Widening the Search for Boko Haram Leaders

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Shekau
Shekau

The battle to smoke out leaders of Boko Haram and their allies gets international assistance with the offer of $23 million from the United States for the arrest of the terrorists

|  By Olu Ojewale   |  Jun. 17, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

THE Nigeria’s war against Jamaatu Ahlis-Sunna Liddaawati Wal Jihad otherwise known as Boko Haram is now on many fronts. On Monday, June 3, the United States announced a reward of $7million for information that could lead to the arrest of Abubakar Shekau, head of the sect. But it is not only Shekau that the US is looking for. It has also placed prize-tags on the heads of four other Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Nigeria and West Africa.

The US is offering $5 million on Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian-based Al-Qaeda member, who led the hostages attack in Southern Algerian town of Menas in February this year, and also placed another $5 million on the head of Yahya Abou Al-Hammam, a top leader of Ansar Dine in Mali. The names of two others were not given. On the whole, the US has earmarked $23 million to be given out on information leading to the arrest of the notorious terrorists operating in West Africa.

On Tuesday, June 4, President Goodluck Jonathan also announced the proscription of the terrorist group and its accomplice, the Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan also known as Ansaru. The proscription order was immediately gazetted to give legal muscle to the decision. Reuben Abati, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, who announced the president’s action in a statement, said that the order which had already been gazetted as the Terrorism (Prevention, Proscription Order) Notice 2013 was approved by President Jonathan pursuant to Section 2 of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 (as amended). Abati said that the notice, “officially brings the activities of both groups within the purview of the Terrorism Prevention Act and any persons associated with the two groups can now be legally prosecuted and sentenced to penalties specified in the Act.” Thus, he said any person participating in any form of activities involving or concerning the collective intentions of the proscribed groups would be violating the law on terrorism. According to president’s spokesman, “Section 5 (1) of the act prescribes a term of imprisonment of not less than 20 years for any person who knowingly, in any manner, directly or indirectly, solicits or renders support for the commission of an act of terrorism or to a terrorist group.”

The clear determination of the US and Nigeria to work together to get rid of the terrorist groups was a clear departure from what had been in past when President Jonathan refused to admit that Boko Haram was a terrorist group. This also influenced the US to be reluctant to declare Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organisation, FTO. But braking that wall of divide has also brought mixed reactions from many quarters.

Jonathan
Jonathan

Enyinnaya Abaribe, chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, said that government’s decision was rather late, but a welcome development, adding that, “the Senate supports the proscription of Boko Haram.” Also in support of government action is the House of Representatives. Ahmed Datti, deputy minority whip of the House, said: “Though a welcome development, we do not need to proscribe an illegal body like Boko Haram. What is the essence of proscribing a body that is illegal when in the first place it was not registered in Nigeria as a legal body? This development does not really make any sense to me.” Abiodun Faleke, chairman, House Committee on Anti-corruption and Ethics, said that the proscription was in order.”I agree with the proscription. We are already in war with the group. I only hope that the same will apply to Niger Delta militants and all amnesty will be stopped,” Faleke said.

But the two prominent groups in the northern part of the country have kicked against the ban. On Wednesday, June 5, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, faulted the proscription, saying it would make negotiation difficult. The groups claimed that the Jonathan administration had, through the ban, thrown a spanner in the works in its efforts to end bloodletting in the trouble Northern states through amnesty for Boko Haram and Ansaru members. They wondered how the federal government would resolve the situation in the north with such a decision.

Anthony Sani, national secretary of the ACF, in an interview, argued that future negotiations with Boko Haram would now be difficult. “Before, the government told us that it was  using  a stick and carrot approach; that is, negotiation and state of emergency; now that it has proscribed it (Boko Haram), how will the negotiation work? It is the government that told us that  a stick and carrot approach will work together. Now that it has gone ahead to proscribe  Boko Haram, let us see how it will  apply  the stick and carrot. We pray that it succeeds.”

