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It was the least of news that Nigerians and the world would have imagined in the current confusion occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgency. Of course, there have been attacks on government’s classified facilities, private organisations and even Christians and Muslims alike. But that Boko Haram, a supposed Islamic sect, would not just attempt to kidnap three revered emirs but actually lost one of them in the process was the height of the sect’s excesses.
Although two of the emirs later escaped unhurt, according to reports, the third, Muhammadu Idrisa Timta, the Emir of Gwoza, died in the hands of the kidnappers. Boko Haram, reports had it, had seized the emirs as they made a trip to Gombe, the capital of Gombe State, to attend the funeral of the Emir of Gombe, Shehu Abubakar, who died last Tuesday in London.
Boko Haram however ambushed the emirs’ convoy but failed to kidnap the traditional rulers. The two that later escaped were identified as the Emir of Askira, Abdullahi Askirama and the Emir of Uba, Ismaila Mamza.
Unfortunately, this is coming at a time the campaign for the release of over 200 girls kidnapped in their school in Chibok had not abated as government is yet to secure the release of the girls. Besides, it was also stunning that men of the sect took up such an assignment when President Goodluck Jonathan had just considered amnesty for them.
Suffice it to say that the sect has always said it was not in need of amnesty but that they were in position to grant government amnesty, having wronged them on several grounds. Yet, the idea of amnesty is being pushed by those who are still emotional about the plight of the mindless sect, while not playing any significant role either in the release of the girls or prevail on the sect to ceasefire.
It is against this backdrop that those who have always opposed the idea of amnesty or dialogue take the position that government should get tougher by first identifying the sponsors of the sect – a way believed could lead to the arrest of key members of the cell.
Recall that President Jonathan had said at the start of Boko Haram’s madness that the sect had infiltrated government and were everywhere. This therefore means there is a clue as to who the members of the sect are but government probably took it for granted and allowed the menace to fester the more. But with the turn of events, a major step in arresting the tide, observers reckon is to identify the sect members through their sponsors and consolidate on the outcome.
Enter Salkida the ‘Negotiator’
Ahmed Salkida is a Nigerian journalist, who more than any other journalist, has substantial knowledge of the workings of the Boko Haram sect. He has covered their activities before its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed by the Nigerian police. Recently, he was in Nigeria from Dubai, where he’s been on self-exile, to broker a peace deal between the federal government and Boko Haram as well as facilitate the release of the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by the insurgents.
Known as the negotiator and go-between person if the federal government truly needs authentic information on Boko Haram and how to end the terror war, Salkida was born a Christian, from Biu local government area of Borno State. He would later convert to Islam and according to him, “on my own volition.”
In a 2013 interview Salkida had with Abang Mercy, he described how when growing up, he would be out playing in the gardens while his mates were in school. “To me then, the school system was an infringement on my understanding of personal liberty.” Again, while his mates went to the university, he briefly was a “Marxist, a free thinker,” until he settled for Islam in 1997.
An avid reader of books, he knew he could be a good writer, researcher and investigative journalist but “that was tantamount to wishing for the impossibility since everyone had to go to school to achieve that.” Through encouragements from his mentor, late Dr. Jibrin Bala Mohammed, an associate professor in journalism, he penned two manuscripts.
In search of a publisher for his books, he moved to Abuja in 2000, where, while trying to make his dream of being a writer a reality, worked as a night guard. He was later introduced to the pioneer managing editor of Insider Weekly Magazine, Obiora Chukwumba by one Uche Ezechukwu.
“Obiora, the pioneer managing editor of Insider Weekly Magazine gave me my first job in February 2001 as a reporter, after a few reporting assignments I did for Uche.” Subsequently, he reported for several newspapers in Abuja and Maiduguri.
Salkida’s report on terrorism and the activities of the sect started gaining momentum while working for Ezechukwu’s New Sentinel. According to him, “in 2006 I pleaded with Emmanual Yawe, the managing editor to see the news value of my first interview with late Mohammed Yusuf. I was eager to tell the world the influence he was having on thousands of youths in the area.”
He said two parents from his area had earlier approached him to talk to their children who were obsessed with the teachings of Yusuf, which he said, “made many youths to abandon school or resign from civil service etc.” It was at this juncture that he began writing on Boko Haram and, “painstakingly built and developed a network of invaluable sources within the group.”
His access to the sect leadership, both through the person of the late Yusuf and now Shekau, has been a two edged sword for him as first a citizen of Nigeria and second, as a journalist. Salkida has been caught in between assisting the security agencies to fish out Boko Haram leader by divulging information about the sect and on the other hand, protecting his sources as a journalist.
