RIGHTSView, By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: Boko Haram and the Colombian Model

Posted by News Express | 6 February 2016 | 2,813 times

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Former President Olusegun Okikiola Matthew Obasanjo left the Nigerian Army as a General. He is the only Nigerian, dead or alive, that have occupied the office of head of state both the military dictatorship and democratic dispensation. He is also the longest-serving. However, I must quickly add that President Muhammadu Buhari, who retired from the Army as a two-star General (major-general), has just entered the rare historical record as the second Nigerian to become both a former military-junta-leader (1983-1985) and the civilian president (2015 to end his tenure in 2019).

 Obasanjo left the Presidential Mansion in Abuja after he had served two four-year tenures as civilian president between 1999 and 2007. Although he has been out of office since 2007, he has remained politically active in such a way that he intermittently makes bold political interventions in the media. He has also taken certain practical steps that make him a constant talking-point in the political affairs of Nigeria. Even though he claimed to be a member of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he allegedly sabotaged his party by working against then President Goodluck Jonathan, whom he brought into national political limelight, when he made him running mate of then terminally-ill President Umaru Yar’Adua. Obasanjo later stood with the then opposition party, which presented Gen Buhari (retd) as presidential candidate. With the political victory of his new-found political friends, Obasanjo has since continued to exert a lot of influence, throwing his weight around the corridors of power in Abuja.

He (Obasanjo) recently brought some major military and political leaders of Colombia, the South American war-ravaged country, to meet with the President of Nigeria. And, we have been told that it is an effort to borrow from the Colombians ways to stop the Boko Haram terrorism, following the success of the Colombians in negotiating to an end, the 50-year-old insurgency. The United States of America is said to have played some roles in the unfolding peace treaty, which would be extensively discussed in this piece.

Boko Haram insurgency started fully in 2009, and has led to the gruesome killing of nearly 25,000 Nigerians; and property, including church buildings and mosques, worth several billions of naira has been destroyed by these armed Islamists in the North-east, North-central, North-west and Abuja. Not much has, however, been done by successive administrations by way of prosecution of the high-profile terrorism masterminds already arrested. The current Attorney-General and Federal Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, has yet to unfold a prosecution blueprint to initiate effective and professionally competent prosecution of all the arrested and indicted Boko Haram terrorists. Whereas this government has yet to commence broad-based criminal prosecution of these terrorists, it has begun experimenting with the idea of adopting the Colombian model. The Federal Government is yet to tell Nigerians why it is experimenting with the idea of adopting the Colombian model in resolving the Boko Haram terrorist activities in Nigeria, when it is clear that both cases have fundamental differences in terms of ideological origin and the underlying objectives. Pure and simple, Boko Haram terrorists are genocidal kingpins while the Colombian rebellion resulted from clear marginalisation of a huge part of that nation by the ruling elite.

Boko Haram attacked the United Nations House in Abuja, killing scores of visitors and international diplomats, just as they attacked the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters and left death and destruction in its wake. Millions of Nigerians have become internally displaced, even as hundreds of young girls have been kidnapped and sold into slavery across the borders by Boko Haram terrorists. The bloody consequences of Boko Haram terrorism are unspeakable, just as the causes of this sad segment of our national history are as varied as there are historians of divergent schools of thoughts. But there is unanimity of opinions that Boko Haram terrorists are pure terrorists, and not in any way known as freedom-fighters. Although, for few months, Boko Haram terrorists took over a vast area of three North-east states and hoisted their flags, following the bloody example of the global terrorists known as Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) but, unlike the Colombian rebels who enjoyed widespread support of the civil populace in their former territory of influence, Boko Haram armed bandits are blood-cuddling and bloodthirsty terrorists who kill both civilians and military personnel along the way. In the North-east, the civilians rejected Boko Haram terrorists and have formed vigilante group known as Civilian Joint Task Force or civilian JTF, which has assisted the Nigerian military to seek defeat of these mass murderers.

Given such differences, the following questions arise: Why has former President Obasanjo decided to bring Colombians to play a role in ending Boko Haram terrorism, when the two cases are poles apart, and the two groups are also not the same in terms of notoriety? Is the Colombian model workable in Nigeria? It has no clear prospect of succeeding in Nigeria. The Chief of Army Staff, Lieut-Gen Tukur Buratai, was said to have led a powerful military delegation to Colombian, to understudy the ongoing peace negotiations, which goes to show that the Nigerian government is giving huge attention towards adopting the Colombian model. But this may be a huge tactical blunder.

Boko Haram started with the activities of a bunch of disgruntled Nigerian Moslems, followers of a largely illiterate Islamic mentor known as Mohammed Yusuf, who headed an illegal sect of islamic religion, who did not recognise the sanctity of the Nigerian Constitution. Their attacks became frenetic when their spiritual leader, Yusuf, was killed after he was detained by the Nigeria Police Force. Abubakar Shekau then took over and launched sporadic deadly terrorist attacks. Boko Haram terrorists are not fighting for any legally-justifiable cause, whereas in Colombia, political exclusion is seen as the immediate cause of the insurgency. In January 2015, a writer, Mr Joel Gillin, affirmed the aforementioned cause.

