Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume was a member of the Presidential Committee on Security Challenges in the North-East zone in 2011, headed by Ambassador Usman Gaji Galtimari. In this interview, the senator representing Borno South Senatorial District argues Boko Haram has three faces: criminal, political and authentic. Excerpts:
Your committee has just completed its assignment and made some recommendations to the government. How did you interact with the Boko Haram group?
Well, there was no formal interaction because the terms of reference of the committee initially included the issue of dialogue, but later on, at the inauguration stage, it was made clear that we were not supposed to go into dialogue and negotiation. But, as a member of the committee and as a senator from Borno State where the center of the controversy is. We established contact with members of the so-called Boko Haram, and they expressed their willingness to dialogue, although most of them were not very keen or desperate about it. I personally established contacts with some of them. That was the beginning. Let me say that so many members of the Boko Haram come from my local government. One of the local governments that is worst affected is my own, Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State. And even in Maiduguri, the area they had conflict with the military is called Kalari, Gozari, London Ciki. The majority of the people there are my people. And this is something that affects me, to some extent, directly or indirectly. So, we tried to reach out to them, and the room for dialogue is there. They are not even talking about negotiation. We are talking about dialogue first, to know what the problem is and how we can get to the second stage of negotiation.
When they talk about dialogue, do they want to choose who to talk with?
No. What informed the committee’s recommendation is based on the information that we received from them. They want our committee to be expanded or another committee should entirely be constituted on the issue of dialogue and that it should include these respected traditional and religious leaders.
But they said they don’t want traditional and religious leaders…?
I don’t think that is true. Let me tell you what is happening. This issue of insecurity in the country or the issue of Boko Haram is more complicated than you think. There are now three aspects to Boko Haram issues. There is the original Boko Haram. There is the political Boko Haram. There is the criminal Boko Haram.
How do you distinguish between the three?
Those who engage in criminality are the criminal Boko Haram. Those who issue political statements are the political Boko Haram. Those who are the original Boko Haram are those are the followers of Muhammad Yusuf, headed now by Abubakar Shikkau. He was the second in command.
Did you meet him?
I didn’t meet him directly. When the situation in Borno escalated, we tried to reach out to some of their known members, to say that there was a need for dialogue. And that was when he issued a tape. And the complete transcript of that tape was published in a newspaper. I have the tape with me. They sent the tape to me.
What is their demand now?
We have not gotten to the issue of demand now. The problem is this issue has been interrupted; the process of trying to solve this problem has severally been interrupted by everybody claiming one way or the other to be able to tackle it, and people dabbling into the issue or politicizing it.
Now when you talk about politicizing the issue, how is it being politicized?
These are the religious extremists, as you will recall. But then some people are trying to take advantage of it, and then comes the political undertone.
The killing of Babakura, for instance. How would you tag it? Political?
That is one thing I can’t understand because when the incident happened, some Boko Haram members called to say that they were not responsible and they came in public. But the truth about it is that whatever group has claimed responsibility has remained faceless. They use mobile phones. You don’t know who is calling and you are not sure of the source of the information. But those that we talked about are the true Boko Haram; they are people that we talked (with) physically.
But do they (the people you met physically) feel that they are under threat?
Yea, they are conscious of their own security situation. They don’t just talk to people any how. I think they have confidence in me. That is why some of them showed up. And we talked.
You did talk about dialogue and negotiation; to them what is the difference between these two?
The difference is, when you say you are in a dialogue, you say there is a problem. How do we solve this problem? Then somebody will open up to say, look this is the injustice that has been done to me, that is why I am doing this. And in order to stop this, I want something done. This is dialogue. Then, you look at the situation and say this is what the law allows for this or I cannot do this. Then, you go to the negotiation. If you are going to do this, how far are you going to do it? Like the compensation which the committee recommended. It is not going to be blanket. It is going to be on certain negotiated basis or there must be some basis for the negotiation. But the biggest problem is the will and the zeal to get the problem solved. I am still skeptical about it.
But the president says he’s ready?
The president has good intentions. Let me say here that I met the president before on this issue. And I could see how serious or desperate he was to get this issue of insurgency solved. And he knows a bit of it because he is from the Niger Delta. He has an experience. It is only that the issue of the Niger Delta is an economic and environmental struggle, but this one now is an issue of belief, religion. Religion is more serious than the other ones. I have been saying this: the government, not the president, is underrating the security threat these people pose.
But the issue is that if the president is determined to do something, the government will follow?
No, the president is handicapped. That is the way I look at it.
How do you think he is handicapped? He is the president, commander-in-chief?
Yea, that is it. He is not stretching out. That is the problem. Honestly, I think the president should take charge of the security situation. God gave him the leadership of this country. God will not give somebody a leadership responsibility without giving him the ability. But this president is not using it.
But, you know, during the week, he said he is not going to be a lion?
