A couple of weeks ago, a man who claimed to be a commander of the group Jama’atul Ahlis Sunnah Lid-da’awatiwal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, made a ceasefire declaration on behalf of the dreaded sect in return for the release of their members. This is not the first time such announcements have purportedly come from the group. The same man, Sheikh Muhammad Abdulazeez announced similar intention twice last year. But none of these ever was.
The only difference now is that those in positions of authority at both the federal and state levels, including the military appear to have taken the offer more seriously. While I seriously doubt the genuineness of both the offer and the credibility of the commander, I would be more than happy to be proved wrong in the end.
My first reason for opting to be one of the few odd ones is that I am aware that there are several factions of the sect, many of which actually have no link to them and are only taking advantage of the chaos the insurgence causes to carry out crimes in the name of the sect.
Second, if history is anything to go by and a group as sophisticated as the Boko Haram learns any lesson from it, which I strongly believe they do, they would not want to make the same mistake twice. Since they renewed the insurgence some years ago, the usual mode of operation for the group whenever they are sending messages to the media was to communicate without physically contact. They rely on technology, which they have acquired an unquestionable expertise of.
All they have done since then was to make a video recording of their messages, usually presented by their leader Sheikh Abubakar Shekau, and upload it onto YouTube. The risk has always been very minimal but the effect clearly colossal.
So, I would hesitate to trust any change in style of operation unless there is a sound reason for that. Besides, when one of their commanders Abu Darda (initially claimed to be Abu Qaqa) was apprehended and the security forces made a fanfare of it, the group reacted that it was an act of betrayal on the part of the government because they were lured into a dialogue at which Abu Dardar was representing them, which turned out to be a ploy.
But on this occasion Sheikh Abdulazeez appeared in person to brief the media. It was a complete departure, which plainly tells me that something did not really (and still does not) fit in. Again, he spoke on behalf of Shekau, which further creates suspicions. Shekau would rather speak for himself.
Another reason that makes this declaration suspect is the fact that it came at a time of further gruesome acts like the recent Magumeri beheading of eight persons. But on this matter, the commander was quick to cleverly explain it as the act of dubious factions that commit atrocities in their name. I don’t doubt him here but it still does not fill in the other gaps.
As much as I look forward to the end of this crisis and many others, especially so that the ordinary people who bear all the brunt would have some reprieve, I am certain that it would not end through any simpleminded declarations. It would require a more serious groundwork, which might have been going on as Sheikh Abdulazeez claimed, and genuine understanding and trust between the governments and the sect and between the security forces and the sect.
The matter is too complicated for some simple political statements. It would, therefore, require a comprehensive framework that would take into account the root causes and proffer real solutions; consider the plights of the victims and adequately make provisions for them, especially those who have lost family members and/or properties (as well as businesses) in attacks directly or indirectly linked to the crisis; and make a full recommendation of what to do with those implicated.
As dialogue would pave the way for reconciliation and a major test here is whether those indicted or imprisoned, some of whom the sect is insisting they be released, would be told to go home and sin no more. If that happens, the reactions of their victims’ loved ones should also be considered. A foundation for healing and genuine reconciliation needs to be planned well in advance. There is no alternative to peace and real peace only comes with authentic sacrifices on both sides.
Aliyu Musa, PhD