Sanusi Muhammad as a onetime member of the disbanded National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), and now in the fore-front to convincing the dreaded Islamic sect, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Liddawa’ati Wal Jihad (Boko Haram) to accept to dialogue with the federal government for an amicable solution to the lingering security challenges, bared his mind on issues of national interest relating to security challenges poised by Boko Haram:-
Q: It was reported in across section of the media that you have the capacity to convince Boko Haram sect to dialogue with the federal government. Are you a member of the sect or how are you going to achieve the goal?
Sanusi: Well, I have never been a member of the sect but I happen to know few of their prominent members before the sect was founded. I got to know them through interactions as a journalist. My relationship dates back to 2006 when the sect was established not when things went bad. I met with the founder at three different occasions before the eruption of violence and I happen to know most of those in the leadership including some blood relations of the late founder.
Q: But why is it difficult to reach out to the sect?
Sanusi: I don’t think it is all that difficult to reach the sect as claimed only that the proper channel is not followed. What blocks the government from reaching out to them from my understanding is the inability of the people to cooperate with the relevant security agencies to achieve that specific purpose. Secondly, most of those trying to assist in reaching out to the sect are either insincere in the assignment or are completely ignorant of the modus operandi of the sect. Thirdly, the sect itself has created artificial barrier between it and majority of the people through lost of confidence in anything government based on what they say from past experience. Most of those that tried to reach out to them were sycophantic and very insincere as I came to understand. In some few cases, those with vital information that can assist security agencies are jittery of the repercussion of revealing such information incase of any leakage to the sect. And, the sect itself has a faction that is not keen on any dialogue for now. One therefore has to be careful to avoid falling into the wrong faction. Again, there was a wrong approach to the problem right from the beginning. At the beginning, the capacity of the sect was under rated and there was no vital intelligent report to the security agencies on the modus operandi of the sect. I have said it times without number that no government has ever fought a group with a hidden identity to succeed. If you like, call it a terrorist group or guerilla or what ever but the truth is that the first approach to the problem was wrong and it contributed to its escalation to what we are witnessing today. For instance, when the founder was arrested in Maiduguri, he was handed over to the police as reported for interrogation and possible prosecution but within few minutes, it was reported that he had been killed. Instead of handing him over to the police, he could have been handed to the DSS for proper interrogation and subsequent prosecution since there was no basis for killing him without interrogation to dig deep down to the remote cause of the problem. There was a wrong approach to the Boko Haram issue right from the beginning through the application of force. The other point is that the international media contributed to the escalation of the problem most especially Aljazeera and BBC television stations by airing the killing of some arrested members without going through the legal process as if Nigeria is a banana country. That film was terrible and it revealed a lot of things to the people relating to the security system in operation. And, most of government efforts are thwarted by unnecessary statements from some of its agents. At onetime, the sect was called a faceless group and at another a security personnel declared that there was not going to be any dialogue with them while another said their days were numbered. Those statements instigated more attacks on their targets most especially the police.
Finally on that question, the government has to change its style of approach and policy towards the sect if anything positive is to be achieved. Governors are expected to set the machinery in motion to reach the sect in their own localities and so on. It is the responsibility of every Nigerian to support the effort of government to address the problem instead of heaping unnecessary blames on security agencies.
Q: Boko Haram has posed a threat to national security and the corporate existence of Nigeria. How then can the Federal Government earn their trust for peace to be achieved?
Sanusi: It is only when the Federal Government itself shows sincerity, determination and commitment towards a genuine dialogue. The Federal Government should identify those it knows have the desired contact with the sect and enjoy their respect and confidence not every Tom and Harry. Those should be secretly appointed as members of a secret committee with specific terms of reference and within a time frame to accomplish the task of reaching the sect leadership to discuss the modalities of ending the problem. It is not a matter of the position one occupies in the society but a matter of who can reach the leadership of the sect for the desired objective. One most important thing the government should know is that the sect is more than what it is rated to be. They have branches all over the federation as I was reliably informed with members even in government. The government should be ready to face the challenges associated with brokering truce because of the high risks involved and should be careful in appointing those to represent it for the dialogue if it eventually holds.
Q: But why did the Dr. Datti Ahmed committee fail to broker truce?
