Special Adviser on Communications to Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, Isa Umar Gusau, had a chat recently in Abuja with journalists, responding to views which were in sharp contrast with those of his boss on the issue of dialogue and amnesty for Boko Haram. STANLEY NKWOCHA was part of the parley.

Governor Kashim Shettima has settled for nothing other than dialogue with the Boko Haram sect and a declaration of amnesty for them. He made that call as far as 2011 even before he was sworn-in as governor. He even repeated it when the President visited Borno recently. There has been reservations on this given the spate of killings and destructions. What is your take on this?

When I was appointed by Governor Kashim Shettima a year ago, I went to him and requested that he explain to me the logic behind his pioneering and strict call for dialogue. I was coming from the Niger Delta, covering the region as a journalist and there were issues there. After the governor explained to me, I have come to realise that dialogue is indeed, the best option for us if we need an urgent solution.

Governor Shettima believes in the “three Ds” approach to crisis management, Diplomacy, Defence and Dialogue and these are usually applied interchangeably as effective and efficient strategies of managing crisis such as what we are facing in Nigeria today. Governor Shettima has regularly upheld, in particular, diplomacy and dialogue because like the soldiers also say, their guns are not meant for fellow Nigerians but enemies of Nigeria. Shettima is always pained when anyone is killed be it civilian, soldiers, police or any security official as well as when the sect members are killed because they are all Nigerians. When parents die, children are orphaned, women are widowed and in most cases, hopes are dashed. The governor had explained politely to the president, that it is the job of government to trace the insurgents, unmask them and dialogue with them. Like he said, you must start dialogue with a step and you can’t get everyone over night. We have detainees. Some of them can be approached. A leader in authority can choose a good time to order to see any high profile detainee to interact with him, speak to his emotions. It all depends on how much one is passionate about solving the issues and how much one even tries to understand the problem.

?World leaders I presume, do a lot of talks underground that we don’t get to know. There are negotiations here and there. As bad as the U.S invasion of Iraq could be seen, they couldn’t have succeeded in penetrating the country without possibly working with some people in Iraq that the U.S does not necessarily share their views with on many issues be it religion or politics. We hear some world leaders visiting war fronts. They may actually be there but for tactical negotiations, they don’t get reported by the press because they may be done in high level secrecy.

A world leader may meet a ‘high profile enemy’ in captivity one-on-one and put some cards on the table and tell him, look, you are in our hands, we want to achieve this, we need your help and this is what you stand to get and this is how we think you can help us. The leader has to take charge, initiate and control the process and this is what I have learnt from Governor Shettima. The man is just too tactical. He fully understands the peace process.? It is just that he doesn’t have the powers to get everything done. Only the president can seal the process however one tries.


But some people are arguing that it will be an injustice to pardon someone or a group who have killed so many people and are still killing. More so, that the group has neither shown remorse nor has made itself reachable…

(Cuts in). I read one article by former minister of aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode insisting that crackdown is the best way, a sort of eye for an eye but with due respect, I think Chief Fani-Kayode and some others with his kind of views have so much to study on the dialogue and amnesty being championed, especially the position of Governor Shettima and other eminent Nigerians because there is logic from what he explained to me and to many people. Now, a lot of persons and groups, including Chief Fani-Kayode, are looking at the amnesty issue from just one point of view. That is the view of forgiving if you like to say, an unrepentant killer. But Governor Shettima is looking at the amnesty as a psychological strategy that will open doors for dialogue.

When a person kills one, he kills many in an attempt not to get caught but when you create an opening for a sort of freedom, you spare the lives of those he would have killed in an attempt to be safe. If you have an area dominated by certain groups of people who feel unsafe for being or doing x-y, the groups are likely to attack any strange face they see around the area based on suspicion arising from fear that the stranger is there to compromise their safety. But when these people have some hope of freedom, their tendency to attack a strange face is reduced because the actual motive behind the would-have-been attack, is mainly fear of their safety, not necessarily because the strange face is a primary target.? In addition to that, you can never round up negotiations so easy, you go in rigid but flexible at the same time. You go in with a clear objective, passion, and an open heart and importantly, strong determination and tact. You get experts to negotiate for you if you are not good at it but you require sincere commitment to agreements reached if you want to achieve something sustainable. Even in the negotiations we hear or read between labour and government or ASUU and government, they are never easy because parties sometimes go into negotiations with impossible demands, sometimes with the intention of meeting a far lesser objective. For instance, the NLC can tell the federal government it needs N100,000 as minimum wage for workers whereas the NLC’s target is N20,000. That is how negotiation takes place. Only a fool goes into negotiation, pronouncing an easy objective. You normally inflate your needs. You don’t know what the other party is coming up with.

You probably remember how in 2011, Hamas negotiated the freedom of 1,000 Palestinians to free one Israeli soldier in their hand. Some people saw the Israelis as crazy but I think beside concern for their citizen, the Israeli government wanted a psychological warfare to create a sort of value for their soldiers, make the Palestinians fear the soldiers. You know ‘if they can release 1000 of us for one soldier, then their soldiers must have some sort of mysterious fighting skills’. But all the same it was a victory for Hamas.

