On Sunday May 1st 2011, Jeff Hall, the southwestern regional director of the National Socialist Movement, a Neo-Nazi, xenophobic white supremacist group was shot in his own home. He was killed by his 10 year old son with a hand gun- the shooting was reported to be intentional. In a recent article in the New York Times ("Few Taliban Leaders Take Afghan Offer to Switch Sides" June 20, 2011), it is reported that the United States is having to face the grim reality that few Taliban fighters are choosing to switch sides neither is there a lot of hope for the intended negotiations with the Taliban to end the violence in Afghanistan.
So why the talk of negotiating with Boko Haram? It is indeed worrisome to hear the clamor within and outside government for some form of rapprochement between the Federal government and Boko Haram. Those clamoring for this path are once again displaying our bent for shortcuts which inevitably leads to monumental waste of lives, resources and for the most part failure. Those who seek appeasement fail to realize that in their bid for "peace" they might be dooming Nigeria to a life time of perpetual insecurity and unrest as history and current events show us that rapprochement with Boko Haram is almost certainly doomed to fail. Any rapprochement at this stage is certainly aimed at curbing a symptom and not the disease itself.
A rehash of the available facts: Boko Haram has a unique vision for how they want Northern society to be structured. From their numerous utterances they have called for strict interpretation of Sharia in the Northern states, denounced Western education and what they see as Western influence and their general vision for society could be said to share the same ancestor as radical Ã¼ber conservative Islamic groups like the Taliban. I need to state that there is nothing wrong in wanting to live their lives according to their interpretation, this is a perfectly legitimate aspiration in a democracy, but the imposition of their way of life against the will of a populace through the use of force is simply incompatible with democracy.
Democracy not any other form of government afforded the realization of the practice of Sharia in the North. During the 30 years of military rule in Nigeria 18 of which were under different Muslim Head of State, Northern Nigeria did not achieve the practice of Sharia until under a Christian president in a democracy. No matter the criticism that trailed the adoption of Sharia in 12 Northern states, the adoption of Sharia clearly represented the wish of the majority of the electorate embodied by the action of the members of the state houses of assemblies in the 12 Northern states practicing Sharia and this also explains why Sharia is not practiced in Jos as the majority do not support Sharia. Consequently, Boko Haram has a greater chance of structuring the North according to their aspiration in a democracy than any other type of system but they need to do the hard work of convincing majority of the electorate in the Northern States about their alternative vision of society, get them to elect legislators sympathetic to their cause and have them pass laws that enshrine their vision in the fabric of those states.
Any action apart from using the agency of the legislature to affect change in a democracy threatens democracy and most especially the use of violence. Radical ideological groups threaten democracy as they exhibit the conventional hubris of those convinced of the "unchallengeable righteousness" of their vision, arrogating to themselves the power to prescribe for others what they deem is right but denying them the legitimacy to validate the prescription. To these groups the instrument of violence is a short cut to "show people the light" as they remain convinced that the majority is on their side but that the state is the opposition to their adoption. These groups refuse to submit their cause to the validation of the majority under the most rational suited method for the validation of competing ideas in a society -democracy.
It is this "unchallengeable righteousness" that plunged most of Latin America into internecine incessant wars, as leftist groups sought to "force" their aspirations without the validation of the majority. These wars caused untold hardships and widespread destruction of lives spanning decades and retarded development in these societies and countless rapprochements were made between government and these groups during the period but none bore the monumental fruit of peace. Today we see that the successful Leftists in Latin America were those that shed the garb of violence, put up their cause for validation by the majority in a democracy and today in countries like Bolivia, Brazil and Chile Leftists are in power through the only legitimate means of change- the ballot.
In societies where societal engineering is attained by using the instrument of force rather than validation by the ballot, two discernible characteristics exist in such societies. One, there is always a feeling of inferiority on the side of the newcomers to power (like someone illegally occupying a house) and thus the requirement to silence any competing ideology or group, consequently the institution of the state is used for coercion. Two, the group or the ideology also shortchanges itself as there is no room for reform â€“ and every system no matter how great needs to be reformed to adapt to change. The first characteristic is typified in Iran where increasing periodic violence is needed to keep the citizens in line and dissension is gravely dealt with even though majority of the populace are Muslims and the second characteristic is seen in Cuba, where after years as a communist state they are ossified with an archaic communist system immune to reform since the state lacks an arena for self evaluation. In contrast we see societies such as Brazil where leftist leaders such as Lula have been able to reform their ideology to give workable economic and social structures or the resurgence of Islam within a democracy in Turkey under Erdogan and his conservative party where they have been able to present their appeal to a deeply secularized Moslem society.
So the onus is on Boko Haram to legitimately get validation from the populace. An attack on their aspiration might not be the legitimate way to craft the argument, because what might be radical to one populace might be acceptable to others but the norm in a democracy is that the choice of the majority and not the tyranny of the minority determines how a society is structured. Therefore, Boko Haram should be afforded the right to their opinion and within the ambit of the law pursue the advancement of their cause without fear, they should travel the way enduring ideas travel - using perseverance and education of its benefit in contrast to what operates till they get the validation of the majority. Actions outside the law and most especially those that employ terror threaten not only democracy but also the viability of Nigeria and should be viewed with all seriousness.