His words: "With Colombia’s peace talks back on track, the country is looking at what has caused the 50 years of violence that, according to the government, has left almost a million dead. One of the recognised causes is a political exclusion that is older than the country itself."

According to Rev Father Fernan Gonzalez, a renowned academic and conflict analyst, “Colombian society has not established a consensus on the nature and origins of the armed conflict.” Many believe that the conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC), along with the handful of other armed leftist insurgencies that have existed throughout the last 50 years, can be attributed to the individual choices and actions of these groups seeking wealth and power. Most historians and conflict analysts, however, posit that there are structural factors – for complex historical reasons – that have created an environment which is conducive to violence and armed conflict, the writer asserted. Accepting the first theory requires little or no historical background, or analysis, in order to think of possible solutions for dealing with armed groups challenging the state. Seeing the groups as entirely illegitimate, the obvious course of action would be to confront the rebels militarily, the writer stated emphatically. The writer said that the current armed conflict is traced to 1964 when the FARC was created. It is necessary to examine Colombia’s political history, which led to this moment. He summed the political landscape that underlined the 50 years old war in Colombia, as follows:

“Since the birth of the state in the first half of the 19th century, Colombian political life has been dominated by two political power houses: the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. The parties and their ideologies began to crystallise back in the 1840s. While both were dominated by elites, each had its own characteristics.”

We will dwell a bit on these political contours that characterised the Colombian conundrum.

Gilli wrote in www.colombianreports.com: “The Conservative party has always maintained a close relationship with the Catholic Church and believed it to be central to the social fabric of Colombian society. Its members came from the wealthy land-owning class, which favoured a centralised state, hierarchical in nature, in which different classes played their respective roles in society.

“The Liberals tended to come from the merchant class, favouring a decentralised state, international trade, and the development of Colombia’s competitive advantage in export-based agriculture. Through their contact with the outside world, particularly the US, Britain, and France, the party’s worldview was influenced by enlightenment values and liberal traditions about rational individuals. The party, thus, ended slavery and supported the separation of Church and State. It is worth noting that, after more than a century and a half, the ideologies of the two parties have to a large extent remained intact.”

So why is Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari investing her time and resources to pursue the Colombian model as a way of seeking an end to the attacks of Boko Haram terrorists?  Why is Nigeria playing around with the idea when it is clear that the Colombian scenario is diametrically opposed to the issue in Nigeria, with regards to the dare devilry of Boko Haram terrorists who have killed, maimed and destroyed innocent lives in their quest for an objective that is insanely ambiguous?

Boko Haram Islamic insurgents started to wage war against institutions of the Nigerian state in 2009, when their founder was killed in an extra-legal execution style by the Borno State Command of the Nigeria Police Force. Nigeria police is notorious for extra-judicial killing of suspects in their custody. So killing of the then leader of the banned Islamic sectarian group, Boko Haram (which consistently that Western Education is evil), wasn't an isolated case. 

Later, they ventured into massive attacks on churches, but eventually extended their activities to  mosques attended by moderate Moslems. When the global terrorism group known as Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) emerged on the scene and captured a large part of Iraq and even Syria, Boko Haram terrorists got themselves affiliated with the terrorists and capitalised on some internal sabotage within the Nigerian military institutions to capture large portions of the North-east of Nigeria, which made the then President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to declare partial state of emergency in the three states. Along the line, the US government embargoed sale of sophisticated weapons to Nigeria, thus crippling the already exhausted Nigerian military.

Mixing up the circumstances of the emergence of Boko Haram terrorists and the case in Colombia is a fundamental error and a clear failure of strategic thinking and planning on the side of the nation’s political/military leadership.

Boko Haram terrorists have made it known that they lack any visionary idea of what they are fighting for, except to create instability in Nigeria and uproot the Christian minority communities scattered around the North-east, surrounded by their Moslem neighbours both of whom have hitherto lived in peace. The Colombian rebellion was rooted on concrete case of political exclusion. But in Nigeria, the North has had more than a fair share of political positions at the national level. Besides, people of the North-east have distanced themselves from the masterminds of these killings undertaken by Boko Haram terrorists who are largely of Kanuri ethnic group.

The Federal Government of Nigeria should concentrate effort towards defeating these murderous terrorists and bring perpetrators and their sponsors to justice; either locally or at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, for prosecution over crimes against humanity. 

Government should also implement policies that would discourage this terror group from getting prospective recruits. De-radicalisation programmes should be implemented to dissuade would-be recruits from embracing the death ideology that underscores the Boko Haram terrorism.

There's a huge amount of recommendations made by Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Restoration of Peace in Northern Nigeria which, if implemented, will check the escalation of attacks by Boko Haram terrorists. The Nigerian government must look inwards for solution rather than go fishing for imaginary solution.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source: News Express

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