The decision to stick to the tenets of journalism has not endeared him to security agencies in Borno State and the local authorities. Once, he was called a sympathiser, a Boko Haram member and his life threatened. At the later end of 2007, as a reporter with the Daily Times, he was close to Yusuf.
“I was the only journalist he knew very well. Whenever I was free from work, I attended his preaching sessions,” in search for knowledge. “Of course, many Muslims do that especially if you are the type that always seeks knowledge,” Salkida told Abang in the interview.
Tuesday, July 29, 2009, he got a call from Yusuf to meet him for an interview. On his way home to his wife after first informing the police, realising that he wasn’t with enough money, he saw a childhood friend and schoolmate, Umar Kadafur, who was then chairman of Biu, his local government area, going into the Government House.
“I followed him and when I was standing with my friend and playfully struggling with him to give me some money, one Yusuf in the office of the director of press dragged me into the office of the Chief Security Officer to the Governor, insisting that the governor’s aide wanted to see my face for the first time.”
One thing led to another. There was an accusation by the CSO that Salkida was a member of Boko Haram to which he vehemently denied.
“Sadly for me, the CSO did not like my guts and my style of reporting. In the presence of one Hayatudeen Mohammed, a permanent secretary in the state, he ordered my arrest, calling my crime ‘counter intelligence.’”
Salkida said he was assaulted by the mobile Police Constable Sani Abubakar, at the Government House. In front of nearly 20 journalists present at the scene, he was made to lie face down.
“I urinated in my pants when two mobile police men contemplated who was going to pull the trigger,” but the CSO ordered the police not to shoot him at the Government House, saying “Oga does not want to see a corpse here.”
He was later driven to the Police Headquarters in the state and kept in a cell with 58 others that comprised of members of Boko Haram and innocent bystanders.
“After spending 30 hours in the cell and about 48 hours without food or water, I was then allowed to wash up the urine that had dried up on my pants and relieved myself of my running stomach.” After series of pleading, “I was then ordered to leave my state immediately for my own safety by the Borno State Government.” That was why he had to embark on self-styled exile, albeit for his safety.
And now, following the kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls and an attempt to secure their release, Salkida has been invited home from Dubai by the federal government to help facilitate the aborted negotiations between the government and Boko Haram, on the condition that upon entry into Nigeria and exit, he won’t be arrested or nothing happened to him.
His demands were upheld and he was said to have made contacts with Boko Haram, confirmed that the girls “were fine and well fed”. Salkida returned with a condition for release of the schoolgirls from the sect but, according to reports, the deal was aborted at the last minute by President Jonathan. But at least, he pulled through on his assignment, thus confirming his much established clout within the group.
Obasanjo the ‘Mediator’
Apparently concerned about the welfare of the abducted girls, former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently met with some people alleged to have close family ties with top-ranking Boko Haram members. The meeting was an attempt at brokering the release of the over 200 kidnapped schoolgirls. This is not the first time Obasanjo would assume the role of a mediator in Nigeria’s war on terror.
In 2011, after the Boko Haram sect bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, the former president held a closed door session with the family of the founder of Boko Haram, late Mohammed Yusuf, in Maiduguri.
Following series of outrages that trailed the visit, which was his “personal initiative”, Obasanjo, through an aide said, “Drastic issues beget drastic steps. People should stop insinuating unnecessarily. Obasanjo is one out of a thousand leaders that are worried over the spate of bombings and killings in Nigeria.”
During the 2011 meeting, Obasanjo was alleged to have met Yusuf’s family at Railway Quarters, said to be the demolished headquarters of Boko Haram. Unfortunately, Babakura Fugu, the representative of Yusuf’s family who received Obasanjo was killed immediately, in an operation led by his younger brother. Sources said members of the sect felt he (Fugu) shouldn’t have been the one to receive Obasanjo.
But this year’s meeting took place at Obasanjo’s farm, Otta in Ogun State and had in attendance, relatives of some senior Boko Haram fighters as well as intermediaries. Reports said the meeting was focused on how to free the girls through negotiation. While 2011 visit was his initiative, this year’s visit he said, was done in conjunction with the federal government.
“I cannot have a plan without the presidency being involved… I have to involve the President and he also tells me this is what we are doing or this is what we are pursuing either in addition or along with what we are doing or not.”
The 2011 talks where Obasanjo called for government compensation for the late Yusuf’s family did not help stem the violence as Boko Haram reacted violently with the killing of Fugu.
Confirming his recent meeting to THISDAY, Obasanjo said the talks were exploratory. “As an African father, a Nigerian father or grandfather, any of the girls could have been my daughter or grand-daughter… So I am only trying to reach out to see what can be done to secure their release.”
