Even the most implacable critic of President Buhari would have to concede that Boko Haram’s capacity to “shoot, slaughter and kill”—as its avowed means of establishing Allah’s loving and peaceful caliphate in North-east Nigeria—has been significantly degraded. The terrorist organisation whose crimes against God and humanity were adjudged to have surpassed those of its parent, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and siblings in Somalia (Al Shabab) and Afghanistan (the Taliban), thus earning it the rank of the most vicious gang in the world, has now broken into two factions. Division and confusion in the enemy’s camp is always a welcome boost to any war plan. While it might be too early to admit it in evidence as proof of the technical defeat the government claimed—to much derision—it indicates nevertheless a deep crack in Boko Haram’s seemingly impregnable ideological shield. Yet, even total annihilation would still be a pyrrhic victory, marked by an indelible stain on the nation, if the Chibok girls never regain freedom.
When there is life there is hope, but the latest proof of life contained in Abubakar Shekau’s hostage-negotiation video offer to the federal government reopens the fraught question of dialogue with a mentally deranged band of murderers, arsonists, kidnappers, rapists and more. Still, it should be music to all ears that a war of words has broken out between Shekau and his newly installed rival terrorist-in-chief, Abu Musab Al-Barnawi, over who is the true and sole custodian of Allah’s purported instructions on how to establish his kingdom on earth. According to the one, this earth was not created by Allah to accommodate believers and non-believers. Therefore, all non-believers, also branded infidels, are to be eliminated—by sword and by fire and by any other means most horrendous. And it matters not whether said infidels are fellow Muslims or infants, have caused no harm to believers, nor hindered them from their chosen path to holiness and Jannah or paradise. According to the other, Islam forbids gratuitous evil, especially the killing of women and children and of non-infidels. Either self-proclaimed direct representative of God claims the other is being misled by a personal and flawed interpretation of the Koran. Al-Barnawi, now leading an open revolt against Shekau’s “false ideology,” has even gone on to draw a line in the sand. “Shekau,” he warns (and this according to the translation provided by SaharaReporters), “we did not touch you, don’t touch us. If you touch us we will touch you and we are many against you. We have people in your house and even your present hideout. You don’t know us enough; we are ready for anyone to kill us, even if it is infidels, for so long as we will make heaven and be before Allah. That is why we are countering the false ideology you are spreading. We don’t know [your] brand of Jihad; you kill children, women and bomb people.”
There is, of course, nothing to choose between two murderous fanatics who forget that every believer, strictly speaking, is also an “infidel.” In other words, that Shekau and Al-Barnawi are, by the logic of their rigid and self-righteous claims, infidels judged by the claims of other revealed (by which I mean monotheistic, dogmatic, proselytising and imperialist) “religions” as by the secular creeds of non-believers. What forests, coasts, mountains, plateaus, plains or even deserts might Shekau and Al-Barnawi find for their self-aggrandising caliphates if the rest of humanity were to claim a divine mandate not to cohabit this world with them, and that they are mandated to kill and eliminate all and every non-believer in their creed? Had Allah wished only one faith by his creatures, might he not have caused that to be? Or having failed in that regard, killed off all of his infidel children himself? Why, it must be asked again and again, does an all-powerful God need his frail creatures to fight for him?
Now that Shekau, in his desperation to reassert supremacy over his disintegrating terrorist gang, is asking the federal government to release all detained Boko Haram terrorists as a condition for freeing the Chibok girls, the question is whether or not to succumb to blackmail. I have previously argued against negotiations with Boko Haram who, having placed themselves outside any human frame of reference, make negotiation impossible (“Against Dialogue with Boko Haram,” 11 March 2014,). I was, and remain, partly persuaded by the need to discourage future hostage-taking as a tactic of extracting concessions, absolution even—a consideration that informs the American government’s strict policy of not paying ransom for the release of its citizens. Yet, in order not to be seen as insensitive to the unspeakable ordeal of the girls (and their parents, not to mention all who grieve with them), President Buhari must explore all avenues for their safe return, including negotiations. After all, there is no guarantee of what might happen were the girls’ exact location to be discovered and a rescue operation launched—the grim prospects of which Shekau has gleefully exploited by displaying the alleged bodies of some of the girls purportedly killed in airstrikes targeted at his camps in Sambisa forest. Any prisoner swap deal, if at all, must, however, be subsequent to Boko Haram’s unconditional surrender and renunciation of the delusional dream of a caliphate. Additionally, Shekau and his army of murderers must be willing, as even Al-Barnawi insists, to repent. They must also submit to tempered justice for their crimes against humanity and God.