According to a recent BBC report, the official policy of the Nigerian government toward the Boko Haram terrorist group is one of “carrot and stick.” A major requisite of such a policy is for the government and Boko Haram to set down together and attempt to understand each party’s position and work toward some sort of compromise. Yet, back on February 23 of this year the Chief of Defense Staff, Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, seemed to express quite another position when he said that the defense commanders would never share a negotiation table with Boko Haram leaders.
Both the defense forces and the terrorists have felt the sting of each others distructive capabilities. Two years ago the military, in an attempt to squash the terrorist group, killed hundreds of Boko Haram members. The internet is full of videos of summary, public executions of suspected terrorists. Far from taking the wind out of the sails of the terrorists, these actions inflamed them, pushing them into hiding and in the past few months they have resurfaced to mount their strongest and most destructive attacks, including assaults on several at military and police installations. These attacks have deepened the resolve of the military to wipe them out, yet that desire seems just that – a mere wish to see the terrorist done away with. A wish they have been unable to fulfill. It seems the stage has been set for a prolonged, bloody battle in which Nigerian civilians will suffer.
There is no doubt that Boko Haram has a large following in the north of Nigeria. Citizens in that area feel marginalized and neglected by the central government. Leaders in the north are clamoring for a “carrot” – some positive enticement – to be offered to the terrorists. They point to the government “rewarding” the rebels in oil-rich, Niger Delta region with “generous financial packages.” They question why this cannot be done for Boko Haram and the people’s of the north.
There is not sign that the central government or the military are ready to offer anything, other than gunfire, to Boko Haram. Even so one must question the wisdom in offering carrots directly to terrorist groups. If terrorists are rewarded, other disgruntled groups may well see the benefit in mounting an armed struggle. The government might do well to enter into serious discussions with the civilian leaders of the north and assist them in caring for their people – doing more good for the people than the terrorists.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. It also is a major supplier of oil to the United States. If drone attacks in Somalia are any sign of what African governments who are ineffective in fight terrorism might expect from the United States, Nigeria may, in the future, see their skies crossed by unmanned fighter craft.