The meeting was led by Civil Rights activist, Mallam Shehu Sani, who in a later press statement to a national daily, said “The meeting was solely aimed at exploring the possibility of opening a new channel for dialogue or negotiation with the sect members towards securing the release of the abducted Chibok girls held in captivity for over a month.”
Sani, confirming the report of the intervention of Salkida in negotiating the release of the Chibok schoolgirls as credible, said he was the one who introduced Salkida to the federal government.
“I personally introduced Salkida to the government. He has tried his best in the past and of recent to help in resolving the insurgency through dialogue but was on all occasions frustrated by the government.
“Mr. Salkida’s attempt could have actually seen to the release of the abducted girls,” said Sani, adding that “the meeting in Otta was aimed at repackaging and salvaging the dialogue option. It was generally agreed that the initiative cannot take off without the consent of the federal government. It’s significant for Nigerians to note that negotiation is the only safer option to get the girls back home.”
It remains unclear if Obasanjo’s meeting had the approval of the federal government who continues to claim as having knowledge of where the girls are being held captive by Boko Haram. However, a source at the meeting claimed Obasanjo was in support of the government exchanging Boko Haram members in prison for the abducted schoolgirls.
What Still Are the Options?
Typically, the options have always revolved round force or dialogue or the two. But lately, the need to unmask Boko Haram through their sponsors has increased the list of the options.
A pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, while describing the bombing of the Jos Terminus Market, where nearly 200 lives were reportedly lost as a “ferocious war against our humanity,” urged government to unmask the sponsors of the dastardly acts.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere said the explosions coming same day that the Nigerian Senate extended the emergency rule in three North-eastern states where insurgency has thrived in the last three years is an indication that the prosecutors of this war are far more determined than the nation is ready to admit.
“The scope, spread, preciseness and timing of these ruthless and devastating attacks clearly suggest this is a carefully planned and orchestrated war by sophisticated forces using the Boko Haram as a franchise. It is clear this is a war for the soul of Nigeria and the coordinators do not care how many lives it takes for them to achieve their devilish objective,” Odumakin stated.
Afenifere insisted it was important for President Jonathan’s government to go beyond condemnation of the attacks to unmask the sponsors of the dastardly acts.
“We cannot continue to bury the dead, sympathising with the wounded and waiting for where the next bomb will explode. We restate again that we do not want to accept that there are no security inklings as to those enabling this murderous outfit. Why is it so difficult to unmask them and wait for heavens to fall? How long shall we wait for them to harvest innocent souls in this atrocious war? We know how long it took America to get Osama Bin Ladin but it can’t be that difficult to move against the sponsors of terror so as to cut off their supplies.
“In a country where residents of the best cities find Internet access very difficult, Shekau who is supposed to be in some forests loads 50-minutes-video on YouTube at the drop of the hat. Are we being told there is no IP address for all his internet operations?” Afenifere queried.
The group therefore tasked Nigerians to have a proper focus for the outrage against terror war, stressing that all action, especially protests over the abducted Chibok secondary school girls, must be geared towards ending the terror bedeviling the country.
The National Chairman of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr Fredrick Fasheun, said the current incidences of insurgency began in the heat of the 2011 elections.
“Boko Haram exploded in the wake of politicians who swore to make the country ungovernable should the 2011 presidential election not favour them. And since then, they have unleashed their dogs of war against innocent Nigerians, beginning with the killing of NYSC members who served as electoral officers in that election. The killing has mushroomed into a war of attrition, arson, shootings and bombings by Boko Haram.”
Fasheun urged the security agencies to invite immediately all those politicians, who threatened to make the country ungovernable should the 2011 elections not go their way to come and explain what they meant vis-a-vis the current insecurity and Boko Haram activities, even as he decried the unwarranted politicisation of the current insecurity in the country.
“Politicians and political parties have taken to seizing every opportunity of Boko Haram’s bombings and killings to make self-serving political statements. Such statements are insensitive, callous and inhuman; and they cast insults upon the victims of the sect’s nefarious, evil and satanic violence”
According to him, rather than make post-fact statements that demoralise the people, malign and belittle the government and the Nigerian security agencies, politicians and political parties must join hands to condemn Boko Haram’s violent campaign.
“Terrorism is not just a federal government or PDP or presidency problem. It is Nigeria’s problem. And no amount of smear campaign can stop the killings. The end of Boko Haram will come when Nigerians collectively defy the group and politicians voluntarily withdraw their support for these dogs of terrorism.”
While appreciating the offers by US and other countries to help rescue the abducted Chibok girls as well as end terrorism, Fasheun urged the federal government to tread cautiously in considering this proposition.
“Nigeria must be circumspect in accepting any offer from the US. This is because a few years back US made a bid to have a Military presence in Africa, to be called AFRICOM ‘the African Command.’ However, Nigeria led Africa’s resistance to that project. Not only would AFRICOM contradict Nigeria’s status as a non-aligned nation, it portended the danger of turning the region into a battleground for the superpowers,” he explained.
