Any counter-insurgency expert will tell you the same thing:
Fighting terrorism requires more than just military force, but also an application of softer means, including, but not limited to, negotiation. Due to the nature of insurgency, which is very unlike conventional warfare, an outright military victory is very hard to come by, hence the need at some point to negotiate.
The Nigerian government, in addition to a military operation, has also left the door open for negotiation with the Boko Haram sect, and is currently putting together an economic empowerment programme for the North East zone. The success of this military operation is a matter of significant debate, especially as Boko Haram have begun to show much more ambition by taking and holding territory over the last 2 years. What the army appear to have done, however, is slow down the process by preventing the capture of more towns, while reversing some of the gains made by the militants.
The negotiation angle, though, is recording much less success. There have been a number of false dawns. In November 2012, a representative of the sect, Abu Abdul’aziz gave conditions for a ceasefire, including the arrest of Ali Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno State, the release of its members not captured in battle, and reconstruction of places of worship which have been destroyed by the government.
The only problem is that there is more than one Boko Haram faction, and the Nigerian government met with more than one of them in 2012: One in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and another in Senegal. While the demands in the preceding paragraph are common to all the factions, the majority of the power, and all of the legitimacy, still rests with the major faction led by Abubakar Shekau, and his Shura Council.
In 2013, there was another false dawn. On April 24, President Jonathan put together a 25-man committee to look into an amnesty programme for the militants, similar to the Niger Delta Amnesty. In July that year, Imam Muhammadu Marwana declared a ceasefire, which Shekau denied a week later.
Last weekend, talk of ceasefire again started making the rounds, with reports carried by multiple news outlets that an agreement had been reached with the militants, also raising hopes that the 219 Chibok school girls will soon be given their freedom and allowed to return to their families. However, individuals like Ahmad Salkida – a journalist who was involved in talks with the militants up till 2012 – insisted that no genuine negotiations were ongoing.
After a relative lull in attacks in the past few weeks, the tempo has picked up again, with more women abducted and fresh fighting between the militants and the Nigerian Army. Mike Omeri has also backtracked, saying yesterday that “talks have not resumed”, and that the Nigerian government was “still in contact with the Chadian government”. When you put that statement together with this report about the role of Chadian president, Idriss Deby, in the latest round of talks, what do we have?
It is clear that there is more than one faction of Boko Haram. There are probably 3 or 4, but there is a main faction, and no ceasefire has been agreed with them, which would explain the fresh attacks. It is also clear that some approach the government with talk of being able to deliver a ceasefire, knowing very well that they cannot do it. The government then commits funds to the process and announces a ceasefire, only to have to do a volte-face to their embarrassment. Thus, Boko Haram negotiations have become a ‘hustle’ in their own right.
The Federal Government of Nigeria should know better than to be hoodwinked repeatedly in this manner. If a ceasefire is on the table, they should know exactly who to talk to in order to guarantee one, and how to get in touch with those concerned. Anything else is incompetence, and a disservice to those they are constitutionally required to protect.