Several Borno residents have expressed doubts about the ceasefire deal announced by the federal government to have been reached between the government and the Boko Haram insurgent group.
The federal government announced on Friday that it had reached a temporary ceasefire with the group, which would also lead to the release of the over 200 teenage girls kidnapped by the insurgents from Chibok in Borno State. A formerly unknown man, who claimed to be the Boko Haram secretary, also told the VOA Hausa service that the group had accepted the ceasefire.
Borno residents, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES in Maiduguri, the state capital, however, gave diverse reasons for their doubts.
In her reaction to the ceasefire, Asabe Kwambura, the principal of the Government Secondary School, Chibok, where the girls were kidnapped on April 14, said she had doubts about the ceasefire.
“Many of us are still forced to doubt government,” Ms. Kwambura said, “because we thought since our last meeting with the president in Abuja, these girls would have since been rescued and reunited with their parents.”
She however described the ceasefire as news that would gladden her heart if it is true.
“If what we hear is true, I will be the most grateful person to God today and always I will be the happiest person in the world to see these girls of mine return home in one piece,” she said. “Nothing will supersede my joy. But all this will not be possible if the federal government does not follow this declaration with action, honesty and sincerity.”
Ms. Kwambura added that “Government must see to the fact that the parents of these girls are suffering, some are dying many have died of high blood pressure and post trauma stress disorder. I was in Chibok with the parents yesterday, and their plight is beyond words.
“We need to have these girls back; this is another opportunity for us to do so.”
Like the principal, other Borno residents spoken to also expressed some reservations about the ceasefire.
The Coordinator of Peace Ambassadors in Borno State, Ahmed Shehu, said his concern about the ceasefire was with the timing of the announcement.
“My concern is on the nature of the present crisis and it’s timing,” he said “it would be very difficult for people and humanity to forgive Boko Haram and allow them to integrate to the society just like that, considering the atrocities they have committed.”
He added that “the timing for the cease-fire is suspicious. Why now; why would they wait for the four African countries to step up the fight before they announce a ceasefire; why would they wait until their capacity and strength be weakened before they announce a ceasefire? For me, there is more to it than meet the eye. It’s suspicious, and I don’t want to sound as a pessimist; (but) it is ill timed and it’s not feasible”.
Mr. Shehu, however, said his group had always called for dialogue with the insurgents.
“It’s a welcome development if it’s a genuine one,” he said. “Conventionally, we are always advocating for use of dialogue to bring an end to this lingering security challenges; because in the history of world crisis, no war was won comfortably through warfare. Dialogue is the key.”
Abu Ismail, a civil servant, was more concerned about the implications of the ceasefire.
“What happens to the Boko Haram insurgents after the ceasefire and the possible release of the Chibok girls,” he asked. “Are we supposed to pat them on the back and say well done for shedding the blood of all these innocent Nigerians and thank you for helping us to kidnap our school girls for six months, causing their parents to die of trauma and then releasing them now.”
In his reaction, Zannah Mustapha, proprietor of Future Prowess Islamic School, Maiduguri, said “something is logically wrong with the whole ceasefire issue.”
“This is not the first time that we are hearing declarations of ceasefire or its proposal by the Boko Haram,” Mr. Mustapha, whose school offers free education to children orphaned by the insurgency, said.
“There was a time when some members of the Boko Haram, though unknown, came out to say if we must cease fire, the federal government had to arrest so and so personality and even rebuild their destroyed central mosque in Maiduguri. The pattern with which such declarations were made was very unique and consistent. But from the tone of the declaration made by the federal government as well as the manner with which the so-called secretary of the group had spoken in the radio, one tends to have some doubts.
“There is doubt because there had never been a time in the life of the Boko Haram leaders where we hear them lamenting loss of members or admitting the magnitude of pains they have suffered. If Shekau is to speak, his message is all about the doctrines of his group and what they stand for. He would emphasise that dying in the course of what they are doing is a thing of pride to them.
“But the problem is that we don’t even learn from history; if we are to follow the trend of these kind of announcement, right from the time of Abukakar (the erstwhile spokesman of Boko Haram) period, there wasn’t a time where any persons speaking on behalf of the Boko Haram, be it Shekau or any other Amir would come and talk without reciting some verses of the Holy Quran first. But here we have one coming out to say he is the Secretary of the group and they have decided to ceasefire. It is really difficult to believe; but we all hope for a true ceasefire, anyway”.
Just like Mr. Mustapha, some security personnel in Borno also expressed doubt about the ceasefire.
A top security official in Maiduguri, who spoke to journalists on condition of anonymity, said, “We are in the dark about this whole issue; how could it be possible that we on ground in the frontline don’t know anything about this ceasefire issue, only to wake up one morning to hear about it?”
He said though a ceasefire is “a welcome idea, but we need to be very much coordinated in our doings; we are not in the picture of the whole thing, but we pray it is true so that all of us can go and rest once and for all.”
Perhaps the Borno State government’s reaction to the ceasefire also perpetuates the doubt in the state of the ceasefire.
Though his state is the most affected by the insurgency, the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, simply declined to comment on the ceasefire.
Borno, which is the major base of the sect, has witnessed the death of thousands of residents while hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, with several property destroyed.
In his reaction to the ceasefire, Mr. Shettima, who spoke through his spokesperson, Isa Gusau, said he had “no comment for now” and “would speak at an appropriate time.”
“Governor Shettima has always believed in a tripartite approach that involves dialogue for peaceful resolution, military and economic strategies in addressing the Boko Haram problems and he has been a strong advocate of these measures through his practical efforts and sustained public appeals at various fora, which was why he firmly supported the efforts initiated by the President, Goodluck Jonathan through the setting up of the Tanimu Turaki led committee on dialogue and peaceful resolution of security challenges, in 2013, which worked actively and remained in force,” Mr. Gusau said.
“Governor Shettima is permanently committed to all genuine efforts that would bring the insurgency to an end especially given the fact that Borno State and its people have remained the worse hit by the unfortunate killings and destructions since 2009.”