22 Oct 2014

Hassan Tukur opens up on Federal Government's negotiation with Boko Haram

In this in-depth interview, Charles Aniagolu, an Arise Television anchor, sat down with one of the government officials leading negotiations with the terrorist group Boko Haram and Principal Secretary to the President, Ambassador Hassan Tukur, on how the ceasefire was struck and continuing negotiations with the sect to secure the release of over 200 Chibok schoolgirls and bring an end to hostilities in the North-east. 

Excerpts:

When did the federal government open talks with Boko Haram?
We have been discussing with the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Hidda’ Awati Wal-Jihad (Boko Haram) as you mentioned since 2013. The federal government has been discussing with them and recently, we sat down in N’Djamena in Chad. We discussed with them under the mediation of President Idriss Deby of Chad and we agreed on a number of things. One of the things agreed on is that there should be a ceasefire between the organisation known as the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Hidda’ Awati Wal-Jihad and the Federal Government of Nigeria.



So you can unequivocally tell us that a ceasefire has been agreed with the group that everybody knows as Boko Haram?
Yes.

Now put some flesh on the development for us. What are the elements of it?
When we sat down to discuss with the group, the background to it is that the organisation itself through its own network contacted the government of Chad that it would want to see a meaningful dialogue between the organisation and the federal government to see that we bring this insurgency to an end.

(Interjects): They contacted you?
They contacted the government of Chad through a letter. Chad took some time to verify their sources, to verify whether the initiative is from the actual group known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Hidda’ Awati Wal-Jihad, which is known by every other person as Boko Haram. They did their verification. Following this verification, they now contacted the Nigerian government to see if we could sit down to dialogue with this organisation so that we can end this insurgency.

Following that, we sat down and discussed with them and agreed that it is better to sit down and resolve this crisis.
But why now, because there have been several attempts in the past to negotiate with them?
You as a Nigerian know that Nigeria is a major country in Africa and globally. We have played a role in many countries; we have brought peace to many countries around the world -- Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’ Ivoire. We were part of the peace-keeping forces seven days after the independence in Congo. So if a country like Nigeria is under this kind of crisis and people are dying, no government will sit down and fold its arms and President Goodluck Jonathan has said it time and again that he will take every measure to make sure that this insurgency is brought to an end. He did not preclude anything, including dialogue, including mediation which you know very well that he set up a tracking committee about one-and-a-half years ago under the Minister of Special Duties. 


The committee went round, went to the prisons, discussed with members of the insurgency that are in our prisons; the Ulamas, that is the Islamic clerics that taught these people that are in this organisation; discussed with traditional rulers across the country; governors, anybody that matters, anybody that can assist the government bring this crisis to an end. The tracking committee went round and discussed with them. So, this is a continuation of the federal government’s effort to see that we bring this insurgency to an end. And if it is taking place in N’Djamena or any part of the world, it does not matter as long as we sit down and address this insurgency, and address these issues and bring this crisis to an end.
But of course the curiosity is that you have made attempts in the past and after purported negotiations such as this one, they have come out to robustly deny that they reached any agreement with you. I mean what did you have to give up to them?
If you get the background to this, they did the announcement first. They announced on Thursday at about 9.30pm that they had ceased fire. Now during the discussion, the agreement is that the federal government and the Chadian government said look, we cannot continue discussing and we cannot discuss all the issues that you (Boko Haram) put on the table unless there is a cessation of hostilities. This is item number one. Cease hostilities and then we will sit down and look at every issue.
So what were the items they were putting on the table?
I cannot pre-empt these items because the items will come. Now we have achieved the cessation of hostilities.
Did you have to do anything to get them to agree to the cessation of hostilities? Did you offer them anything?
We did not offer them anything but we gave them the confidence that whatever they bring to the table eventually the federal government is favourably disposed to look at the whole problem, so that it would be addressed.
As you know, the world had been watching and waiting for the release of those Chibok girls. What I need to understand is that apparently, what we have heard, and you can confirm this for us, is that part of the package in that agreement is that they are supposed to release the Chibok girls. Can you confirm that that is going to happen?
Now if you listen to their own spokesperson, Danladi Ahmahdu, who indicated that they have declared a ceasefire between them and the federal government, in the same broadcast that he gave to the VOA, he indicated that the Chibok girls would be released eventually. They promised to release the Chibok girls.
When you say eventually… what we are trying to determine is when they are going to be released. We understand they are going to be released on Monday. Can you confirm that?
No, I cannot confirm that they are going to be released on Monday because the understanding we reached is that this is a continuous dialogue. First of all, we have agreed that there will be a ceasefire. They have announced the ceasefire. During the discussion we had in Chad, they promised and said they will release the Chinese and the wife of the Camerounian deputy prime minister and a traditional ruler and they have done that. After that, they said we will meet next week. So I think we should wait and see the outcome of our meeting next week. It is not good to pre-empt anything.