Sanusi: From my discussion with few members of the sects’ leadership, Dr Datti’s committee was becoming a political tool against the wish of the sect. Dr. Datti himself had his internal problem with the sect leadership and there was a communication breakdown between them. What I expected the Datti committee to do was to liaise with the sect leadership and bring them to the negotiating table to present their case instead of being represented. Dr. Datti erred by agreeing to dialogue on behalf of the sect with the Federal Government if that was a correct information. And I don’t think he had the mandate of doing so. Boko Haram should be encouraged to negotiate its problems by itself rather than through representation once they accept to dialogue. Since the authority has agreed to discuss with them, there is no basis for entertaining any fear of arrest or otherwise. Arrest is not a solution to the lingering problem I believe since it has not solved the problem and that forms part of the reason why government wants to dialogue and end the insurgency.
Q: Since the collapse of the first attempt, it seems the sect is no more interested in any dialogue.
Sanusi: That is not correct. I discussed extensively with across section of their leadership and they assured me of their preparedness to appoint some people to represent them in future attempt with the Federal Government. So, there is enough room for other attempts.
Q: But if they refuse to accept to dialogue, what do you suggest as the next line of action?
Sanusi: Government knows what to do next. But as a citizen, I suggest continuity of attempt to convince them to accept to dialogue. No harm in that.
Q: What is your comment on the recent security alert by the United States Embassy in Nigeria?
Sanusi: I see it as the usual threat by America to under rate our security system and send panic into the people as they did before. America does not know Nigeria more than Nigerian security agencies. Why should they under rate our security system? Has America finished attending to its own internal security challenges? Has America defeated the Talibans in Afghanistan? Why should America behave the way it did to Nigeria? Anyway, I am sure something is being done to checkmate future occurrence of such alarm by our government.
Q: How can the state governments assist in the quest for truce?
Sanusi: I was made to understand that some of the state governments are doing their best to bring the problem under control most especially the governors of Bauchi, Borno and Yobe. Governors should be directed to set up reconciliatory committees in their respective states to reach out to the sect. I know of the positive efforts of Bauchi and Yobe state governments to end the problem but the other states, from my observation are yet to identify the critical areas for possible solution. Again, from reports of what is considered as the extra-judicial killing of their Supreme leader in 2009 and the demolishing of their houses and places of worship in some states in the north-east sub-region coupled with what they call indiscriminate arrest of their members on the orders of some of those state governors, they can never agree to listen to any request from any of those state governments without an intermediary. The other point according to them is that they were betrayed by the former Borno state administration under Ali Modu Sheriff and some governors in the sub-region. Presently, they are ready to accept to dialogue with the federal government but their worry is that their members are still being hunted by security agents, which to them indicates that if they finally accept to attend any meeting, they could be arrested or even killed.
According to them, the arrest of one of their principal members in Kaduna, Abu Qaqah is an indication to what they should expect if they accept the invitation for dialogue.
At one of my telephone conversions with them, I explained to them the true position of things relating to the arrest of Malam Qaqah in Kaduna and the sincerity of government to dialogue with them without strings. Their principal member was not invited for any meeting as erroneously reported by the media but was arrested from information at the disposal of security agents. Their leaders confirmed to me that actually Qaqah was not authorized to attend any meeting on their behalf. So, there is no cause for alarm or any fear of possible arrest at any meeting if they accept the invitation.
They opined that in 2010, their members arrested in Bauchi and given a token amount by the state government to repent and return to their families but that the same state government later ordered for the arrest of those members. Again, I explained to them that it was not true that Bauchi state government ordered for the arrest of their members as erroneous reported. What happened was that the state government out of magnanimity directed that their members who repented should be given a token amount to soften the effects of resettlement with their nuclear family members. That was all not that the governor later betrayed the trust and directed for their arrest.
Q: Former President Obasanjo while trying to broker peace in Borno state, met with a member of the group. But his host was later murdered perhaps for receiving the former president.
