.FG flew him in presidential jet, lodged him at Transcorp Hilton
.Probe those named by the Australian, Restore Joint Task Force in Borno – Col. Kontagora
.I’m ready to face Ex-Governor Sheriff – Davis
With a truckload of soldiers, a good intention and a high expectation, 63-year-old Reverend Stephen Davis, an Australian, drove into the darkness of New Marte, an uncertain darkness made accessible by the half-full moon. The large expanse of land in the corridor of the Lake Chad Basin, with President Olusegun Obasanjo had opened up for farming under an irrigation scheme which shares border with Cameroon.
It is located in Marte Local Government Area of Borno State. Instead of the intended farming activities, the field that stretches beyond where the eyes could reach, occupying a space of some 50,000 hectares, had been subdued by the Boko Haram sect.
To demonstrate their control over that land and space, the militant sect had set up camps on the farms, and had asked the Australian and the ladies who wanted to negotiate the release of close to 300 students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok to meet them there under the cover of darkness.
“We had to drive to New Marte because that’s where the sect commanders we were in touch with wanted to talk to us,” a woman who was on the entourage told our reporter. “It was a very dangerous trip to make at night, but the sect had given us the assurance that they would not attack us.”
In was in late April, about two weeks after the abduction of the schoolgirls from their hostel in Chibok, and Reverend Davis had reached out to the sect members who wanted to know what government wanted to put on the table in the deal to have the girls released.
“It was a very scary encounter,” the woman elaborated. “At about 3.00am, we saw the sect members engaged in a kind of military drill. We initially thought it was the Nigerian Army personnel who were training, but we were wrong; it was the sect members. We even discovered that the soldiers who accompanied us to the camp abandoned us in the night. I thank God that we came out of the place alive. At the end of it all, we gained nothing, because government did not demonstrate the commitment to obtain the release of the girls.”
The scene above was one of the encounters The Reverend Davis, recognised as an international arbitrator, had in his efforts to obtain the release of Chibok girls, a five-month struggle that has come to nothing – but frustration.
His 7-year relationship with Boko Haram
Our reporter learnt that Reverend Davis didn’t jump into the Boko Hararm crisis recently. The former Canon Emeritus at Coventry Cathedral in the United Kingdom and an associate of The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, has had a relationship with the sect that spanned over a period of seven years. His initial contact with them was way back in 2003 through a group in the North-East, called Women Peace and Security Network. This group, Sunday Trust learnt, was cultivating the young men in the region, and training them on the need to eschew violence. As one who worked in the Church of England’s Ministry of Reconciliation, Reverend Davis learnt about the activities of the women and decided to visit Nigeria to appraise their activities. In the process, he became acquainted with the Boko Haram sect, its leadership, among them the late Mohammed Yusuf and even Abubakar Shekau.
“He knew all these people before the sect went violent,” one of the women who have worked closely with The Reverend Davis told our reporter. “It’s not like he came here to make a name after the abduction of Chibok girls. As at the time we came in contact with him, he had done some work in other parts of the world, including his secret negotiation for peace in the Niger Delta. Davis showed us many photographs of himself with leaders of the Niger Delta militants. Many of those photographs were in his computer. He showed us evidence of the work he has done in other parts of the world. At a point, the Tony Blair Foundation wanted to come into Nigeria to negotiate with the sect through him. But Davis was already working for government, and the Foundation didn’t want to work with government. So, he didn’t spearhead that project. His expertise is known all over the world.”
Corroborating this position, The Reverend Davis told The Mail of London in June this year that he had had an “ongoing contact” with Boko Haram, describing it as “a long process of building trust on both sides.” Our reporter learnt further that even during the period in which the Presidential Committee on Peace in the North-East was meeting with members of the sect, The Reverend Davis was helpful. “He was lodged at the Transcorp Hilton, and flew in a presidential jet. A top official in the presidency paid his bills. We held meetings with him and elements in the sect at Transcorp Hilton. You know what that means. At a time government was desperate about the release of Chibok girls from captivity, the presidential jet was used to convey him to Maiduguri. Thereafter, he would be given the security cover while he met with the sect’s leaders.”
Speaking about his own experience, The Reverend Davis said in an interview with The Cable, an online publication, recently that, “I have been involved in peace negotiations in Nigeria since 2004 when President Olusegun Obasanjo invited me to intervene in the Niger Delta crisis. With a local Nigerian colleague, I spoke with Asari Dokubo and took him to Obasanjo at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. Because Asari is a Muslim, the Muslim boys in the North heard about me and warmed up to me. I did a report in 2005 on the threat of extremism among young northern Muslims.
