Dr. Fredrick Fasehun is the founder of the Oodua peoples Congress(OPC), in Nigeria. He is also known to many as a commentator and analyst on issues that are sacrosant to the security and polity of Nigeria. In this encounter with the Nigerian Compass, he opens up on his fears over the sudden olive branch extended by the Boko Haram sect to Federal Government. He advises caution, insisting that all the cards in the game of negotiation, should not be held by members of the sect alone.
What is the difference between OPC and Boko Haram?
No one should make the mistake of equating OPC with misguided insurgents. OPC emerged in 1994 as a vehicle for realising the South-West’s democratic interests; and its credentials remain unassailable and relevant in contemporary Nigerian politics. And this point needs to be emphasised.
What is your reaction to President Jonathan’s administration?
It became apparent that our beloved President has been captured by parochial and reactionary handlers, eager to devalue ethnic nationality groups. Let them and the President be reminded that the fruit of the democracy they enjoy today was watered by the blood of martyrs in OPC, MASSOB, MOSOP, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Egbesu, Afenifere, MBF and the like. And let the presidential handlers, also, not forget so soon that these same patriots went on the streets to demand and win Goodluck Jonathan’s enthronement as Acting President and as substantive President in 2011.
If President Goodluck Jonathan cannot overtly acknowledge, commend and reward our lofty sacrifices, he should refrain from adding insult to our injury.
What do think of Boko Haram’s olive branch move?
The Boko Haram Jihadist sect call for dialogue with the Federal Government is commendable. We also commend President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Security Adviser, Retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki, for this breakthrough.
The group named venue for talks as Saudi Arabia, with General Muhammadu Buhari, the Presidential Candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, as its standard bearer.
While many people see the latest move by the sect, known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Ladda’awatih wal-jihad, as a positive step towards the resolution of the perennial insecurity in the North, some view the move with suspicion. Many think that it is a sign that the sect has suffered sufficient collateral damage and is finally capitulating to the superior fire-power of government forces marshalled under the Joint Task Force, JTF. However, the truth is that the heat is on Boko Haram and the noose is closing on its leaders.
Since the group’s formation in 2001 by Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram operations have resulted in the killing of between 3,000 and 10,000 people in targeted assassinations, arbitrary shootings and calculated bombings.
Yet people like the CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, have insisted that the group represents the interest of the North, and had been motivated into violence in order to press for the reconfiguration of the country’s revenue allocation formula.
Despite such unconvincing attempts to adorn the group in royal robes, however, Boko Haram itself has insisted it will keep fighting until President Jonathan embraces Islam as his religion and the country’s secular Constitution is dropped in favour of Shania law nationwide.
None of these is going to happen, considering that Nigerians prefer the country to remain a secular Nation, with guarantees of Freedom of Religion and prohibition of a State religion.
You will recall that we of the OPC, have employed our regular interaction with the Press to urge Boko Haram to stop violence against civilians and instead embrace dialogue.
We have always maintained that every war ends at the table. For this reason, OPC welcomes Boko Haram’s resolve to submit to dialogue.
However, we cannot but note that the pre-conditions spelt out by Boko Haram for dialogue have the potential of becoming a stumbling block to the positive outcome of the proposed talks and to peace in the North. Conditions spelt out by the group include: Release of apprehended Boko Haram members undergoing detention and facing trial; Compensation for slain Boko Haram members; Rebuilding of demolished Boko Haram mosques in Maiduguri, Kano and Yobe States.
These are ill-advised conditions. Boko Haram itself must realise that government’s priority will be the reintegration of Boko Haram members into the larger society, not allow their continued existence as a separatist group within Nigeria. And this is valid.
Although the group can lay claim to Freedom of Association, that particular right has a caveat in the Constitution. What the Constitution guarantees in Section 40 is “Right to peaceful assembly and association.” Has Boko Haram associated peacefully?
If you recall, the Boko Haram problem blew into the open after the 2011 presidential elections. Some ethno-religious bigots who thought the presidency was their personal and regional birthright warned that heaven will fall should Dr. Goodluck Jonathan contest or win the contest.
Well, Nigerians voted overwhelmingly for the Bayelsa State-born gentleman and he won hands down. Jonathan’s endorsement by majority of Nigerians did not go down well with a small clique in the North who immediately went on the warpath.
What is your reaction to Boko Haram’s demand that general Buhari acts as the negotiator for peace between them and federal government?
Boko Haram choose the venue of the dialogue for Saudi Arabia. The question is: Why Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia as host for talks in a purely Nigerian affair is fraught with danger. Saudi Arabia is headquarters for the international terrorist organizations, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, with whom Boko Haram has links.
