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NIGERIAFresh hope for peace
08/07/12, Isaac Umunna
President Goodluck Jonathan
Early moves by Nigeria's new National Security Adviser raise hope of a possible breakthrough in the search for a solution to the terrorist activities of Boko Haram.
Nigeria's embattled president, Goodluck Jonathan, seems to have finally found the man who can give him the much-needed breakthrough in the search for a solution to the terrorist activities of Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad, more simply known as Boko Haram. Founded in 2009 by Muhammad Yusuf, who resigned his appointment as a commissioner in the Borno State cabinet to run the sect, Boko Haram is inspired by the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Boko Haram is a Hausa phrase which means "Western education is sin." The sect is based largely in Nigeria's northwest and it has killed more than 1,500 people in recent times, in addition to displacing hundreds of thousands and destroying properties worth several millions of dollars.
Sacked Nigerian Minister of Defence Mohammed Bello
The failure to find a solution to the Boko Haram menace has resulted in the National Security Adviser Owoeye Azazi (NSA) losing his job. Azazi, a retired army general and Jonathan's fellow Ijaw kinsman, was axed alongside Defence Minister Mohammed Bello Haliru on June 26.
However, it is left to be seen if Sambo Dasuki, the new NSA, will succeed where his predecessors failed. A retired artillery officer and scion of the Sokoto Caliphate, which also rules over Nigeria's Muslims, Dasuki was once an aide of former military President Ibrahim Babangida, one of the heavyweight northern politicians.
Although Dasuki does not have security posting background, he nevertheless seems well equipped for the job. He holds a Master's degree in Security Policy Studies from George Washington University, USA, in addition to a bachelor's degree in International Relations from the American University, Washington, DC. Dasuki received his training from several military institutions, among them the US Army School of Artillery, Oklahoma, as well as the US Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.
Sacked Nigerian National Security Adviser General Azazi
Already, Dasuki has started the right way by touring the Boko Haram hotbeds. His search for peace started June 29, a week after his appointment and three days after his assumption of duty. It has taken him to Borno, Yobe, Plateau and Kano states.
During the tour, the new NSA carried out President Jonathan's mandate to discuss with religious and traditional leaders as well as state governments in the affected areas with a view to ensuring an immediate ceasefire in Boko Haram's attacks, mainly targeted at Christian churches and government security personnel, although Muslims are also part of the collateral damage. Apart from political grievances, complaints over unemployment and lack of development in the northern states that breed Boko Haram came up during the meetings. Dasuki assured the people that their grievances would be looked into but argued that the violence first had to stop because "all these things will not come unless there is peace."
Speaking with newsmen on how successful his tour was, Dasuki said: "I have got the telephone numbers and contacts of key Boko Haram members and I will meet with them." Though he is yet to establish direct contact with Boko Haram's leaders, the sect's activities have become less frequent, with no attacks on churches witnessed late June and early July.
But to Dasuki's discomfiture, the ethnic crisis in Plateau State, north central Nigeria, flared up July 7, claiming over a hundred lives - among them two federal parliamentarians - over the next two days. While the Christian Berom natives blamed migrant Muslim Fulani herdsmen for the massacre, Boko Haram issued a statement claiming responsibility.
Apart from terrorism and ethnic violence, Dasuki equally has to find solutions to sophisticated bank robberies and kidnapping for ransom, both rampant southern Nigeria. Of these, however, Boko Haram is the main headache and is of concern even to the international community.
On July 10, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress held a public hearing on Boko Haram, to which it invited Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, and Johnnie Carson, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Oritsejafor used the opportunity to lobby for the categorisation of Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation.
"By refusing to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organisation, the United States is sending a very clear message, not just to the federal government of Nigeria, but to the world that the murder of innocent Christians and Muslims who reject Islamism - and I make a clear distinction here between Islam and Islamism - are acceptable losses," Oritsejafor said.
The Barack Obama administration had on June 21 labelled three Boko Haram leaders - Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi - as 'Specially Designated Global Terrorists' and blocked their assets but refrained from describing the group itself as a terrorist organisation. "These designations demonstrate the United States' resolve in diminishing the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks," the US Department of State said.
To further pile pressure on Boko Haram, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has classified the group's activities as crimes against humanity which could lead to the trial of its members by the court. ICC Chief Prosecutor, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, made the declaration during a July 3 visit to Nigeria to assess the level of seriousness that the Nigerian government attached to fighting terrorism. "As you know, these crimes may be called terrorist attacks, but they could also qualify as crimes against humanity," she stated.
For Boko Haram members, the handwriting is clearly on the wall. Whether they see it is another matter.
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