“Obasanjo’s security chiefs dismissed the report with a wave of the hand. They said no such thing existed. In 2007, President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, who desired to end the militancy in the Niger Delta, invited me and made me presidential envoy. I toured all the northern states. I went to the country’s borders. I came back with a report that there were some budding sects in the North. The national security adviser (NSA) at the time, Gen. Sarki Mukhtar, dismissed the report. He said they didn’t exist. A succession of NSAs dismissed all these reports and allowed the groups to flourish.
“By the time President Goodluck Jonathan came to power in 2011, these groups had spread all over the North. They had cells and commanders in 16 out of the 19 northern states. President Jonathan called me and sought my opinion on the best way to tackle the militancy and bring it to an end.
“I knew many of the leaders. I spoke with them. They trusted me. They initially wanted to kill me. They thought I was an American but I told them I was not. They also thought I was British but I said I was not. I told them I was an Australian. They relaxed. I don’t know why but they became more accommodating. They became friendly and, gradually, we built the trust.
They started feeling free with me. I don’t call them Boko Haram. I call them JAS. People call them Boko Haram. They don’t call themselves Boko Haram.”
BUNGLED EFFORTS FOR PEACE DEAL AND RELEASE OF CHIBOK GIRLS
Our reporter learnt that last year, while government took steps to enter into dialogue and peace deal with the sect, Reverend Davis made contacts with the sect’s commanders and secured a kind of terms of peace agreement from them. We learnt that in the first instance, the sect wanted women and children of the sect’s leaders released from captivity. The Reverend Davis, Sunday Trust, learnt, successfully convinced government to release that class of detainees on June 14, 2013, but when the sect leaders who wanted to drop their arms sought unconditional amnesty, government disagreed with them, hence the peace process collapsed.
The lady who worked closely with Davis added that, “When the dialogue committee was at work, the Australian, too, was in secret talks with some of the sect’s leaders. There were 12 Boko Haram commanders with whom he worked, and their main demand was that their women and children in detention should be released as a sign of government’s seriousness. After that, they would name the persons who would negotiate other terms of peace agreement with government. That was the stage we were. Suddenly, instead of government to take that line of action, it decided to declare a state of emergency. The sect leaders, therefore, went into hiding, believing that any effort to negotiate with government would lead to their death. They gave an example of some persons who met government in Kaduna for peace talks, but were later caught and killed.”
Speaking in an interview The Cable on how this peace deal collapsed, Reverend Davis said, “They wanted training for the widows of their deceased fighters. They asked the government to give these women cottage training. They, ironically, wanted education for the children of their deceased members. That is why I don’t call them Boko Haram (“Western education is a taboo”). They asked that the children be sent to school. They also wanted the government to rebuild villages that were destroyed by the security agencies. They asked for amnesty as well. :
The president said he would not grant amnesty in the sense that they meant it. He said those who surrendered their arms would not be prosecuted, but those who continued to commit more crimes would face the law and would be charged with treason. They also wanted women and children who were being held in custody to be released. Their leaders that I spoke with were ready to accept the conditions. But the NSA then, Gen. Owoye Azazi, went vehemently against it. He said there should be no negotiation with terrorists. He completely turned the military against the peace deal I was working on, even though we were very close to bringing an end to the insurgency the same way we did it in the Niger Delta. The military then refused to back the deal. They succeeded in convincing the president not to accept it. I could understand where they were coming from: the security budget was like $6 billion and any peace deal would seriously reduce their budget.”
It was in the same manner that the effort to release Chibok girls failed, because the military didn’t want government to yield to the sect’s demands.
THE CURRENT OUTBURST AND COUNTER-ACCUSATIONS
The Reverend Davis claimed that he went to town with the story of his frustration in rescuing the Chibok girls because he couldn’t imagine how a government would behave as if all was well when over 300 girls are held in captivity by a very violent sect. According to him, “We are talking about 200 Chibok schoolgirls, but there are over 300 other girls that have been kidnapped. There are many young men that they also kidnapped and turned against their families. They asked them to go and slaughter their family members and they are doing it. Nobody is talking about those ones. They are the new child soldiers.”
Though his major concern has been the need to release the young girls from captivity, his comment on the supposed sponsors of the sect has taken a central position. In his interviews, The Reverend Davis claimed that some of the sect’s commanders named former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff and General Azubuike Ihejirika, a former Chief of Army Staff, as some of the sponsors of the sect. He also listed an unnamed official of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as an agent through which funds are mobilized for the sect.
Both ex-Governor Sheriff and General Azubuike have dismissed the allegations. It is not clear how the retired General was implicated in the sponsorship of the sect, but elements in Maiduguri told our reporter that the disbandment of the Joint Task Force (JTF) led to the escalation of the insurgency.
