As Boko Haram members continue to wreak havoc in some parts of the North, president of the northern-based Civil Rights Congress (CRC), Mallam Shehu Sani, has said that the prominent people from the North may not be spared of the attacks.
In this interview, Sani said Boko Haram sees governors, emirs and the Sultan of Sokoto as enemies.
“The Boko Haram has no respect for the Sultan of Sokoto, the emirs and most of these governors. In fact, most of them are targets of the Boko Haram sect members. I should have been in the forefront of those criticising the governors for such sponsorship,” he said.
Do you think t dialogue would bring an end to the bombings and killings by the Boko Haram sect?
I was not only one of the first advocates for dialogue with Boko Haram, I was the first to foresee trouble. In 2009, the government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua ordered that members of the Boko Haram should be crushed. In the process, hundreds of them were killed in daylight by security agents. This brutal massacre of their members became a source for which the group was forced to pick up arms. I spoke out against the brutal killings because I foresaw the danger that would come out of that. I spoke then because it was the same pattern of killings that brought out the Maitatsine problem. It was the killing of the son of Maitatsine in 1979 by the Police that led Muhammadu Marwa to mobilize his men against the state and the Police, which led to the killings of so many other persons. If President Goodluck Jonathan is talking of dialogue, why must he wait for people to pick up arms before talking with them? If President Jonathan believes in dialogue, why is he not calling MASSOB leader Uwazurike for dialogue?
Why is he not calling on Gani Adams for dialogue? Ibrahim El-Zakzaky is the leader of the Shiite sect in northern Nigeria and you know the Shiite sect is a million times more than the Boko Haram sect. As we speak, there are more than 120 members of the Shiite sect that are languishing in Nigerian prisons for the past four years since they had a skirmish with the government of Sokoto State under Wamakko. Now, nobody is calling on El-Zakzaky to dialogue with him. Therefore, we have a principle in this country that for you to attract dialogue, you have to bomb, kill and massacre. The militants of the Niger Delta were called for dialogue because they were killing, bombing and taking hostages.
Yet the Nigerian state did not see any reason they should have dialogued with Ken Saro-Wiwa. Even with a South-South Presidency, the Ijaw and ex-militants are having an upper hand as opposed to the non-violent Ogoni people who are pushed to the background.
So, if President Jonathan is interested in dialogue, he should demonstrate it, not just with people who pick up arms but also with people who are not armed but have a grouse against government and the state. To talk of dialogue only when people kill is a tacit approval that the only way to attract attention and be called for dialogue is to bomb and kill. Therefore, dialogue is possible but there must be three conditions. There must be trust between the government and Boko Haram as a group, there must be confidence and then there must be an intercessor. As we are talking, it was reported that the spokesman of Boko Haram was arrested. The security agents said he was arrested after being tracked by a gadget while the group is saying their man was arrested while trying to meet with government agents for dialogue. If we are to believe what the group said, it is clear that the issue of dialogue has been foreclosed. And if we are to believe the security agents, how can the state security, an intelligence outfit, come out and reveal how it has tracked down one member of a group while it needs the same strategy to also track other members of the group. Is the state security not telling them not to use the GSM phone, so that they are not tracked again? So, as it is, if you don’t have trust, no confidence and no intermediary, dialogue is virtually impossible.
The arrest of a member of the Boko Haram will please the security and government that something is being done; but I do not think it is in the interest of peace at the end because it will be very difficult for any of them to avail himself again of any opportunity thrown open by government for any peace talk. For someone like me, it will be a very serious setback if we will try to take the risk and say please come out and let’s end this bloodshed. So, this is a government that says it wants to dialogue and then on the other hand it is arresting them. I don’t know how this idea of dialogue can work in this kind of atmosphere. Let no one say it is propaganda they are using by saying their member was arrested when he came out for dialogue. The question should be who to believe. But I think that government is not sincere about this whole issue of dialogue and I have my reason. If you arrest a terrorist using a strategy that you believe has worked for you and you have other terrorists to arrest, why disclose your strategy?