Do we have any timetable for the release of the girls?
That will be determined when we meet next.

When are you meeting next?
Next week, hopefully. I am as hopeful as you are.
When next week?
I can’t tell you when, but hopefully we are going to meet next week

Now can you confirm based on your discussions with the representative of Boko Haram that the Chibok girls are alive and well?
We are sure that they are alive and well.
There are also dozens of other women and other Nigerian’s who are held by Boko Haram, what happens to them?
This is why I said we are having a global approach to solving the insurgency. These are all issues that will eventually be addressed when we sit down with them hopefully in the next one week or so.
As you can imagine, there is a lot of scepticism in Nigeria around this purported agreement, many people are saying it is simply too good to be true. What would you say to those people?
Well, there are many people who are sceptics and there are many people who, whatever the government does, they do not believe in it. Because they think the government has not done much or the government is not doing enough. But honestly, I have cautious optimism that this thing is going to succeed. What I will tell Nigerians is to give government a chance and support the government and allow the government and the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Hidda’ Awati Wal-Jihad to come to a conclusive and positive agreement. It is not good to be a sceptic, not to doubt anything and what gives me hope at this time is that I have a feeling that the people that they sent to discuss with us are serious minded people. They are people who are close the leadership of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Hidda’ Awati Wal-Jihad. I think they are the right hand men of Imam Shekau. So, from their body language and what we have discussed, I’m positive that we are going to succeed.

Because in the past, when you are discussing with somebody, he tells you I am going to declare a ceasefire on so and so time and at so and so hour and he does it. He tells you I am going to release the Chinese and other people in our custody and they do that. You have to give him an opportunity and continue discussing. I don’t think there is any need for pessimism and being sceptical about the whole issue. People should be positive. I for one, I am positive and I can tell you the government is positive. The government will do whatever it takes to bring this insurgency to an end, because it is taking a toll on our country.

People are dying on a daily basis. The economy of the North is being destroyed. I am from that area. Maybe some of the people that are sceptical are not from the area. If you are from the area, it will cause you pain. The president has said it time and again, if one Nigerian dies or a member of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Hidda’ Awati Wal-Jihad dies or a foreigner dies or a military man or police, it causes him great pain.

And you understand that for those of us in government, it gives us an extra burden of responsibility to make sure that whatever is possible is done to make sure that this insurgency comes to an end.
Now the opposition party says that this is timed to give President Jonathan considerable political advantage ahead of his possible declaration that he is going to run for the presidential election in 2015. Should President Jonathan share in the success of this agreement? Is any of it due to his contribution? I do not want to go into politics. I do not want to go into declaration or what the opposition has said. But what I can tell you is that nobody should politicise this insurgency. Maybe some of the people in politics either in the opposition do not understand the magnitude of the crisis we have faced with this insurgency. If they are from these areas, they will know how devastated these areas are. Borno State, Yobe State and parts of Adamawa State are devastated. And Nigeria as a key country in the continent, if you are under this assault, you should not politicise it. The government is not politicising it. Declaration or not, it is a timetable, 2015 elections have to take place on February 15.

Credit: ThisDay

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