What Boko Haram Leaders Told Obasanjo

Obasanjo (l) and his host Fugu, who was gunned dow after receiving the former president in Maiduguri.

•Obasanjo (l) and his host Fugu, who was gunned dow after receiving the former president in Maiduguri.

Details of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s meeting with family of Mohammed Yusuf, slain leader of the Boko Haram sect, emerge


•Obasanjo (l) and his host Fugu, who was gunned dow after receiving the former president in Maiduguri.

With the sustained bomb and gun attacks by the Boko Haram sect in the Northern part of country and the inability of the security agencies to contain the menace, most Nigerians seem ready to welcome any move that could ensure a cessation of activities of the sect. Thus, despite the controversy over its timing and appropriateness, many Nigerians had hoped that the visit of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the family of Yusuf Mohammed, the late leader of the sect, would lead to an end of its murderous campaign. During the unannounced trip to Maiduguri on 15 September, Obasanjo met with some family members of the late Yusuf, led by his brother-in-law, Babakura Fugu. Though Obasanjo said the visit was a private one, many construed it as an attempt to open dialogue between the government and the group, which has claimed responsibility for most of the bomb attacks in some parts of the North, including the one on UN House, Abuja, which killed 23 people.

Yusuf was killed in police custody in 2009, after he was captured by soldiers sent to quell an uprising by the members of the sect in Maiduguri. Yusuf’s father-in-law, Alhaji Babakura Fugu Mohammed, was also shot dead by the police within the same period. Though the group has been in existence in the Northern part of the country since about 2005, it remained way below the radar of the general public until Yusuf and his father-in-law were killed.

The sect continues to cite the extra-judicial killing of its leaders as part of the reasons it has been waging war against the state. The group has also said part of its mission is to ensure stricter enforcement of Islamic law, the Sharia, in Northern states.

Obasanjo was persuaded by a group of Nigerians, that included Shehu Sani, a Kaduna-based civil rights campaigner and author. According to Sani, the group considered a few other names before settling for Obasanjo. Two of the names considered were Muhammadu Buhari, former military head of state and presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, and former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida.

They were, however, dropped because of the frostiness of their relationship with the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Sani told TheNEWS that Obasanjo was chosen for three main reasons. “One, during his tenure as president–he could have made many mistakes–we discovered his government didn’t arrest, persecute or launch a war against Boko Haram members. We also thought that he has the ears of President Goodluck Jonathan and the government…He comes from the Southern part of the country and the possibility of him being complicit with the group is virtually non-existent,” Sani said.

When Obasanjo’s name was proposed, disclosed Sani, Boko Haram leaders asked for one week to mull over the proposal, which they later accepted. They, however, requested that security personnel be kept away from the meeting.

At the meeting, which Sani attended, Obasanjo spoke in Hausa, which surprised their hosts, and also rejected the plush seat he was offered, electing to sit on the carpet with his hosts.

The meeting began with a prayer, after which Obasanjo asked them the cause of their anger and if, as a family, they could find a way to end their violent campaign. The former president also said he was worried about the violence and how the group is regularly linked with such. “He explained that the country is in serious danger of disintergration on account of the activities of the group. Their women were there. They sat on the left side of the room, while the men sat on the right,” Sani said.

A member of the family, who is thought to be their imam, was the first to respond. He told Obasanjo that the family and the sect have been victims of injustice, beginning with the killing of Yusuf, Fugu’s father and Buji Foi, a commissioner for Religious Affairs in Borno State.

The elderly man said the crisis was sparked by members of the Joint Task Force, who shot at Boko Haram members on a funeral procession for a member, who had died of natural causes, in 2009. The task force, he said, had taken exception to Boko Haram members’ failure to wear helmets while riding motorcycles.

The family member added that the killing of their members was followed by Yusuf being declared wanted by the police, his eventual arrest by soldiers, who turned him over to the police in whose custody he was killed.

Obasanjo, recalled Sani, expressed shock that it was a disagreement over the wearing of helmets that ignited a crisis that has taken the complexion of a huge insurrection. After the imam, some other members of the family spoke and Obasanjo asked them to give their names. The women then spoke before Fugu got up to speak.

He told Obasanjo that the group wrote three letters to the government of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, asking that the 2009 killings be investigated. The request, Fugu said, was rejected. Obasanjo asked for copies of the letters and if he could go with them. He was obliged. Fugu added that they also petitioned the government on the killing of their members. That petition was also ignored. And when they went to court, added Fugu, they got a ruling that a sum of N100 million be paid to them, which the government appealed. Fugu also complained about arrests and detention of their members by the police. Someone then stood up and said the picture painted by Fugu showed that they have been victims of injustice, which has provoked the violent reaction against the state.

Obasanjo said the violence is creating instability in the country and he wanted them to tell him what he can do to bring about peace.

Fugu replied that the justice they want is for the government to understand that injustice has been done to them and that the families of those killed and arrested are suffering. Fugu also demanded that the court ruling be obeyed by the government. He offered to take Obasanjo around Maiduguri to see their schools and mosques that were unjustly demolished. They wanted Obasanjo to tell the government to rebuild the damaged schools and mosques. Obasanjo then asked what guarantee they could give if their requests were met. But they said the government should accept their requests first. “We have told him our predicament, especially the destruction of our family house, and also the need for the state government to abide by the court order which ruled that a compensation of N100 million be paid for the extrajudicial killing of our father; and also to tell the security agencies to stop harassing and intimidating our family members over issues related to Boko Haram,” Fugu, who tried to dissociate Yusuf’s family from the sect’s recent activities, told journalists.

