A JOINT SESSION OF PARLIAMENT DEALING WITH THE BOKO HARAM CONFLICT

Editor's Note: This article was written by Mukhtar Usman-Janguza: A London based Africa and Middle East public affairs commentator. He blogs at janguzaarewa.blogspot.com

Given dramatic developments in the northeast – Boko Haram mutating into a formidable territorial force; a recent “ceasefire” agreement announced by the government – a Presidential address in Parliament dealing solely with the now five-year conflict is long overdue. 



President Goodluck Jonathan presenting the 2013 budget at a Joint Session of the National Assembly (Today.ng)


Map showing at least 16 towns and villages in the northeast controlled by Boko Haram (Stratfor)

Whether we choose to believe it or not, Nigeria is at war! Terrorist insurgents have marched into the northeast intent on carving out an independent state. Despite a “State of Emergency”, and a military occupation, having been in place for 19 months – first declared in May 2013, subsequently extended in November – in the three most affected northeastern states, Boko Haram has still widened and deepened its control over large parts of the State of Emergency states. The group now controls at least 16 towns and villages – from a map recently published by Stratfor – and as much as 25 towns and villages – according to a recent estimate by the Catholic Church organisation in Nigeria. And despite government’s vociferous insistence that a “ceasefire” has been in effect since Friday (17th October 2014), there are reports that Boko Haram has seized yet another border town over the weekend.

According to the President himself, in his recent speech at the UN, 13,000 have so far been killed. And from recent estimates by NGO groups, tens of thousands more have been forced to flee into neighboring countries as destitute refugees, and over half-a-million are now classed as internally displaced.

Despite these staggering statistics, and the reality of a full-blown insurgency in a section of the country, much confusion beclouds the cataclysm unfolding in the northeast. News on events from the conflict zone – both good and bad – often gets into the public domain in a chaotic and haphazard manner. Public discourse is often dominated by unsavory rumors and conspiracy theories. And information released by government agencies and official channels are often contradictory, inaccurate, and therefore unreliable. The widespread skepticism which greeted the government’s announcement of the purported “ceasefire” agreement, and the contemptuous dismissal of same by informed analysts, illustrates the general belief that the government’s information campaign is based on “shadows and bubbles”, to quote Ahmed Salkida – a respected source on Boko Haram. Most perplexing however is the fact that, with a terrorist force now capable of seizing and holding Nigerian territory, there has been not a single national address before parliament by the President to help us make sense of the immense tragedy in the northeast; and to galvanize the nation for collective action.

It is now high time that a Joint Session of the National Assembly is called so the President can address the nation frankly on the true extent of the danger to our national existence from the insurgency in the northeast. The purported “ceasefire” agreement, and the general confusion which surrounds it, is reason enough for a Joint Session to be called to give clarity to this consequential development. A Joint Session of the National Assembly is the only fitting platform our national leadership has for addressing the fundamental questions calling out for answers in this destructive five-year conflict. To my mind, there are at least 22 such questions in desperate need of answers.

1. What is the nature and magnitude of the threat to our national existence posed by the group known as Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad – more widely known as Boko Haram?

2. What does Government know of the leadership and support structure of the group?

3. What is the estimated size of the group?

4. What towns and cities have been “lost” to the group? And how large is the population that remains “trapped” in Boko Haram territories?

5. Can government confirm or deny the serious allegation levelled by Alexander Dan’iyan, an analyst on the insurgency, that Boko Haram has “sleeper cells all over Nigeria”? In other words, apart from territories now physically controlled by Boko Haram, does the group have an operational or clandestine presence in any other part of the country?

6. What is the fate of the population that remains in the fallen territories? Do we accept them as irretrievably lost?

7. Can we be confident that no other city, town, village, or population center will fall to Boko Haram?

8. If not, what is presently being done to ensure areas under acute threat are being secured?

9. What logistical provisions have been put in place to ensure a relatively efficient evacuation of threatened areas should they come under threat of capture?

10. What has the impact of the crisis been on children in the conflict zone?

11. What is government doing to ensure they don’t become a “lost generation” – and therefore a resource pool for the insurgents?

12. Why do civilians – under the guise of a Civilian JTF – have to complement the law and order functions of the military and police in the conflict zone whilst our elites walk around in safer parts of the country surrounded with heavily armed officers?

13. As ordinary Nigerians are called on to make sacrifices, can the President articulate what sacrifices our collective national leadership are doing to help with #VictoryforNigeria?

14. What are the basic features of the “ceasefire” recently announced? 
What is its duration? Does government intend for it to be short-term and tactical (ceasefire to facilitate negotiations for Chibok girls in return for release of Boko Haram prisoners)? Or long-term and strategic (ceasefire in lieu of a wider political settlement)?

15. If the ceasefire is to facilitate a wider political settlement, what will the main features of this settlement be?

16. In light of past experience where other unilateral declarations of ceasefire by government have been answered by intensified violence by Boko Haram, what steps have government taken to ensure this current “ceasefire” sticks? 

17. And in light of allegations that the purported Boko Haram representative “Danladi Umar” is a fraud, how sure can we be that this whole episode is not another case of breath-taking incompetence?

18. Does the ceasefire mean that Boko Haram will continue to hold Nigerian territory unmolested by military action to reclaim sovereign national territory?

19. What happens to the population trapped behind Boko Haram lines for the duration of the “ceasefire”? 

20. Will they be allowed freedom to leave? Will a corridor be opened for humanitarian supplies to enter and for refugees to exit?

21. Will Nigerians be allowed freedom of movement into and out of areas presently controlled by Boko Haram?

22. In light of recent reports of Boko Haram operatives seizing additional towns over the weekend, how does government define “violation of ceasefire”? And what does government intend to do in response to any Boko Haram “violation” of the ceasefire?

The answers to these fundamental questions will provide the basis for a better understanding of the crisis now afflicting a part of our body-polity. This is the only country we have. This is the only political community we can call our own. The President, therefore, has a moral duty to address Nigerians before their parliamentary representatives on the nature and magnitude of the threat to our national existence.

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