Also, like these two allies, Boko Haram has offices in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Mecca will not be the ideal place for the negotiation of the security of a secular State like Nigeria and OPC urges the government to change the venue.
Nigerians cannot forget the despicable role that Riyadh played in the smuggling of Nigeria into OIC.
Who can guarantee that Boko Haram will not seize on the atmosphere provided by Saudi Arabia (the world capital of Islam) to hold the Presidency to ransom, and thus precipitate fresh crisis? For this and other reasons, Saudi Arabia is not ideal for a reconciliatory discourse. If the sect wants an Islamic environment, it should choose alternative venues in Sokoto or Zamfara.
In Boko Haram’s choice of representation and mediation, it has named Retired General Muhammadu Buhari, and this is not acceptable. Or is Buhari a member of Boko Haram? Does Buhari himself have good standing with Nigerians and with the government?
Nigerians cannot forget that General Buhari led his party, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, to endorse the killings that took place in Bauchi and the attacks launched against perceived supporters of the candidacy of President Jonathan in the North, including members of the National Youth Service Corps, who were wantonly slaughtered.
Buhari and his party excused the killings on the premise that people who felt cheated in an election had a right to express their anger anyway they deemed fit.
Don’t forget their demand for compensation package for insurgents...
Boko Haram demanded compensation for lives and assets of members lost in the conflict.
Since the conflict started, Christians as well as Moslems have been killed by Boko Haram, just as Northerners and Southerners. The question is: How much compensation will Boko Haram pay for bombing and shooting people at such places as the Catholic Church, Hamdalla, Niger State and the Deeper Life Church in Okene, Kogi State, and for the murder of Goni Sheriff, the brother of the former Borno State Governor? Who pays compensation for the NYSC members killed in Bauchi, Yobe and Borno states and other parts of the North?
Who pays compensation to the families of the media men killed by Boko Haram? Will Boko Haram pay compensation for the Italian and British journalists who were kidnapped this year by the group and immediately executed when an international rescue operation was attempted?
Should government succumb to this demand for compensation by Boko Haram, it will lay a dangerous precedent and wrongly signal that the way to get a slice of the National Cake is through taking up arms against the country. It can encourage other groups to start agitating.
Boko Haram must drop any demands for compensation and the Federal Government must resist all attempts to monetize any aspect of Boko Haram’s grievances.
Or we Democrats will demand government compensation for Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, Chief Alfred Rewane and other pro-Democracy activists killed by agents of Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abubakar Abdulsalami during the struggle for June 12.
What is OPC’s suggestion for a way forward in the proposed peace dialogue?
OPC proposes that the following items form the roadmap for the dialogue. Boko Haram must immediately cease fire. Boko Haram should expunge General Muhammadu Buhari from its list of delegates, except he confirms his bonafide membership of the group.
Boko Haram has remained faceless; government must insist on not discussing with a faceless group, until the leaders are unveiled and known.
Much of Boko Haram’s hostility has been turned against Christians; therefore, Christians, through the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), must be represented at the talks.
Negotiations should be opened up to accommodate other ethnic interests in the conflict, including: Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Middle-Belt Forum, Egbesu, MEND and other nationality groups, whose indigenes have been wantonly slaughtered by Boko Haram.
Unbiased professional bodies like the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, can be appointed as mediators.
Any dialogue between government and Boko Haram should hold within Nigeria.
What is good for the goose must be good for the gander; so the Federal Government should consider amnesty for Henry Okah if it must offer such to Boko Haram terrorists.
Government must guarantee the safety of Boko Haram’s representatives, instead of viewing it as an opportunity for security agents to tail, hound and arrest sect leaders.
What’s your final word to Nigerians?
The National Assembly’s ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution amounts to a brazen display of impunity. By any stretch of their mandate, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are LAWMAKERS and not CONSTITUTION-MAKERS.
The Constitution only gives them the power to make laws; but the power to make a Constitution, anywhere in the world, is reposed in the people. Hence, we shall continue to demand for the convening of the Sovereign National Conference, SNC. This current Constitution is a handout from the Military; therefore no amount of tinkering and panel-beating can reform it into a people’s document. Can the National Assembly, for example, unselfishly legislate any of its arms out of existence, in view of Nigerians complaining that the presidential system is too expensive and should be jettisoned for the uni-cameral Parliamentary system?
Can the National Assembly altruistically peg its own salaries that Nigerians complain are over-bloated? Instead of its current open-ended number of tenures members enjoy, can the NA selflessly peg the number of times a Legislator can seek re-election?
Only the people can determine such questions. And they will do so only in the atmosphere of a Sovereign National Conference.