The recent premature announcement by the Nigerian Military that the country has brokered a ceasefire agreement with the Boko Haram insurgents has not only thrown the country into dilemma, but it has also exposed the desperation of President Jonathan to cling to power by hook or crook, writes Ohia Isreal
It is no longer news that recently the Nigerian Government announced a hasty ceasefire agreement with the Boko Haram insurgents; and though the ceasefire was welcomed with much relief within some quarters, many Nigerians doubt its sincerity. It will be recalled that barely 24 hours after the ceasefire was announced, suspected Boko Haram militants were reported to have stormed a series of towns in Nigeria’s northeast in an apparent violation of a cease-fire the government claims it had secured with the insurgents.
On Sunday evening, fighters drove Toyota pickup trucks into the town of Damboa and killed about 25 people there, said two members of a self-defense militia stationed nearby. “They burned the place,” said one vigilante, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal attacks.
The attack came one day after suspected Boko Haram insurgents rode motorcycles into the nearby town of Shaffa and “started shooting at every possible target,” said Ayuba Ibrahim, a commander in a local self-defense militia. The attack left eight people dead, he added. The chairman of the local municipal council, Andrew Usman, also confirmed the incident.
Another attack in the town of Michika left at least 15 people dead the next day.
The attacks began less than 24 hours after Nigeria’s government had announced a breakthrough truce with Boko Haram lasting one week while the sides held talks in Chad. Those talks were meant to serve as a confidence boosting measure, government spokesman, Mike Omeri, had said. The agreement also included a promise by Boko Haram to return the 219 schoolgirls it has held hostage since April, among other captives.
However, Nigerians want an end to the violence and the safe return of the girls but with recent happenings, sadly, there is now strong reason to believe the deal could be a fraud. On the ground, it seems to have had no effect. Since the deal was announced, Boko Haram has carried out a series of attacks; as well as raiding a string of villages. They are reported to have assaulted the strategic town of Damboa in Borno State – a town that had been re-taken by the army after it fell to insurgents in July.
The mystery of Danladi Ahmadu, Boko Haram’s “representative” during the ceasefire talks, is also cause for concern. According to journalist Ahmad Salkida, who has a history of close contact with the group, Ahmadu is an imposter. Salkida, who knows most of Boko Haram’s leading figures by their first names, has said he’s never heard of Ahmadu. Other sources familiar with the group have also expressed doubts about his claim to be a leading figure. It seems he is either completely bogus or representing a little-known faction in the insurgency – and Salkida has been quick to dismiss the latter option.
All these beg for the question, why would the Nigerian government announce a ceasefire deal with someone who has such little credibility? And the answer brings us back to politics. Since the Chibok girls were kidnapped, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has increasingly been a thorn in the flesh of President Jonathan and the PDP. The debacle of the government’s seemingly negligent response to the abduction caused such a political storm in Nigeria and such damage to the country’s international reputation that the government has reportedly paid American PR firm, Levick, $1.2 million to rehabilitate its image. Though the firm has done a fairly impressive job so far, the regular street protests calling for the return of the girls is still causing the government considerable embarrassment.
Is it possible the political opportunity was so great that the government couldn’t resist gambling on a man who seemed to have little credibility? Did they just take him for his word – almost knowingly being duped, but desperately hoping that it might all be true?
Meanwhile, many have expressed their doubts, Elders in Borno State, in north-west Nigeria have expressed doubts that the ceasefire agreement the Nigerian government said to have reached with the Boko Haram sect was with the genuine leadership of the of the group.
Answering questions from Channels Television in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, spokesman of the Borno Elders’ Forum, Dr Bulama Mali Gubio, welcomed the development but expressed doubt if the Federal Government actually negotiated with the real Boko Haram.
He was of the opinion that if the real Boko Haram members were contacted in the peace deal, then the attacks staged after the peace deal would not have been carried out.
“I am doubtful if Federal Government actually negotiated with the real Boko Haram. If not, the arms would have all been surrendered during the exercise while the Chibok Girls would have also been released.