Two reasons immediately become clear as to why rapprochement with Boko Haram is bound to fail and should be thoroughly dissuaded as with rapprochement we stand to travel the well known destructive path some Latin American countries have travelled. One, the ballot as the path to social engineering or change is sacrosanct in a democracy, so for Nigeria to remain democratic the current resolve to violence by Boko Haram should not yield any political fruit for Boko Haram. Second, Boko Haram is a symptom of the incongruity of the structure of Northern Nigeria and unless the disease itself is cured we would continue to have a resurgence of "Boko Harams" again and again.
If violence gets Boko Haram a place at the table and political concessions of any type we have explicitly permitted radical groups to take up arms against the state to actualize their objectives. The result of this would be the legitimization of violence to advance one's objective(s) and fostering on society without the validation of the populace. We would also weaken democracy greatly as the arena for divergent views become more restrictive and the required viability to strengthen our institutions would be non-existent as these institutions would crumble under the dictatorship of blunt force. Democracy allows a society to validate a cause or an idea because in the process the society weighs the trade-off and would keep working towards arriving at a workable solution. For example, Northern states that have adopted Sharia are convinced that its adoption would not deter economic and social development but rather improve it and deliver with it the way of life they seek or that whatever economic progress is slowed down by the adoption of Sharia remains inconsequential to the moral benefits of Sharia. Time would validate their choice but democracy affords these Northern states the opportunity to choose.
The fundamental structure of most of Northern Nigeria would continue to be the harbinger of radical groups such as Boko Haram in the same way the dysfunction of the federal structure bred and proliferated ethnic socio-political cultural groups such as the OPC and MASSOB. We see that as democracy progresses and the federal structure is re-addressed through the legislature the influence of ethnic socio-political cultural groups are continuously waning and these groups are taking the backseat to become purely cultural groups aside from the occasional howl of marginalization of their ethnic group. Democracy is under grave strain as practiced in the context of the opaque structure of Northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria's high illiteracy levels, lack of social mobility, poor economic development and insulation to outside groups â€“ethnical and religious, provide fertile ground for radical groups. Shades of Boko Haram in the North have always existed (remember Maitasine) but military force and periodic violence have been the relief valve preventing the conflagration of the whole nation, but currently the dysfunction in the North is reaching critical levels and the result is this near hostage situation created by Boko Haram.
If there is any rapprochement with Boko Haram without addressing the issues of Northern Nigeria we would be prescribing pain killers to cure cancer, we would certainly be at the table again negotiating with another Boko Haram, one more restrictive and calling for more stringent social concessions. Appeasement is certainly not a rational objective for those calling for any form of rapprochement with Boko Haram, unlike the Niger-Delta where appeasement of wrongs can be achieved, the ideological nature and required social engineering required to appease Boko Haram cannot be done without the collective validation of the people and it is definitely not within the powers of elected federal officers, not even the president to bargain for the people that would be directly affected by such social engineering without their validation. Consequently, the call for rapprochement is patently illegal and thoroughly misguided as it buys no peace in the immediate and in the future, rather if further endangers Nigeria.
So what are our options? In the short term the power of the State (Nation) must be made to bear. Security forces must rise up to the challenge posed by Boko Haram if they (Boko Haram) are intent on the use of violence. Our resolve in the use of state sanctioned force must be uniform and Nigerians must be educated that the battle against those who employ terror might be long and seemingly unproductive but we must be resolute as attack from terror groups are designed to inflict maximum psychological harm- and it usually does. Our security forces must be educated to fight right; instances of extra-judicial killings, use of torture, illegal arrests and other back-hand tactics would erode the legitimacy of our cause and win sympathies for Boko Haram even amongst the populace. The security forces should use this conflict to update their skills and intelligence gathering; wars abroad and terrorist threats at home have honed the skills of American and most European security forces as the constant threat of an enemy produces a steep learning curve.
In the long term we must deny Boko Haram its recruitment pool. We must accelerate the reformation of the structure of Northern Nigeria to deny Boko Haram of adherents to radical purist ideas by making the North less opaque and more conducive for integration. Jeff Hall preached hate and xenophobia and the same hate consumed his household leading to his murder by his son, as long as Northern Nigeria remains closed to social integration it shall continue to be a hotbed for radical groups like Boko Haram. Northern Nigeria must be reformed to be more diverse in character and letter, the promotion of education â€“ all forms of education â€“ Islamic, Western, vocational and civic should be accelerated and widespread, restrictions on land ownership for non-indigenes should be abolished and economic liberalization should be the mantra for all Northern governors. Many argue that a constitutional realignment facilitated by a sovereign national conference is needed to reform the country but this is not the meat of the idea here, rather reform at the state level for Northern states one that puts emphasis on economic liberalization and social integration backed by appropriate laws and supported politically by the Federal Government.
The president must show resolve in confronting Boko Haram, indecision on his part would allow this malaise fester. The president must be courageous enough to speak truth to all sides; to Boko Haram Haram that we would fight with every ounce of resolve we have, to the rapprochement crowd that appeasement is impossible and against our national interest and to the Northern establishment that it cannot be business as usual, if they fail to reform the North they set Nigeria up for more grievous consequences.
God save Nigeria.