African Security Blog

Commentary: Understanding Terrorism Negotiation - A Lesson for Dr. Reuben Abati

Posted by Temitope Olodo on January 7, 2013 at 1:50 PM


It is interesting to read Dr. Reuben Abati's explanation on the status of negotiation with the Boko Haram sect and other associated 'political affiliated or influenced' violent extremism committed in the name of Boko Haram.


Over the years, I have drawn attention to the fact that Nigeria's inability to address the violent extremism challenges are not solely restricted to political struggle at the realm of power but lack of proper infrastructure or weak security service with no clear inclusive counter terrorism strategy to tackle Boko Haram and AQ related attacks


Whilst, many have argued that it is impossible to negotiate with a faceless group like Boko Haram and President GEJ has himself been caught up in agreeing with that assertion; I am happy to notice a change in government's policy on this matter. I have always argued that 90% of Boko Haram members could be persuaded to choose the path of peace and the Government's previous militarisation agenda was never going to deliver a total eradication of the Boko Haram sect.


The current back door engagement with Boko Haram is a welcome development but it is likely to fail if we do not learn lessons from other countries with similar challenges and i will highlight briefly the areas of concerns:


- Trigger happy policemen and alleged violation of human right principles by security agencies


- Inconsistent in counter terrorism policy with no clear position across government on tackling violent extremism


- The adoption of Israeli style of demolition of properties use by alleged terrorist or linked to them


Whilst it is easy to criticise the government for lack of clear strategy of violent extremism in Nigeria; I believe it is critical to appreciate the hardwork of members of the security services on the frontline - on a daily basis, they prevent and disturb terrorist attacks and I thank them for that


However, i need to educate Dr. Reuben Abati about violent extremism and the fact that AQ (Al-Qaede) is quite interested in Nigeria and their interest should not be 'played down' or dismissed and any back door negotiation with Boko Haram should embed 5 to 10 year plan to tackle violent extremism in Nigeria.


Al-Qaeda‘s foot prints abound in Nigeria and there is no doubt in my mind that they have active cells in the northern part of the country and in fact, responsible for one or two attacks attributed to Boko Haram elements with sleeper cells in western countries of interest


In April of this year, the State Security Service arrested Mohammed Ashafa said to be al-Qaeda linkman with a terror group in Nigeria. Ashafa was reportedly apprehended by the Pakistani government through the National Intelligence Agency and handed over to the Federal Government for prosecution. When he was arraigned at the Federal High Court, the SSS told the court that the accused person facilitated terrorist exchange programmes between al-Qaeda and its allies in the country.


In light of the above information, should Nigeria Immigration Service not be intelligently scanning travelling information of Nigerians visiting terrorist hotspots and sharing such information with their security counterparts for effective border control and security? I know they are not doing it now and they currently do not have the foresight for a clear visible counter terrorism co-ordination/relationship...


Nigeria government is weak in effective usage of her human diaspora asset outside the country and that is visible in the way violent extremism challenges is handled to date. There is an assumption in Nigeria that they have all the people they need in the country to solve their problem; however in a situation where there are external influence - then policy need to be adopted to match it.


President GEJ was lectured recently by President Obama during a visit to the US that there are 25,000 Medical Consultants of Nigeria origin in the United States; will Nigeria health strategy not greatly benefit from their experiences if their suggestions/ideas are embedded in it? Not everyone suggesting ways of improving Nigeria is interested in a job in the country; this is a critical point that Nigeria politicians need to understand to stop all the artificial barriers they create to make effective engagement with the diaspora impossible (apart from mere lip service meetings held occasionally)


The intelligence agency further said its investigations showed that Ashafa was allegedly the second in command to one Adnan Ibrahim, who was said to be the Resident al-Qaeda chief in West Africa, but based in Kano.


On the issue of engagement or negotiation with terrorist in practice, democratic governments often negotiate with terrorists though they try not to admit it publicly. The British government maintained a secret back channel to the Irish Republican Army even after the IRA had launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street that nearly eliminated the entire British cabinet in 1991.