“Many of us think Ihejirika deliberately disbanded the JTF,” our reporter was told. “What it meant was that only the army would be in charge of the operation, and that’s not possible. When the JTF was in force, all the services, the SSS, Police, Navy, Air Force, Customs, Immigration, etc, were involved in intelligence gathering, which helped in the operations. But now, the army is alone, and that is why the sect has an upper hand.”
It is difficult to understand why government has disowned The Reverend Davis, saying it has nothing to do with him, but Sunday Trust learnt that a section in government believed that the Australian was not dealing with the mainstream elements in the sect.
“Davis’ contact with the sect is through a woman who truly has a measure of contact with Boko Haram,” another person who claims to understand the working of the sect argued. “However, I don’t believe the woman knows anybody in the Shura Council who take decisions. There are all sorts of splinter units, all of them in Boko Haram, but to reach the core of the group is no tea party. I don’t think the Australian did. Those in the fringes may have their own measure of influence, but the hardliners hold the ace. Perhaps, government discovered this and decided to do away with him and his roles.”
AN INDEPENDENT BODY SHOULD PROBE DAVIS ALLEGATION:
A former Commissioner of Police and social critic, Abubakar Tsav has said the federal government should constitute an independent body to look into the allegations by the Australian negotiator, Stephen Davies.
Describing the allegations as weighty, Tsav said it was rather curious that the federal government that was said to have engaged Mr. Davies is now denying ever engaging the Australian hostage negotiator.
“How can a foreigner come into the country and travel to such places without the knowledge of the authorities that be? The denial by the federal government over Mr. Davies engagement follows that same pattern of denial over the Chibok girls abduction, where the security agencies came out to say they had rescued the girls only to recant later. So they are always giving false information over security matters.
“It is therefore only through an independent body of investigation that the allegations made by Mr. Davies, that a former Borno governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, and former army chief, General Ihejirika, are sponsors of Boko Haram should be properly inverstigated,” Tsav said.
Commenting on Ihejirika’s exoneration by the DSS, Tsav said: “It is possible that Ihejirika could sponsor Boko Haram in order to avenge what the northern troops did to his people during the Civil War. For instance, it is rather curious that up till now the circumstances that led to the death of the late General Shuwa are still unknown.”
Also, speaking to Sunday Trust at the weekend, the former military administrator, Colonel Isa Kontagora reasoned that former governor Modu Sheriff might have been linked with Boko Haram because one of his cabinet members that was arrested and killed in a very suspicious manner with the sect leader, Muhammad Yusuf during the insurgency crisis in Maiduguri when he was serving as governor of Borno State, was a member of the sect. “If this and many other things are why they think he has any explanation to make concerning the insurgency issue, I think he should be thoroughly investigated.”
Col Kontagora (retired) added that it was wrong for the DSS to exonerate former Chief of Army Staff Azubuike Iherijika without investigating the allegations leveled against him on the insurgency issue. “If anyone is mentioned, I think what is proper is for the authorities to investigate him on all the allegations. Nigerians need to know if he is a culprit or not. They need to know the financiers or backers of the sect so that government can approach it in a way that will help to restore sanity to the community.”
Kontagora insisted that the claims made by Stephen Davis should not be swept under the carpet.
“Government should investigate it thoroughly to get to the root of the matter and put an end to the mess. Anyone found wanting, either in financing the terrorist group or otherwise, should be prosecuted.”
WHAT FUTURE FOR PEACE IN THE NORTH-EAST?
The lady who claimed to have worked closely with Davis and had met some of the sect members told our reporter that government’s emphasis on the use of force made those who initially planned to renounce violence to have a rethink.
“Government is not ready for peace talks, hence many of them who initially wanted to drop arms have joined the violent wing. It seems they are determined to fight to death or success, and that is very bad for our country. All over the world, insurgency is defeated through dialogue, but we have taken the other course, which is tough and rough. It’s only God that can save us. I feel strongly that Jonathan wants peace, but the issue is apparently beyond him. You have all sorts of government officials and godfathers who benefit from the violence. They are in control, so they don’t want the violence to end.”
The Reverend Davis, in his interview with The Cable made a similar statement, saying government can’t overcome the crisis without entering into a peace deal: “A peace deal backed by a strong military is the way out. But the government must first bring the sponsors of insurgency to book. Government must arrest and interrogate the politicians funding the insurgency. Government must cut off the supply of funds to the militants.
“There is a ritualist group in Boko Haram that delights in slaughtering people. This group is being heavily supported by someone based in Cairo, Egypt with funds supplied by Nigerian politicians and power brokers. If funding is cut to this guy, there are many commanders in the Boko Haram camp who are ready to dialogue, release the captive girls and end the insurgency.”