John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Talks between the Nigerian Government and Boko Haram?

by John Campbell
June 7, 2012

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan gestures during an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Villa in Abuja January 26, 2012. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters) Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan gestures during an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Villa in Abuja January 26, 2012. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)

On June 5, Sheikh Da-hiru Usman Bauchi, a Northern Islamic scholar and religious leader, told the press that he is facilitating talks between the federal government,the Bauchi State Government, and Boko Haram. According to the sheikh, the federal and Bauchi state governments have set up a committee linked to the presidency through Dr. Hassan Tukur, President Jonathan’s principal private secretary. The sheikh said that the proposed deal is that in the short term, the federal government would stop arresting members of Boko Haram while the latter would agree to a ceasefire of forty to ninety days duration. The sheikh said that Boko Haram had requested that these terms be included in a public letter. The federal government agreed, and the publicizing of the letter was the purpose of the sheikh’s June 5 meeting with the press. The sheikh is now awaiting a Boko Haram response. (So far as I can tell, the government’s letter has not been published.)

There have been reports of other failed efforts by third parties to establish a dialogue. However, the sheikh’s report of his interaction with Boko Haram has special credibility because he describes a debate conducted in Islamic theological terms. He says he argued to Boko Haram that “the ongoing killing of people is not in the interest of Islam because presently, under a peaceful atmosphere, in my schools, over six hundred people are able to memorize the Holy Quran. If there is no peace, how can we get hundreds of Quranic memorizers?” He said that when the Boko Haram representatives allegedly cited a Quranic verse against negotiation with the government, the sheikh countered with another verse and prevailed.

Boko Haram is highly decentralized. One element includes the followers of Mohammed Yusuf, the charismatic Islamic preacher who was killed by the Nigerian police. The sheikh may have initiated a dialogue with Yusuf’s disciples. But, as for now, there is no evidence that they can speak for the many other parts of the Boko Haram movement. Nevertheless, a dialogue and possible ceasefire between the government and one part of Boko Haram would be a hopeful development.

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