Shehu Sani is a man who demonstrably knows too much about Boko Haram. He knows their full operative and leadership set-up and argues for what they do, did, can do and cannot do. He is always up to date on their decisions and plans and knows the names of all members in their top leadership council at all times. For a group that never negotiates and never trusts anyone, Shehu Sani has remained uncomfortably trusted and close over the years. Revisit this September interview with IBRAHEEM MUSA. His very categorical responses cannot be missed:
Recently, you made a post on your Facebook wall, casting doubts on Dr. Stephen Davis’ allegation which fingered Senator Ali Modu Sherrif and former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ihejirika, as the sponsors of Boko Haram. What was your reason for doubting the Australian negotiator?
Nigeria is facing a serious problem of insurgency that has led to the killings of thousands of people, displacement of millions of people and the destruction of the livelihood of millions of people. It’s the major national problem we are facing today. And all hands must contribute towards finding lasting solution to this problem. I think we have been doing our best as citizens and activists and we have taken a lot of risk in this respect.
I have got a report that Stephen Davis, the Australian negotiator, had made a statement that implicated former Governor of Borno state, Senator Ali Modu Sherrif and Iherijika, the former Chief Of Army Staff. I have neither met Sherrif nor Iherijika in my life. But I know that it is better to keep quiet than to make statements that cannot be substantiated with facts.
I’m quite aware of the sensitivity of this issue and also the desperation on the part of some persons who simply want somebody to hang for what is actually going on. There are a lot of things that we can blame Sherrif for and there are also so many things that you can blame Ihejirika for.
But we have to back our points with facts and data on the ground. Now lets take on Sherrif; Sherrif is largely blamed by the insurgent group for being responsible for what happened to them in 2009 and they also fingered him as the man who had a hand in the killing of their leader and many of their followers. And if you have gone through the statements and video posts of the Boko Haram leader, you will see how they consistently vilify and continuously attack Sherrif. They have never hidden the fact that he is a target. Not only him but people who are associated with him. Now if you look at Iherijika, he was Chief of Army Staff under whose tenure there were attacks at Baga and Bama in which scores of people were killed. And he unleashed a reign of force to fight the group.
Many people have accused him and the Army under his command at that time of committing massive atrocities in the hunt for Boko Haram members. Now, how can any sensible person align Sherrif and Ihejirika with the funding of Boko Haram? I’m simply baffled by the fact that many Nigerians seem to believe what Davis said. Like I have said, there are lots of things that you can charge Sherrif and Ihejirika for but how can these people who have been declared enemies by this group fund Boko Haram? That is one.
Secondly, I have been involved in this issue of negotiation and to me, Boko Haram has never announced the name of any person as a negotiator except on one occasion where they mention a former journalist with Blueprint Newspaper, Ahmed Salkida. Now, Stephen Davis cannot talk to Boko Haram not to talk of them revealing their sponsors. Boko Haram has a Shura council which is made up of 32 people and they have a leader in the person of Abubakar Shekau. There is no person who can reveal the secret of this organisation except if he is a leader of the Shura Council.
And there is no Shura Council member that can sit down with a white Australian and tell him their sponsors. As for me, I simply think that the man is being used by certain people to get at Sherrif and Ihejirika. And it is not possible for any negotiator to sit down with Boko Haram and start asking them of their sponsors. They will treat him as an enemy and a spy and he can never get out of that negotiation hall. So, what Stephen Davis said about Ihejirka and Sherrif, to me it’s nothing but a work of fiction, a frame up and attempt to simply rope in these people and destroy them. But that does not mean these two people have no case to answer as far as what is going on. That should also not stop investigation into Davis allegation.
It’s curious that the government invited Davis to negotiate the release of the Chibok girls but he has turned round to indict top PDP members. Who do you think is trying to frame up Sherrif and Ihejirka as you claimed?
I’m not aware whether the government has invited Stephen Davis to come to Nigeria for the Chibok girls. But I will not like to go into details of all these things. But I doubt if he has ever met any top ranking Boko Haram member. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t take his statement very serious. I know people have been making comments because they want someone to hang, to be held responsible for the insurgency.
But I think we should do that with better intelligence. There were two efforts to get the Chibok girls out of captivity and out of the two of them, Davis was not there. The first effort failed and the second one is still in process. I know what is going on and I don’t think, speaking from an informed position, that Davis has come close to any Boko Haram member. He got his information through a third party. So, he is not speaking the truth as far as I’m concerned.
Who is this third party that Davis got his information from?
No, I don’t have to say it but I know who he used to go and ask about how to go about his activities. I must tell you that he has no direct contact that will provide him with the kind of information that he made public. The way the organisation works, even second category members don’t know what the first category members are doing. That is why the arrest of one Boko Haram member doesn’t lead to the arrest of others.
They operate a highly secretive organisation that is very conscious of the fact that they are hunted. So, it is not possible for the relations of the insurgents to know their source of funding, talk less of someone who came from Australia.