A Chieftain of PDP and the party’s governorship aspirant in the 2012 election in Edo State, Mr. Kenneth Imansuangbon, in his reaction said there was no doubt that Nigeria is in a state of war and no matter how much the country tries pretending everything is fine, the chicken has come home to roost because the kidnap of the Chibok girls had finally forced government to do something about the deadly virus called Boko Haram.
“For too long we allowed this problem to brew and get to the stage we’ve gotten to where it seems obvious the unity of Nigeria is at stake. Its either we stop Boko Haram or they stop Nigeria,” he said, identifying the way the sect was routed in 2009, when government ordered a security clampdown on the sect members and their leader, Yusuf.
“He was caught by security forces and murdered without recourse to a trial, hundreds of his sect followers were killed either in an extra-judicial manner. Their places of worship and homes were destroyed.
“Therefore with the untimely death of Yar’Adua and subsequent election of President Goodluck Jonathan, it was time for the Hausa/Fulani cabal to resurrect Boko Haram for their political gains and make good their promise of making Nigeria ungovernable for Jonathan. The sect then found willing sponsors in them and as they grew bolder in their attacks, they aligned themselves with Al-Qaeda to wreck havoc on Nigeria.”
For reconciliation, Imansuangbon suggested government should reach out to the moderates among the sect members to either attract or isolate the extremists. He suggested the government should reach out to other Muslim clerics who can engage the Islamists intellectually to deconstruct their radical views about Islam.
But Comrade Joseph Evah, Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group said “We advised the President to come up with the state of emergency, when we realised that those with the Boko Haram agenda are heartless. And we found out that the political class was also behind Boko Haram. After the bombing of the Catholic Church in Abuja, our group decided that the President should declare a full state of emergency.
“In a full scale state of emergency you are expected to remove the governor and appoint a sole administrator. Nigerians would understand and support the president. You remove political structures. Nigerians would understand. A situation where you need to secure lives and property, Nigerians would understand and support you”
He said if governors were removed, they would then sincerely pursue the agenda of the federal government as the state of emergency as presently constituted in the three states is no longer effective.
“The governors, the political class of these states used Boko Haram to pursue their political agenda and it is now a monster bigger than them to manage. The only solution would have been to remove them from office, appoint sole administrators to manage the problem.”
A Lokoja, Kogi State-based human right activist and coordinator, Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHRC), feels that government is not translating the information at its disposal into good use to end terror for political reasons.
“This government seems not to know what do about the Boko Haram. They can’t say they don’t know those behind it but the government is playing politics with it until they get second term. It looks more like government is not serious. They are confused and playing politics. That is why they are blaming everybody. If you look at the information management system, you don’t even know who to believe among the trio of Labaran Maku, Rueben Abati and Mike Omeri.
“The government is not a serious government and we cannot continue to blame everybody when government is failing in its national and constitutional responsibilities.”
Deputy Publicity Secretary of PDP, Kwara State, Mr. Femi Yusuf, thinks differently. He believes that some persons harassing the federal government over the activities of the Boko Haram, are better placed to have information to help the federal government effectively address the insurgents.
“If they believe that the government does not know those behind it, some of the oppositions, particularly the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima – if he knows, let him mention them and back it up with facts. How do they expect the federal government to know if they don’t know? My take is that all hands must be on the deck. What we want is peace. The governors of the affected states must collaborate with government with useful information.”
The United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS) which recently declared total support for Jonathan’s war declaration on terrorism in Nigeria urged the Boko Haram sect and its sponsors to avail themselves of the opportunity for a dialogue offered by the federal government and end the wanton killings in the country.
Secretary-General of the group, Mr. Tony Uranta, in a statement at the weekend, stated that Nigeria’s continued existence, union and progress should be the paramount interest of all Nigerians.
“We cannot achieve this without bringing in our support for the war on terrorism. UNDEDSS is hopeful that all Nigerians will, in the challenging months ahead, be more patriotic in deeds, more circumspective in language, and less involved in cheap blame-games, even as we all work together to build a futuristically-focused, better united, faster developing and just Nigeria premised on equity, rule of law and peace,” he said.
Uranta, a member of the Presidential Committee on National Dialogue, lauded the efforts of Nigeria’s security forces he said were sacrificing so much to keep millions of Nigerians safe; but advised the government and security bigwigs to do less of talking and let their positive actions speak for them.
“UNDEDSS reiterates the region’s empathy for and solidarity with, the abducted teenage girls’ families and appreciates the world for recognising that Boko Haram is a part of the ongoing madness of international terrorism,” he added.