Nigeria's Boko Haram: Will dialogue end the insurgency?

Men look at the wreckage of a car following a bomb blast carried out by Boko Haram at St Theresa Catholic Church outside the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on 25 December 2011 Some believe opening the door to talks is the only way to stop the attacks

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has challenged the Islamist militant group Boko Haram to come forward and state their demands as a basis for dialogue.

His remarks came nearly a week after the group attacked police stations in the northern city of Kano, killing 185 people.

Nigeria's Civil Rights Congress Shehu Sani, a proponent of negotiations with Boko Haram, gives the BBC his reaction to the president's appeal for dialogue and its chances of success.

Shehu Sani:

It's better late than never, but the question the president needs to answer is - why has the government waited for so long?

Start Quote

Shehu Sani,

Turkey or Qatar or Saudi Arabia should offer to mediate between the government and Boko Haram”

End Quote Shehu Sani

Thousands of people have lost their lives over a path that was taken by the group and then a strategy that was taken by the government that has not been able to produce a result.

In the case of the Niger Delta militancy [where armed groups in the south were fighting for a greater share of the region's oil wealth], dialogue was used and the problem was addressed.

Boko Haram is said to have no clear agenda - that is not true.

Before 2009 Boko Haram was not a violent organisation - it was a sect just like all other sects in northern Nigeria, dreaming of a country that is under Sharia law and also under the rule of Islam.

Its philosophy, ideas and views are rooted in the beliefs of Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah from Turkey who died in 1328. His views and ideas are about an Islamic society, about the Sunni viewpoint, the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence - to know more about Boko Haram you need to read about Taymiyah.

There's nothing wrong if you campaign or preach peacefully as long as you don't cross the line and take up arms.

Boko Haram: Timeline of terror

  • 2002: Founded
  • 2009: Hundreds killed when Maiduguri police stations stormed; leader Mohammed Yusuf captured and killed
  • Dec 2010: Bombed Jos, killing 80 people; blamed for New Year's Eve attack on Abuja barracks
  • Jun-Aug 2011: Bomb attacks on Abuja police HQ and UN building
  • Dec 2011: Multiple bomb attacks on Christmas Day kill dozens
  • Jan 2012: Wave of violence across north-east Nigeria

Whatever agenda you have, whatever is your philosophy or ideas you have no right to pick up arms to kill innocent people and also bomb targets.

But Boko Haram picked up arms when violence was used against them in 2009 and their leaders were killed in cold blood by security agencies.

It was seen by the members as a turning point and they picked up arms at that very time that government of [former President] Umar Musa Yar'Adua made a terrible mistake, thinking that the group could be crushed with the use of violence.

When [President] Goodluck Jonathan took up power it wasn't his problem - all he had to do was to simply say: "Here am I, a new person, and I have a different agenda and I am calling you to come and sit down and let's discuss this issue."

But he went along with the wrong approach of the use of force against the group.

When you start a local group with local grudges and then you attract the attention of "investors" from outside [Somalia's al-Shabab and al-Qaeda] - it is very clear that the group is pursuing its own agenda in conformity with the agenda of its own allies that are perhaps outside the country.

[So] a domestic organisation with an agenda of avenging the killings of its own members now became a national problem.

Sign of weakness?

From the group's own viewpoint - they [also] have a short-term agenda: They want all their members who are in detention to be set free.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says that Boko Haram "operates without a face"

Before what happened in Kano, the leader of the group issued two threats to the federal government: If you don't release our men who are in detention we are certainly going to act.

A responsible government would either protect the people or it should concede to the demands of those who are issuing the threats - but the Nigerian government didn't do any of the two and this is what has come out of it, so the violence wasn't unexpected.

No country is immune to such kind of violence by a group that is determined to carry it out and sitting down and talking with groups that have taken up arms is not a sign of weakness - it has happened in Britain, where the government has sat down with the IRA and today the problem is solved, in Nigeria the government sat down with the militants of the Niger Delta and the problem is solved.

Boko Haram members are also Nigerians and sitting down to talk with them is not an admission that the government has failed or the Boko Haram has succeeded.

[But] if President Jonathan or his government thinks that because an offer is made, the next day the Boko Haram members will get into a bus and come to Abuja and say: "Here we are, we'll sit down in a hotel and talk" - I think they're in for a long wait.

After many years of mistrust and suspicion and violence, there must be an intercessor that will guarantee both sides that what ever is agreed is going to be executed.

Start Quote

Once they agree to a ceasefire you will find it very difficult to see it being broken because they have a leadership structure”

End Quote Shehu Sani
Who should mediate?

As a group Boko Haram has a spiritual leader, Sheikh Imam Abubakar Shekau, a parliament they call the Shura, they also have cells spread across Nigeria and Niger and other places.

Members of the group do not take action without being given directions to do that.

The command is usually given by their council and their spiritual head and for such an organisation that is structured that way, I believe that it is possible to also to sit down with them - and once they agree to a ceasefire you will find it very difficult to see it being broken because they have a leadership structure.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau says most of the Kano deaths were caused by the security forces

What I know is possible is that there should be an intercession by a third country perhaps like Turkey or Qatar or Saudi Arabia should offer to mediate between the government and Boko Haram.

If that option is not taken then the next option is that certain individuals in the north who have the respect of the Boko Haram should be brought in.

