As some nations ponder how to assist Nigeria tackle the menace of Boko Haram terrorist activities, the continued search by the federal government for the best way to end the insurgency of the sect has stirred an endless debate on the state of security in Nigeria. In this report, Shola Oyeyipo, Nkiruka Okoh and Ojo Maduekwe take a look at the current debate on the Islamic militant group
The debate on whether or not to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation started when a former United States Secretary, Senator Hillary Clinton, was in office. At the time, the US State Department had begun to debate the wisdom in designating Boko Haram as a “foreign terrorist organisation” despite entreaties from lawmakers and the Justice Department not to do so. Many of the US diplomats were also undecided following the arguments of a group of academics which sent a letter to Clinton, urging her department not to apply the “terrorist” label to the al Qaeda-linked group.
The professors contended that Boko Haram’s violent tactics had “turned most Nigerians against them,” and their reputation among other militants might be enhanced by a “terrorist” designation, adding that any such action might validate the position of more radical elements of Boko Haram, which is divided into factions.
Importantly, the academics argued that such a move to label Boko Haram as a terrorist group would “effectively endorse excessive use of force” against the group by Nigerian security forces “at a time when the rule of law in Nigeria is in the balance.” They argued further that abuses by Nigerian security forces already have “facilitated radical recruitment.”
A group of Republican senators led by Scott Brown of Massachusetts had introduced a legislation that would require the State Department to determine whether Boko Haram should be formally labelled a “foreign terrorist” group. The designation would subject it to economic sanctions, including the freezing of its bank accounts or any individual or group associated with it domiciled in the US and would make it illegal for anyone in the United States to provide support to the group.
Brown noted that the group had been responsible for more than 700 deaths in the last 18 months.
On his part, Senator Saxby Chambliss, vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the group had been improving the design of its homemade bombs, which constitute a “serious threat to international and U.S. interests.”
In the House of Representatives, Republican Patrick Meehan, who chairs a subcommittee on homeland security, however introduced an amendment that would force the administration to add Boko Haram to the terrorism list or explain why it was not doing so.
A congressional source said State Department representatives were lobbying the Congress to stop such legislation, while the U.S. government sources confirmed that the academics’ arguments are being taken seriously at the State Department, where they have featured in internal discussions about the “terrorist” designation.
In January, a top counter-terrorism official at the Justice Department had reportedly weighed in with the State Department in favour of an early move to impose U.S. sanctions on the group. Assistant Attorney General, Lisa Monaco, said in a letter to the State Department’s counter-terrorism chief that Boko Haram met the criteria for a “foreign terrorist” listing because it either engages in terrorism which threatens the United States or has a capability or intent to do so.
Understandably, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has been at the forefront of the listing of Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation. Until Muslims began to openly oppose the activities of Boko Haram, the group’s primary target were Christians and their places of worship along with any organisation and institution that had any attachment to Western civilisation, such as schools.
This notwithstanding, the US would not tag the group a terrorist organisation. One of the reasons canvassed was the cost it would take to fight the group. Some experts thought that the US would be squeezing its budget because to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organisation would mean to set aside funding to help the Nigerian government fight its own terror war.
Some other experts also believe that doing so could paint the US in bad light, and could further impair its relationship, especially with extreme Muslim groups all over the world.
A US professor, Jean Herskovits, writing in the New York Times, said: “The United States should not allow itself to be drawn into this quicksand by focusing on Boko Haram alone. Washington is already seen by many northern Muslims — including a large number of long time admirers of America — as biased towards a Christian president from the South.
“The United States must work to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes us into their enemy. Placing Boko Haram on the foreign terrorist list would cement such views and make more Nigerians fear and distrust America.”
As the US remained unwilling, the Nigerian government under President Goodluck Jonathan, went ahead to designate the group as a terrorist organisation and banned its members and their activities. But Jonathan’s action was greeted with mixed reactions. While the CAN, majority of Nigerians and the National Assembly were excited by the move, two prominent Northern groups, the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Northern Elders Forum faulted the ban.
