The media in Nigeria has been awashed with reports of request and counter-request for the GEJ-led government to dialogue with Boko Haram. In most of the reports, two important things stand out: the general confusion by both parties that dialogue is the same as negotiation, and the overt conclusion that once dialogue is initiated, amnesty for Boko Haram must follow. In conflict resolution and peace building, dialogue differs markedly from negotiation. While dialogue can lead to negotiation, negotiation does not necessarily lead to outcomes such as amnesty.
Dialogue, as conflict resolution experts would affirm, enables not only conflict mitigators, but also parties-in-conflict, the opportunity to know and understand the views and positions of parties to any conflict. It is after this, that issues of trade-off (negotiations) can follow. The on-going efforts to (i) read the rights of the only surviving Boston Bomber to him and (ii) to interrogate him is best understood in the light of trying to know and understand, as much as possible, the views and positions of the bombers. In this specific instance, negotiation will take the form of court process.
As far as the discourse on Boko Haram is concerned, I do not think we, as a nation, know as much as we ordinary should know. As such, negotiation and amnesty should not come in at this point. Terrorism, globally, is a conscious choice. It is a political strategy aimed at achieving an end. In the case of Boko Haram, what is or are these ends? Who are members of Boko Haram? What are its objectives? It is not enough to conclude that since it was founded by late Mohammad Yusuf and now headed by Shekau; then issues of ownership and responsibility are settled. A number of issues make ownership and responsibility important.
Between 2002 and 2007, a number of CDs, DVDs and pamphlets were readily available on the stores and at various locations where such were sold, wherein intense debates were carried on between Mohammad Yusuf and Jafar Adams on three main issues: the Islamization of Nigeria, discarding western education and values and the religious responsibility of Muslims not to serve in any government not directed by the Sharia. Both Yusuf and Adams were erstwhile members of Jama’atul Tajdidi Islam (JTI) and both met with violent endings. While the case of Yusuf is common knowledge, an assassin killed Adams, as he was preaching to his followers. In both cases, Nigeria Police has no answer to give.
In one of the CDs and DVDs, Adams make a star-statement: that his group met with Yusuf in Saudi Arabia in 2004, asking him to dump his views to the Quran, especially his views on Western education as forbidden to Muslims and working in a non-Sharia government. What happens to this important leads? Why is nothing heard of the discourse and the revelation that Boko Haram arose from an internal dialogue within fundamentalist Islam in Nigeria? Or, is this not important as clues to ownership of Boko Haram? Is this not a clear pointer that there are some people or groups in Northern Nigeria who may know more than is available to the public about Boko Haram? How much of such information are available to the security agencies in Nigeria? One thing is clear from all these, more is still shrouded in mystery and dialogue becomes attractive to unravel some of these issues.
If Boko Haram’s main issues are (i) the Islamization of Nigeria; (ii) western education/values and the religious responsibility of Muslims not to serve in any government not directed by the Sharia; then it stands logic on the head for anybody with any knowledge of Nigeria’s composition to ask government to negotiate with Boko Haram. Negotiations are about trade-offs. The crust of Boko Haram’s agitation bothers on Nigeria’s secularism and pluralism. It therefore makes little or no sense for government to negotiate with Boko Haram when the stated objectives of Boko Haram are not achievable by trading off the objective of the government to ensure that interfaith dialogue and plurality of Nigeria is preserved at whatever the cost.
In the first place, can it be said that Boko Haram is actually fighting against the government of Nigeria? A look at the group’s origin will serve as a good starting point to engage this question. What are the group’s objectives and how much of these can be achieved?
Yusuf, in his sermons, argued that to the extent that Western education brings anti-Islamic socialization, it is religiously forbidden for Muslims. For Yusuf, any education that impacts knowledge different from the Qur’an and Sunna, such knowledge be rejected. He posited further that where any knowledge neither supports nor contradicts the Qur’an and Hadith, Muslims are at liberty to either accept or reject such knowledge on their own merit or as circumstances may dictate.
Although the above appears simplistic, a closer look at Yusuf’s examples showed that they however have deeper dimensions. For instance advances in the sciences – medical, technological, communication, human security etc. that are not found in either the Qur’an or the Hadith are forbidden, even if such knowledge was non-existent during the times of Prophet Mohammed.
In one of his sermons, Yusuf argued that modern science taught that rain falls through condensation and saturation of vaporized water, a teaching which contradicts Qur’an chapter 23 verse 18, which says: ‘And We sent down water from the sky according to (due) measure, and We caused it to soak into the soil; and We certainly are able to drain it off (with ease)’. Yusuf, in his outright rejection of this scientific explanation, explained that Prophet Muhammed in the Hadith noted that whenever it rained, he would go outside and touch the rain because it was fresh i.e., created anew by God. Without as much as citing the specific portion of either the Quran or Hadith to support his teaching, Yusuf also condemned the view that the earth was spherical. Similar to his view on rainfall, Yusuf also condemned the time scales that measure the age of the earth and the various deposits within it. As against scientific claim of four million years, Yusuf called attention to Quran chapter 41 verse 9, which states that God created the earth in just two days. In addition to the above, Yusuf noted that Allah, in chapter 50 verse 38 affirmed that God created the universe in six days as against ‘one billion, six hundred million, three minutes and one second years, as claimed in the Big Bang Theory.
On human creation, Yusuf faulted Charles Darwin’s evolution theory by asserting that Quran chapter 23 verse12 holds that human beings were made of clay and not evolved from lower forms of life and are still evolving. In yet another teaching, Yusuf countered chemists’ claim that energy is not created and cannot be destroyed. He called attention to the Quran in chapter 55 verses 26 and 27 that only God is eternal and uncreated. He went further to assert that ‘Everything/everyone on earth perishes. Only the face of your Lord of glory and honor endures’.
Many more are Yusuf’s teachings. For Yusuf, Muslims should reject all aspect of Western education that contradict the Quran and Hadith and accept only those that support or do not contradict the Qur’an and Hadith. Equal in other to the above, Yusuf, like other Salafis, also rejected co-educational system, as it brings about the mixing of males and females in the same learning environment, he claimed.
These ultra-Salafi doctrines, with its heavy reliance on Ibn Taymiyya - a fourteenth-century Islamic scholar regarded by Salafis and Wahhabis as one of their most prominent authorities - endeared Yusuf to many, especially the impoverished and uneducated Muslims, across Northern Nigeria. Could thesew be the core of people agitating for amnesty for members of Boko Haram? How and what do government negotiate amidst all these?