By Dele Agekameh
It was largely unexpected. But when it came, it came with a bang. Everybody was heldspell-bound. Perhaps, this illustrates the news that filtered in last Friday to the effect that the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Boko Haram terrorists have agreed to cease hostility. Announcing the ceasefire in Abuja at the end of the conference on Nigeria-Cameroun Trans-Border Military Operations, Alex Badeh, an Air Chief Marshal and Chief of Defence Staff, CDS,told a bewildered nation that “the agreement to cease fire has being concluded and all involved are to comply”. This is ostensibly to give room for negotiations.
Although, the terms of agreement are not yet clear, it was learnt that one of the major requests of the government is the release of the Chibok schoolgirls. Boko Haram terrorists had kidnapped more than 276 schoolgirls on the night of April 14, 2014, more than 190 days ago, from Chibok, a sleepy community in Borno state. Till date, the girls are being held captive at unknown location(s). The kidnap has attracted international condemnation, leading to the now famous #BringBackOurGirls protests across the globe. On their part, the terrorists were said to have demanded for the unconditional release of some of their ‘fighters’ in the custody of the Nigerian military.
It appears that Nigeria’s close collaboration with the governments of Chad and Niger led to the yet-to-be firmed up truce. Though the identity of those negotiating on behalf of the Federal Government is still shrouded in secrecy but the representatives of Boko Haram were said to have been led by one Danladi Ahmadu who is said to be the group’s Chief Security Officer. Gen. Idriss Derby, the Chadian President, facilitated the entire ceasefire deal.
The sudden news of the Federal Government striking a ceasefire deal with Boko Haram, the blood-thirsty and ruthless fundamentalist group, seems to be a breakthrough many people in Nigeria and the International community had long awaited. It is believed to be the first step in the journey to finding lasting peace after several years of death and destruction that has gripped Nigeria and threatened the country’s sovereignty. President Goodluck Jonathan had told the United Nations General Assembly last month that the extremists had killed at least 13,000 civilians. Hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes, many of them farmers, causing a food emergency in the northeast of the country where the terrorists’ campaign is domiciled with collateral effect on other parts of the country.
The transition of the group to suicide bombings and open commando-style attacks across its areas of operation in the Northeast and other parts of the country, including Abuja, the seat of government, over time, added new dimensions to the wave of terrorism in the country. The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls on April 14, this year, remains a huge testament to how sophisticated the group had become. Some days after the abduction, Abubakar Shekau, the unabashed leader of the group of death merchants, threatened that he would sell the girls.
Many attempts have been made in the past, by the Federal Government, to contain the activities of the group either on the battlefield or at the conference table but all to no avail. After five years of almost relentless death and destruction, this ceasefire offers a modicum of relief particularly to Nigeria’s northeast geo-political zone and the whole country in general. There is now hope for a period of calm as serious negotiations for a broader deal get going between the Federal Government and Boko Haram. But a number of thorny issues are yet to be tackled, including Boko Haram’s demilitarisation, as well as the mechanics for monitoring the ceasefire. Even more contentious is how the territories like Gwoza, Bama and the other communities now being occupied by Boko Haram, are going to be handed back to their legitimate Local Government Authority. Without resolving all these issues and many more, the current ceasefire agreement is as opaque as anything.
In my candid opinion, I do not think there is anything to jubilate over yet, at least, for now. My fear is that Boko Haram might have agreed to a ceasefire following recent renewed onslaughts on their positions by the Nigerian military. This offensive had recorded significant success including the death of Abubakar Shekau, the terrorists’ leader, either in his original form or in the form of an impostor masquerading as the original Shekau. This turn of event has delivered a devastating blow on the operational capabilities of the terrorists, hence, their resolve to call or accept a truce, possibly, to enable them to re-strategise and plan. This is why I believe the current ceasefire is unnecessary and ill-timed. Already, the killings in the affected areas by the terrorists have not abated even with the ceasefire in place. The military should have been allowed to completely decimate them by pursuing them to any level before such a ceasefire could be contemplated.
If the military had been allowed to chase them to, say, Cameroun, there is no way they could have survived. The Cameroonians would have mowed them down or apprehended them.. As it is, this truce could potentially afford them the opportunity to plan and re-arm themselves for more destructive and destabilising exploits. Another thing is that, contrary to expectations and what we are being told, the terrorists, who are simply bloodthirsty, may not release the Chibok girls after all. They may have promised to release them as a ploy to buy time. If we look at it critically, the terrorists are still holding on to Gwoza, Bama and other communities in the Northeast which they have delineated as Islamic Caliphate. With Nigerian territories firmly in their hands, why should the Federal Government want to negotiate?
The abduction of the Chibok girls which Boko Haram is using as bait reminds me of the Beslan School hostage crisis, also referred to as the Beslan School siege or Beslan massacre, which started on September 1, 2004, and lasted for three days. It involved the capture of about 1,100 people, including 777 children, as hostages. After three days of standoff, the whole saga ended on the third day, that is, September 3, 2004, when Russian security forces entered the building after several explosions, using heavy weapons. At least 334 people were killed as a result of the crisis, including 186 children, with a significant number of people either injured or reported missing.
The lesson to be learnt here is that rather than negotiating with the terrorists or meeting any of their demands at all, as the Federal Government is now doing or is about to do with Boko Haram, the Russian government plunged itself headlong into the crisis and successfully got rid of the terrorists. Though at a high cost in terms of human casualties, that action drove fear into other would-be terrorists who have since kept their distance. That is exactly what we should have done long ago instead of allowing the terrorists to flex muscles and railroad the government into the negotiating table. It will only embolden the terrorists who have adopted brigandage as a way of life. As it is now, the ceasefire we now have doesn’t seem like a military affair. It is a political ceasefire. And I doubt if the military had any input in all these.
Anyway, though the terms of the ceasefire agreement are yet to be made public, nevertheless, the hope is that both parties would respect the terms of the agreement and allow genuine peace to return to the country.
Dele Agekameh wrote in from Lagos