But do you think it was proper for President Goodluck Jonathan to be seen with Sherrif in Chad, along with the Chadian president, even if he went to the country on his own?
Well, I’m not going to speak for the president. He has the right to pick whoever he wants to travel with.
Even when such people have been indicted?
I think for moral reasons, the president should have stayed away from Sherrif for now until this issue is resolved. But if you look at the way they operate in PDP, even if you are convict, you will be invited to sit down and wine and make merry with them. You will be at the high table as a very important person. So, if they can embrace people who have been convicted talk less of people who have been alleged to have. I think that is their way of doing things.
Tell us how and why you took ex President Olusegun Obasanjo to the father-inlaw of the late Mohammed Yusuf, former Boko Haram leader.
I think that is a bit of an old story. All I did simply was the fact that I’m interested in peace, stability and the restoration of order in all parts of Nigeria. And all I did was to try to reach out to the family members of Boko Haram, including the late Baba Fugu and through other contacts. Then I reached out to Obasanjo and told him that I had made contacts and if he can alert the government, I can arrange a meeting between him and the family members of Boko Haram.
We got a date and we met in Maiduguri in the mosque of their late leader, Mohammed Yusuf. We sat down and talked and ideas came up and they insisted that they wanted all their arrested members to be released and they also wanted an end to the harassment and the killing of their members. Two days after we left Maiduguri, Baba Fugu was killed.
Are aware if Obasanjo had communicated all these resolutions to President Jonathan?
Obasanjo actually submitted to the president all the resolutions. Most likely, the president handed over the issue to the former National Security Adviser and the NSA simply sabotaged everything. In his own thinking, they would finish with the group in about two years. So, they needed not sit down to negotiate with Boko Haram or release their members from captivity. He saw no reason why the government should accept the group’s demands.
But what is more important now is that we are reaching out to the group as far as the Chibok girls are concerned. And we are making progress but it is not for the media; there is an agreement that the negotiation should be out of the media until it has achieved success because Nigerians are tired of explanations. So, all I can say is that we are moving on but it is a bit of a difficult terrain because both sides are not prepared to make concessions. But we are still doing our best.
Why did you turn down the offer when the Federal Government included your name on the committee that will dialogue with Boko Haram last year?
I turned it down for three reasons. First, I have on two occasions made contacts and came up with possible ideas that could end the insurgency and submitted to the government and it was thrown away. There was also Dr Ibrahim Datti Ahmed peace talk that was submitted to the government which was also thrown away. If those two efforts were thrown away, I don’t see them using the one that I will be in with 26 other people. The second reason was that when my name was mentioned, I made contacts and reached out to some people within the group and asked them if they were ready to sit down with the committee.
They said they were not prepared to accept the amnesty or sit down with the committee on the grounds that they were disappointed with the earlier efforts that were made. So with these kind of responses that I have gotten from them, I had no reason to sit down and start talking about amnesty and dialogue when I know that they were going to reject it at the end of the day. Except if I was going there for the allowances and the prestige that I was selected by the president to negotiate.
If my memory serves me right, it wasn’t the Federal Government that botch the Ahmed Datti peace initiative. It was Datti himself that abandoned it because it was leaked to the media.
Yes, the media has been a major issue. But there is virtually lack of sincerity at that time on the part of government in implementing some of the ideas that were put forward. Datti said that he had to pull out because his suggestions were not used.
To me, it was not the insurgents that disrupted the initiative but security agents on the side of the government. I can tell you that there are two sides of the government in tackling this insurgency; we have the political side that want a peaceful negotiated resolution of the crisis and we have security experts that always give alarming reports and doomsday predictions if some suggestions are implemented. So, these are problems which we continue to face and it has been our major stumbling block up till now.
There was also a time when Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi’s name was announced as an intermediary between the group and the Federal Government but Boko Haram members denounced him. Why did they do so?
I don’t think the Dahiru Bauchi negotiation was true. Some people tried to drag him into it and tried to use him for their own pecuniary end. It was not with the blessing of the group that he should negotiate. There is a lot of fraud going on over this issue of insurgency.
Some people used to come out with false report of cease fire which never took place, or false reports of meeting with the insurgents. Scams are going on around and one of which is the Dahiru Bauchi’s own and that was why the group came out openly to say that they had never given him their blessing to negotiate on their behalf. Boko Haram: ‘Davis is a liar.’ [When did they say this?]
If you were to sit down with Mr President, what will be your advice as to how to end the insurgency?
There are two ways; if you are going to use force, you must equip your military, arm and fund them. And they must behave like a 21st centaury army in order to confront the insurgents. And if you are going to use dialogue, you must be able to implement whatever decisions that are reached. You must also beware of security experts who will always discourage and possibly sabotage any attempt at resolving this crisis through dialogue.
So, you can’t go half way using force while you have an underfunded, ill equipped and demoralised army. You can’t also say that you are for dialogue when you have scepticism and doubt and you are not also prepared to go all the way to implement the resolutions that were reached. So, half commitment does a lot of dangers to the final resolution of the insurgency.