Sanusi: Well the former president did not meet with any Boko Haram member but met with an in-law of the late leader whom they thought could be of any assistance to brokering truce with the sect. The in-law from my investigation was not mandated by the sect to speak for them or to even make any reference to them which he did. That was what provoked them and attracted the sentence passed on him. At the meeting with Obasanjo, he forwarded some financial requests that include the payment of compensation as ruled by the Supreme Court etc. The sect felt betrayed and insulted and therefore passed a death sentence on Obasanjo’s host. Secondly, the arrangement to meet with the in-law was faulty by itself because he had no business with the affairs of the sect. The sect is neither a family affair nor a traditional one but purely religious and there was a leadership in place that could have been reached instead of the in-law.
Q: Apart from the bombings of police stations and other security formations, the sect had severally claimed responsibility for many bomb attacks targeted on Christians and Churches or is the sect on a religious war?
Sanusi: Honestly, I cannot categorically say either the sect is on a religious war or not but I know it as a religious organization implementing its agenda its own way that is not pleasant to majority of Nigerians across religious divide. The various attacks targeted on Christians and their places of worship may be another strategy of pushing the country into a religious war for possible disintegration of the federation along religious line. It is a strategy of war I believe and it is left for the government to apply the right strategy if the amalgamation is to remain. But definitely, across section of the Muslim community I met are not happy with the unfortunate development. After all, to me, religion is a personal affair of those that believe in it. No person was mandated by the Almighty to destroy others for any reason in the two religions I know (Islam and Christianity). At any rate, from my investigation, not all attacks on Churches were carried out by the sect as erroneously reported. Some of the attacks were master-minded by criminals to achieve a hidden agenda against fellow Christians and the corporate existence of Nigeria. Take for instance the case of a woman attempted to set a Church ablaze in Bauchi before she was arrested, the case of those eight persons arrested in Miya Barkatai of Toro LGA, Bauchi state for attempting to bomb a Church for selfish reason and a similar case in Gombe that was reported and few others. The case of COCIN Church bomb blast in Jos needs further investigation to authenticate the truth. Anyway, I really appreciate the efforts of our security agencies despite their inability to nip the problem in the bud and not that they are inexperienced to handle such ugly situations or so but because Nigerians are not cooperating with them as required. The problem is beyond what Nigerians think. The group is already sophisticated and possibly enjoys foreign support that cannot be ruled-out.
Q: What exactly is the grouse of the sect against the government of Nigeria and Nigerians?
Sanusi: Oh! They said it times without number that the extra-judicial killing of their founder in 2009, indiscriminate arrest and detention of their members, extra-judicial killing of their members as aired by BBC and Aljazeera. Wanton destruction of their houses and places of worship are some of their grievances against the government and security agencies that compelled them to declare a Jihad (Holy war) against Nigeria.
Q: But why are they targeting Christians and Churches as if they are responsible for what happened to them?
Sanusi: From my discussions with some of them, they never claimed responsibility for any attack on a Church or a Christian apart from that of Madalla. I asked for the reason of that attack in Madalla and they said it was to serve as a warning to those that attacked Muslims in 2011 on Sallah day in Jos. I faulted that decision of attacking innocent worshippers in a different environment that has nothing to do with the unfortunate incident in Jos. I pleaded with them to stop all those attacks in the name of the Almighty Allah since government is prepared for a dialogue. Attacks have no meaning and add nothing positive to their plight other than hatred. As for attacks on security formations, they said it was the same security agencies that killed their leader, members and making arrests.
Q: There are reports that the sect is funded by international terrorists groups and some state governments including Bauchi state. How true is that?
Sanusi: Well, I am not very close to them to know their source (s) of funding but I know Bauchi state government does not contribute to their funding for whatever reason. Bauchi state has a sizeable number of their members but the security agencies there are doing their best to contain the situation not that the government is funding the sect for any reason. The governor shall be the last person to fund violence. I know the man having worked closely with him so I am talking out of experience. To be fair to him, he does not fund the sect for any reason and he should not be associated with their operations. What happened was that in 2010, some of their members incarcerated in Bauchi prison agreed to renounce violence and promised to return to their homes for a change of life. Based on that promise, the state government extended an olive branch and doled out a token amount to soften the effects of resettlement back home having suffered in the struggle as I said earlier. It was that gesture that was orchestrated and blown by mischief makers to mean funding the sect.
Q: From your information, is Kabiru Sokoto their member?
