Critical Conversations

National Security: X-raying the Option of Negotiation with Boko Haram

The current spate of banditry, kidnapping, as well as the constant attack on security personnel and facilities, has raised the country’s insecurity challenges to a crescendo. Although one must not fail to admit that issues like banditry and kidnapping are one thing, while Boko Haram is another thing, the purported inability to defeat the insurgents appears to have amplified other crimes. The issue of Boko Haram thus becomes a top priority. But following the inability to claim total victory over Boko Haram insurgents, questions arise as to whether negotiations can present a solution.

In light of this, a former Nigerian diplomat has asked the Federal Government to embrace the negotiated settlement option to save Nigeria about N1.2 trillion being spent annually to defeat Boko Haram. Foreign policy expert, Dr Nnamdi Onochie, who was a former Nigerian envoy to Algeria, gave the advice on 26 April 2021 in Abuja while speaking on the sudden death of President Idris Deby of Chad.

While positing that Deby’s death and the unfolding succession crisis in Chad would compound issues for Nigeria, in its bid to crush Boko Haram insurgents, he called on the Federal Government to consider the viable of negotiation. His words:

“Now that President Deby has died, efforts to replace him between his son and the opposition will further aggravate the situation in Nigeria’s Northeast for all state and non-state actors.

“I advocate that Nigeria should negotiate an end to the activities of Boko Haram in the areas where the insurgency is active. Is there any other viable alternative or can Nigeria continue fighting the war sine die? The answer is no?’’

Mr Onochie further averred that embracing dialogue would stop “the endless bleeding’’ of Nigeria’s economy by the conflict, and that the government should pursue and carry out a policy to end the war by negotiation.

The rationale behind negotiating with the Boko Haram appears founded. Pundits have become increasingly doubtful of Nigeria establishing a permanent victory in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents, and this extends to neighbouring countries plagued by the menace. Boko Haram has remained consistent in the last ten years by way of interminable combat, increasing military capabilities, and continued sponsoring/financing, among other things. The projection of immediate past Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Tukur Buratai that terrorism in Nigeria may persist for the next twenty years sheds some light on the situation.

Going by this projection, Nigeria will have to spend an avalanche of resources, finance especially, to bring an end to the scourge. It is noteworthy that in the last 10 years, Nigeria has reportedly spent ₦6trn on security. In spite of the spending, Nigeria has continued to rank high in the terrorism index. In fact, she ranks third in the latest global terrorism index after Afghanistan and Iran. A travel advisory by the US released recently which has continued to generate mixed reactions had opined that “Terrorists continue plotting and carrying out attacks in Nigeria, especially in the Northeast. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting shopping centres, malls, markets, hotels, places of worship, restaurants, bars, schools, government installations, transportation hubs, and other places where crowds gather. Terrorists are known to work with local gangs to expand their reach.”

Apart from the fact that the issue of insurgency and other related crimes are bringing the country to disrepute, it is equally making her lose investments in foreign earnings. This is in the face of all the resources that have been put in place over the years to bring terrorism to an end. For instance, Nigeria had the second-largest military budget in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2019. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed that Nigeria’s $1.9 billion military allocations were only second to South Africa’s $3.5 billion and Algeria’s military expenditure of $10.3 billion. Even the budgetary allocations are not enough compared to these countries that are not faced with insecurity challenges as much as Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the country is in dire financial straits as exposed by the current back and forth over the alleged N60bn money printing for FAAC.

The talk of negotiating with Boko Haram might look appealing, but there is equally pessimism about negotiations because Boko Haram is, and has always been a jihadist group, which by definition means it doesn’t negotiate peace.

Boko Haram’s resolve is to wrest control from the Nigerian government and to impose a strict form of Sharia law across a country of over 200 million people. In the fashion of religious terrorists, the sect has anti-modern goals of returning the society to an idealised version of the past and is therefore anti-democratic and anti-progressive. As pundits noted, the objectives of these terrorists are absolutist, inflexible, devoid of political pragmatism and hostile to negotiation.

For instance, as a renowned analyst, Daniel Byman says of Al-Qaeda, “Because of the scope of its grievances, its broader agenda of rectifying humiliation, and a poisoned worldview that glorifies jihad as a solution, appeasing Al-Qaeda is difficult in theory and impossible in practice”.

Boko Haram is not different from Al-Qaeda, so where does negotiation come in? However, over time, we have seen the sect engage in “single-issue” or transactional negotiations. Although single-issue negotiations are different from process negotiations that can lead to long lasting peace, it leaves one to ponder why the sect would consider negotiation at all given the sensibilities that informs their jihadist ideology.

In light of this, some analysts speculate that Boko Haram appears to be divided into factions, one of which is led by Abubakar Shekau and another by Abu Musab al-Barnawi. (There may also be others.) Both factions aim to overthrow the secular Nigerian state and to establish an Islamic state with the strict enforcement of Islamic law. Where they differ is their treatment of other Muslims. The al-Barnawi faction sees Shekau as too ready to label other Muslims as a traitor and to kill them.

Meanwhile, Nigerian administrations have attempted to open negotiations with Boko Haram, but Shekau has rescinded the offer and is credibly alleged to have murdered those of his followers who sought to do so.

Read Also: Civilians Join the Army to Fight Boko Haram

Al-Barnawi, on the other hand, has apparently been open to negotiation. It is likely that the schoolgirls from Dapchi were kidnapped by the Al-Barnawi faction. The vast majority of the girls abducted were returned. Although the government denies it paid ransom for the release of the girls, there are unconfirmed reports that it paid $5 million and released some captive Boko Haram operatives.

As such, it is likely that any negotiations by the government would be with the al-Barnawi faction. But, if there are negotiations, what exactly are they over? Is there any faction of Boko Haram that is prepared to set aside its ultimate goal of the destruction of the secular state and the establishment of an Islamic polity?

However, to pin the need for negotiations on saving funds is irascible. It is noteworthy that despite the relative peace enjoyed by the United States, as well as China and Russia, these countries rank high in the list of countries with the highest military spending. It should therefore be established that concerning the military, there is no such thing as overspending or seeking other options so as to cut down on military spending.