Boko Haram’s surprise ceasefire: pursue peace but not at any price

February 23, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

A destroyed church building in KanoNigeria, February 21, 2013: Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group that has been waging a violent campaign to establish an Islamic state in Northern Nigeriafor over three years, has called a surprise truce.

Since July 2009, the group has been targeting churches, the police, security forces, government buildings and even moderate Muslim clerics who have challenged or failed to back its agenda. Thousands of people have been killed; Christians have been driven from their homes; and everyday life has been severely restricted in areas beset by violence.

The authorities have been unable to get to grips with Boko Haram, and the group has seemed unstoppable. So it was a stunning development when, at the end of January, a ceasefire was brokered between some of the group’s leaders and the Borno State government along with national government officials.

It seems too good to be true. And it is. The ceasefire is conditional, and Boko Haram’s demands are a high price to pay for peace. The group wants the unconditional release of all its detained members, the rebuilding of the destroyed mosque of its late leader, Muhammed Yusuf, and compensation for all its members.


The Nigerian government has responded with understandable reticence; several agreements have been broken in the past. The Chief of Defense Staff, Admiral Ola Saád Ibrahim, said:

We must take the ceasefire with a lot of caution… Let’s assume we can have a long period of about one month where no bomb explodes; where nobody is shot; where nobody is beheaded; where no church is bombed; where no mosque is threatened. If they can guarantee just one month, then we can begin to talk.

The Nigerian people are desperate for peace. Many have lost loved ones, and they live in fear of the next deadly Boko Haram strike. The violence has damaged the country’s international reputation and its economy. In Borno State, from where Boko Haram originates and where the fighting has been particularly intense, socio-economic activities have been greatly restricted, causing prices of basic goods to rise.

A statement by the Borno Elders Forum (BEF) in response to the ceasefire urged the Nigerian government to “embrace this positive opening and capitalise on it in order to open wider space for sustainable peace”. It said:

Our people have suffered enough. Enormous losses in terms of human lives, property and institutional set ups have occurred. We are therefore calling on all and sundry to encourage the peace process. We advise that cynicism and doubts should be set aside and positive attitude should be shown to encourage the sect to maintain this positive disposition.

Peace must certainly be pursued by all parties but not at any and every price. For lasting peace to be achieved, there must be a willingness on all sides to practise both justice and mercy. The terms of Boko Haram’s ceasefire are a denial of the justice owed to the victims of its bloody campaign. And while the group wants to receive mercy, will it now show mercy by stopping once and for all its atrocities against innocent Nigerian citizens?


The early signs are not encouraging. Since the ceasefire was declared, there have been numerous attacks that have borne the hallmark of Boko Haram. Several police and security force personnel have been killed in bombings and shootings in the militant group’s regular hunting grounds.

And an Islamist group, Ansaru, which is suspected of being an off-shoot of Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of seven foreign workers in Bauchi state on Sunday (17 February).

It has been suggested that it is only a faction of Boko Haram that has called the truce and that its wider membership is thus not committed to peace.

Boko Haram militants began their deadly campaign in 2009Given the group’s ruthless campaign to date, it seems highly unlikely that it is going to settle for anything less than the establishment of an Islamic state in NorthernNigeria. The government is right to be wary of this ceasefire and must be careful not to cede any ground that will ultimately serve only to advance the group’s agenda.

Boko Haram cannot be trusted to keep the terms of a peace agreement and, the release of its imprisoned members could prove disastrous if the Islamists betray the deal  as they have past accords.

– barnabas edit

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