It is easier to get into a conflict than to come out of it, and every war has its consequences, whether for the aggressors or the victims. Certainly, nearly everyone that survives a war lives with painful memories of its devastation.
The event of June 2009, where security operatives shot at 20 followers of Muhammad Yusuf, the leader of Boko Haram, which however prefers to be called Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), in Maiduguri over a mere traffic offence – and the subsequent mismanagement of the crisis by the former Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, leading to the extra-judicial killings of Mohammad Yusuf and several others – was a clear indication of how an unnecessary intervention could escalate into a viciously destructive force.
That decision by the late President Musa Yar’adua in 2009 to resort to a military option in dealing with an unruly religious sect on his way out to Brazil on an official trip may have looked strategic to him and his aides, but clearly it was mired in a deep fog of misreadings, which unleashed an unanticipated chain of events, which Nigeria is still paying dearly for. More so, a recall of the recent violent altercation between the Nigerian military and Shia adherents in Zaria, Kaduna State, and the numerous other extra-judicial killings preceding it, not only compounds the fog of security challenges in Nigeria, but shows how political and security leaders in the country have not learnt anything from history.
Many observers thought that early non-military intervention and timely mediation at the outbreak of violence could have saved West Africa the ongoing brutal war it is going through in the Lake Chad region. The same would have prevented the recent mass murder of hundreds of citizens in Zaria that is now nurturing the culture of violence in a region that often chooses violent confrontations over mediation in dispute resolution. Clearly, mediation would have created short- and long-term solutions to several of the violent outbursts witnessed in the last decades in Nigeria, but the government, whose duty it is to ensure peace and stability in the country, hardly explored options in this direction other than the brute application of force in addressing conflicts.
Today, people the world over seem to be entrapped in the a unipolar choice of resorting to military force in the resolution of conflicts instead of seeking non-military alternatives, and worse still, the issues serving as the founts of these crises are often ignored by those with the responsibility for their resolution.
For example, the ongoing military action by the Multinational Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad region, particularly in North-East Nigeria and Northern Cameroon has cut down ISWAP’s access to arms and ammunition and blocked several of the insurgent’s supply lines and routes of unleashing terror, yet the number of the group’s fighters willing to die for what they believe in remains strong. So, how well does it serve society when you take away guns from people, but still leave their yearnings for violence unchanged? I imagine both are important, but apparently, the reaction from Nigeria is one that focuses on military action alone, without seeking investment in non-military interventions that dissuade and kill the motives for bloodshed.
The reality in the North-East today is one in which there has been a significant diminution of violence as a result of the militarisation of the region, but the intelligence and non-military interventions necessary to complement such efforts are either non-existent or in dismal forms, giving ample room for the resurgence of violence.
Today, there are several members of ISWAP in the vicinity, in Nigeria and in different parts of Africa that still guard their beliefs tightly and continue with the indoctrination of their wards and a growing number of youths who still find the group’s campaign attractive. Such groups can never be reached and disarmed through military force, except through far-reaching theological countering of the doctrines that drive religious extremism, and the encouragement of behavioural changes that can curb the renewal of violence.
Today, proponents of the peaceful settlement of conflicts as against military action are often criticised as sympathisers of those that “deserved nothing but death,” but there is hardly any contemporary religious rebellion anywhere in the world that has been resolved by force. It is, nonetheless, important to note that ‘Sulhu’ or comprehensive peace settlement of the current impasse in the North-East is far-fetched because the leaders of the sect entertain nothing outside their brand of Islam; and while many Nigerians consider mediation as a means of ending the conflict, this is largely not so, as mediation is only a process, which many others are not even ready to contemplate. Nevertheless, if mediation fails, it is still not a wasted exercise, it affords those with the responsibility to enable a termination to the conflict more accurate readings of what and who they are dealing with.
Also, non-military intervention is not only about mediation. Humanitarian interventions by the international community, the civil society and well meaning citizens to reach vulnerable groups during conflicts is one of such. Also, another life-saving non-military approach is through the peaceful release of captives or cessation of violence in certain areas, with both sides making concessions in this regard. Other facets including the address of the socio-economic and political issues in the region that may have created and exacerbated the conflict in the first place is an important form of non-military approach. The global expectations for Nigeria to deploy her potentials in focusing on development programmes in the country have been embarrassing; and, indeed, government efforts at the state and federal levels at embracing participatory democracy and accountability have been tarnished by corruption and repeated instances of violence over the years.
Sadly, critical national institutions that ought to intervene and mediate in this crisis in Nigeria today are either too weak or totally compromised. It is thus in the interest of Nigeria to work through three key institutions in society – the legal establishment, faith-based organisations and the media, and to strengthen each of them to become decisive in making quality interventions that would scale down the levels of violence and criminality in the country.
The World Development Report 2011 acknowledges that there are no “standard fixes suitable for all” manifestations of violence, but urges that “efforts to resolve conflicts should be nationally led from within affected countries”. Faith based organisations, local governments and community leaders must lead by introducing programmes and measures that curb the inequalities and marginalisation in society that often leads to violence.