The abduction of yet another set of our schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe state, is a great blow to Nigeria’s national image and a dent on the effort to end the insurgency in the North-East.
This incident has shaken public confidence in the capacity of the government to end this war by military means. A few weeks ago, a joint statement by the law enforcement agents of Nigeria and Cameroon had declared victory over Boko Haram, and now we have this terrible incident. It seems declarations of successes tend to infuriate and invite the insurgents to carry out new and spectacular attacks as a show of force and strong presence.
The government should simply remain silent on real or fictitious victories, which are no longer credible and believable by the public, more so, after the multiple untrue claims of capturing or killing Abubakar Shekau.
It is now obvious that military victory is almost impossible on both sides of this war. The fighting could continue for decades and drag Nigeria down to a state of total collapse. The experiences of world powers with very powerful armies have proved that fighting an insurgency by sheer military might will fail. The defeats of the armies of the USA in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the defunct Soviet Union (Russia) in Afghanistan by ragtag militias are classical examples.
The focus now should be to seek peace through dialogue as an alternative to the use of force. After all, the Swiss and other groups have negotiated the release of several hostages in the recent past. This ray of hope and meeting point should be expanded to broker a peace deal, which may start with a ceasefire.
Dialogue, rather than rhetoric and a war of words, is the best option in resolving this crisis which is trending towards its first decade.
In the peace talks, hope for a brighter future for the people should be the focus of the negotiations. The Boko Haram rebellion is essentially a reaction to the state of despair and hopelessness among young people in the affected states.
The restoration of Lake Chad, strange as it may seem, is the hope which can restore peace to the troubled region.
The Lake Chad, its waters and environment, teemed with vast resources, which for centuries had sustained the lives and livelihood of over 20 million people in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger Republic, and as far away as Sudan, Algeria and Libya. The fishing grounds, farm and grazing lands, oil and gas, and bio-fertiliser from silts in the bed of the lake are some of the vast attributes which make Lake Chad an invaluable treasure in the Sahel.
The lake covered a land and water mass of over 25,000 square kilometres in 1960, which is about the size of Sokoto State or eight times the size of Lagos State. It has now shrunk to less than 2,500 square kilometres of desolate and blighted marshy land.
The displacement of fishermen, farmers and herdsmen to urban areas and other unfamiliar localities suddenly pauperised the people and turned them to helpless desperate refugees. The atmosphere for the ongoing crisis was thus set, and it only required a spark to blow the general discontent into a major conflagration, which is now consuming the country.
The Kanuri people who are at the hub of this rebellion are a dignified proud people, who were not known for begging or making trouble, but relied on hard work and the dignity of labour to earn their livelihood. But, when faced with this desperate situation, they took up arms against the state for whatever objective it may achieve.
The revival of the lake to its erstwhile pristine state is therefore central to the stability and peace in the affected region.
A few years ago, Bonifica spa, an Italian company, conducted the Trans Aqua Project feasibility study on revamping the lake by transferring waters from the mighty River Congo, through the Oubangi River in Central African Republic to Lake Chad. This project must be actualised now as a matter of urgency.
In this case, the cooperation of Boko Haram leadership is critical to its implementation. The experience of the team of geologists captured and released recently by Boko Haram is a pointer to the necessity of including this group in the Lake Chad project.
This project which is of international interest could be financed by a consortium of banks in association with the African Development Bank as the coordinating financial institution. The Chinese government through any of their big banks or Power China is likely to take interest in it and provide the bulk of the funds.
The enormous benefits of this project should convince the leadership of Boko Haram to cooperate with all stakeholders in the restoration of the lake, which eventually will benefit the entire population and bring displaced persons in the region back home.
After peace, the reconstruction of the devastated land could commence and the issue of religion would be resolved naturally.
Ambassador Rasheed Akinkuolie,