There are situations that would warrant you to become a lion. If he is talking about the biblical Goliath, I am of the view that he should be a David. God used David to conquer Goliath. It was not God who directly dealt with Goliath. God dealt with Goliath through David. Why doesn’t he become a David?
What are some of the major recommendations if your committee?
The major cause of insecurity is unemployment. We have a high population of youth that are unemployed, skilled and unskilled. There are so many graduates in this country who are so frustrated, so desperate looking for jobs, but the government cannot provide the jobs. And sometimes they get so frustrated that they lose hope in government. And these are people who can easily be used, easily be indoctrinated by extremist groups. Borno, Yobe, are parts of the Sudan, Ethiopia and Niger which, by United Nations Human Development indices are the poorest region on earth. We have a high rate of illiteracy, high rate of unemployment, high number of youths out of school. If you don’t engage these youths, they can be engaged some other ways. We discovered that in the majority of these areas, poverty is the number one problem. Unemployment is the second problem. Thirdly is the high rate of almajiris. They can be used by these extremists.
Another scary thing is that the people, the masses, have started losing confidence in governance. Even on the streets of Abuja, you will see the loss of confidence in the government, and that is the most dangerous one. You will see a minister coming with his siren on the street and nobody will give him way. You know why? They don’t respect him. This is loss of confidence. In the past, if you come into a place, people would stand up. These days, it is not. I went to the marriage ceremony of a very big personality recently. The First Lady was there. Many people didn’t stand up. That is a signal.
The most dangerous on, again, is that there is no collaboration among security agencies. We discovered that, instead, there is rivalry among them. That is the most dangerous one. They don’t share information. And then they wash their dirty linen outside. You can see that the SSS came out to say that they alerted the other sister organizations that there were about to be bomb attacks somewhere in Abuja. The bombing happened.
Let’s go back to this issue of unemployment. The ANPP was in power in Borno State. Can we say that it did not tackle the issue of unemployment?
In the eight years of the government of Ali Modu Sherrif, he did not employ anybody. I was in the government. Even if you go to the civil service, you will discover that it has been bastardised. We were trying to settle these boys, the so-called ECOMOG, the personal militia. These youths were following us during politics. I was insisting that we should find something for them. In Gombe, they took steps to address the issue of Kalare. In Bauchi, Yuguda took steps to take care of the issue of Sara Suka. In the East, too, there was this issue of Bakassi boys. They had to be taken care of.
Is the ECOMOG in Borno the same thing as Boko Haram? What is the difference?
No. The ECOMOG are the political thugs or boys. The Boko Haram is I think something jihad. These are the people pursuing the extreme view of Islam, living a complete way, the way they believe. And that is why they tagged them as Boko Haram. They are against the western culture. That is what the Boko Haram stands for. Their difference, they (Boko Haram) are religious. The ECOMOG are not religious, they’re political.
The argument is that it was the ANPP government that used and dumped them?
That is not totally correct. As I told you, Boko Haram now has been divided in to three. The real Boko Haram and they go out to launch attacks on government institutions and the security agencies. There are the criminals who are tagged Boko Haram. They go out robbing banks in the name of Boko Haram. And there are political Boko Harams. They go out killing people and settling political scores under the name of Boko Haram. So, these are three aspects.
Like in Borno State, what excuses do the security agencies give your committee for not being able to contain these elements?
Well, that is the approach. You don’t tell people, the security agencies, how to do their work, but I have been insisting, for example, that insurgency has never been conquered or contained by the use of force. If you have an enemy who has guns, that has tanks, then you fight them. You have an identified enemy. But the insurgents are involved in a guerilla war. You don’t even know who they are. You can’t even identify them. Can you control this kind of insurgency? It is not possible. You use intelligence. You use dialogue. Even the intelligence you use cannot work without dialogue. That is why we emphasized dialogue in order to solve this problem. But then, unfortunately, some people have started politicizing, tribalising it already. They are bringing in ethnic and religious sentiments because they don’t know the value of peace. These people who are talking like that have no love for Nigeria because peace is priceless. In this Abuja, you have more than a million people. If there is one person, a suicide bomber in Abuja, the rest of the people will not sleep – because of one person. So, there is nothing wrong with going the extreme way. If you try to use force and it does not work, what is wrong with trying peace? What is wrong with dialoguing so that you achieve peace? All these people that are saying don’t talk to Boko Haram, do so because they are secure. If they go to Maiduguri and see what is happening there, they will not talk like that.
There is this argument that they are insisting on Shari’a rule in Nigeria?
No, that is not it. When they launched Shari’a in Northern Nigeria, was it attacking our sovereignty? Shari’a is part of the constitution. Political Shari’a has been implemented in the North before, isn’t it? So, what is wrong with implementing Shari’a if the people have nothing against it? Let me tell you. When this Shari’a controversy (was) raised now, but when people discovered, nobody was against it. Shari’a can only apply to a Muslim. If you are a Muslim, Shari’a is part of you. I don’t see anything wrong with it.
