Former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, has offered to do his own bit to help end the over four-year-old Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east zone of the country. The violence has taken thousands of lives and ruined the economy of the zone. The high point of the rebellion was last April’s abduction of over 300 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno state. Over 200 are still in captivity almost four months after their kidnap.
Gowon, Head of State between 1966 and 1975, put himself forward as a negotiator in his new capacity as Chairman, Stakeholders’ Dialogue on Peace Development, while addressing a dialogue and peace forum in Gombe, the capital of Gombe state. The forum was co-sponsored by Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other security agencies.
Hausa Service of BBC quoted the former head of state as having declared: “I am begging them (the insurgents), to please, because of God, stop this carnage; if it entails my meeting with them personally (I’ll do so). I am willing to mediate on behalf of the government, even if it means going as far as China, just to bring an end to these rampant killings of innocent civilians by the sect in the North”. He described the killings by Boko Haram as “everybody’s business”. He said the war against terror must be won, but noted that the government alone could not do it. All of us have a collective responsibility to protect our destiny”, he said.
Gowon’s apparent frustration over the growing strength of Boko Haram and the military’s inability to end its campaign of killing and destruction is shared by all Nigerians who are lovers of peace. Initiator of a successful “Nigeria Pray” project, Gowon is a man of impeccable integrity. This and his position as a former head of state successfully ended a 30-month civil war put him in a good stead as a negotiator.
He is different from other notable Nigerians who have tried unsuccessfully to mediate an end to insurgency. Unlike former President Olusegun Obasanjo whose offer to talk to the sect was tinged with a large dose of politics, Gowon has managed to stay out of partisan party politics. He should have no problem with the Jonathan Presidency. His only problem is whether the Boko Haram sect will trust enough to want to negotiate through him. They have insisted that the only thing that would make them return the kidnapped girls is the release of their fighters held in prisons across the country. So far, the government has not indicated whether it is well disposed to that.
All the same, we commend Gowon’s courage in ignoring the personal risk of possible death in the lion’s den. It is courage no other influential Northern leader has shown. We pray both the sect and the government will give him a chance.