I am not an expert in conflict resolution but I know that negotiations take different forms. Let me give you an example based on some media reports and as someone who covered the Niger Delta as a journalist and interacted with different researchers on the subject matter, when the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua declared amnesty for Niger Delta militants sometimes in June, 2009, there was no full negotiation with all the leaders of the militant organisations; Alhaji Asari Dokubo for instance, whom I have met alongside other journalists and interviewed on three occasions in Port Harcourt, confirmed to me even as recent as 2012, that he did not and will never accept the whole amnesty issue because according to him, he didn’t commit any crime and he believes that only criminals are granted amnesty.

Dokubo even went to court challenging the amnesty but I think he is only being clever by half, because he left the creeks along with his boys, laid down his arms and started walking freely only after the amnesty proclamation. Today, he is sometimes a guest in Aso Rock. He was even a member of the federal government’s delegation to Hajj two years ago. Probably, Dokubo was just looking for a smart way out as a sort of image control maybe based on the war drums he had beaten before and some boasts to fight to death.

The fact is that? without foot soldiers, there is no commander; when Yar’adua declared amnesty, it was the group of foot soldiers, the young front line arms carriers, not the commanders who started coming out to commit to freedom, obviously because some of them where tired of moving from one creek to another to hide. Some of them simply took risks and came out perhaps because remaining in their hideouts was not any better and the commanders may be, smartly came out because you cannot lead where there is no flock. The amnesty made them to lose front line men so they had to join. Some people talk of money. I can bet you that militants and their collaborators were making far, far more money during the militancy era. Some of them probably didn’t want that era to end. Those who didn’t make enough or those who always wanted more, regardless of what is wrong about how the money is made. I also remember that Chief Ateke Tom only accepted the amnesty some hours to the deadline. President Yar’adua had come up with a date in October, 2009, I think 4th or thereabout, as the deadline and anyone who didn’t come out then was to be regarded as a criminal.


So many foot soldiers kept trooping out and as a commander, even if one did not actually determine the surrender in quote of his foot soldiers to drop their arms for amnesty, because the commander is the one in a position to sit down for negotiation with government officials. He naturally takes the credit, claim an exaggerated control and even inflate the figures of his men for whatever motive. So, the amnesty Governor Kashim Shettima wants is that which would open doors for sincere dialogue that will guarantee an immediate and sustainable peace and not some blind optimism.

But some peace initiatives have failed. For instance the Governor allegedly met with some commanders of the sect members in 2012 for negotiations that hit the brick wall and another one that resulted into a cease fire declaration by a faction of the sect all of which have not produced results, how do you reconcile that?

First of all, I have no comment as to whether or not the governor held meetings with anyone in the first place, but what i do know is that the Governor has been working so severely hard to end the insurgency by way of dialogue, everyday, Governor Shettima explores ways of establishing new form of communication to achieve his objective, he is very determined and he reaches out to the lowest category of persons or group the moment he hears of an opening. More than any other thing, Governor Shettima is desperate about ending the insurgency by way of dialogue because he believes it is the best way out and like I said, dialogue especially the type the Governor is looking forward to is not an easy task and he knows and understands that very well.

The President who has the powers to declare the amnesty has foreclosed the negotiation right before the Governor in Maiduguri, doesn’t that end the Governor’s objective?

No, it doesn’t it, in fact, it only rekindles the Governor’s spirit to be more determined at least haven heard from the President, he now knows where to press the buttons and let me also say that for us we do not see it that way that the President has foreclosed discussions, not at all.

The President is human, he is a democrat, he is leading Nigerians and Nigerians can choose how they want him to lead especially on certain issues, so the debates are going on, we are beginning to see more people keying into the Governor’s call of dialogue, if you assess the opposite debates, those against dialogue and amnesty have only maintained a particular number but there is a rise almost every day on those seeing the need for amnesty and I think the number will continue to grow and we will gain the right momentum and I believe the President will be decisive when he sees the numbers climbing. The fact is that guerrilla warfare is not something you combat easily, even if you win by military tactics, the price may be too much to pay for that victory because so many more innocent souls would be lost to cross fires and that is what Governor Shettima and many other well meaning Nigerians want to prevent by their shared logic.


There was this repeated call for the President to visit Borno, now he went, what has the State benefitted?

The current debate for dialogue and the climbing numbers of those supporting the amnesty is one big benefit because before the visit, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and many others didn’t openly support the amnesty, the debate was not set, the debate came up after the Presidential visit and even though the President merely re-echoed what he had said, it became an agenda when he pronounced it at the affected States of Borno and Yobe. Then, we are expecting other material benefits from the President based on his promises on the issue of education, employment creation, and agriculture through enhancing irrigation by increased commitment on recharging the Chad basin. The President was in Borno with Ministers of Works, Education, Water, Agriculture and Finance, I don’t think he just went with them for no reason, I think they had reasons for being there, remember also that the focus of the Governor’s well articulated speech was primarily on security, roads, education and irrigation agriculture and affected ministers were all there. So I am sure the President and his entourage have copies of the Governor’s submission, so we are waiting impatiently.