Taking peacekeeping too far


With Maiduguri under siege after the murder of a civil war veteran, Gen. Muhammad Shuwa, will there still be any form of dialogue with the Boko Haram Islamic sect, let alone for retired Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to accept being one of the mediators? asks DAVID ATTAH

The security situation in the North has taken a new twist with penultimate Friday’s killing of civil war veteran, Gen. Muhammad Shuwa by gunmen suspected to be members of the dreaded Islamist group, Boko Haram, that have killed over 3,000 people since 2009.

This is coming at a time the sect gave conditions for cease-fire in the attacks they started after the controversial death of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in the hands of security operatives.

Although the Joint Task Force that is saddled with the responsibility of keeping the peace in the volatile region had accused the sect of carrying out the attack on the general, the sect has consistently denied the act.

JTF spokesman, Lt.-Col. Sagir Musa, had said that four gunmen, who were mistaken as visitors to the general, shot him and a guest in his residence at Gwange 1 area of Maiduguri.

The latest action of the terrorists in the North-East, according to some public analysts, amounts to pulling the tiger’s tail. And really, Borno has since been deserted by male residents for fear of reprisals from the army, as according to a retired military officer who would not want his name in print, “to kill a general, serving or retired, is an affront to the army, not only in Nigeria but in all civilised climes.” Since the killing of Shuwa, the terrorists seem to have murdered sleep.

A source who confided in Saturday PUNCH said the army would never take the death of Shuwa lightly. “Over 20 truckloads of soldiers have departed for Maiduguri, the Borno State capital for action,” he said. Shuwa’s death has been described as one too many.

The killing came at a time the sect named a former Head of State and presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, Buhari; Dr. Shettima Monguno; a former Yobe State governor, Bukar Ibrahim; Ambassador Gaji Galtimari; Aisha Wakil and her husband, Alkali, as the trusted Nigerians it was willing to take on as mediators in Saudi Arabia.

Apart from the negotiations, the sect demanded the arrest of former governor of Borno, Alhaji Modu Sheriff, compensation for families of its members killed in the course of its terrorist activities and the rebuilding of its mosques by the Federal Government as its condition for ceasefire. Since the sect gave the conditions, torrents of criticism have followed the pronouncements.

According to the pioneer National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Solomon Lar, there should not be any negotiations between the FG and the faceless group. He reasoned that no reasonable and sensible government would have a dialogue with a terrorist organisation.

Warning the Goodluck Jonathan-led government against negotiating with the dreaded sect, the elder statesman noted that the group should first come out before any dialogue.

Lar described the late war veteran as a complete symbol of peace, adding that the killing of Shuwa was “unfortunate.” He advised Jonathan to do everything possible to fish out the killers.

“On Gen. Muhammad Shuwa, it is a very unfortunate situation that I read in the newspaper that one of those Nigerians that fought for the unity of the country was shot by gunmen. I am really disturbed. He was a hero but nobody talked about him. The government and successive governments never did anything to recognise him. I believe this is one of the unfortunate things. He was a national hero. He was one of the unsung heroes but it is unfortunate. The authority should do everything to find those who are responsible for the unfortunate incident,” Lar said.

Also, Christians have taken the dialogue proposal by the Boko Haram insurgents with a pinch of salt. To the Christian Association of Nigeria President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the sect, whose fighters have killed about 3,000 persons since 2009 – according to Army chief, Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika – should not give conditions for a dialogue with the government. He believes the sect has no right to invite just anybody as mediator and should not determine the pattern.

On the choice of Buhari and others as mediators, Oritsejafor said, “The first question we will ask is whether the people that gave the conditions are really Boko Haram members or not. I don’t know. I was saying to somebody that I want to sit back and watch. I want to look at the unfolding events because what we are seeing is quite interesting. What we are hearing is even much more interesting than what we are seeing.

“The next question is whether they are sincere, if it is Boko Haram or it is just blackmail. I’m puzzled and I don’t understand how a terrorist organisation will give conditions to a legitimate sitting government of a country. It’s a bit puzzling to me.

“There are many questions that demand answers. Why Saudi Arabia? There are so many things to look at in the whole thing. Why Buhari? Why all these names? Again, I reserve my comments. I have just thrown out those questions, should I say as teasers so that you can think and contemplate. These are things that are going on in my mind.

“To me, what we have heard raises more questions than any answer at all. The last teaser is that a day or two after they gave the conditions, a retired general was killed. The questions are increasing; so, I am a little bit puzzled.”

At the opening of the third inter-division and headquarters map reading competition organised by the Nigerian Army Education Corps in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, Ihejirika said at least 3,000 people had been killed by the Boko Haram sect since 2009, pointing out that the sect’s activities had affected people and businesses in the northern part of the country.

“The changing nature of threats to Nigeria’s national security environment has manifested in militancy, kidnapping, violent extremism and terrorism. It is a known fact that terrorism worldwide is characterised by extremism, violent hatred, lack of respect for human dignity and constituted authority.

“The spate of bombings in parts of the north had necessitated the Nigerian Army to review its doctrine with a view to updating our training and operational procedures in order to fulfil our constitutional mandate. Success in this pursuit, therefore, calls for renewed and concerted efforts and initiatives, he said.

Meanwhile, there is pressure on Buhari to accept the role of a mediator in the sect’s peace overture to the government. But while some are kicking against the move, saying it is another plot by the ruling party to rope in the CPC presidential candidate and finally nail him politically, others are urging Buhari to accept the offer as a patriot and in order for peace to reign in the country.

The Northern Governors’ Forum applauded the FG’s acceptance of the offer of negotiation by the Boko Haram, saying that “dialogue rather than the use of force would help to find a lasting solution to the worsening insecurity of lives and property in the country.”

House of Representatives’ Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, said the sect’s call for dialogue was a welcome development, adding that the House would support any step that could bring peace to the country.

However, the Convener, Committee of Concerned Northern Professionals, Politicians, Academics and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, insisted that Buhari could accept the offer as long as he put aside his political ambition, as according to him, “any politician can use the process to work towards actualising certain political ambitions.”

But the National Democratic Coalition warned the FG not to allow Boko Haram to dictate the pace of the peace talk.

Similarly, Mr. Ayo Opadokun, the General Secretary of NADECO, argued that the demand by the sect for peace talks in Saudi Arabia was “a curious demand” and an attempt by the “tail to wag the head.”

Now that male residents have fled Maiduguri after over 40 young men, most of whom were teenagers, were allegedly rounded up and shot by soldiers, the logical reasoning is, ‘What comes next’ in a city that is under siege.



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Taking peacekeeping too far