Sanusi: Yes please but not a serious member that can be of any assistance to the security agencies because as they said, he is insane but never can tell.
Q: What of Konduga who implicated Senator Ali Ndume?
Sanusi: As for Konduga, they said he has never been their member but a member of ECOMOG a Borno based notorious killer group that was used by politicians.
In his testominy as I read in the papers, Konduga lied by saying that he was the deputy spokesman of the sect. That is a lie because the spokesman of the sect, Abu Zayyad had Abu Qaqah as his deputy and when Zayyad was removed, Qaqah continued acting without a substantive deputy. That I know from what they told me.
Q: But were those paraded before journalists for kidnapping a Briton and an Italian national, members of the Boko Haram Shura?
Sanusi: That I cannot say yes or no because I have never met any member of their Shura before and even if we met, they were not introduced to me as members of the Shura and I am not their member. But since the DSS has said they are members of Boko Haram Shura, then it may be so and the sect has not denied that either.
Q: How far have you gone in your effort?
Sanusi: I have gone very far. I have established the necessary contacts, I have discussed my dialogue plans with their leadership and my request was accepted for consideration. I am just waiting for a reply of time and date as they will announce it themselves. I have no doubt in my mind that I shall succeed in the project and Nigeria shall have peace.
Q: Do you enjoy any financial assistance for the project from any quarter?
Sanusi: Not at all. It is purely my business to fund my efforts. After all, I was not assigned by anybody to embark on the project. So I don’t expect any funding from any person or organization. It is purely my effort to contribute to the peaceful coexistence of Nigerians.
Q: But you must be rich to have embarked on such an expensive project without an external support.
Sanusi: First, I am a struggling man trying to take care of myself, family and chain of dependants from my meager resources. The project is not expensive at all but only time and energy consuming. I have not expended much since I started in 2011 including several travels to neighboring countries and within. I have never given or promised the sect any monetary assistance since I don’t have. I only manage myself. But if there has been proper funding and support, I could have by now achieved my goal. I thank God for the support and encouragement I receive from those than know and appreciate the effort. If I have the resources, I could have engaged the service of others to achieve the target within a short period of time. But I have no regrets and I am determined till I succeed for Nigeria to appreciate.
Q: But are security agencies aware of your efforts?
Sanusi: Oh! Yes please. I could not have embarked on such a risky assignment without the consent of the security agencies. It is a very sensitive and risky assignment. I am determined to succeed with the support and encouragement of security agencies.
I so much appreciate their understanding and guidance.
Q: Can you name some of the security agencies that support you?
Sanusi: What for? There is no need of mentioning names. It has no business with this interview.
Q: You are a journalist and a former member of NADECO, why did you embark of such a risky project to facilitate a meeting between the Federal Government and the sect?
Sanusi: It is purely to satisfy the urge in me for the sake of the corporate existence of Nigeria as I met it and for the patriotism in me and to support the efforts of the government towards achieving peace for the benefit of all.
Whatever the reason, we should not allow the disintegration of the federation. Nigeria has come along way, I was born in a united Nigeria and I want to die in a united Nigeria as I found it.
Q: Are you please expecting any reward from the government if the project succeeds?
Sanusi: Not at all. What for? I have not even thought of that. If I finish the assignment and it pleases the powers that be to reward me, I would not say no but if nothing is offered, glory be to God. But I must appreciate the encouragement I have been receiving from great Nigerians and security agencies including members of the sect who prefer dialogue than violence
Q: Finally, is it true that there is a faction in the sect?
Sanusi: I was made to understand there is a faction that is not healthy to the effort of dialogue. But whatever the case, once the recognized sect led by Sheikh Abubakar Shekau accepts to dialogue, the other faction will go into oblivion
Q: But is Shekau prepared for dialogue?
Sanusi: Yes he is prepared once he is convinced of the security arrangement of his appearance and that of his lieutenants. To achieve that, I suggest government should first appoint a contact committee to reach the sect and prepare them for the dialogue which should include suspension of all attacks as the arrangement goes on. Then, a dialogue committee should be appointed to meet with representatives of the sect for the final resolution. All these can be achieved within 30 days if there is proper planning and commitment from both sides.