Does that make sense? There are three ways you can tackle terrorism. There is the military option, which is necessary to limit the acts of terror, to protect life and property; to also contain insurgency. There is the political strategy that has to do with negotiation and dialogue in order to bring the problem to an end. There is also the economic strategy, where you look at the long-term problem, sources of this terror from, which you can see how economic investments that usually become the breeding reasons for the terror. But if you have chosen dialogue and then you start arresting members of the group, at the end of the day you have not done anything. The same President Jonathan once said the sect members should come out and identify themselves and tell us why they are fighting. I believe the Boko Haram is not faceless. It exists and is a reality. And if President Jonathan is looking for members of the Boko Haram sect, since he says they are in his cabinet, he should look for them and negotiate with the ones he knows in the Police and his cabinet. But it is contradictory to say that they have not identified themselves when you know they are in the Presidential Villa.
In some quarters, it is believed that the Boko Haram issue is political, having regards to the state-of-the-art weapons and ammunition available to the sect members. Don’t you think so?
There is no weapon that is being used by members of the Boko Haram sect that has not been used by the Niger Delta militants, whether it is rocket launchers, AK47 or bombs. In fact, we saw more weapons in the hands of the militants from the Niger-Delta than Boko Haram members. They used to dance and cover their bodies with belts of bullets and raise guns while they are dancing. But you don’t get to see those of the Boko Haram, except if you are embedded as a journalist. However, it is clear from the violence, the deaths and the bombings, that these are sophisticated weapons that are being used by the group. But in anything you do, you need to have resources and you need to have that deadly spirit to be able to do what they are doing. It is, however, clear that violence, for any cause, is not justified. If the government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan can be talking with the Talibans to end the violence there and the government of Britain can sit down with the IRA to bring them to an end and if the government of Nigeria can sit down with the Niger Delta militants to bring the problem to an end, there is no reason we should not sit down with the Boko Haram sect.
When the Niger Delta militants in the South were bombing and kidnapping, it did not make sense in the North to say that it is the governors in the region or the political class there that are backing them to destroy northern Nigeria. So, you cannot point accusing fingers at anybody in the North because most of the politicians in the North are being seen as enemies by the Boko Haram sect. The Boko Haram has no respect for the Sultan of Sokoto, the emirs and most of these governors. In fact, most of them are targets of the Boko Haram sect members. I should have been in the forefront of those criticising the governors for such sponsorship. From my understanding, the governors are targets of the group. So, this rumour flying around that some governors in the North are sponsoring them is not true. The group will hardly collect money from them.
You were in Maiduguri. Did you, by chance, see any of the Boko Haram members?
If I am going to see a Boko Haram member, there must be a reason for which I will go and see him. I cannot go and see a Boko Haram member and tell him we should go and have tea. I cannot go there and call Boko Haram member on phone and say how are you? Or how is the weather? If I am going to see a Boko Haram member, I believe I should see him towards bringing an end to the violence in Nigeria.
I thought you were in Maiduguri for…
(Cuts in) I am coming. If a Boko Haram member makes some demands from me of his conditions, I think it is incumbent on me to fulfill his conditions, but I cannot. My visit to Maiduguri with former President Obasanjo was to sit down with their family members and then get to the root of what actually led to the armed rebellion. We got all these details and the suggestions that were needed. We forwarded all these to the government and they were not respected. That is why things have continued to escalate. If the government had, since September last year, listened to our recommendations, that we need to have an audit of the number of Boko Haram members who are in detention with the possibility of them being freed and to build their mosques, schools and homes that have been demolished, grant them amnesty and address the fundamental issues that led to their arms rebellion, this problem would have been addressed. But the government believes that they can use force and violence to end the activities of the group which has been in use for the past one year and which has not produced any result. It is only now that government is coming to terms with the reality that the only way to tackle this violence is to sit down and talk with the group. But as I said earlier, this group is not faceless. They have leadership and structures on the ground. They are Nigerians and before they took up arms, they were like every other person.
