Skip to main content

Sultan of Sokoto’s Dilemma By Seyi Olu Awofeso

“Nigeria is in total anarchy today”, said ex-army chief, Lt. General Yakubu Danjuma on March 2, 2013. “In the case of North, the danger is very real. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the middle of a civil war in northern Nigeria. There is no defined front in this particular war, and worse still, the enemy is faceless and unknown. There is no immunity for anyone. Moreover, this war is highly contagious. Needless to say, the social and economic cost is incalculable. I regret to confess that i have no suggested solution.”

“Nigeria is in total anarchy today”, said ex-army chief, Lt. General Yakubu Danjuma on March 2, 2013. “In the case of North, the danger is very real. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the middle of a civil war in northern Nigeria. There is no defined front in this particular war, and worse still, the enemy is faceless and unknown. There is no immunity for anyone. Moreover, this war is highly contagious. Needless to say, the social and economic cost is incalculable. I regret to confess that i have no suggested solution.”

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content1'); });

Crisp and curt, General Danjuma’s military appreciation cut to the chase.

Yet it predicates a knotty reconnaissance puzzle in military terms. “Faceless”, General Danjuma called the forces bloodily fighting the Nigerian Army. “Ghosts”, President Jonathan early on poignantly depicted them, but that’s not how the “enemy forces” themselves self-describe on video clips streamed on the internet.

Mallam Abu Qaqa, their stern-looking spokesman, let be clear on August 1st, 2012, that: “The fact is, we are the warriors of the Almighty, and even the security forces are finding it difficult to contain our activities. We want to stress that in our struggle, we only kill government functionaries, security agents, Christians, and anyone who pretends to be a Muslim, but who engages in assisting security agents to arrest us.”

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content2'); });

On those verbal assertions the Nigerian Army is engaged in military conflict with “heavenly fighters”  - and that’s complicated for army tactics and strategy, not least because urban warfare precludes heavy artillery and armoured tank firepower, both of which could have been decisive.

“The Nigerian Army is not trained for this type of asymmetrical war”, said General Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former head of state.  Indeed, said the current army chief, Lt.-General Azuibuke Ihejirika. “In Nigeria, the activities of Boko Haram sect and the other terrorist groups continue to threaten peace and security, while their modus operandi pose serious challenge to the security forces in the country. Their affiliation to Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Shabab has added an international dimension”, Lt.-General Ihejirika intoned.

With the army’s firepower advantage out, Nigerian soldiers are left running around in man to man gunfire fights against dis-appearing “ghosts” right inside towns and city centres, risking higher attrition figures from the militias’ improvised explosives.

Over 5,000 persons have altogether been blasted or shredded across the far northern states; including the past commander of Nigeria’s first division at the 1967 Biafra civil war - Major General Shuwa - who was shot dead point-blank last November at his house frontage in Maiduguri on a Friday by a seven-man gang in mufti, where he’d sat awaiting a courier to deliver a razor blade for him to shave.

An army general and an Air Commodore were later blasted in the same month by explosives planted inside the Jaji military cantonment in Kaduna State by suspected militiamen, along with several civilians.

Into this cauldron, the Arewa Consultative Council stepped in last year.  First order of business, according to the Council, is the immediate withdrawal of the army units deployed by President Jonathan to fight off the self-described “warriors of the almighty” whose arc of discord now runs from Kebbi to Jalingo through Kano and Maiduguri. That way, the Council hoped civilian casualty figures as collateral damage would cease, but what the Council did not say makes what Lt.General Danjuma later said in March this year more poignant. For the Arewa Consultative Council did not say the current belligerence in northern Nigeria is a civil war.

Last October or thereabouts, the Arewa Council – comprising traditional chiefs, as well as almost all notable political and ex-military generals in northern Nigeria – wrote to President Jonathan. Remove all soldiers deployed to fight in northern towns and grant the opposing forces amnesty, the Council demanded inter alia.

President Jonathan, assessing the intelligence reports more closely, rather flinched and swatted off any suggestion to withdraw protective military units without a matching guarantee of peace from the Arewa Council, likely because Jonathan, like General Danjuma, also assesses that a civil war is underway.

Besides, America’s own intelligence reports, as adumbrated by its former Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell, suggests a direr situation than the syrupy suggestion of forces’ withdrawal made by the Arewa Council without any substitute guarantee against the opposing forces. “Boko Haram has the potential capacity to overwhelm the government of Nigeria”, John Campbell had warningly told Al Jazeera on 8th January this year.

Whilst President Jonathan has since somersaulted and abided the fact of amnesty, a fortnight ago, much against the grain of his earlier stated convictions - that amnesty can only be granted to known persons - the Arewa Council which put itself forward as amnesty champion, was quickly given the task to sort out the terms of Jonathan’s amnesty and by implication, enforce it.

The Sultan of Sokoto, 56-year-old, who superintends all Muslim emirates in northern Nigeria, Muhammadu Sa'ad Abubakar III, himself a retired Brigadier, chairs the “Jonathan amnesty committee” but with his own added gravitas as president-general of the Nigerian National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.

