The Presidential Committee on Security Challenges in the Northeast Zone issued its final report yesterday. As had been foreseen in its earlier, interim report, it urges dialogue and calls for amnesty for Boko Haram participants who surrender to the government as well as for compensation to the “human and organizational victims of the violence,” including victims of the security services. It also calls for enhanced “international intelligence sharing” and “interagency cooperation through diplomatic channels/pacts.” To me, this smacks of a request for counterterrorism assistance from the United States and other Western nations.
The report is clear-eyed about the “remote and immediate causes of the security challenges in the country”: Poverty, youth unemployment, paramilitary forces established by politicians, weak governance, and failure to deliver fundamental services. It also notes that the 2009 “extrajudicial” murder of Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic Islamic preacher, was an immediate cause of the current wave of violence.
The committee puts great emphasis on negotiation. But, to me, it is unclear with whom the government could negotiate. The followers of Mohammed Yusuf seem to be only a part of the widespread unrest in the northeast that has been labeled Boko Haram. Press reports on the committee’s recommendations claim that “Boko Haram” has designated the Sultan of Sokoto, amongst others, as a preferred interlocutor. Yet, in the aftermath of the April 2011 elections, a mob burned down the sultan’s private house because he had “sold out” to the southern Christian Jonathan government. The fundamental question remains: What is Boko Haram and what is its relationship to northern alienation and disaffection?