There is no reason for any other person to believe that this violence cannot come to an end. Each time I go to bed, I have a feeling that there would be a time in Nigeria when there will be no Boko Haram and violence. Now, how do we end this problem? The first option, that is using military force has been used. For the past three years all we have seen is more killings, deaths and violence. It is after the Kano tragedy that the government has accepted to dialogue with the group. There are two ways to dialogue with the group. The first way is to have an intercessor on behalf of the government and the group should also send their representatives. The representatives of the two can then sit down and talk. Now, with the arrest of one member of the group who was said to have come for dialogue, that option has become a remote possibility. I also believe that there are persons in the North who the government should try and reach out to. The government of President Goodluck Jonathan depends on the Sultan of Sokoto and the emirs, a 100 per cent, to broker a dialogue with the Boko Haram group.
But the Boko Haram group has no respect for the Sultan and the Emirs. They don’t believe them. The group sees them as supporters of the government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua when they were being killed and massacred in 2009. So that would make it impossible if you say Sultan or any of the Emirs should mediate. I am of the firm belief that we have religious leaders in the North that the government can approach. These religious leaders may not be politically relevant or have the prestige that the Sultan and the emirs have, but they have the authority and wisdom to be able to bring this problem to an end.
I am not going to mention names but I know it very well that there are people who are capable if the government needs them. But these people cannot achieve anything individually because they have nothing to offer to Boko Haram group. If you go to them and ask them to stop bombing and killing and they say okay release our people from detention and then you have nothing to tell them. What do you do? So, for you to have a negotiation that would work, you need an intercessor that has credibility on the side of government and acceptability from the side of Boko Haram.
What would you say to those who are saying Boko Haram is a monster created by northern political leader that is now consuming them?
I do not think that they can say that MASSOB is a monster created by the South East governors or that the militants of the Niger Delta are a monster created by governors from the South South or OPC is a monster created by the South West governors. If you say Boko Haram is a monster created by northern elite, I don’t think it is true because I have been here all my life and I know the mentality of the people in this part of the country. What I can tell you is that, in this country, you do not need any political patronage or financial support to take to violence.
If what was done to Boko Haram with the killing of their leader in 2009 is done to any of the religious sects in northern Nigeria, I am of the belief that many of them will act the same way. And for us to bring an end to this violence, I think we need to get to the root of how it started. What many people do not understand is that when you have a made up mind, you will not be able to understand certain situations. Boko Haram as a group was founded in the philosophy, ideas, believes, vision and teachings of Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taimiya, a Turkish man who died in 1328 in prison in Damascus, Syria. So, for those who want to understand Boko Haram, it is necessary to read about Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taimiya and then you will be able to know clearly what this group stands for and the solution to all these problems.
Would I be right to conclude that as far as you are concerned, there is no difference in philosophy, aims and visions between Boko Haram and militants of the Niger-Delta, MASSOB and OPC?
There is a difference. The aims and objectives of the Niger Delta militants are different from those of the Boko Haram sect. The struggle of the Niger Delta militants is about a fair share of resources from what they have. It’s about injustice that is being meted out to them. It’s also about the degradation of their land and a struggle for economic equity. Boko Haram is about injustice done to their members in 2009. It’s also about Sharia. In their theocratic way, it’s about their version of what Islam is. Therefore, they have differences in aims, objectives and goals. But they have a common strategy which is the use of violence. The militants believe in the use of guns, bombs, sabotage and attacking installations; the same thing with the Boko Haram. They believe in the use of violence. Now, the targets of Boko Haram could be police, churches and people. That of the Niger-Delta militants could be oil installations, governments and people. The Niger Delta militants planted a bomb on October 1, 2010 during the celebration of Nigeria’s 50th anniversary in Abuja that led to the killing of innocent lives.
The Boko Haram sect did the same thing when they used suicide bombers against the UN and the Police Force Headquarters which led to the killings of innocent people. The truth is that the widows produced by the bombings of the Niger Delta militants are also the same with the widows produced by the Boko Haram sect. So, there is no difference between the bombs you planted that killed in the name of one cause and those planted in the name of another cause. Orphans and widows produced by bombings have no other name than orphan and widows.