Why Fugu was eventually shot and killed still remains unknown. But there are speculations that some members of the sect thought he had given too much away. “The gunman pulled a Kalashnikov rifle from inside the folds of his traditional robes and shot Fugu to death. No one else was wounded in the attack and the gunman apparently walked away,” Simeon Midenda, Borno State Commissioner of Police, said of the incident.

A faction of Boko Haram initially told a foreign radio station that it was responsible for the killing. But a more popular faction of the group denied being responsible for the assassination, claiming that it would not do anything to hurt the interest of the sect or the family of its late leader. “We did not kill Baba Kura Fugu and we did not claim responsibility for his killing as reported by the BBC and other international media,” Abu Qaqa, a spokesperson for the faction, told journalists in Maiduguri.

However, it was gathered that security agencies believed that Fugu was killed by Mamman Nur faction of the deadly sect, using one Ustaz Mote. This was further given credence by the State Security Service, SSS, renewal of its wanted notice on Nur, with additional offer of N25 million bounty for information that can lead to his arrest the same day Fugu was assassinated. The SSS declared Nur wanted a few days after the bomb attack on UN House in Abuja, accusing the suspect, who it claimed recently returned from Somalia, of masterminding the attack. It was also gathered that Fugu may have been killed because the Nur faction feared he may collaborate with the Federal Government in its investigations of the activities of the sect.

Analysts believe that the killing of Fugu has confirmed speculations that there are different factions of the sect. But the Borno Elders and Leaders of Thought, BELT, a group of mostly retired, but eminent indigenes of the state, believes that the sect has indicated its readiness to dialogue with the Federal Government as a prelude to ending its vicious campaign. BELT argued that Fugu’s assassination should not put an end to initiatives that can lead to peace in Borno State, where the sect is most active.

In a letter to President Jonathan last Monday, BELT said: “We wish to remind you of our earlier call for the initiation of dialogue with members of Jama’atul Ahlil Sunnah lil Da’awal Wal Jihad (Boko Haram). Of recent, we have noticed the sustained desire of the sect through media reports of their willingness to talk with governments (federal and state). ”

But BELT’s optimism is under threat by the fact of Fugu’s assassination just 72 hours after receiving Obasanjo. Now, it will be difficult to find a new initiator for another parley, even in the unlikely event of the government accepting their recommendations.

Sani, the facilitator of Obasanjo’s visit, told journalists in Kaduna last week that he is receiving death threats from some members of the group. Instructively, even BELT failed to mention any link with the group or even put themselves forward as willing to lead the process in their letter. Indeed, it was reported during the week that the eight-man fact finding panel set up by President Jonathan and headed by Ambassador Umar Galtimari is now finding it difficult to carry out its assignment because not many people are enthusiastic about appearing before it.

Also, not many Nigerians buy the idea of negotiating with the group, which has repeatedly said its aim is to destabilise the government as a precursor to a wholesale enforcement of Sharia at least across the Northern states. The sect has not shown any remorse and has, instead, threatened more attacks. For example, the group recently boasted that it has links with al-Qeada and has affirmed that some of its members have recieved bomb-making training in Somalia. The group claimed that it has over 100 members eager to carry out suicide attacks at any location in Nigeria. A member of the group told THE PUNCH last week that some members of Boko Haram served in the Mauritanian Army and acquired knowledge in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices there. “You do not play ‘statesman’ over the mangled bodies of victims, least of all where their violators insist on the righteousness of their very conduct,” Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, said in response to Obasanjo’s visit to the group.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last Wednesday, President Jonathan also said Nigeria will not be intimidated by activities of the terrorists. “For us in Nigeria, terrorist acts, rather than intimidate, will only help us to strengthen our resolve to develop appropriate national strategies and collaborate even more closely with the international community in the fight against the menace,” said the President who also commiserated with the global body over the bomb attack on its building in Nigeria. Before the attack on the UN House, Boko Haram had also carried out a suicide attack on the Police Headquarters in Abuja, where it premiered its ability to carry out such attacks on 16 June. Hafiz Ringim, the Inspector-General of Police, who the group later claimed was the target of the attack, narrowly escaped being killed. A dozen visitors to the Police Headquarters were not so lucky.

Prior to the attack on the Police Headquarters, the group had attempted to bomb the Borno State Police Command during a recruitment exercise, but was prevented by an eagle-eyed officer, who shot and killed the driver of the vehicle even after he had successfully slammed the gate.

In Maiduguri, bomb and gun attacks at specific targets and law enforcement personnel was almost a daily affair until very recently. Boko Haram members have also been active in Niger, Bauchi and Kaduna states. The group has also been indicted for robbery as well as assault on police stations, where arms and ammunition were stolen.

The SSS claimed it is already recording successes in bringing members of the group to book over their nefarious activities. The intelligence agency has already taken some members of the group arrested over the bombing of the UN House and the bomb attacks in Suleja, Niger State, to court. What is, however, clear is that for now, the sect seems to be winning.

—Oluokun Ayorinde/Abuja

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