On his part, Ango Abdullahi, a professor and NEF secretary, said the proscription contradicted government’s efforts to negotiate with the sect. Abdullahi said since the sects were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission it was wrong of the government to ban it. “But in this case, people say they don’t know what this Boko Haram is, they don’t know the members and they are trying to get the members to come out for dialogue. If you are looking for dialogue, you have to expect that there will be people who will come out under certain respectable conditions,” he said.

Abubakar Tsav, retired commissioner of police, flayed the ban and accused the president of double standards. He asked: “Why did the President not include MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), NDVF (Niger Delta Volunteer Force), OPC (Odua People’s Congress), Ombatse, etc in the ban since these organisations also engage in acts of terrorism?” Tsav said what Jonathan had done was dictatorial. “This is civilian dictatorship and not democracy. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” he said. Joe Okei-Odumakin, president of Campaign for Democracy, CD, a human rights organisation, said the ban was meaningless. “It is meaningless and preposterous. The Boko Haram would laugh it off as a joke. What the government needs to do is to enforce law and order,” she said.

But what cannot be laughed off is the determination of the US to get the leaders of the terrorist groups. Kurt Rice, the US acting assistant director of Diplomatic Security Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate, said at a joint tele-news conference with David Gilmour, deputy assistant secretary for African Affairs, on Monday, June 4, that the country would like to bring to trial all the terrorists whenever they are caught. “Our intent in offering this reward at this time is to work with our Nigeria partners to try and make (Nigeria)  a more stable and secure area,” Rice said.

Speaking on behalf of Jonathan, Abati said the US involvement was commendable. “It is a positive development, we welcome any effort of the international community to support Nigeria’s effort at waging war against terrorism and its perpetrators. What this proves is that terrorism is a global phenomenon that requires a global effort at combating it. Nigeria believes that the international community needs to come together to combat terrorism,” Abati said.

Obama
Obama

The CLO, on its part, asked Nigeria to cooperate more with the US government to help eradicate terrorism in the country. “This is why we supported the state of emergency by the Federal Government. Terrorism is not something that should be handled with kid gloves,” the organisation said. Femi Asiwaju, a cleric and vice president, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, said that it was commendable for the US to help Nigeria to tackle the problem. “The world is paying attention to what is happening in the country and we thank God for that. We appreciate the US for coming out because what we have in our hands is not a domestic issue,” Asiwaju said.

James Fadele, president of the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, CANAN, was simply elated by the news. “This is great news and an encouraging development. We want to commend the new US Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry for this decision in the hope that this move is an indication of greater forthrightness in dealing with the bane of terrorism in Nigeria and the West African sub-region.” The Jubilee Campaign, an organisation based in Washington DC, on its part, hoped that the offer of the reward would bring the desired results. “Our data shows that Boko Haram attacks more Christians than any other targeted group. Between 2010 and 2013, Boko Haram initiated attacks against Christians 297 times, and in 2012 Boko Haram killed 1,726 people and injured 613 more. In 2013 Boko Haram has so far killed 785 people and injured 182 more. Finding Shekau and bringing him to justice should be a top priority, and this reward offer elevates the importance of ending impunity,” it said.

Another US based association, The Institute on Religion and Democracy, in commending the US, said the aim of Shekau and his co-travellers was to eradicate the Christian population in northern Nigeria and to impose Sharia law on the whole nation. “The capture of Shekau, who has stated that he has no more compunction about killing an “infidel” than killing a chicken, should be a priority to the US and to all who value humanity and justice,” the institute said in a statement signed by Faith McDonnell, a director.

The Joint Task Force, JTF, had earlier placed N50 million reward on information that could lead to the arrest of Abubakar Shekau; N25 million on Habibu Yusuf, aka, Asalafi, Khaho Albarnawai, Momodu Bama and Moyamme Zangina while N10 million was placed on 14 other Boko Haram commanders including  Abu Saad, Abu Kaka, Aboulamakka Bama and Umar Fuyata.

But whether the prize tags, clamp down and outlawing of the terrorist groups would restore the much desired peace to Nigeria is another thing. In the meantime, the search continues while the three northern states of the country remain a war zone.

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