With just a few days into the job, as yet, the Sultan keeps his thoughts under wraps, but if what other northern notables publicly worry about is anything to go by, the Sultan’s thoughts may not be less worrying.

According to Mallam Adamu Ciroma, a five-time federal cabinet Minister and ex-Governor of Central Bank, “the Boko Haram solution should start with the northern State Governors identifying Boko Haram-looking people in their states” for consultation”.

Speaking on the same day, this Tuesday, the Niger State Governor and Chairman Northern States Governors Forum, Dr. Muazu Babangida, called “… on the governors in the North to begin to unmask the ghosts among them so that we will be talking to human beings and not to ghosts.”

Tellingly, no state Governor is a member of Jonathan’s Amnesty Committee - chaired by the Sultan of Sokoto. So, the usually non-partisan Sultan seems to have his work cut out for him.  For if indeed the Governors are key to peace, and even though that’s not obvious, then, sorting out the amnesty terms will be a long procedure.

Firstly, the Governors have to find “Boko Haram-looking men” in their domain, which is a tall order. To be sure, no one can be granted amnesty simply for looking like Boko Haram, if Boko Haram does not have any known specific way of dressing.  At any rate, it is legally libellous to finger-point anyone, without proof, as a possible member of a local terrorist organization.

The Sultan may choose to avoid this cul-de-sac, but for what other option?

As it is, no fewer than six northern states; including Yobe, Kano and Borno, are current flashpoints of Nigeria’s military gunfights. On August 1st, 2012, for instance, the Emir of Fika, in Yobe State, Alhaji Muhammed Abali Ibn Mohammed Idrisa, luckily escaped death from a suicide bomber strapping an explosive which failed to detonate on time but when it later did, the Emir had been wrestled away by the guards, thus causing the suicide bomber himself to die in the late explosion.

A month earlier, the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Garbai El-Kanem, had similarly escaped death from another suicide bomber at the Maiduguri central mosque, suggesting a pattern of assassination directly aimed at the overthrow of northern traditional rulership.

If now the Sultan chooses to side-step the decidedly partisan state governors, he’d only have a similarly beleaguered crop of northern traditional rules, also targeted by Boko Haram, to confer with, much worse, as improbable mediators.

This procedural hurdle is already daunting enough, but even if it’s overcome, it would not be a step forward in any amnesty, until a bilateral meeting can be held with the belligerents themselves, rather than with, say, the State Governors who do not publicly say they foster or fund Boko Haram so as to negotiate its proposed amnesty.

Who will the Sultan of Sokoto now meet and confer with?

One other possibility is to call up Alhaji Ahmed Datti, who is President of the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, but not much may be expected here, because Alhaji Ahmed Datti had publicly renounced further participation in Boko Haram mediation, since, according to him, Jonathan’s government has been so talkative as to leak the progress in the proxy talks that he held two years with Boko Haram on behalf of Jonathan’s government.

Assuming the Sultan can still overcome this obstacle, and, choose to call a secret meeting of his own effort, the Boko Haram fighters’ attendance can’t be guaranteed if their militias were the ones who threw the explosives at the Emir of Kano this year, killing no fewer than two guards. For that would mean the emirates itself, superintended by the Sultan, are within Boko Haram’s deathly targets.

There’s as yet fuzziness on much else besides. Till now, it is not known how many disparate militias operate in and out of northern Nigeria, through its wide and sometimes hilly borders with Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republiquѐ.

Only mid-last year was the ANSARU militia known to the Nigerian public, horrifyingly after it had captured and killed seven hostages in northern Nigeria last month; including a French, an Italian and a Greek.

Also, another un-known group with cross-national cells is suspected by overseas intelligence community as behind the 19th February raid into northern Cameroon to capture seven French tourists who have remained missing since then but who are merely believed to have been taken across the border back into northern Nigeria.

The Sultan of Sokoto, despite his military training, has a lot more to worry about. Whilst Alhaji Shekau putatively heads Boko Haram, the Sultan likely does not know who heads Ansaru or the other cross-national militia group. In effect, his meeting with Boko Haram alone, even if it holds, would be a quarter success, if the two other operative militias are excluded or reject the talks, along with another less known militia group, named Jambs.

The Sultan’s real task is not so much how to form a quorum of disparate militias but what amnesty means to, say, Boko Haram which sees its mission in terms which no amnesty can deliver. “We wish to reiterate that our crusade is not for personal gain”, Boko Haram had declared on August 1st, last year.

“Our Crusade is meant to ensure the establishment of an Islamic State (in Nigeria) by liberating all Muslims from the excesses of the infidels. We strongly believe that Almighty Allah will reward us with his famous paradise in the hereafter as he rightly said in Chapter 9, Verse 111 of the Holy Qur’an.”

……………………..Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner in Abuja

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('comments'); });