The dialogue and negotiation are quite complex, very delicate and they are not things that we can always give a progress report. But as an insider and one who is in touch with major stakeholders, I can assure you that the search, negotiation is proceeding very slowly, I admit. But we have been able to achieve confidence building between us and the captors.
(1)The fact that the Boko Haram group has been factionalised is a major challenge, because you must be sure you are talking to the right faction and not only the right faction, with the faction that can actually produce the girls. These are some of the complexities in the dialogue and negotiation.
(2)When you are involved in negotiating with insurgents, it is a different field of endeavour entirely. One, most of these negotiations involve nationals of other countries. At times, they can even nominate for you who will be your own representatives in the negotiation. They can tell you they don’t want XYZ there.
(3)Now, when these meetings take place, people come from every part of the world to meet at a neutral place, which is not in Nigeria. So it has a lot of logistics. It involves lots of confidence building. It involves a lot of tact. At times, the idea is to provoke you. They could make demands that if you are not trained in the art of negotiation, you will throw out. And at times they make demands just to test your sincerity of purpose and to test your commitment.
(4)Even finding a venue that was going to be acceptable to everybody at times could be a challenge, and even negotiation as to what could be the form of exchange, where and how also could be challenging. But the most important thing to me is getting their confidence, and where you are able to get it, sustaining it is easier.
(5)But just an innocent innocuous press statement could destroy months of painstaking confidence building. These are some of the challenges we are facing.
(6)When you talk about the girls’ return, I feel more comfortable with that. But there are always two approaches to getting the girls returned. I think the most viable one is negotiation. Because it is negotiation that will ensure that they are returned in one piece; they are returned alive. Any other option carries a lot of risk. But both options at times are necessary, because at times you can also only negotiate from the position of strength. So you combine both the military option with the negotiation, because the military option and negotiation are not mutually exclusive and they actually work many times.
You see, why we cannot abandon the military option is because until and when we actually reach an armistice, you cannot abandon the military option. But at the same time, we are also employing the soft approach, which is negotiation. And you see, people don’t seem to understand the enormous challenges the military is facing. Even in the issue of IDPs, it is often unknown to many people that IDPs are probably the single biggest problem we are facing today. Not just in terms of resettling them, providing accommodation but in terms of strategy, in terms of security and even in terms of intelligence management.
(7)We have had examples where certain people are deliberately released to the military by the warlords. Their children and their wives are released to the government so that they can move more freely and they can wage a war more efficiently. People released in such manner are always also in contact with the Boko Haram warlords. So at times, even the so-called IDPs in our camps, if not well screened, well monitored, could also be passing very valuable information to the insurgents. Again, another area which people often do not appreciate is that the military is doing a yeoman’s job. When these people are coming back, they have been used to a certain lifestyle where they were, where they were not catered for. And when they come back and you cannot cater for them, there is the tendency for them to want to go back.
(8)You see, because one thing about the Boko Haram is that for too long, the Boko Haram group were left unchallenged in the field, and they were able to radicalise and change the mindset and perception of these people. It will take a long time and sustained efforts of enlightenment, using the radio, television, even town hall meetings and community meetings, to really de-radicalise the minds of these people.
(9)You see, the radicalisation of the insurgency is so huge, and given what is happening in Europe, either in Stockholm, Istanbul, Paris, Brussels or USA, you will begin to appreciate better what our military has been able to achieve, because insurgency has no boundary at all, and they are always one step ahead of any government, and our military have been able to make it. Today, once in a while, you have attacks on soft targets. But that is to be expected because they have been dislodged from their stronghold. They can no longer wage the usual war because we have destroyed all their structures.
You see, this is an enormous challenge that we are facing. This recent surge in attacks should not be seen as a reversal because, as a matter of fact, this so-called reversal or surge is an attempt by them to want to prove to their followers that they are still relevant; that they are not defeated. It is just like what we have been seeing recently in Europe and America where terrorists attack hitherto safe areas. They now employ unorthodox methods like driving a truck, and run trucks into crowded places. Anybody who understands and studies insurgency will know that they are also under pressure to prove to their supporters that they are not defeated. Don’t forget that they still have many people they have misled and misinformed. They are using the Internet very efficiently. They have a very effective way of disseminating it. So these attacks are to reassure their followers and their groups that it is all propaganda; that they are not defeated.
(10) You see, for them, they have no rules of engagement, we have rules of engagement. We cannot just say that because we have seen that some Boko Haram people are taking refuge somewhere, let’s go and bomb them, because we will kill innocent people. But they don’t have such constraints. That is why it seems that at times, they have better or superior military power or they are coming back. No, no, no, it is just that the rules of engagement are different. They obey no rules. They have no regulations, and as a matter of fact, their maxim is inflict as much damage, as much death while even we in containing them, we still have to make consideration for the women, children and for many people who did not know anything about this war, for civilians.