That means whatever Boko Haram wants we should give them?
You see, the problem in this country, as I told you, is that even religion has been politicized. Instead of people being religious leaders, they become political-religious leaders. That is what is happening. In this country there are armed robbers. When they are arrested, they are taken to court, and tried. Then before they are shot, the governor has to sign the warrant. But, in this case you just shoot people (Boko Haram suspects), without taking them to court. All those involved in this killing must be brought to book. When Boko Haram started throwing bombs in Maiduguri, the policemen involved in the killing of Muhammed Yusuf were brought out and shown to the world as facing trials, and after that nothing happened. What’s happening to those who gave the order that Mohammed Yusuf should be shot? Those who gave the order are still walking freely on the streets of this country. Nobody is asking them questions. The major demand of these people is that justice must be seen to be done to those who killed their leader. If there is no justice, there will be no peace.
Initially, the group asked for an apology and three governors apologized. Why are they not satisfied?
No. That’s not only what they want. Who asked the governors to apologise? How are you sure it was the leadership of Boko Haram that was asking the governors to apologise? If you want to get to the root of this problem you have to get to Abubakar Shikkau. He’s the second in command. He issued a tape that negotiation can be done, but it’s not the government who should tell them how and when to negotiate. That’s the beginning of dialogue. The government should have looked for the kind of people to negotiate with them.
Who are the people they want?
We mentioned it in the committee’s report – the Sultan, the Emir of Bauchi, and one Abubakar Iro. First of all, government has to decide to dialogue. But the government has not even said that. On the other side, they said they’re desperate.
With the report you submitted what impression do you have about the attitude of President Jonathan towards implementing your recommendations?
We submitted our report to Vice President Namadi Sambo who received it on behalf of the president. The Vice President told us a White Paper would be released and the recommendations of the committee will be implemented – those that will be implementable. We were commended by everyone. Even Boko Haram group has expressed confidence in our report. The only thing they mentioned is that we didn’t talk about the state of Islam. That’s the only thing the committee didn’t talk about. But we don’t have that powers, and we don’t have that term of reference. What the group said, initially, when Mohammed Yusuf was alive, was that Shari’a is more than politics and should be practised indeed.
You continue to say the president is anxious but government is not?
Yes. The president is anxious, but the government is not. These are two different things. The person of President Goodluck Jonathan is one I have discussed with – as a senator. He’s sincere and honest about this thing, but the government is not interested. The president is not government.
But so much money is being pumped into efforts to resolve the crisis?
They are benefitting! It is only in this country that the C-in-C can say something and someone under him will do the contrary. It is wrong. For instance, when we saw that the rule of engagement of the military was not palatable to our people in Maiduguri, we asked for the withdrawal of the military. The president understood with us, and said if it was the desire of the people that the military be withdrawn, so be it. But somebody issued a statement the next day that they were not withdrawing the troops. That was wrong.
How soon would there be peace in Borno and Nigeria, from your hindsight and talks with Boko Haram?
I cannot say, but if there must be peace, there must be sincerity on both sides. I told you there is sincerity on the part of the president, but there’s no sincerity on the part of the government. Unfortunately, the president is heading the government. But he’s not the only one in government. He’s just the head. When the head is determined and the body is not, you have a problem. The president is willing, but he’s not allowed. The people around him are not being sincere. If I talk, they’ll say I don’t know what I’m saying. The difference between us is that they went through formal intelligence training. I represent the people. Can the SSS and police know the Boko Haram sect better than I know them? Would they know how to solve their problem better than I know?
What do you think government ought to have done that it has not done?
We said that there is need for a lot of intelligence and dialogue. Even the mighty America, when they invaded Afghanistan to crush the Taliban, it’s been too difficult for them – 13 years on. That’s the problem with insurgency. If they belief in a cause, they’re ready to die. That’s the problem with Boko Haram. We fear death; they don’t fear death. This is somebody who wants to die, and we, on the other side, don’t want to die. So, if we want to live, we have to talk.
Did you ask the SSS to give you money to enable you help them tackle this issue?
How can I ask for money? When I called them and discovered that they’re not keen about this thing, I stopped calling them. I don’t call anybody again. Go and ask them. I’ve never asked for any money from them. My concern is that many people are dying; innocent ones. We have so many orphans and widows in my place as a result of their activities. The last time I took count of those who died as a result of engagement with the military, I discovered they’re more than 50 family men – from my local government. You want me to keep quiet or say I don’t know anything?
This was first published on October 2, 2011 at https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/general/to-end-insecurity-member-speaks-what-boko-haram-wants-senator-ndume/90832.html#QhlWcGLKITP50buB.99