precedent.   

 

It is here that we might evoke the wisdom of Cardinal Arinze’s definition of dialogue. Boko Haram has spoken and government has listened. The government has spoken. Let us hope that Boko Haram is listening. In this game of haggling, it is possible that the last word has not yet been said by either party. Are there no other less obnoxious demands that Boko Haram can make? They may well be ruthless and wicked, but they are certainly not foolish. Are there no other options which government can offer? The dialogue has started. I would like to hope that neither side has considered the dialogue closed.

 

Whatever the case, to make any progress calls for great wisdom and patience. There is also need for effective and mutually trusted intermediaries, people who can listen to both sides and talk to both sides. This is obviously not a matter for publicity, least of all for scoring political points. The scarce success of the famous “dialogue committee” formally inaugurated with pomp and pageantry some time ago should teach us that this is not the best way to go. Perhaps a small group of carefully chosen wise men and women, including religious figures, especially of the Muslim faith, working quietly in the background, with deep sense of patriotism and honesty, devoid of all sectional political agenda, might be in a better position to achieve some success.  

 

Some days ago, the French President, Mr. Francois Hollande, called a summit of the heads of state of Nigeria and its neighbours. Also in attendance were high level representatives of the European Union, the USA and UK governments. The purpose we are told was to improve cooperation in dealing with the Boko Haram which has become a regional and even global menace. For as long as they continue killing, raping and abducting innocent people, destroying property and causing general insecurity, they should expect more intensive and coordinated military action against them by Nigeria, her neighbours, and the international community. But the loud noise of guns and bombs on and from both sides need not smolder the necessary quiet and salutary whispers of dialogue and background negotiation, which in the long run would be in the best interest of all concerned. Is there any head of state able and willing to call a summit that would provide an effective forum for serious dialogue that would include also elements of the Boko Haram? That line of action, no matter how unlikely, should not be rejected outright.

 

President Jonathan said in Paris that “the abduction of young innocent school girls in Chibok represents a watershed and a turning point”. The unknown plight of these girls and the anguish of their parents touch the heart of everyone. We pray for their safe return. The dialogue for their release would be only a starting point for the larger objective of convincing the terrorists, with both “stick and carrot”, in their own interest, to cease fire and embrace negotiation, for the peace and progress of our great nation. For this we should pray, even if it requires a miracle.

God bless Nigeria – and bring back our daughters.

BOKO HARAM: SCOPE AND LIMITS OF FOREIGN INTERVENTION Letter 2 from Rome, May 11th 2014

BOKO HARAM: SCOPE AND LIMITS OF FOREIGN INTERVENTION

 Letter 2 from Rome, May 11th 2014

By +John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja.

Image 

The tragic drama of the abducted secondary school girls of Chibok, Borno State at the hands of Boko Haram has shocked the whole world. This has focused very unsavory global media attention on our nation. It has in particular concentrated much publicity on BokoHHHHH Haram, a publicity which they have always reveled in but which in this case may have gone beyond what they bargained for and which may now boomerang against them. This “unconscionable crime”, to use Mrs Obama’s rather unfamiliar language, has to say the least, cast our government in very bad light. Whether this verdict is deserved or not, the government has to do something visible about the crisis on our hands.And quickly too. This perhaps explains why our government is accepting assistance from various foreign nations, from USA to China, from France to Israel. As a Nigerian, I am saddened and ashamed. But it seems clear that we have reached the stage where we have to swallow our pride and stop bragging and pretending to be what we are not.

In itself, there should be nothing wrong with seeking and accepting foreign intervention, especially since it is now clear that the Boko Haram has international connections.  It is therefore not only a question of “assisting Nigeria”. It is also in the interest of the international community to join hands with Nigeria to deal with a dangerous virus that is infecting and attacking the entire international community, starting from our nearest regional neighbours.

So far, we have been hearing much about military action. To the extent that the Boko Haram is killing, abducting and bombing, it has to be effectively and appropriately engaged. But there is a limit to how far we can go with military action alone. One only needs to imagine the awful military dilemma of rescuing 200 girls from the hands of heavily armed terrorists and bring them back to their families, safe and sound. The complexity of the Boko Haram phenomenon therefore calls for coordinated action at different levels and in various areas of attention. The political and socio-economic issues are well within our ability as a nation, if we can only summon the political will to act together across political and ethnic lines to save our nation.

But there is also the religious dimension which in my view has not been given adequate attention. This is where I believe we should welcome with deep gratitude the strong messages of solidarity with our nation and vigorous expressions of condemnation of the Boko Haram by the global Islamic community at the highest level. The Islamic Fiqh Academy, based in Saudi Arabia, has declared:

“This crime and other crimes committed by the likes of these extremist organizations contradict all humanitarian principles and moral values and violate the provisions of the Quran and Sunnah”.

The OIC, now called “The Organization of Islamic Cooperation”, a body well known to us here in Nigeria, has come out not less forcefully in its condemnation, through its “Independent Human Rights Commission” (IHRC). Their statement issued from its headquarters in Jedda merits a long quotation.

“The IHRC is extremely saddened by the misguided claim of the Boko Haram that the abduction of the girls and threat to sell them off as ‘slaves’ is in conformity with the injunctions of Islam. This is not only a violation of international law and human rights law, but also a gross misrepresentation of Islam, which enjoins its adherents to go to any extent in the pursuit of knowledge. The Commission joins the international community in unequivocally condemning the barbaric act … and urges the leadership of Boko Haram to immediately release the abducted girls to enable them join their families and continue with their education.”

With such statements at such high Islamic levels, there is no more room for any Muslim or anybody in Nigeria to suggest any kind of alibi, excuses or justification for the “unconscionable crimes” of Boko Haram.  I believe such powerful statements are also great encouragement to our many Muslims who have been speaking loudly against the terrorists, at times at great risk. We think of the imams who have been hunted down and murdered by Boko Haram for preaching against their demonic activities. It is a good sign that many Nigerian Muslims have been making similar statements. It is time for all of us to call BokoHaram by its proper name, “mindless bigots, misguided persons masquerading as adherents of Islam” – as General Buhari branded them recently.

One may suggest that these global Islamic organizations could go further than issuing statements of condemnation. They could do more to support the efforts of the Nigerian Muslims to discourage and knock out radicalization and all forms of extremism in the Nigerian Muslim community. Could they also reach out to the foreign supporters and inspirers of our terrorists to leave us in peace? What about facilitating dialogue with Boko Haram?

Finally, I believe that we Christians, despite all the hurts that we have suffered, should resist the temptation to turn a deaf ear to what the Muslim world is saying. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury are singing the same song of peace as the Muslim leaders. This is significant. Muslims and Christians in Nigeria must find it in their hearts to pick up the chorus. When the girls are back home, and the Boko Haram are disarmed, (I say “when” not “if”) there will still be the tedious task of dialogue, reconciliation, mutual forgiveness and peace, for which the force of religion will be most needed. This will demand that religious communities join hands and call on the One God who takes care of us all.  It is then that it may well be that this horrible episode, as President Jonathan believes, would “be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria”.

 

May God bless Nigeria, and bring back home our daughters.