“If real agreement has been reached, then the immediate attack and the recent taking over of Abadam and the killings in Dzur and Shaffa of Hawul Local Government in Borno State would not have been carried out by the insurgents in the first place”, Gubio queried.
He questioned why governors of the three north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe as well as traditional rulers among other well-meaning people of the zone were not involved in the negotiation process.
The spokesman also asked the Federal Government to spell out the relocation process of those displaced, while government should regain the territories earlier captured by the sect members.
The legal adviser of the Civilian Joint Task Force, Mr Jibrin Gunda, is also pessimistic of the ceasefire agreement because of the non-inclusion of the needed stakeholders in the peace deal. While hoping the ceasefire agreement will achieve the desired objectives, he also called on the Federal Government to make towns ceased by the insurgents habitable and safe for the people to go back to their various homes to carry on with their legitimate businesses.
Some displaced persons at the transit camps spread across Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, also saw the need to dispossess the insurgents of their arms without which they can still take up the arms anytime they so wish. They also called on the federal government to declare total war on the insurgents by crushing them in their various hideouts as they have killed so many innocent souls in the affected areas.
Meanwhile, a Nigerian journalist and an activist who has been involved in several negotiations with extremist sect, Boko Haram, has expressed doubt over reports that the Nigerian military and Boko Haram agreed on a ceasefire. On his part, Mr. Shehu Sani said his contacts told him Boko Haram members have denied knowing any Mr. Ahmadu as their representative.
“All my attempts to confirm the ceasefire deal did not produce any result. My sources are telling me that they don’t know who that person is,” Mr. Sani said. He also said for Boko Haram to reach any ceasefire, such information must come from the leader of the group.
“Any statement that is not coming from the leader of the group cannot be said to be credible and will not be complied with by the group members,” he said. Obviously referring to Abubakar Shekau whom the Nigerian Armed forces said is dead, Mr. Sani said “the leader is the only person they respect and listen to”.
Boko Haram, meanwhile, has not released a public statement about the ceasefire. Rather, they have continued on a weekend campaign of violence, holding running battles with Nigerian security forces, who say that they are yet to receive any word from their superiors ordering them to cease fire.
“It is not clear who the said Boko Haram negotiator is, and whether he has the mandate of the entire group or just a faction thereof,” Arab News quoted Nnamdi Obasi, senior analyst of Nigeria for Crisis Group, an independent, nongovernmental organization, as saying.
Some people think the announcement is a political move by President Jonathan to inspire optimism in voters and win their support, as it’s rumored he will announce his run for re-election in February 2015 over the next few weeks. The government said it has been working on negotiations with Boko Haram for months.
Also, Senator Ahmed Zannah, representing Borno Central Senatorial District, on Sunday advised the Federal Government to trade with caution in implementing any ceasefire agreement with the Boko Haram insurgents.
Zannah, who gave the advice in an interview with NAN in Maiduguri, said the Federal Government must exercise high level of wisdom and discretion in dealing with the issue. The lawmaker expressed doubt about the sincerity of the Boko Haram sect toward the ceasefire agreement.
He said: “I do not think it is true, because the Boko Haram insurgents are still attacking communities in Borno. The insurgents attacked villages in both Northern and Southern Borno on Saturday.” Zannah said if the ceasefire was real and sincere, the insurgents would not have attacked the villages.
When contacted, the Borno State Government declined comments on the issue. However, a media associate of Gov. Kashim Shettima, Malam Isa Gusau, who spoke on behalf of the governor, told newsmen on Sunday that the governor had no comment on the issue.
He said “Gov. Kashin Shettima has no comment on the issue for now. “Shettima, whose state has been at the centre of Boko Haram attacks since 2009, said he has no comment for now over the reports, but he will speak at the appropriate time.”
More so, a leader of the Abuja Chibok community, Dr. Dauda Iliya, expressed doubt about the reported truce between the federal government and Boko Haram. He questions the truthfulness of the truce when since it was announced on Friday, Boko Haram has been attacking villages in Borno.
