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Published On: Sun, Jul 27th, 2014

Jonathan’s meeting with Chibok parents: What next?

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Jonathan with Chibok Missing Girls' ParentsWith the much awaited meeting of President Goodluck Jonathan and Chibok girls’ parents taking place in the presidential villa last week, most Nigerians have agreed that government should expedite action to secure their release, even if it means negotiating with Boko Haram sect, Ochiaka Ugwu writes

Over the last few years, Nigeria has had to contend with its worst security challenge in its search for nationhood. Boko Haram, an insurgent group which plans to institute an Islamic state in Nigeria among other warped objectives, has embarked on a series of terror attacks on hapless Nigerians. Most people believe the Nigerian government is not handling the current security crisis properly and has severally urged the government to negotiate with the terrorists.

However, as  humanists all over the world join other Nigerians to condemn the recent abduction of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram sect, they have also lambasted President Goodluck Jonathan’s government over its failure to bring back the girls and subsequent refusal to meet with the parents of the girls and the escaped girls in time to give them succor while they sorrowed.

The meeting, coming about 100 days after the abduction and also as a fulfillment of a promise President Jonathan made to Pakistani teenage  girls’ education activist, Malala Yousafzai, during her advocacy visit to Nigeria has been described by many as an afterthought.

The government has also maintained that it would not negotiate with Boko Haram sect neither would it undertake a military attempt to rescue the girls as it did not want to risk their lives.

But Nigerians are in unison that after meeting with the Chibok girls and their parents, that President Jonathan should not foreclose options in securing the release of these girls, even if it means negotiating with Boko Haram insurgents.

More so, there has been news of other abductions including 90 girls who were taken in a series of attacks in June. The current situation on ground does not offer much hope that a successful effort by the government to rescue all the girls abducted by Boko Haram and to prevent further abductions is in sight.

More specifically, A security expert Uju Onwuche said it is long overdue to negotiate with the sect since other means could not work.

She said there are a number of decisive steps Nigerian government can take to ensure the girls are freed as soon as possible, saying it must urgently decide if it wishes to negotiate for their release in exchange for prisoners or failing that, attempt a rescue mission, but taking every possible step to ensure there are no casualties among the girls.

However, It is foolhardy to leave the girls in the hands of terrorists indefinitely hoping that a miracle would happen. Stronger efforts should be made to protect people from Boko Haram and to take care of victims. Although, Nigerians have applauded the launch of a Victim Support Fund, but also believe that government must ensure the funds actually reach the victims. The government must also start to co-operate with its neighbours to provide care and support for citizens who have escaped from terrorists and who are now living as refugees. Importantly, the Nigerian government must stop dilly-dallying about the rogue military officers in its wing. These are traitors whose activities are inimical to the security of the country and must be treated as such.

Only Last year, a former Governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Kalu offered to negotiate with the Boko Haram sect on behalf of the Nigerian government. He believes he could have been able to strike a compromise with the terrorists and stop the bloodshed. The Nigerian government barely considered his offer. The government has declared on several occasions that it would never negotiate with terrorists, a decision many believe is ill-advised.

According to Kalu, “It’s sad enough that lives are being lost – precious lives that could build our country. And we’re losing them to terrorism. This is what we have become. Apart from the thousands of lives that have been lost, the damage on our economy is irreparable. Businesses are shying away from Nigeria and jobs are being lost,” he says.

Continuing “All these foreign companies are eager to do business in this country, but when they turn their TV on and they see all the bad news of insurgency, it’s a deal breaker. So I feel a sense of responsibility as a successful businessman to sell my country as an attractive investment destination.”

In agreement with Kalu are most stakeholders who have asked President Jonathan to negotiate with Boko Haram sect if only it will lead to the release of the abducted Chibok girls and stop the killings of innocent Nigerians as many nations of the world have done.

They cited example with Indian government that negotiated a (failed) ceasefire in 2000 with the Hizbul Mujahideen, a group responsible for the death of numerous Indian soldiers in Kashmir and has been negotiating for nearly 17 years with Naga insurgents of the NSCN Isak-Muivah faction which previously waged war against the state. Not long ago, they negotiated for the release of 46 Indian nurses from the captivity of a group in Iraq that calls itself the Islamic State. Indian authorities could not have ensured their release without a measure of direct transaction even though intermediaries in Saudi Arabia and Baath party figures and military commanders from the Saddam Hussein era were reportedly involved in the process.

There are, of course, numerous examples of “terrorists” graduating to the negotiating table. The US recently negotiated the prisoner swap that brought out Bowe Bergdahl with the Taliban and has been willing to do a deal with the group under certain conditions, after 2194 American soldiers have died since 2001 while fighting in Afghanistan. This singular act shows the legitimacy and prudence of negotiating with terrorists.

It could also be remembered that Israel called Late Yasser Arafat a terrorist for decades but negotiated with his Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) even while the group was orchestrating attacks against Israel. The Irish Republican Army’s Gerry Adams, once Britain’s most wanted terrorist, is now a mainstream politician with a seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Regardless of how some are quick to conclude that Boko Haram insurgents are lawless madmen, studies have shown most are considered “rational actors” with a specific set of goals and political beliefs.

As a last resort, Many have resolved that if any move must be made towards arresting this ugly situation, the goal should always be getting the other side to the negotiating table, not killing or beating them into submission.

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