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Published On: Wed, May 28th, 2014

Securing the release of Chibok schoolgirls through negotiations

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President Goodluck Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan

By Sani Adamu

By most accounts, dialogue remains one of the most powerful tools of resolving conflicts of major dimensions in human history.

Historically, countries with advanced military technologies sometimes had some causes to resort to using negotiation as a pragmatic conflict resolution mechanism, particularly when military options cannot rectify the situation.

Records have it that the U.S., which initially ruled out negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, later backpedalled and entered into a dialogue with the Taliban through President Hamid Kharzai.

Also, in 1979, the now-defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) pledged never to negotiate with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan but at the end of the day, the Soviets were forced to withdraw from the country after 10 years of intense fighting.

These two scenarios, among others, perhaps, tend to justify the calls made by the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Ajjampur Ghanashyam, urging the Federal Government to enter into a dialogue with the Boko Haram sect.

He says that the talks should particularly aim at liberating over 200 schoolgirls who were abducted in Chibok by the group.

Presumably talking from personal experience, Ghanashyam argues that the use of force cannot be solely used to address the Boko Haram crisis.

He insists that the most pragmatic solution to the Chibok crisis is dialogue with the schoolgirls’ abductors.

“If there is no dialogue, there is no solution. Once problems are understood; 50 percent of the problems have been solved.

“From my experience in Afghanistan when an Indian aircraft was hijacked, I was deployed from Pakistan to oversee the situation. What we did was to create access to the hijackers.

“I have gone through this process of negotiating with people. Come down to their level and keep talking; that’s how we managed to secure the release of 250 passengers on board the aircraft,’’ he says.

The Indian High Commissioner recalls that although the hijackers made 30 demands, including the payment of 200 million dollars, “we were able to prune the demands down to only three and no money was paid.

“Most importantly, what you need to do is to create access whenever you have a problem with such group of persons,’’ says Ghanashyam.

Sharing similar sentiments, Abdullahi No-Sweat, a 76-year-old veteran journalist, also insists that no country succeeds in fighting insurgency through the use of force alone.

No-Sweat, who in the 70s and early 80s worked and lived in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Algeria, believes that “force should not be the only option to solve the Boko Haram problem’’.

He argues that countries with similar problems such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kashmir and Algeria have all realised that negotiation is the best way out of the problem.

Echoing similar viewpoints, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), a human rights lawyer, believes that tangible efforts should be made to negotiate with the Boko Haram so as to end its growing insurgency.

Ozekhome, who is a delegate to the ongoing national conference, says that the security and welfare of Nigerians are the primary responsibility of the government, as enshrined in Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution.

“Negotiation affords a golden opportunity, not only to negotiate the release of the Chibok girls, but also to holistically negotiate amnesty and halt the horrific insurgency and bloodletting which have claimed over 12,000 lives,’’ he says.

Ozekhome, however, stresses that negotiating with Boko Haram will not amount to negotiating out of fear, adding that such negotiation is simply an “irritating sacrifice’’ made to preserve innocent souls..

Supporting calls for dialogue, Chief Dele Momodu, a publisher, believes that the issue of Boko Haram has gone beyond the military option.

He urges the government to open a line of communication with the Boko Haram insurgents with the purpose of securing the release of the abducted schoolgirls.

Momodu, who is a former presidential candidate, insists that the demand of the Boko Haram sect regarding the release of some of its members, currently in detention, in exchange for the abducted girls should not be discarded entirely.

Malam Shehu Sani, President of the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, who has a similar viewpoint, urges the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar lll, being the spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria, to spearhead the crusade for the release of the abducted girls.

He says that the Sultan should facilitate the intervention of credible and respected Islamic clerics in efforts to reach out to the leaders of the Boko Haram sect for the release of the Chibok girls.

He emphasises that the schoolgirls’ abduction is not an issue which only the Federal Government or the security forces should strive to resolve, adding that it is a national emergency which will definitely affect the future of the country.

“You (Sultan) have a moral duty and a spiritual responsibility to be visibly and actively involved in seeking the resolution of this impasse happening within the areas you have religious influence,” Sani notes in a letter he addressed to the Sultan on the matter.

The civil rights activist says that as long as the girls continue to remain in captivity, the Federal Government’s credibility will be at stake, while the moral perception of the nation, the relevance of the Sultanate and the overall image of Nigerian Muslims will also be questionable.

Apparently thinking on the same page, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, pledges that the military will not use force in the rescue of the abducted Chibok girls.

He gave this assurance while addressing members of the Citizen Initiative for Security Awareness (CISA), an NGO, who were on solidarity visit to the Defence Headquarters in Abuja recently.

“We want our girls back, I can tell you that our military can and will do it but where the girls are held; can we go there with force?

“Nobody should say that the Nigerian military does not know what it is doing; we can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.

“So we are working, the President has empowered us to do the work. If there is anyone castigating the military; definitely, there is something wrong with that person.

“The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are but we cannot tell you that.

“We cannot come and tell you the military secret; just leave us alone, we are working to get the girls back,’’ he says.

Shedding more light on the operation, the CDS explains that the fight against insurgency is quite different from a full-scale war, adding: “If we were fighting an external war, they would have been begging us to withdraw by now.’’

Badeh insists that the Nigerian military has proved its worth in the 1967-1971 civil war; adding that Nigerian soldiers also facilitated the restoration of democracy in Liberia and Sierra-Leone.

On the operation in the North-East, the CDS says that the soldiers are fighting their fellow brothers.

“We are not happy at all because we are killing our own kinsmen and we are killing mostly the youth.

“We cannot afford to eliminate our youths, who are we going to hand over Nigeria to? We can’t kill them.

“This war should not be fought by the military alone; it is a war that should be fought by all Nigerians. Nigeria is at war and we must all put our hands on the deck.

“So, if you can’t do anything else, you should use your mouth to support the military; don’t disparage your country because you don’t have another one.

“I know that people from outside Nigeria are in this war, they want to destabilise us.

“This is our country and some people are collaborating with the forces of darkness; we must salvage our country and bring sanity back into our nation,’’ Badeh stresses.

All the same, President Goodluck Jonathan has been reiterating the Federal Government’s commitment to ensuring the speedy rescue of the abducted girls.

For instance, he recently gave such assurance, while receiving some advocates of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.

“So far, the search for our girls is on and it is receiving global support. Nigeria, in collaboration with Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin Republic, have agreed to establish a single centre for sharing intelligence on the activities of terrorists across our national boundaries.

“Apart from those efforts in the public space, the Federal Government has initiated consultations with so many stakeholders to explore alternative ways of resolving this crisis.

“As commander-in-chief, I meet with security chiefs almost daily and I am in constant consultations with regional and global partners on this terrorist threat.

“As early as Jan. 23, 2013, I asked the world for help in efforts to tackle terrorism; I also met with U.S. President Barack Obama during the United Nations Assembly meeting in September 2013, where also I requested for the support of the U.S.,’’ says Jonathan.

Nevertheless, analysts insist that the government should now start to think seriously of how to engage religious and traditional leaders in efforts to address potential crises across the country before they escalate into dreadful and calamitous levels.

They also underscore the need to establish a national commission for religious affairs to serve as a platform for addressing various religiously-motivated crises threatening the country’s unity and survival.

NAN

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