Not too long after this, the United Kingdom followed suit. UK’s intention was made known during a visit by the British Minister for International Security Strategy, Dr. Andrew Morrison, to liaise on ways to dismantle the organisation with Nigeria’s Minister of State for Defence, Mrs. Olusola Obada.
In another move to assist Nigeria fight terrorism, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is making concerted efforts to address the challenges posed by the Boko Haram sect.
According to a status report by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor on their preliminary investigation on Nigeria, Boko Haram “has attacked religious clerics, Christians, political leaders, Muslims opposing the group, members of the police and security forces, Westerners, journalists, as well as UN personnel.”
Thus, the next phase of the examination by the ICC, according to experts, would be to evaluate the viability of national attempts to prosecute Boko Haram, to which the Nigerian authorities would be required to fully cooperate and make all reports and past investigations available to the ICC.
But CAN would not cease to plead with the US government on the need to list Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation. Media reports had it that CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, faulted Washington for delaying to classify the group as a terrorist body.
“It is now one year since I testified before the U.S. Congress and still the U.S. has not designated Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organisation even though it has killed citizens of over a dozen countries and attacked American citizens too.
“America’s ambivalence over the terrorist challenges in Nigeria is a stunning betrayal. After 911, Nigeria was amongst nations that cooperated with global efforts on tracing terrorist financing to the point that a designated foreign financier was uncovered running a cereal factory in Northern Nigeria.”
When the pressure continued to mount, the US government was compelled to designate some members of the group as terrorists but nothing was done about the group as a body. To that extent, three Boko Haram leaders were tagged terrorists by the US government.
According to the BBC, the three leaders are Abubakar Shekau who “Leads the militant group, while Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid el Barnawi are believed to have ties with a branch of al-Qaeda.”
Ironically, this has not stopped the federal government from going ahead with its intention to grant Boko Haram amnesty. The Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs, Alhaji Kabiru Tanimu Turaki (SAN), last week appealed to members of the sect who were yet to accept the dialogue offered by the federal government to have a rethink in the spirit of the Eid-el-Fitri celebration.
Turaki, who is also the chairman of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of the Security Challenges in the North (PCDPRSCN) in his Sallah message to Nigerians, urged the adamant groups to express their grievances by negotiating with the government.
The minister’s statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media, Okey Muogbo, reassured Nigerians of a peaceful resolution to the crisis. “As good Muslims, they should use the occasion of this Sallah to resolve to irrevocably accept the dialogue option offered by the federal government,” he stated.
Turaki, who reiterated the committee’s commitment to intensify discussions with insurgents in order to end terrorism, said the search for a permanent solution to the insecurity required the efforts and commitment of all Nigerians.
Speaking on the issue, Professor Itse Sagay, a renowned legal practitioner and author, was of the position that the decision of the ICC overrides that of Nigeria.
“Once they have been declared as having committed crimes against humanity; that decision is overriding. In other words, whether we like it or not, it is not a domestic matter anymore. So that is the status now in international law and in the law of any country that is a party to the statute of the ICC and we (Nigeria) are a party.”
On whether or not the negotiation committees set up by Jonathan to negotiate with the insurgents be dissolved, Sagay was of the view that the committee has always been a waste of resources and time. “It is a hypocritical body that is pretending to be doing something, going round and round amounting to rubbish. It shouldn’t have been created in the first place.”
Speaking on the prosecutorial processes of Boko Haram members, Sagay said: “I believe it is politically influenced. The culture in this country is that if somebody in the North kills anybody in the North, he is not prosecuted. There is a long history of that; of people being killed. It is a “kill and go” culture in the North. Just kill and walk away and nobody does anything. We have not quite overcome that yet.”
Mr. Ayo Akerele, an Abuja based lawyer, said the ICC was right in its call to a large extent. According to him, “Boko Haram is perpetrating mass murder, genocide. Several people are dying for no just cause. They are killing children and students on a random basis.”
