Rights activist Shehu Sani, has for the first time, disclosed how he became a friend of Boko Haram and details of his meetings with them. In an opinion article published this afternoon by CNN, Sani, who is the President of the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria and one-time Boko Haram negotiator, also disclosed how he was invited twice for a face-to-face meeting Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau. He blames the continued insurgency on hawks in the Nigerian Government and contractors who continue to sabotage every effort to reconcile Boko haram and the government. Excerpts:
“I mooted the idea of dialogue with the insurgents as a new option towards ending the insurgency and restoring peace to my bewildered and beleaguered nation. In September 2011, I facilitated talks with the insurgents and the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo – then chairman of Nigeria’s ruling party.
“The first surprise in the encounter was that the representatives of the terror group spoke fluent English. The bigger surprise was when some of the insurgents revealed that they had university degrees. It is a prerequisite for new Boko Haram members to burn their university certificates or any paper identification that links them secular schools.
“In the meeting, they justified their violence on the grounds that it was the Nigerian Government that had forced them to take up arms. They said that before they trod the path of violence, they first tried to take the path of peace.
“They even showed us copies of a petition they wrote to the government complaining about the harassment and intimidation of their sect members by security forces before they picked up arms.
“They showed us photographs of followers and relatives they said had been killed by the police in cold blood, even before the insurgency began and threatened more attacks until they “avenge the injustices done to them.”
“They expressed anger at the way people criticised and condemned them when they launched attacks but kept mute when Boko Haram members were killed, their homes demolished and their wives and children arrested by the security forces.
“We took their grievances to the government and advised the government to follow through, but hawks within the corridors of power discouraged the president from taking our advice.
“The second effort at dialogue involved a northern Islamic cleric and head of the Nigeria sharia council. The talks were facilitated by a freelance journalist who was later threatened by those opposed to dialogue.
“This second round of dialogue took place in the last quarter of 2012.
“Boko Haram accused the government of leaking the details of the talks to the media for political reasons. One of the group’s conditions for talks had been that only their outcome be made public.
“We were close to achieving a ceasefire but again hawks, security and defence contractors in the corridors of power sabotaged our efforts.
“I have never met the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau but I declined to meet him on two occasions when I got his invitation to interview him. I declined because I realised that the government was not interested in my approach.”