Generally, the posture of governments towards criminal non-state actors – whether terrorists, militants, insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, drug lords, rebels, seccessionists, street gangs, cultists among others in the underworld – is to defeat them on the battlefield using the instrumentality of state power. No nation state wants to agree to any form of roundtable engagement with them.
In spite of this, many countries – developed, developing and underdeveloped, engage in some form of dialogue and negotiation with such groups when strong-arm tactics fail.
Jonathan Powell, Chief of Staff to former British premier, Tony Blair, in his book: ‘Terrorists at the Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace’, argues that not only should governments be ready to negotiate with terrorist groups, but they should open a channel of communication at an early stage of any conflict or insurgency.’
Powell states: “’We do not negotiate with terrorists’ is a common posture of most governments faced with terrorist demands. But, in reality, is such an absolute position tenable or even desirable? Can negotiation save lives and bring peaceful resolution? Or are ceasefires a mistake which allows terrorists to rearm or regroup? Does talking to a terrorist faction give that group a legitimacy that it would not otherwise have?”
Along that disposition, Indeed, on June 18, 2013, the G8 leaders signed an agreement against paying ransoms to terrorists. The United States has no policy of negotiating with terrorists for hostages.
In the case of the US there have been exceptional cases when Barrack Obama negotiated with the Taliban. This incident was heavily criticized. In May 2014, the US government secured the release of Seargent Bowe Bergdahi in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. This was attacked by Republicans. Isreal in 1993 secretly negotiated the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organisation even as the PLO continued its activities.
Countries like France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland are more open to negotiation and ransom. An article by Chatham House reveals that in 2014, countries such as France and Spain paid millions of euros in ransom to bring home journalists and aid workers captured by the Islamic State in Syria.
While these cases were largely of groups that operated on the global
levels, in Nigeria similar negotiations took place, for the first time in 2009, when late President Umaru Yar’Adua took a bold step towards ending the intractable Niger Delta militancy which at that point, seemed to defy all solutions. As in other instances, the move by Yar’Adua elicited mixed reactions from the Nigerian public and the global community. However, Yar’Adua pursued the dialogue option culminating in the amnesty program.
In an effort to end Boko Haram terrorism and insurgency both former President Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent administrations have gone into some form of dialogue and negotiation with the group. The negotiation with Boko Haram by Buhari administration led to the release of some Chibok girls. Negotiation with a faction of Boko Haram led to release of the kidnapped Dapchi school girls.
At state level, for the first in Nigeria’s history, a state governor pioneered dialogue and negotiation with bandits. The drama of negotiating with bandits started when the l Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State opened talks with bandits in a bid to assure the people of his willingness to curb the reign of bandits. Following this example, next door Katsina State has been doing the same. Governor Aminu Masari has been working at extracting commitment from the bandits to stop their activities.
Although financial considerations are said to be involved, no figure can be officially quoted as yet.
Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, also announced that the state government has secured the release of some kidnapped victims through dialogue with bandits. The approach has been yielding fruit. The Katsina State government stated that 80% of those in captivity have been released as at September 2019.
While this approach may be desirable in the short term, considering the negative impact of crime and criminality, and pressure on state governors of affected states to provide safe and secured environment for their citizens, it would be necessary to deploy long term, more holistic approach to tackling these security challenges.
Already, despite the acclaimed success by Zamfara and Katsina states, bandits killed 30 persons in Kware area of Zamfara state on September 5, police spokesman in the state, Mohammed told AFP.
The attack came three days after bandits killed 32 members of a vigilante group at a checkpoint. In Katsina on September 5, 2019 bandits reportedly said they would not accept any dialogue unless their colleagues in prison were released.
On September 11, 2019, the UN revealed that between March and September 2019, at least 1,400 people have ben killed by kidnappers and bandits.
As Powell advices, engagement with terrorists or any kind of criminal non-state actors should be through ‘reliable, private means of negotiation.’
The strategy adopted by both Zamfara and Katsina governors where they met with bandits in the full glare of the media and even taking pictures with one of the bandits brandishing an AK 47 is unhealthy and has wide security implication beyond the states. The indictmen of Nigerian security forces by the bandits is another matter altogether.
Already, there are reported cases of impunity by some freed bandits who have been going round some communities to intimidate people.
One key aspect of negotiation and dialogue is disarmament of the repentant bandits. There are also concerns about the stockpile of arms by bandits. This worry was raised by the immediate past governor of Zamfara state, Abdulazeez Yari, who disclosed: ‘when we said we will dialogue and offer them amnesty if they surrender their arms, they refused’.
Appropriate measures have to be taken so that government does not negotiate from the point of weakness; otherwise the effort might be counter-productive in the long run.