The pattern is clear. The more bloodcurdling the atrocities of Boko Haram the louder the calls for dialogue with the band of murderous psychopaths whose official name is Jama’atu Ahlissunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad. True, there is no deranged act of murder and arson more blood-curdling than another in the unending orgy of crimes against humanity that this criminal gang has been committing since it began its quest to establish an Islamic kingdom in Nigeria.
Yet some stand out by their sheer senselessness, serving as an even more brutal reminder of the total severing of ties to humanity by a group that purports to found a caliphate of superior moral character to any secular order. Among countless other evils is the slaughter in their midnight sleep two weeks ago of “sixty” students of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State. That is not the exact number of the pupils shot dead at point blank range or burnt to death when their hostels were set ablaze. Not content with murder and arson, God’s warriors took a yet to be ascertained number of students as hostages.
Predictably, the slaughter of the sleeping students has raised the volume of the calls for dialogue but this seems to me a cry of fear, defeat and desperation. The taking of a life without provocation savages the essence of our humanity. It awakens our primordial anxiety over the continuity of life, the perpetuation of the species — especially when so abrupt and clinical that it leaves no room for self-defence or for coming to terms with the inevitability of death. And then there is the rightly unappeasable feeling of guilt when the victims, as in the Buni Yadi case, are innocent children who, to compound intolerable grief, were asleep in a place of learning to which we had sent them. We are mortified, then, by a collective feeling of betrayal, of an unpardonable abdication of the duty of protection we owe the young and vulnerable. I am tortured by both feelings. Although it is all of thirty years ago now, I couldn’t help thinking on hearing the traumatic news, “I could have been one of them had I happened to be born two decades later and been sent to Buni Yadi instead of the Federal Government College in Warri!” So, then, what do I make of the cries for dialogue with the butchers of Boko Haram, masquerading and marauding as anointed founders of Allah’s kingdom on a patch of the earth it pleased same Allah to populate with people of sundry beliefs and tongues?
To my mind, there can be no dialogue with conscious, unrepentant and sneering evil-doers. In any case, we have tried that with outrageous results. Or have we forgotten so soon the stinging scorn with which Boko Haram dismissed President Jonathan’s offer of dialogue and amnesty? That it is they, arms deep in blood, and not the president, who have the prerogative of mercy? Thus, while chary of speaking in any simplistic terms of good and evil, it seems to me crucial, nevertheless, that a society must retain a clear sense of the fundamental distinction between the two. Lest, by blurring the line we sacrifice all to the dubious altar of peace. Indeed, that blurring has begun now that we have reached the point of giving national honours to congenital coup-plotters who presided over the murder, maiming and jailing of thousands, serial traitors to the nation, by bedecking Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha with statesman medals. By that precedent alone, we should be honouring Abubakar Shekau for his outstanding services to the fatherland at the 50th or 60th anniversary of our flag independence!
So, what is to be done? The answer, I think, is two-fold: an all-out war to either wipe out the vicious sect or degrade it to the point of combat ineffectiveness, and the reinstatement of the foundational idea of Nigeria as a secular state. We have been so swept up by the dangerous tide of rabid religiosity that we no longer know the meaning of constitutional secularity, nor why it is a non-negotiable guarantee of our peaceful co-existence. This means that the restructuring of the nation we all agree is a primary issue at the impending national conference must be understood to include a radical change in our religious consciousness and attitudes. The conference must ensure not to repeat the costly dereliction of duty by the 1978 Constituent Assembly which bequeathed to us the hydra-headed monster of sanctimonious politicians and religious politics. The question of Shari’a law, I say, must be settled once and for all! The core North, as a political entity, must be told that it can no longer toy with the peace of the nation in the name of God; that its endorsement of a juridical jihad is the strongest impetus for Boko Haram’s political version.
Anything less, whether or not by the seductive name of dialogue, would be futile and fatal. After all, with Boko Haram’s criminal-in-chief, Shekau, claiming to be obeying Allah’s will, how are the rest of us who do not purport to be in direct conversation with the Almighty to know the divine will? As the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, told President Jonathan, Boko Haram’s senseless killings is “the height of madness.” And whoever dialogued with a madman and managed to look sane?