“My heart tells me to keep my fingers crossed and be prayerful, but my head tells me to just wave it away and to dismiss it like I know the government to tell bull stories.
“I am simply thinking the government is playing Nigerians for two reasons. One, I have received reports that two very well known villages in southern Borno, one in Hawul in the village of Shaffa was attacked and many people killed over the weekend between Friday when the attack was made and Saturday.
“Two, the second village called Lassa in Askira/Gwuba Local Government was also attacked between Friday night and Saturday and also in northern Borno in I think, Kana Local government. With this, why will Boko Haram be attacking villages, killing people and destroying houses if indeed there was a truce?
“Why should the government be the one announcing the truce, when it is the government and its army that is under attack? I think it is the people attacking that should be announcing any kind of truce,” Iliya stated.
Leader of the #BringBackOurGirls advocacy group, Aisha Yusuf, also added, “We are hopeful, waiting and really anxious. We are surprised that a ceasefire has supposedly been reached and people are still being killed. Who are they having this ceasefire with if the Boko Haram doesn’t even know that there is any ceasefire going on?
“For me, I don’t want to make allegations. All I want to say is that we Nigerians what we want from the government is the truth, nothing but the truth. It is high time that the Nigerian government came out and began to tell the people the truth no matter how bitter. It is then that we will know what to do.”
However, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has warned President Goodluck Jonathan against using Chibok girls as ‘pawns on his political chessboard.’
The opposition party urged him to release the school girls who were whisked away from their school dormitory in Chibok over six months ago, if indeed he knew their whereabouts. APC in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Thursday said Jonathan’s continued silence over the issue showed that he was not capable of rescuing the girls.
According to the party, “Mr. President, tongues are wagging that you know where the girls are and that you want them to be released only when it will give you the maximum political advantage. We don’t know if this is true or not, but if it is, please release the girls now.
“It is cruel and unconscionable for anyone to use these girls as pawns on a political chess board. They have now been in captivity for over six full months. Please end the agony of the girls’ parents and indeed of all Nigerians”, it said.
“First, the President waited for all of 19 days before even admitting that the girls have been abducted, losing a critical window of opportunity to rescue them from their abductors. When eventually he was forced by global pressure to admit that the abduction is real, Mr. President and his wife chose to subject the girls’ parents and others to untold verbal assault and mental torture.
“A little over a month after the girls were abducted, the Chief of Defence Staff said the security leadership in the country had located where Boko Haram is holding the abducted girls. Since then, Nigerians have been waiting for the girls to be rescued, to no avail. No one has told Nigerians the problems that are militating against the release of the girls, be it logistic or otherwise.
“More recently, on Sept. 23rd, the military tweeted the imminent release of the girls, only to retract the statement shortly thereafter. However, in the intervening period, thousands of ‘supporters’ of the President had gathered at the Pierre Hotel in New York to welcome the President (who was then in New York for the UN General Assembly session) after the release of the girls, while media interviews had been booked for him. No one has told Nigerians why that ‘imminent release’ of the girls was botched.
“Also recently, a flurry of nocturnal activities have been going on ostensibly to negotiate the release of the girls, even after the same government that is apparently behind the activities had bluntly ignored wise counsel and said it would never negotiate their release.
“Finally, President Jonathan, in his characteristic ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude, refused to meet with the selfless men and women who have been championing the campaign for the release of the girls on the sixth-month anniversary of their abduction. Instead, the President sent a team of impudent ministers who went to lambaste the altruistic campaigners and call them names. Juxtapose that with the global solidarity shown to the campaigners from non-celebrities and celebrities alike, including Alicia Keys, and you will realize how insensitive this Administration has been.
“It is clear that President Jonathan has suddenly shown more interest in their release after his consensus nomination as PDP candidate for next year’s elections. Our appeal, therefore, is for the President to allow the immediate release of the girls, rather than wait for when it will give maximum boost to his political fortunes”, it added
With the 2015 General elections approaching, some people believe that Nigeria Government wants to use the ceasefire only to score cheap political points.