In 1988, the Spanish government sat down with the separatist group Basque Homeland and Freedom (known by its Basque acronym ETA) only six months after the group had killed 21 shoppers in a supermarket bombing. Even the government of Israel, which is not known to be soft on terrorism has strayed from the supposed ban and in 1993, it secretly negotiated the Oslo accords even though the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) continued its terrorist campaign and refused to recognize Israel's right to exist.


The key objective for President Jonathan's administration in his quest to negotiate an end to violence is to minimises the risk of setting dangerous precedents and destabilising its government system given that there are individuals within his government with their own hidden agenda. Given this dual strategic goals, a number of conditions must be met in order for talks to have even a chance of success.


Though officials claim to know Boko Haram desire; the gospel truth is that the sect goals and objectives are complex thus would represent a big hurdle in negotiating with Boko Haram...


There are different types of terrorists, which there is the soft and hard terrorists. Terrorists such as hijackers and kidnappers could be classify as soft terrorist because do want to negotiate away their captured “goods.” On the other hand, some terrorists view any negotiation as a betrayal of their very raison d’être. Such terrorists believe their fulfillment comes with death; hence they view their own death as a prized goal and the death of others as unimportant.


Whist, Contingent terrorists seek negotiations in order to exchange their victims for publicity, ransom, and release of comrades, using others’ lives as a bargaining tool. The Absolute terrorists are mainly involved in strategic/political terrorist situations and are beyond contact and communication. Boko Haram fall within the remit of Absolute terrorists because they commit a self-contained act that is not a step to a second action.


According to counter terrorism analysts, Absolute terrorism expresses the frustration of the “suicider” with his weak power position and his inability to change it by any other means. His sense of injustice may come from revelation (fundamentalists), revolution (social revolutionaries) or revulsion against a discriminatory or corrupt society he feels owes him something. It is not just the suicidal tactics (means) but the unlimited cause (ends) that makes for truly absolute terrorism.


The Absolute terrorists could be divided into two further categories namely Total and Conditional. Total absolutes have nothing to negotiate about or with, and any attempt at negotiation only encourages them. Conditional absolutes are suiciders whose tactics, while self-contained and absolute, are designed to seek finite goals. Conditional absolutes do have something to negotiate about — such as territory, independence, conditions — but their goal is usually too broad or extreme to be negotiable.


In light of this above academic tutorial, it is clear that in dealing or negotiating with Boko Haram which definitely falls within the remit of absolute terrorists; the following key points must be adhered to by negotiators


1. Recognise that some elements within the Boko Haram structure are beyond any form of negotiation and attempts to deal with them directly are pointless. Nevertheless, there are still some within the system that are willing to pursue the path of peace and encourage them to see the hopelessness of their situation and the potential hopefulness in responding to negotiations.


2. The Boko Haram concerns exceed the issues of terrorism. Terrorism is ultimately related to such structural issues as poverty and inequality that are far beyond any immediate remedy. But steady attention to related issues of importance to potential supporters may eventually reap rewards.


3. Avoid any discussion that centred around negotiating belief system such as agreeing to islamisation of Nigeria or President GEJ conversion to Islam. In the course of implementing the outcome of a negotiation it may be possible to instill doubt about the basis of motivating beliefs, but the negotiation itself needs to focus on specific items.


4. Recognise that the demands of the unlike many hostage/kidnapping situations, the acts of absolute terrorists are not self-contained events. Hence negotiation is not an autonomous subject or policy but a long process.


5. Respect is the basic condition of any negotiation. “One-down” approaches that seek to impart a sense of inferiority are unproductive and create a seize fire agreement.


In conclusion, Dr. Abati needs to understand that in negotiating with terrorist groups such as Boko Haram; the main objective is either to change their terms or get them to discard it completely. Nigerians want President GEJ to succeed and I want him to win his war on terror but there is need to review the strategy...

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