So, as far as I am concerned, I am of the belief that the use of bombs by both groups is not in the interest of Nigeria. What I will not accept is to justify one group’s use of arms and say the other group’s use of arms is wrong. It is either they are all wrong to use arms or they are all right to do so. And I am of the belief that they are all wrong to use arms. They should have employed the non-violent means that will not cause loss of lives.
Do you believe in the rule of law and the need by citizens to subordinate themselves to constituted authority?
If I do not believe in the rule of law, I couldn’t have been fighting to bring an end to military rule and enthrone democracy in Nigeria. It is the belief in the rule of law that led many of us to protest and go to jail. It was in our quest to bring about a system that represents, signifies and personifies the rule of law that made us to protest. So, I am a believer, a defender and an advocate of the rule of law.
Do you believe in the rules set by government?
Well, there is a rule set by government and there is a rule set by law. If what the government does, says or states is not in consonance with the laws of the land, it is not to be respected and to be obeyed.
Are you saying a curfew imposed by government to secure life and property is not in consonance with the laws of the land? I asked this because you defied the curfew imposed on Kaduna by the state government and called out people to protest.
Well, there was a national call for a mass action against the removal of fuel subsidy. But what the government of Kaduna State did was to simply impose a curfew that would keep people in their houses and not to participate in the protest. As an activist, I believe it was an infringement on my fundamental human rights to freedom of opinion. So, what I did was to defy the curfew because there is no law in Nigeria that says if you break any curfew this is what you are going to be fined or this is what you are going to be charged with. Curfews are hangovers of the military, which are being carried on by civilian governors who would wake up one morning and say nobody should come out from this time to that time. So, it is a violation of our rights to impose a curfew. That was why I defied the curfew and also told people that if you come and defy the curfew there is no law for which you can be charged with and it happened and they really answered my call. It was the state labour congress that said the protest should be suspended. As far as the civil society groups are concerned, it did not call off the protest. We are in the front row of those who started this protest. The like of Balarabe Musa, Col. Hamid Ali (rtd), my humble self, Barrister Tajudeen and then the executives of the Nigeria Labour Congress. Labour broke out and said the protest should come to an end. If Balarabe Musa, myself, Barrister Tajudeen, Hamid Ali are out, who are the members of the civil society group? We are the civil society.
If countries in the Arab world have their people protesting for justice and against iniquity on the streets for several months, there is no reason, after one or two days, Nigerians will say they are tired of protesting. We told people to come out on the grounds that we are going to resist and call for the reversal of the price of fuel to N65. We didn’t say people should come out and agree on N97. What we are saying is very clear. If Goodluck Jonathan wants to share more money to the governors, he can simply go and print for them and not to remove subsidy and get people into more trouble. Right now, the product is being sold in some places for N120 per litre. That is the danger of accepting a middle ground and that also means that the government has had its way. Now if the Nigerian worker can afford to buy fuel for N97 per litre with N18,000 as minimum wage and is contented with it, the millions of none working masses cannot afford to buy fuel at N97 per litre. They need it at N65 per litre. That is why we said the masses who are not working can protest even without labour.
Now that the price is N97 per litre what is your next step?
You can understand that what stopped this protest is not because we were tired or because labour said there should be no more protest, but because of the incident that happened in Kano, with the killings of about 256 people by the bombing of the Boko Haram sect members. It is a mark of honour and respect for all those who lost their lives and also being strategic. If you pull out hundreds of thousands of people on the streets and you attract hundreds of policemen who will also join us in the name of protecting us, if you are not careful, you may be exposing these millions of people to the danger of the insurgent group that may try to get at the police. We looked at it from this viewpoint and then we suspended the strike. But I can tell you very well, and mark my words, once we are able to have a solution to the problem of Boko Haram and it comes to an end Nigerians will come back to the streets and start protesting against the removal of fuel subsidy because N97 is not N65 and we want fuel to be bought at N65 per litre.
Source: Sun newspaper