Buhari Should Not Negotiate With Boko Haram - by Bayo Olupohunda

“Terror must be stopped. No nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death” – George Bush, Rose Garden, April 4, 2002

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States of America that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and killed close to 4,000 people in New York, American pride and national security were dealt a hard blow by the Osama bin Laden inspired al Qaeda terrorist attack. Apart from the casualties suffered in the attacks, the American government and its people felt vulnerable that their national security had been severely breached by the terrorists in attacks that occurred simultaneously in three locations. The attack on the Pentagon particularly, the powerhouse of America’s security and intelligence network, shocked an entire nation.

In response to the terrorist attack, former President George Bush rallied his citizens’ patriotism and nationalism with an impassioned speech that evoked America’s greatness in times of crisis. In an address to the nation, the President said, “The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people have been moved to defend a great nation.”

Then he vowed: “The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources for our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.”

Since the 2001 attacks, America has never been the same again. The country strengthened its internal security structures with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. Bin Laden and top terror masterminds were hunted down and killed and Al Qaeda has been significantly weakened. However, that the 2013 Boston marathon bombing happened has been a constant reminder that the threat is not over yet.

In the years since September 11, America has been in a state of constant security alertness. The country more than ever before recognises the new threat posed by groups like the ISIS and has been cooperating with its allies to defeat the new wave of terrorism. In its terror war, it is noteworthy that America and its allies never for once contemplated negotiating with extremists. What they did was strengthen their security and intelligence response by infiltrating terrorists’ cells and networks.

This same response has been the approach and strategy deployed by countries who are facing insurgency fuelled by religious extremism globally. Negotiating or granting amnesty to terrorists has never worked for obvious reasons. Extremists, especially those driven by religion consider others as infidels who must be destroyed. They will not take amnesty from or sit on a negotiating table with anyone or group who their interpretation of religion labels as an unbeliever-which makes it imperative that they be destroyed or they destroy their enemies. We must learn from the atrocities of ISIS militants in Iraq who even kill fellow Muslims as Boko Haram have been doing in Nigeria. Have they not recently been aligned with our Boko Haram? Let’s take a contemporary historical lesson from Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge, a terrorist group organised by Pol Pot which orchestrated the genocide in the Cambodian jungle in the 1960s, was eventually destroyed.

In the light of the above and given the ongoing atrocities and impunity of our homegrown Boko Haram, I have always considered the insistence of every Nigerian government to contemplate granting amnesty or negotiate with the terror group as ridiculous, ill-advised, a disservice to the nation and affront to the souls the insurgents have brutally murdered and maimed in recent years.

When I read that the Buhari Presidency is thinking of negotiating with Boko Haram, my visceral reaction was: No, not again. How can they? The question is: Have they forgotten the botched attempts to make Boko Haram embrace peace? The truth is that Boko Haram will not make peace with this government. Why are those in government finding it difficult to realise this? The group has consistently said that it did not recognise the government in Abuja. Its aim is to establish a caliphate and Islamise the North in line with its ideology.

The group has professed a rejection democracy. It considers anyone outside of its worldview on Islam an infidel-even fellow Muslims. If there is any doubt that Boko Haram meant business, the recent killings and suicide bombings even in a government headed by a Muslim and a northerner should prove doubters wrong. Our recent history should be instructive to the present government. All attempts to negotiate with Boko Haram or grant it amnesty had been spurned by the organisation. In fact, it had often increased bombings every time negotiation was being arranged.

The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, even mocked the amnesty proposal. Shekau had said derisively, “Surprisingly, the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you (a) pardon.” This came after northern religious and political leaders had urged President Goodluck Jonathan to grant an amnesty to the insurgents.

The desperation to end the insurgency had also led the then government into entering what later became a phoney cease fire talk with impostors. The government was allegedly swindled and its aftermath hurt and embarrassed the Jonathan presidency. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the human rights activist now Senator, Shehu Sani, also had their fingers burnt in the attempt to make Boko Haram embrace peace.

My opinion on Nigeria’s terror war with Boko Haram is that the group must be destroyed before they destroy our country. They have recently aligned with ISIS. They have the international network and funding to achieve their aim. We also have to learn from history. Negotiating with terrorists does nothing but embolden terrorism. Many countries facing terrorism adopt it as a diplomatic and foreign policy strategy. President George Bush once gave this as a reply to a question: “You’ve got to be strong, not weak. The only way to deal with these people is to bring them to justice. You can’t talk to them. You can’t negotiate with them.” The late British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, also once said “democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorists and hijackers of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”

Considering that negotiation with Boko Haram will suggest a sign of weakness, it will present an image that the government is afraid to lose which means lack of adequate fighting resources and power levels or that even if they think they can win, they will suffer heavy losses as we have seen in recent times. Mr. President should know he is leading the most populous black nation on earth. Negotiating with Boko Haram is not an option. They must be routed. The hard way is the only way. Do not negotiate with Boko Haram.

- @bayoolupohunda