The late leader of Boko Haram was a member of the Spring Council of Sharia in Nigeria - now since all this violence has started no-one from the side of the federal government has approached that body and asked them, could you mediate between us and the Boko Haram group?

All their interests has been is that they want the Sultan [of Sokoto, Nigeria's main Muslim cleric] to intervene - and the Boko Haram have no respect for the sultan.

Shehu Sani was speaking to the BBC's Network Africa programme.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @14514427 --- God is Truth Absolute and God is Love. Any act that goes contrary to love is against God . Killing people created in the image of God is not an act of love and therefore is against God. Those who refuse to condemn such acts are against God. There is no truth in them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.


    Well the example of the IRA and the Niger Delta militants should not be in anyway compared to these group of ignorants, who apparently claim to be fighting for a cause which is no cause. Not all uprisings are worthy, infact many are borne out of hatred, ignorance, obsession, greed and many other vices. An uprising that is against acts of injustice is more credible not Boko Haram

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    What a shame to have Jonathan as president. Questionable intelligence with lack of charisma. Boko Haram unfortuantely have been allowed to have more than enough minutes of popularity with their infamous killings and bombings for no reason at all. It is time for swift military response against these despicable acts. I am not surprsied at Shehu's view of negotiators; he is from the north and muslim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Peaceful settlement of any conflict desire the presence of both parties-those who have the ability to share in their conscience. The Nigeria scenario will never require a new approach, but dialogue amongst the leaders and b/w parties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    '... it has happened in Britain, where the government has sat down with the IRA and today the problem is solved, in Nigeria the government sat down with the militants of the Niger Delta and the problem is solved.' Sorry, but didn't I hear/read on BBC that people are still bombing and killing in Northern Ireland. As for the Delta, well we shall wait and see eh???

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Afrodyke --------How about some education, knowledge in truth before criticizing. Their is no other truth but one truth absolute, rest of it is soul, desire. nothing functions without being in truth absolute, can anyy one drive a car without its operation aligned with fundamentals of design. Any one, not just Bako haram is commendable, trying to eliminate illegality among humanity

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    U14514427-----You seem to be the spokesman for the Boko Haram because you unwittingly justify criminal acts. Your definition of Truth absolute augurs well your intellectual clairvoyance, which in all appearance, is less to be desired. Reading your different comments both removed and still existing, one would have the impression of a confused mind teleguided by crime hawkers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    tomrak ------------Their is no worst terrorism than denial of truth absolute, and so called minorities daubed as of religions are nothing but dens of illegality, hiding their crime against truth absolute under the cover of beliefs. Arguments in favor of beliefs in illegality are nothing less than seeking justification of criminal Mafia as a religion. Containing illegality is noble not a crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Jonathan is an embarrassment to any intellectual.
    Dialogue my foot. Boko Haram must be purged from Nigeria, period.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    To apply sharia to area, where also nonmuslim are living is equal to terrorism. Abusing of nonmuslim in countries undersharia is norm... Saudi arabia, turkey are the last one to be invited ... they are already terorizing nonmuslims. Why to negotiate with somebody who is responsible for killing of others based on their religion

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    "Turkey or Qatar or Saudi Arabia should offer to mediate between the government and Boko Haram", Is Shehu Sani serious? Why did he not suggest Israel, France or Uganda to mediate? Nigeria doesn’t have issues settling with Boko Haram if Boko Haram and Shehu Sani are unwilling to lay down arms provided innocent civilians and Southerners are not affected.

  • Comment number 52.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Your comment about 'Self centered France called Biafra' in comparison with the Boko Haram clique, is an evidence of total ignorance. Those who fought the war of Biafra would read you with total disdain especially considering your name - Chibuzo (without 'r')! At the time, there were many Judas in their mist. What a pity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    chibuzor ezeuchegbu , a tricking way to justify criminality committed with the help of secular, self centered France called Biafra, minority has to live by rules of majority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    why cant Mr Sani and his boko haram simply ask for northern seccession within their own areas and practice their sharia the way they like? I bet, they will get it easily. are they afraid to stand on their own? they want an islamic country, yet their eyes are on the oil wells of the christian south. Can they possibly steamroll the over 80million christians of the 160 million population to islam?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Add your comment...I strongly agree with Shehu Sani over calling the boko haram to table and understand what exactly is their problem. They are Nigerians and they suppose to be call upon. Shehu Sani is really talking out of experience,I agree with him hundred percent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Bako haram did not start this fight but criminals in government helped by enemies of truth absolute attacked first, Bako haram doing nothing wrong but in use of god given right of self defiance. One needs not to play, if they are not willing to pay, Bako haram reaction is nothing else but, a reaction in kind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Do you agree that Boko Haram should be given an independent Sharia country? I think the answer is YES for the majority of the northern Muslim which I support. This will settle the current stain relationship with the southern non Muslim and give Islam a good name..

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I wonder what boko haram will be asking for at the dialogue table. They have made it clear they want an islamic state. let them have it! they dont need to kill anybody to get it. let their political leaders in the north present it officially. this has been desire of all southerners who feel the north is parasitic on the national resourses. they can always get their islamic state in their own areas

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Nonsense. Boko Haram arose attacking local police stations in Borno and Bauchi States a few years prior to 2009. Their efforts were so ineffective that they were deemed mere hooligans. Huge mistake. After being suppressed entirely in 2009, they regrouped with foreign support and are now more violent than ever, openly calling themselves “jihadists.” Kill their leaders; spare the followers.


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