He also decried the idea of amnesty because in the Nigerian context, it has been subjected to improper usage. “There should be no amnesty for them. The idea alone that we are providing amnesty for perpetrators of genocide does not add up. It will even encourage another sect to rise up if the amnesty pulls through.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Stanley Imharuor, held the view that the decision of the ICC to intervene was still debatable. “If ICC is interested in indicting them, first we should establish if the crimes are truly crimes against humanity, also is Nigeria a signatory to the ICC. If yes on both accounts, has Nigeria given up its fight against terrorism?”
On the committee, Imharuor said, “no doubt there is a committee but the Boko Haram members have not indicated interest in entering into negotiations with the federal government. If the committee is not making any headway in tackling the Boko Haram Sect, why does it continue to exist? We are not aware of any breakthrough they have made, maybe they are waiting till 2015 before they tell us.
“Don’t forget that a lot of money is being used in maintaining the committee- sitting allowance, travel etc. If the committee is just there without achieving any result, why still have it? In any case, I believe there is a political reason for setting up and leaving the committee. The federal government will not just wake up one morning and scrap the committee. That may send a wrong signal to some die hard Northerners. Don’t forget that the committee was a product of serious pressure from stakeholders in the North.
“That committee is still in existence to assuage certain feelings. We understand that there are two sects of the Boko Haram- the political Boko Haram and the real Boko Haram. The political Boko Haram will definitely want to still liase with the committee members to reach a solution but the real Boko Haram led by Shekau is not ready to negotiate. They have said it times without number that they are not ready to negotiate but the political Boko Haram is.
“So the committee remains on the ground. The president has caved-in to some interests of Northern stakeholders to set up the committee. For political purposes, Jonathan might leave the committee to serve as a political tool come 2015. Jonathan is not someone who is ready to declare war on Boko Haram members and by extension, the North.”
Even with the emergency rule still in place in three states of the federation, Imharuor believes that it is contradictory. “You cannot declare war on the terrorists, yet be ready to negotiate with them at the same time. The whole issue is riddled with a lot of politics.
Human rights lawyer and senatorial candidate in Delta State, Mr. Festus Keyamo, believes the idea of amnesty should stop forthwith. “The amnesty proposal cannot continue. We are aware that the international community frowns on it and never negotiates with terrorist groups. The policy is never to negotiate with any terrorist group. It’s therefore going to be difficult for the Nigerian government to continue to negotiate with Boko Haram.”
President, Yoruba Youths Assembly, Mr. Thomas Olarinde, said the group had never supported the idea of amnesty to a group that killed innocent Nigerians.
“We have to leave it. It is now of international dimension. If you even give amnesty, the international community will see us as unserious at tackling the menace of the insurgency that had bedeviled us in recent past. We at the Yoruba Youths Assembly want the federal government to forget about the amnesty in order to protect the integrity of the country.
“Government should rather invite the international community to assist the country to urgently address the nightmarish menace. But definitely, amnesty is no longer the option at this point.”
Spokesperson for Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “The Boko Haram committee has become untenable with the perception of its chairman as a fifth columnist. He has given the country a false sense of security with his announcement of a fake ceasefire which allowed Boko Haram an opportunity to regroup for a deadlier offensive. The federal government should disband the committee and let the military do its work. The only dialogue the nation needs now is the conference of ethnic nationalities to discuss the terms of our nationhood not dialogue with terrorists.”
Mr. Joe Igbokwe, former spokesman of the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), argued that “You cannot continue to dialogue with the deaf and dumb. The committee on amnesty for Boko Haram has outlived its usefulness and it should be disbanded. The upsurge on Boko Haram murderous activities despite the existence of the committee has rendered its work nugatory. Boko Haram is a terrorist organisation.
Pastor Okoya Daniel of the Source of Life Evangelical Ministry, Arepo Ijoko, Ogun State, said: “The people behind the proposed amnesty are also murderers themselves. They are only trying to hide under the umbrella of amnesty that is why they suggest it in the first place for a killer group. Even the Bible says a murderer should be killed. After wasting so many lives? In short, there should be nothing like amnesty for them.”