Boko Haram is taking a much huger toll on us than the killings, arson and maiming that have become its trademark. While we are still grappling with burying hundreds of the sect’s victims, rebuilding places of worship, reconstructing ethnic and religious relationships, and peering warily into a future that is looking increasingly gloomy, the sect has both directly and indirectly created a unique trouble for everybody.
So far, we have passed the stage of arguing over whether to negotiate with the sect or not, for it seems we have argued ourselves into a stalemate, with the government more evidently at sixes and sevens than the rest of us.
Now, we are at the stage of arguing over whether we are actually negotiating with the sect’s representatives or not, and not trusting what we see or hear. Self-doubt has begun to gnaw at our national kidney.
After many months of handwringing, unsure whether to fight the sect or not, the government finally decided to fight, even if half-heartedly. Then, when it was discovered that winning the fight goes beyond the mere determination to fight, the government, like a whirligig, again began to contemplate dialogue; and the sect itself, with its hoary sense of humour snickered as it baited the government.
Finally, a few weeks ago, after the sect announced its readiness to enter into dialogue, presidential spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, acknowledged that some forms of negotiations were going on.
He had asserted, with the kind of confidence, “I can confirm to you that talks are ongoing at the background. But the talks are not the kinds being envisaged by Nigerians. I know that some Nigerians are expecting that a venue should be chosen and a banner would be placed there indicating that the Federal Government is holding dialogue with the group there. That is not the kind of talks we are talking about here. The ongoing talk is a back-channel one in which those who know members of the group are talking with them on behalf of the government.”
Abati’s confident assertions supposedly put us out of misery. But the relief was short-lived.
Soon, the president himself, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, weighed in with an even more vigorous counter of his own.
Said he dismissively: “Government is not in dialogue with any of group of people, not the least Boko Haram. They Boko Haramare still operating under cover. They wear a mask. They don’t have a face. You don’t dialogue with people you don’t know. We don’t have anybody to dialogue with. There is no dialogue going on anywhere contrary to reports that have been carried in the media.”
If Abati doesn’t have egg on his face because of his self-effacement, on his behalf, we solemnly bear the pain. But who’ll break the logjam and set the record straight?
Enter Dr Junaid Mohammed, the knight in shining armour, sweeping pugnaciously into view, arms flailing, eyes blazing hot, and tongue speaking daggers. He confirmed that the president was not telling the truth on Boko Haram dialogue, and that, in fact, dialogue was already taking place between the sect and government.
Hear the eloquent Jonathan tormentor: “This government (the Jonathan presidency) has been having underground talks with Boko Haram, and if the President says he is not negotiating with the sect, he is lying. What the government is trying to do with the Boko Haram matter shows the highest display of hypocrisy and dishonesty.”
Few people call a spade a spade as acerbically as Junaid.
Should we decide to cast the deciding ballot, how would we vote? All three gentlemen ought to know the truth; but all three have chosen to tell colourful stories. Somewhere between them lie the unvarnished facts, and perhaps it is only Boko Haram that is not misrepresenting the reality. The winner in all this, it is obvious, is Boko Haram, a sect that repeatedly sets a cat among the pigeons, our pigeons, frightens us out of our wits, and causes the power elite to find fact and fiction indistinguishable.